From Meeting houses to Antisemitism
In recent years, local Meetings have increasingly been encouraged to question whether they should keep their Meeting houses or consider moving to rented premises. This year’s Yearly Meeting Epistle asks us ‘to look afresh at… possessions like Meeting houses that might hold us back’.
I would suggest that for many Meetings our Meeting houses, far from holding us back, are enabling us to move forward, are a valuable form of outreach and save us money.
In Huddersfield, we are very fortunate to have a lovely old Meeting house in a sound structural and decorative state with a beautiful garden. Prior to the pandemic, our increasing lettings income from a diverse range of local user groups meant we were gradually approaching a situation where our Meeting house was self-financing. One room is now let on a long-term basis to a local organisation that works with asylum seekers. While we were unable to rent rooms to our regular users during the pandemic, one of our members organised a well-used and highly-valued clothing store for asylum seekers, which has now been able to move to new premises having demonstrated its value over several months while based at our Meeting house. Our location just outside the town centre but on a bus route and with a suitable car park, coupled with a shortage of reasonably priced rooms in the town, to rent on a sessional basis to local groups mean that the demand for using our premises is likely to increase.
Our Meeting room is able to provide a worshipping environment for Meeting for Worship, which is more difficult to convey in rented premises. The flexibility of having our own premises provides the opportunity to hold many Quaker activities. We are able to host an annual Yorkshire Friends Holiday School Reunion weekend, welcomed the Equality and the Common Good cycle ride for an overnight stop in July 2018, and our garden has been used for several gatherings including annual inter-faith events in the past.
One further issue often overlooked is the opportunity that having one’s Meeting house presents for outreach. Coming from a non-Quaker background but searching for a spiritual home and knowing a little about Quakers, I attended my first Meeting for Worship in January 1987 and knew immediately I had found the religious organisation I was looking for. I was able to do this because I knew where the Meeting house was located and the time of the Sunday morning Meeting from the notice board. Had we been in rented premises at that time, I am not sure I would have known where the Quaker Meeting took place or had the confidence to attend for the first time. In order to grow, we need to attract new enquirers. The existence of our Meeting houses enables people wanting to find out more about Quakers to experience Meeting for Worship and the warm welcome we provide without difficulty.
On its interesting series of programmes, The Reunion, the BBC recently discussed same-sex marriage leading up to the bill in 2013. Am I right in thinking that Quakers were at the forefront of this innovative work? And yet there were no Quaker representatives on the programme, nor any mention of Quaker involvement. Dear Friends, we need to get out there!
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