7th February 2024
I’ve been a seeker all of my life. Not all of the time of course. Not always with intensity or even with conscious purpose. But I have always been looking for a home where I could somehow satisfy my spiritual yearnings. A table to sit at. A hearth to sit beside. Four walls to rest within at peace.
Raised a Roman Catholic, I explored Anglicanism (both high and low church versions), and even the Hare Krishna movement. All have given me something of value. All touched something essential in me. But nothing that I have explored has ever quite fitted with my essentially non-theistic outlook.
Three years ago, having pretty much given up my search, and after quite a long period of mental and emotional ill health, my wife and I moved to Beccles.
I had another go at visiting the local Anglican church, which has a lovely community, but still the structures and the formalised belief and worship system left me unconnected.
Then I walked past the Quaker Meeting House, or rather its streetside notice board. For a year or more I walked past it and glanced at the notices, particularly the invitation to attend Meeting for Worship on Fridays and Sundays. Sometimes I felt moved to find out more. For a long time I did nothing, but a seed was planted.
In Autumn of 2023, just a few weeks ago as I write, I had raised the topic of Quakerism with my wife, in one of our regular Friday morning coffee shop conversations. Coffee on a Friday morning seems to be the time that we explore the world together philosophically, and in this particular chat I mentioned my growing interest in Quakers. She encouraged me to explore, knowing that I was still on something of a quest for a spiritual home.
So that day I went back to the Meeting House, and this time picked up some leaflets.
The following Friday I almost went to my first meeting. I stood at the notice board by the street again and this time watched a few people arriving and greeting each other. I kept my distance, not feeling ready to engage.
A couple of Fridays after that I saw a woman in the town market place handing out leaflets inviting people to a peace vigil. I realised that this was a Quaker and, noting me pause rather than walking past, she greeted me so warmly and openly that I stopped to chat. Specifically I wanted to ask questions about the Quaker peace testimony, and her answers were so clear, yet so open and non-judgemental, that I felt the strangest sense of connection.
I didn’t attend the vigil, but I did finally pluck up the courage to attend the next Friday Meeting for Worship.
I entered the Meeting House a little anxiously but was greeted with such friendliness and gentleness by everyone, including Carrie (with whom I had spoken in the market place previously) that I had an immediate sense of safety and nurturing.
Chairs arranged in a horseshoe mean that everybody in the Meeting faces everybody else. I thought it might add to my anxiety, but far from it. Instead there was a sense of calm and comfort in settling down to quietness with other people. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. But it was clear that I was welcome, and being genuinely welcome is a rather wonderful feeling.
That first meeting felt like it was over in a flash. It was incredibly emotional for me, for reasons I neither understand nor can explain. I found myself on my feet and thanking the Meeting for their welcome, almost in tears as I spoke, then sitting again and feeling self conscious but content.
I still don’t know what happened for me in that first meeting, but I knew, from that moment, that I had at last found my spiritual home. My table to sit at, my hearth to sit by, my four walls within which I could rest my yearning soul.
Some of the Quakers at the Meeting House are Christian, others perhaps not. Some may be agnostic. Maybe some, like me, are non-theist. I don’t know, and the wonderful thing about Quakers is that it doesn’t matter.
It seems that each of us is allowed to be on our own journey of the spirit: but we are all wanting to support the others. Nobody pushes, but everyone’s arms are ready to catch and to hold.
Each Meeting that I have attended since has been different. None have been as emotional as the first, but my sense of having come home has deepened and strengthened. A half hour of silent meeting on a Friday, or an hour on a Sunday, has become the pillar of my week. A source of strength, a font of spiritual succour, and well of deep inspiration.
My quest to grow spiritually and philosophically is ongoing, but my search for a place to do it is over at last.
Simon - Beccles Quaker Meeting