Friday was eventful. At the Meeting House a new carpet was being laid in the Large Meeting Room, while in the space next to it a bookcase was being put in place, and just outside, the porch roof was being plastered! These are the latest events in the gradual refurbishment of the Meeting House to make it more fit for purpose. There has already been one appreciative comment from a Pilates Group on having a fully carpeted floor.
Meanwhile, I was travelling to Woodbrooke for the Quaker Studies Conference. It was a weekend packed with presentation of papers on a wide range of aspects of Quakerism, from attitudes of Patriots towards pacifist Quakers in Pennsylvania during the Civil War, to the way the Quaker testimony to plainness was expressed in the selection of coffins for burial.
The occasion was the celebration of the twenty fifth anniversary of the Quaker Studies Research Association and the twentieth anniversary of the Centre for Postgraduate Studies of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. I heard that over 70 PhDs have been completed in that time and the scope of the filled of Quaker Studies expended hugely.
It was a good opportunity to meet others engaged in research and to have fascinating conversations. Other themes explored were: Quakers and politics (the Munich Agreement), Quaker theology (how and when did British Quakers become ‘liberal’?), and even the connection between chemical changes in the brain and ecstatic religious experiences.
The George Richardson Annual Lecture was delivered by Hilary Hinds on Saturday, entitled ‘Early Quakerism and the Creative Arts: the Poetry of Mary Mollineux’. Mary was writing at a time when there was a general approbation of entertainment and creative writing. As someone who writes poetry from time to time it was fascinating to learn of an early Quaker poet who used her poetry in correspondence with her friends and family. Sometimes it was to chivvy them to write to her more often!
My own little research project (only an MA Dissertation not a PhD thesis) progresses to the stage of analysis of the recordings of the interviews and Focus Groups. I appear to have confirmation of my hunch that Jesus is not a frequent topic of conversation among Quakers these days. It is also clear that though Quakerism began from Christian roots, though radically understood even then, it is probably post-Christian today. The main theological doctrines of mainstream Christianity are rejected by most, for example, virgin birth, resurrection, and the divinity of Jesus. However, There is a high regard for Jesus and his teaching even as the sources for his existence and teaching are viewed sceptically.
Perhaps it is most important to hang on to the conviction that buildings and books are meant to help us live faithfully, expressing the Quaker testimony to truth, equality, peace and simplicity.