From On Meeting houses to Gender and sex
On Meeting houses
The Epistle of Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) 2021 asks: ‘Is it time to look afresh at… possessions like Meeting houses that might hold us back?’ Surely, but we should do so with open eyes and open hearts. Some Meeting houses might hold their Meeting back. The lack of one might do so.
My co-clerk and I sat in the foyer of the church, working on an agenda for our next Business Meeting. A woman rushed up to the door and, hesitating as she saw us, asked if she could go into the church. But the Methodist congregation had left and locked up. We don’t have a key to the church. I don’t know what her need was, maybe she had left something relatively unimportant there during the service, maybe she had an urgent need to commune with her God in a familiar setting.
My Meeting pays to use a room in the former school house attached to that church. Our Meeting house was given up some time ago, in part, I understand, because it was riddled with asbestos and the work to make the building accessible was beyond the Meeting. I’m told that being relieved of it did reinvigorate the Meeting. The Methodists welcomed us, and we’re still there. And maybe the lack of a Meeting house now holds us back.
As we unwind from the strictest terms of Covid lockdown the Meeting has grappled with the move from a purely online to a ‘blended’ Meeting. The general-purpose rooms of the school house don’t suit this. I’ve seen Meetings able to manage the change better, because they can adapt a Meeting house of their own as they wish.
But here I’ve focussed on the utility of the building to the Quaker Meeting that is responsible for it. As others may focus on the human and financial cost to us. In November 2020, Pink Dandelion asked the Reading and Reflection with Woodbrooke group on Facebook about the theology of Meeting houses. Friends talked about the way that, then deep in the lockdown, their worship had moved online with surprising effectiveness, and talked about how some Meetings worship in each other’s’ homes, or have never had a settled location, and about the ways that worship can happen at any time and place, and how the being of the Meeting is in the people not the building. So it is. But then a few started to talk about the outward role of a Meeting house.
The Methodists host many groups within their building. My Meeting used to do that too, when we had a Meeting house. Rather than hosting such groups ourselves, we Quakers now merely are one. The Methodists can support campaigns requiring logistics. We cannot. At least, not under our own power, on our own terms, and as we please.
A faith group with a building is conspicuous in its community. We have had vulnerable people appear at our Worship, and we’ve been able to comfort them, a little, for a little time, but they didn’t find us by searching for the time and location of our Meeting. They headed for the building that’s obviously where people of faith gather: the church. Some Quakers merely happened to be there.
The lie of the land
It’s refreshing to read a review of my book Do Not Disturb: The story of a political murder and an African regime gone bad (10 September), which looks beyond Rwanda’s borders to discuss the regime’s impact on the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has been massively affected by political events in Kigali.
Elizabeth Coleman rightly recommends focussing on the role of British foreign aid in influencing policy. Next year, as a result of Conservative government cuts to the overall aid budget, Rwanda will experience a major reduction in British aid. Some would argue that president Paul Kagame has already lined up alternative sources of support – witness his surprising new friendship with France’s Emmanuel Macron – so Britain is simply dooming itself a loss of influence in the region. I would tend to disagree. For too long, the Department of International Development and its Western counterparts obliged Rwanda by turning a blind eye to its increasingly repressive policies at home and a deeply destabilising series of military interventions in neighbouring countries. Anything that smacks of closer, more critical scrutiny has to be welcome, and nothing sends out that message more effectively than pulling on the purse strings.
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