Norwich Quaker Meeting House
20th December 2022
It was curiosity that prompted me to hesitantly walk down Upper Goat Lane in Norwich one Sunday morning and approach the Quaker Meeting House. I’d recently visited Ironbridge and had a conversation in Abraham Darby’s house with one of the guides about how as a Quaker Darby had conducted his business in a particularly moral way.
Later I googled ‘Quaker entrepreneur’ and discovered a rich history of men who had very successfully build leading brands and taken a paternalistic approach to their staff. The Cadbury family had built Bourneville, a model village on the edge of Birmingham, to house workers at their chocolate factory. Other familiar names, such as Fry, Rowntree, Clark, Lloyds, Barclays and many more had also been Quakers. I needed to find out more.
As I arrived at the Meeting House that morning I paused. What, I wondered, was pulling me here so strongly and what would I find if I entered? My parents had been staunch Anglicans and I’d attended church as a child, but any faith I’d had had been quickly lost in adolescence. Why, was I now considering religion again, I asked myself?
‘Are you coming to Meeting,’ said a cheery voice. I’d not noticed the lady walking down the lane behind me. I smiled and replied’; ‘perhaps – I’m interested to know what Quakers do.’ Toni, as I later learned, leads on Quaker outreach in Norwich and so knew how to put a newcomer at ease. ‘We sit in silence for an hour,’ she explained, ‘sometimes one or more feel moved to speak, but often nobody breaks the silence.’
Toni led me in to the Meeting House and showed me where to sit. Others were already in the room, and soon the meeting began. It’s hard to describe the sense of calm and peace I felt in that hour of collective silence. I had an overwhelming feeling that I had finally arrived at a place I needed to be. There was no turning back and now years later, I still find meetings powerful and moving. I think I’d always been a Quaker, but hadn’t realised until that Sunday morning.
Robert Ashton - Leiston Quaker Meeting, Suffolk. You can find more from Robert on his website at robertashton.co.uk