Collection this Month
Quaker Service in Northern Ireland- an inter-faith initiative with a cottage where those involved can stay.
If you wish to donate but can’t attend at the Meeting House, please send a cheque to Rachel Bach made out to “Ipswich Quakers”. Please send this before the end of the month concerned.
A Friends’ meeting for worship finds no room for debate or for answering(still less contradicting)one another; if this is desirable it will be left for another occasion. And if anything should seem to be spoken amiss, the spiritually minded worshipper will have the wit to get at the heart of the message, overlooking crudity and lack of skill in its presentation, and so far from giving way to irritation at what seems unprofitable, he will be deeply concerned for his own share in creating the right spiritual atmosphere in which the harm fades out and the good grows. Many a meeting has known this power, transforming what might have been hurtful into a means of grace.
(A. Neave Braysham, 1921) QFP 2.69
Film Evening: 25 August at 7pm The Crucible– film version of the famous play about the Salem witch trials- subtitles
Sunday Service On Easter Island, 26th February 2017
Richard Stewart with photos by Anne-Marie.
We were fortunate to arrive safely at the church and on time. The taxi from our hotel couldn’t be ordered in advance and at the reception we were told that it might not arrive because they were busy with the passengers on board a Japanese Peace ship docked near the harbour. The taxi did arrive but in a flurry, the driver so anxious to get going that he started up when Marie had just one leg in the taxi. Only her cries stopped him.
The richly decorated church was in the main settlement of Hanga Roa and it was fortuitous that we were early. Probably over four hundred were there, with many having to stand in the aisles: a mixture of ages, both tourists and residents. We had been advised that this 9 am service would be the only one in the native tongue of Rapanui. Initially we found ourselves in front of two ‘gadget fiddlers’ so moved across and ended up behind a Ronnie Wood lookalike with a topknot-traditional island fashion and on top of some statues-with a red bandana, who seemed to be talking incessantly to a man in a hibiscus flowered shirt. We had been told beforehand that the dress code was definitely joyous and bright. Many of the congregation had noticeable Polynesian profiles, with some of the women wearing bright flower pattern dresses and flowers in their hair. A few could have stepped right out of a Gauguin painting.
At about five to nine a woman gave a garbled reading, probably from the Bible, in Rapanui and not once looking up to engage with the congregation. ‘Red bandanna man’ talked throughout this reading.
By now a large projection appeared on the front walk, asking for mobile phones to be turned off and no photos to be taken. Marie noticed it was sponsored by Hitachi. This projection was also used for the words of hymns and responses, most of which were indecipherable to us except for odd words like ‘Hosannah’ and ‘Ave Maria’.
Then suddenly, as the church bell rang, it all came alive. The priest moved from where we had entered the church, carrying a cross and with attendants in white, mainly women. They ended up facing the congregation which gave everyone the opportunity to admire the priest’s incredible costume of white vestments, and a green over-garment richly decorated with shells plus bird, flower and maize motifs. He had a pink flower garland around his neck and a headdress, mainly golden, but topped with tall white feathers. He looked remarkably similar to portraits of Atahuallpa, the last Inca Emperor. At one point Marie got worried as he knelt very close to the lit candles.
The service itself was a rich mixture of Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Pagan, Rapanui and even some strains of the famous African sanctus. The words of the first hymn now appeared on the wall and Richard suddenly realised that sometimes there are reasons for talking at the start of a service. ‘Red bandana man’ suddenly arose and, standing in a Maori-like posture, beating two stones together, he began with a magnificent voice to lead us into singing the first hymn. We joined in as best we could and now realised that this row consisted of musicians and choir, with guitar, banjo, drum, shells , a horn and two large jawbones joined together, still with teeth and probably from a horse. The congregation responded with joyous rhythmic singing .We did manage to pick out the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed, with Holy Communion later on. The priest gave a sermon, which appeared to have some humour, for about fifteen minutes and during one hymn we all joined hands across the aisles. Marie held the hand of a very friendly and totally unembarrassed teenage boy.
At the end of this hour long service everyone went round shaking hands and smiling. Once most of the congregation had left the cameras came out for photos of the musicians, who posed as they played a few extra verses. We noticed that some of the elderly residents stayed on afterwards, to pray, chant and sing. The priest also let us take photos and we then spent some time closely examining the various wooden statues and cross within the church, noticing how the pagan ‘birdman cult’ once dominant on the island , had been subtly incorporated into many sculptures.
It was certainly a moving and memorable service and a good opportunity for us to experience a very different form of worship to our normal one.
NOTES FROM A PRISON CHAPLAINCY
For most people, a prison is an unknown world, a place of mystery, and rather frightening. Television programmes show us the most terrifying scenes of smuggled drugs, corruption and violence; which is perhaps why people actually seem very curious about this hidden world.
And that is why, when my Quaker Meeting mentioned that a representative was needed to go into local prisons to support any men there with Quaker interests, I allowed my arm to be gently twisted, and took up the challenge. I was timorous, but full of curiosity.
The title Chaplain sits uneasily with us Quakers.. We are all “ministers” and our ministry, alongside the Meeting for Worship, is largely in sharing the roles and tasks necessary for running our non-hierarchical Society, and extending our Testimonies, through action, into the world at large. I had no sense of a calling, or even a capacity to take on the role of Quaker Chaplain….but I knew someone should do it, and I had the time and liberty . So when my name was put forward and accepted for the job, I took it, feeling inadequate, but excited too.
My very first task was to meet my boss, the Managing Chaplain in the Open Prison, and explain to him what a Quaker is. He, a very spiritual young Muslim Imam, had some difficulty in accepting that I had not been trained to preach and lead others in prayer, and that my beliefs were in an inner personal connection with “God”, and not written inexorably in an ancient book.
Nonetheless, after three months or so, my complex official application to become a Prison Chaplain was accepted by the Home Office, and I was in!
Three and half years ago, when I arrived there, HMP Hollesley Bay, the Open Category D prison, had no Quakers. The Young Offenders Unit at Warren Hill was closing down, and was eventually re-opened as a Progressive category C Prison, closed, but with a therapeutic community in one of its units.
Here at last I had something to do, as Warren Hill slowly filled, and a sole Quaker arrived. He has gone through the three years of therapy, with group work or Psychodrama every morning, and work in the gardens in the afternoon. He has now been 23 years behind bars, though he is only 42 years old. His story, or something similar is common amongst offenders. Given up as an infant by his mother, adopted by strictly religious parents, intelligent and creative but not happy at school, full of supressed anger and loneliness, he somehow fell into crime to vent his overwhelming feelings of worthlessness. He became an alcoholic and an arsonist. Now, institutionalised, a calm gentle and rather innocent man who writes good poetry, he demands little of life, and claims that he doesn’t really mind if he stays in prison for the rest of his life. I wondered if his spirit had been entirely broken, but his poems, and his joy at finishing therapy, say otherwise.
Since this man arrived, there has been a small but steady trickle of Quaker sympathisers, and today there are three in each prison. I try to see them all on a fortnightly basis…………..but in the Open Prison, thank heaven, the men are kept busy. Two of those in Hollesley Bay work outside. They have curfews and roll calls but in the daytime they are bussed to work outside, wherever if can be found for them, as part of their preparation for release. Two of them are now attending Woodbridge Quaker Meeting on Sunday, and have discovered the joy of being received with warmth and without judgement, in the true spirit of Friends.
There are three men now in HMP Warren Hill too, who meet with me regularly to talk about their progress, their interests, and to sit in silence for half an hour. I don’t push my beliefs upon them. I usually read a piece from Quaker Faith and practice, and often a poem. There is no further ministry from the man yet, but each of them have expressed love of the silence, and their sense of being supported by Friends.
Prison time is slow and cumbersome, requests may not be answered for weeks, or not at all. Staff at all levels and in all branches of the prison community, as well as the men themselves, will tell you that life is very frustrating, and one has little hope of hurrying things along. Its called “prison time”. This is due to the fact that the cumbersome Home Office, together with the Ministry of Justice etc, make final decisions on many issues.
But by contrast, something I have discovered is something the prisoners I see already know: which is that the Society of Friends will try not let them down. Several of them discovered Quakerism in Grendon Prison, where a full and well attended Meeting for Worship happens at least weekly and all can attend. Since then (and prisoners are frequently moved from place to place) they have all been befriended somewhere by a Quaker “chaplain”, and have stayed in regular touch. We too, the chaplains, have a warm and committed network, with a keen co-ordinator solely responsible for furthering our contacts. We also have an annual conference at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, and an email group where we can share concerns and achievements. I have a very slow but steady flow of emails and phone calls from other chaplains, enquiring about men I see whom they have supported practically and emotionally elsewhere, and it is really good to hear from them and pass on their messages.
In this sense, though Quakers rejects titles, that of Chaplain begins to sit more easily on my shoulders. The dictionary insist that the word refers to a member of the clergy, or to a Christian priest, but in prison it doesn’t. A “chaplain” can represent any faith or practice, and the Pagan group, for example, is growing fast. We don’t talk much with each other about our beliefs. We don’t have time for that, for the chaplains are few, the admin is demanding and the funding is being cut. Things aren’t easy, and I sometimes feel very frustrated by the system which seems not to support what I am wanting to do , but I am beginning to value and enjoy what little I have achieved, and can see that it is in a sense a ministry. And the support from Quakers, both locally and nationally, for prisoners and chaplains, is heart-warming and very encouraging . The experience continues to deepen my Quaker convincement.
Poems Submitted by Marion.
Look to this day,
For yesterday is already a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Death is not the end of life
Experience and birth was not
The beginning. One will never
Cease to be because one is
An expression of eternal