It was never going to be the same as the world conference of Quakers, but it didn’t disappoint. It was just different.
In Kenya, I loved going into the auditorium and there being music and singing for the lord before the formal worship. When I entered the large meeting house at the beginning of Britain Yearly Meeting, there was the familiar sound of chatter. But plenty of familiar faces from the world conference and I sat next to one in the east block.
I couldn’t see the east gallery above me, so I don’t know the figures but otherwise I would estimate that we were around 3-400 together in worship for the first session of Britain Yearly Meeting tonight.
Last year, at the beginning of the Yearly Meeting Gathering we had an Ivor the Engine story. It was told in homage to Oliver Postgate who was a Quaker who lived in Kent as well as a creator of television programmes for children. And there had been Paul Parker, the recording clerk, playing his oboe. This year Paul didn’t have an instrument with him and the clerks played it straight. There was occasional laughter from the odd thing said, including an assistant clerk’s comment about mixing up East Anglia and Wales.
Much of the first session of yearly meeting business is procedural. It needs to be done, since we have set ourselves a course of self-governance that requires discipline and attention to detail in order to build the foundation that gives us freedom to explore the leadings of the spirit across the rest of our sessions. But even the procedure is grounded in worship and the opening worship felt deep and still to me tonight.
We finished the session with three Friends sharing their reflections from the world conference. One, Rosie, has written a long piece on the Sheffield Quakers blog and if you read her post you’ll get a flavour of what she shared with us in session. And finally we sang together ‘Seek ye the kingdom of God’ and it sounded as good then as it did together in Kenya.
Earlier in the day I had spent around 4 hours around by the Britain Yearly Meeting display in the Quaker Centre. There we have a slideshow of images from our Quaker work, as well as lots of materials to take away. We’ve also got a quilt lovingly made by a Friend in Cheshire, which is on sale to raise funds for our yearly meeting’s work.
It was great meeting so many people who were passing through the Quaker Centre, meeting old friends and recognising names from correspondence and meeting in person. Lots of people asked me why I was wearing a suit though, continuing the theme from Kenya where mostly British Friends were surprised by my choice of clothing and felt the need to comment on it.
Finally, I finished the day with a cycle ride home with Laura. She took me on a tour of south London back streets, my favourite named one being Bird in the Bush Road. We recorded a Nayler podcast together but my phone battery ran out and corrupted the file. It was great cycling home with a good friend, chatting and singing and just riding with the Light into the dusk of the day.