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observations from the Quaker world
Readers will sense a Yorkshire theme to this week’s issue. There are pieces from all around the county, popping up here and there, brought back by our itinerant editor who ran a writing workshop at the General Meeting last week. ‘Nobody slept!’ she was heard to boast. (Although Eye has it on good authority that one Friend did succumb to forty winks during the long afternoon.) So Eye has been listening to some of Yorkshire Friends’ amusing stories and wishes to pass on one or two to readers…
Putting a smile on the undertaker’s face...
Alison Tyas of Settle MM tells us that the local undertaker joined the firm many years ago, married the owner’s daughter and eventually took over the business. Apparently he learned that his father-in-law had sleepless nights worrying lest he was asked to conduct a funeral at the Meeting House. Explains Alison: ‘The entrance passage is narrow and fixed furniture meant that the door to the meeting room would not open wide enough to take a long horizontal object. How could he bring a coffin in with dignity if he had to upend it in the doorway?’ In 2004 the Meeting House had restoration work completed with an extension added to accommodate wheelchairs. ‘At our public opening celebration’ says Alison ‘we encouraged all and sundry to see our alterations and new facilities.’ Quite a few locals turned up to check out the facilities for their meetings and exhibitions, and there in the middle was the undertaker, with, says Alison ‘a smile on his face.’
The last of the white feathers?
‘I grew up in Derby’, Joyce Pickard told the editor, ‘and one of the members of parliament was our Friend Philip Noel Baker.’ On more than one public occasion Joyce heard him quote Montesquieu: ‘L’opinion, souverain du monde’. (Eye quickly translates as: public opinion rules the world). Joyce asks – how are we helping to shape this? But she already has an answer. ‘Our York monthly peace vigils near the Minster are targeted by many tourists, recording on their cameras and films whatever catches their eye. It is fascinating to wonder how many will see us, standing there with our placards, designed to be read at thirty feet. ‘And it is noticeable that we receive many more expressions of support and thanks now, and far fewer aggressive or sarcastic comments. A far cry from the days of white feathers for those who opposed war! ‘Do peace vigillers in other places meet with similar responses? Can we begin to hope that public opinion is indeed moving in the right direction?’
Off to Jerusalem
Ilkley Meeting has waved a nervous farewell to its Friend Carol Wise, who has gone to Jerusalem to be an ecumenical accompanier. She faces three months of heat and dust and tension, a bit different from the peace of west Yorkshire. The last Meeting she attended was an emotional one, it seems, combining the fears, love and encouragement felt for this plucky Friend.
Ethical commerce Outreach by bike
Leaving York for a moment, Eye has spotted that our favourite business person, Tony Stoller, is talking to the Quakers and Business conference at Woodbrooke on the 15th of this month. Tony is joined by Juliet Prager of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, so Quakers with entrepreneurial leanings will learn more about how to walk that tightrope of commerce and ethics. According to Q&B, this is no mean feat but achievable. Their website is at www. quakerbusiness.org
Finishing off in York, there is a well-known Quaker bicycle (Eye has failed to discover which Friend pedals it) which sports a small poster on its rear, reading BOMBS, WAR AND VIOLENCE ARE NEVER THE WAY. This mobile poster is apparently very popular with motorists and other cyclists. So the suggestion is, why don’t we use this form of outreach more often? Cheap, easy, thought-provoking. The editor has just bought a folding bike to help her combat editorial weight gain, so we may sneak one of these provocative flyers onto her saddle bag and see what happens.
the Friend , 3 November 2006 books
George Fox in Barbados
Clare Marie White reviews a new book by Simon Webb
George Fox in Barbados by Simon Webb £2, IBSN 0954475917 From the Quaker Bookshop The title makes it sound a little like an Enid Blyton book, the latest of George’s adventures around the world. Such a series would be a fine idea if it is written in the same vivid way as this little book by Simon Webb. At only twenty-four pages, including the text of the letter to the governor of Barbados, the book is very accessible, not assuming any prior knowledge of the subject. Simon Webb describes how Quakers came to be on the island, voluntarily and through transportation in the 1660s;, the sugar trade that enabled economic success and the conditions of slaves. Interestingly, he emphasises the fact that at first, through kidnappings and indentured labour, most of the workers were white and they were normally given land after their period of service. However, after land became more limited and valuable because of the increasing popularity of sugar, large numbers of black slaves were imported from West Africa to meet demand. Fox and his team of ‘weighty Friends’ visited in 1671, during a time of great insecurity for all inhabitants of the island. Attacks by hungry monkeys, raccoons and caterpillars deprived of their
forest home, fires set to destroy rat infestations spreading across the island because of high winds, epidemics and slave revolts, hurricanes... and amongst all this, some troublesome Quakers were refusing to bear arms. Fox himself was also concerned about hearsay of polygamy, incest, cruelty towards slaves and, perhaps worst of all, bad record-keeping amongst the Quaker community. Probably because its dense, biblical language makes it difficult for wide consumption, the letter is sometimes referred to in passing as one of the early Quaker protests against slavery. In fact, as Simon Webb describes, it does not condemn the principle of slavery. He describes the letter as being in keeping with pacifist views by denying that Quakers were encouraging slave revolts – the response to which would be violent and bloody with the white population holding far more arms than the blacks. He is less sympathetic towards the letter’s description of the treatment of slaves, calling it ‘at best illinformed’ and suggesting that the visiting Quakers only saw the conditions of house-slaves who were kept in better conditions than field-slaves. Simon Webb then goes on to describe the theological content of the letter and again this is more conservative than might be
expected – although Webb steps into the modern context for a moment to assert that although Fox may have used phrases like ‘the Seed’ and ‘the Light’ which can be interpreted very widely, his experience and beliefs were completely rooted in a Christcentric view. Although the writers may have shared some more radical views, they were keen to reassure the authorities of Barbados by showing them that freedom of the Holy Spirit within each worshipper was not a precursor to anarchy. The letter deliberately takes, for the time, a fairly mainstream stance towards both theology and religion, a diplomatic approach designed to help the island’s Quakers rather than serve any other political interests. Some might not like the refusal to condemn slavery, others would see in the letter the pragmatism that has run through Quaker work ever since and an address to the slaves which, at least, treats them as human beings and part of the ‘family’ living on the island. In this edition, which invites further Bible study by inserting references that may not have been included by the authors, Simon Webb enlightens a document that is very well known, but probably not very well read. It should appeal to those with different interests and of all ages in the average Meeting.
the Friend , 3 November 2006