‘To know something about who built our Meeting houses, and who worshipped there, makes them special.’
I have been thinking a lot, during the pandemic, about our Quaker-built heritage. What does it tell us of the Quaker past, and what lessons can we learn from it? This might be a deeply suspect thing to do, at a time when the Yearly Meeting epistle refers to ‘possessions like Meeting houses that might hold us back’. And it is true that, for our seventeenth-century forebears (who were, as the same epistle reminds us, ‘wild about their faith’), a place to meet was not a primary concern. Friends at Pardshaw in Cumbria, for example, met in the open air on Pardshaw Crag for nearly twenty years before building a Meeting house. There is also often nothing special architecturally about old Meeting houses, other than their survival. But to know something about who built them, and who worshipped there, makes them special. What assurance of the Truth was demonstrated by Anthony Myers at Farfield, who gave the land to Friends on a 5,000-year lease! What desire to maintain community was shown by the Brigflatts Quakers who climbed onto the roof each autumn to stuff moss between the cracks in the slates, to keep their Meeting protected from the winter!
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