Laurence Tindall writes
Is this our Saint Francis moment, perhaps? I, with the help of Judith and Graham, have just finished clearing our belongings from the Bath Quaker meeting house. The building is empty and in a few weeks will be sold and perhaps this is a good time for reflection.
Saint Francis of Assisi by Giotto.
This assignment was easy for me in a couple of respects. One, I am newish to the meeting and have no personal attachments to the building or contents. Two, I seemed to have the wind behind me and was working in the “light”. You may remember my appeal to all of you that we dispose of our possessions responsibly, finding homes for as much as possible. I put out the call to all our partners, the religious communities in Bath, and they came and homed our belongings. It was a privilege to meet the people and find out a little bit about their experiences.
It is true to say that most of the traditional religious communities are struggling with falling numbers and they either have to supplement congregational giving with a business model or they have access to support from a long established and endowed church organisation. Many are doing both. Unlike us Quakers they do evangelise and consider everyone in the parish, city, area, part of their responsibility. Some are also in old and unsuitable buildings that are listed and also a focal point in their locality. Many of them are bound by obligation to stay in these buildings.
To be honest our stuff was old and a bit frayed around the edges and not worth much. But hay! We are the Quakers. Flash new stuff is not us. We are the simple people aren’t we? Let me tell you, so are they. Most of them are struggling too and their stuff is sad as well. To my utter amazement they were glad to have what we were offering and it was quite humbling to find this out. Our old things have made a difference; I can attest to that. From an old table given to a couple struggling to do up their house whilst living upstairs with three children; to congregational chairs given to a church where the plaster is falling off the walls.
Like Saint Francis we are so blessed to be able to “divest” our selves so we can concentrate on our Quaker activities. Dedicated members of our meeting put in hours of time trying to create a plan to stay in York Street and that time was well spent because it showed us our choices clearly. Run the meeting house as a business, dig deeper into our own pockets or let go and be itinerant, operating with the lowest overheads.
Like St Frances we took the opportunity to let go and now we meet in a warm hall and have money to spend on advancing our Quaker ethos.
Unlike our Christian friends who have to minister to their parish in unsuitable buildings, we have been given a golden opportunity to make a fresh start unencumbered by possessions and the need to turn ourselves into a business. Of course we all know what happened to the Franciscans they built churches, abbeys and monasteries. It’s what people do! I hope we can hang on to this hard won freedom and avoid rebuilding ourselves in terms of material possessions. We should use this opportunity to strengthen our community, build spiritual capital and work hard on our Quaker concerns.
These are the organisations we helped and who helped us: Fairfield House, Central United Reform Church, Manvers Street Baptists, Saint Michael’s Twerton, Saint Alphege Oldfield Park, St Bartholomew’s Oldfield Park, St Andrews Fox hill, BoA Meeting, Aid for Palestine, Julian House, Genesis. Also a few individuals were given or bought things.