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A ‘WEIGHTY’ QUAKER IN THE KING’S ARMS (Sabbatical Sundays 12)

Last Sunday Julia and I should have been in France enjoying a short holiday in the French sunshine in the delightful historic town of Chinon where we had booked a wonderful apartment overlooking the chateau on one side and the river on the other. Unfortunately, due to President Macron, we had to cancel that holiday at the last moment – we might have got there OK, but we were not at all sure that we would have got back OK with all the various strikes, petrol shortages, etc., etc. So instead. we are here in Cornwall, staying in an equally delightful house in Marazion overlooking St Michael’s Mount. Not much sunshine, however … but we are enjoying the wet, wild and windy Cornish weather … in a masochistic kind of way! So, instead of recounting a visit to a Roman Catholic Mass followed by lunch in a classy French restaurant, for our very final Sabbatical Sunday blog … I am writing about a visit to a Quaker Meeting House and another great Sunday roast at a local pub! 

We have tried to use our Sabbatical Sundays over the last three months to visit various different churches, sometimes to say a silent thank you to friends who have been so supportive to us since our arrival at Abbey, but sometimes simply because we were intrigued and wanted to know what those churches were like. I have never ever been to a Quaker Service before, although I kind of knew (or thought I did) what went on – everyone sitting around in silence for an hour or so, only occasional contributions from the floor (so to speak) when ‘moved by the Spirit’.  Marazion Quaker Meeting House is the oldest Quaker Meeting House in Cornwall. It is a Grade II listed building erected in 1688/89 and largely retains its original form, and some original and historic furnishings and fittings. It has strong associations with George Fox, who visited the town in 1655, just before his imprisonment in Launceston gaol. The Meeting House exists today, as it has for the past 332 years, in order to present the opportunity to take part in Quaker worship to all who wish to do so. From this worship there arises the inspiration for many different kinds of social action locally, nationally and internationally and many opportunities for individual and corporate spiritual growth. They have consciously sought to set an example of Christian discipleship within the local and wider community, aiding the initiatives that need to flourish in the creation of a peaceful and caring society founded on the equality of all humanity, regardless of gender, beliefs and social background. In 1960 the ‘Friends’ (as they like to call themselves) Meeting was held twice each month with an attendance of eight to ten, but by 1990 the Meeting House was becoming too small for the worshipping group, and it was decided to form a new meeting in Penzance which flourishes along with Marazion in providing a Quaker witness in West Cornwall. 

We walked from our lovely holiday house through the town – past the other two churches in Marazion, one Anglican and the other Methodist – and eventually found our way to the Friends Meeting House tucked away in the back streets but with an amazing view out over the sea to St Michael’s Mount. We arrived just before the 10.30 a.m. start to find a small group of worshippers already seated around a small central table in silence waiting for the meeting to begin. No welcome, no hymn books or orders of service given out, no nothing … just a small group of largely elderly people simply sitting there. We found a couple of comfy looking seats and joined the ‘crowd’. A few others wandered in after us, so we didn’t feel too much like intruders, and eventually there were 20 of us altogether. After about 15 minutes a lady stood up and read from a book of Quaker devotional readings and talked about the importance of listening. ‘Deep listening’ she called it, and I kind of liked that qualification. A few minutes later another lady stood up and talked about a TV programme she had watched and the inter-action of two characters in it – the gist of which was that God can use us despite all the mistakes we make in life, indeed it is often through these mistakes that he shapes us and forms us into the kind of people he can use to bless others. These two themes – deep listening to others and to God himself, and the fact that God still uses us despite our faults and failings – became the theme of the meeting as various people made interesting and helpful contributions from time to time. There were no hymns, set Bible Readings, formal prayer, as such but nevertheless there was a clear and helpful message that came across – something that seemed to us to be very Biblical and Christ-centred in its essence.

At one point, despite it being my first time in a Quaker Meeting I stood up (I hadn’t planned to do this) and contributed something that seemed to fit in with, and add to, the emerging theme of the meeting, and in doing so – as I was told later by one of the ‘Friends’ – I became what is know as a ‘Weighty Quaker’. This has nothing to do with my size but with the value of my contribution. Weighty Quakers or Friends are those whose contributions are considered to ‘carry weight’ or value.

After an hour exactly the ‘elders’ (or whatever they are called) who sat centrally around the small table stood up and formally shook hands … and then we all formally shook hands … and I really liked it. The meeting was over … but actually it wasn’t because after welcoming us all they started a short ‘after meeting’ where everyone present (who didn’t consider themselves to be ‘weighty Quakers’) were invited to contribute anything that might add to what had already been said. Several did, to the benefit of the rest of us. They then welcomed visitors and asked us to introduce ourselves – which Julia did on behalf of us both, arousing great interest that a couple of Baptist Ministers from Reading should be attending a Quaker Meeting in Marazion. They were a really friendly bunch, kindly, interesting, welcoming … and we really enjoyed our time with them. I read later a comment by another visitor to a Friends Meeting House that he had never ever heard a Quaker be critical of another Quaker. There seemed to be a ‘rule of thumb’ amongst them that accepted one another without cross-questioning everything that was said or believed. How different from many other churches today where the opposite seems to be sadly true.

After the Service we said our farewells and walked down to the seafront planning to return home for some lunch. It was a beautifully sunny day and so we walked along the beach and sauntered through the town … and then we spotted a welcoming looking pub that served Sunday lunches. The Kings Arms is a traditional Cornish pub, located in the centre of Marazion. Dating from the 18th century, it’s believed to be one of the oldest brick buildings in Cornwall. According to the blurb posted outside it has ‘an enviable reputation for serving restaurant-quality food in a friendly environment.’ Julia and I looked at each other. ‘We won’t get a table’ she said, ‘it will already be fully booked for lunch!’ I was already on my way in … and yes, amazingly, they did have a table for two since it was only 12.30 p.m. And what a wonderful Sunday Roast we both had, washed down with a couple of pints of bitter shandy! It was a good job we didn’t delay, however, because the pub soon filled up with customers and the staff had to turn people away. Julia was in her element – lots to reflect upon from a fascinating time of worship, great food in a quaint, historic pub in a quaint historic town, dog-friendly so lots of new four-pawed friends to say ‘hello’ to – and just a short walk home to our lovely holiday house.

Jim Binney

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