Newsletter - December 1999

Edited by: Philip Pollard


Dear Friends

Christmas is a time for rejoicing, celebrating the birth of Christ, how easy this is forgotten by so many. How much better a place the world would be if we had over the years taken his message of love and peace to heart. There is the future and there is hope.

For Wanstead Friends this is a special end of the year and an additional cause to celebrate for at last the major work programme on the Meeting House is to start. When we return it will be to new toilet arrangements which will include a purpose-designed disability toilet. There will be new flooring for the meeting room, new equipment in the kitchen, more storage space. The biggest item will be the replacement of the heating system, all the asbestos items have to be removed. The new radiators to be installed will be kept at a lower regulated heat for the safety of children and babies. All this work will take time, we have been told over three months.

Cambridge Park Methodists

Wanstead Friends are delighted that Cambridge Park Methodists have offered us the use of their hall during this period. Our meeting will be at 10.30am-11.30. We will join together for shared coffee and tea. The children will join together for their Meeting - Sunday School.

What gave great pleasure was the speed of the response, "Of course you can meet here, if we can help we will be pleased to receive you."

This welcoming approach was also extended to us by the Hindu Temple on Whipps Cross Road. "Yes, you can meet here and we would be pleased to help you."

During the week three Friends attended the Inter Faith AGM. Time has moved on and most Christian, Hindu, Moslem and those of other faiths realise that, despite our distinctive ways, there is that of God that unites us all.

How terrible has been the divide in Northern Ireland and how welcome is the present coming together. We must work for, hope and pray that such divides in the world can be healed and that we can look forward to a new century that is worthy home for all our children. We must unite for this, it will not be easy but the rewards will be great. Peace and Good Will to All People.

Christmas Greetings to you all

Philip Pollard

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Who Do We Think We Are?

If you weren't at the open evening entitled "Who do they think they are?" on the I6th September last then you wont know that you missed a really enjoyable and informative event. it was an evening when five Friends from Wanstead Meeting House shared different aspects of Quaker life.

Cliff Hendon welcomed everyone to Wanstead Friends Meeting House and acted as chair for the evening.

The first person Cliff introduced was Ann Mason who spoke about Quaker history.

Ann did a whistle stop journey through Quaker history going from the early days and George Fox, through the sufferings and punishment endured by the early Quakers, and on through the I8th and I9th centuries to be present day.

Next to speak was Laurie Hackwell who talked about the Quaker community in general and the Friends meeting for worship in particular. He explained the meeting for worship is based on the insight and belief that there is that of God in everyone. Sitting in silence allows connection with the God within and the silence being broken only when the spirit prompts someone to speak. Laurie also gave brief descriptions of Quaker christenings, marriage and a burial/cremation ceremonies.

Last to speak was Melvin Freake who talked about the on-going involvement of Quakers in social action. He explained that when he had recently ‘surfed’ Quaker Faith and practice he had discovered, much to his surprise, that Chapter 23 which covers Social Responsibility is the longest chapter in the book. Melvin explained that to believe there is that of God in yourself leads to the next logical step of believing that there is that of God in other people. This belief naturally steers a Quaker to social responsibility. He quoted from Harvey Gillman’s testimony in Quaker Faith and Practice 23.12 that all human beings are equal, that all life is interconnected

These presentations were followed by open time shared by panellists and audience alike when anecdotes were recalled and interesting facts about local Quaker history remembered and exchanged.

In answer to the evening’s question ‘Who do we think we are?’ Percy Cleaver was remembered to illustrate what is means to be a Quaker. Percy Cleaver was a local barber and Quaker. When he rubbed oil into a customer’s hair, he blessed them. Percy worshipped throughout the week through his work as well as at Meeting on Sunday.

I feel I have not and cannot do justice to the care and time taken by the panellists to present their particular areas of Quaker life. On behalf of everyone there I thank them.

Lis Sutherland

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I believe in a universal, creator God.

I believe in a God that has a sense of purpose i.e. creativity but can only act in co-operation with creation.

I believe in an active Spirit that is an intermediary between God and creation.

I believe that there is a reciprocal relationship between the Spirit and creation. Spirit is experienced when we are open to receive it. When we are not open to receive it, God is powerless. In spite of this the Spirit can break through. To do this there must be a sense in which we are receptive to it.

I believe in a God that does not express itself in human values. It may therefore be sensed as unpredictable.

I believe in a Spirit that challenges our instincts and expresses itself through a sense of love and unity.

I believe in a God that expresses itself through the lives and creativity of all believers. The Spirit of God renews and refreshes a continuing commitment.

I believe in a God of justice where everything has its rightful place without exploitation and with thanksgiving i.e. a true gospel ordering of life.

I believe in a contemporary church that enables faith to express itself, in a variety of ways, and encourages discernment.

Peter Bevan

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Catching The Bus

Apropos the item PS in the September issue; it brought to mind two incidents at the Green Man bus stop on the way home from Meeting recently.

A remark about the lateness or otherwise of the bus can lead to conversations. Such was the case in the first instance. Somehow I mentioned I had been to meeting and although not far away it took travelling time. "What meeting?" the lady asked. I described the Meeting House. "Oh the Quakers," was the reply. "I’m a catholic." She went on to speak of the Quakers during the Irish famine; how help was given without wanting to know what party or church people belonged. This she had great respect for. Evidently she had met Quakers and found they were not ‘communists’ or ‘ists’ in a partisan sense and was fascinated that she could not argue or categorise them in this way.

The second occasion I was sitting on the wall waiting for the bus when three bright young ladies came up and showed me a Jehovah's Witness leaflet. "I’ve read it," I said. They persisted. I said I had just been to a meeting for worship. "Where was that?" I explained it was a silent meeting unless someone felt moved to speak. They’d not heard of that. I hope they went away a little more enlightened.

Harry Burkett

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A Visit To Lithuania

When I began to take notes during my one month's stay with two families in Lithuania I had hoped, to emulate Ronald Blythe and find the infinite in everyday circumstances such as cricket matches and afternoon tea (should such institutions have existed in Lithuania).

The plan started well. I noted the cows name - Donatelli; the five pigs one of which found its way into a neighbours pig pen; one fatal and one near fatal accident in one month resulting probably from drunk driving in a village of 1,000 people; the child allowance for unmarried mothers of £25.00 per month and the allowance of £20.00 per month per child for foster parents but no method of assessing quality of care; the old Russian farm machinery and the derelict farm buildings; the horse and cart - no longer picturesque but the best affordable means of transport in a struggle for existence where for many rural families the monthly cash income is only £20.00 per month. Water rates (from any source) are 80p per month per child, per person, per cow, per pig and sewage costs overall are about £12.00 per month (yes, it does mean that some do without sewage disposal services); electricity in the foster home I stayed in costs about £30.00 per month. The salary of the local primary teacher is £160 per month. A well costs about £200.00 to install but the pump costs about three times as much (if you do not want to draw the water by hand).

Of the 9,000 children in the district 400 are considered to be at high risk and of these 40 are fostered in three families, of which my host is one (with 15 children, some now adults). There was the 7 km walk to music school and 7 km back; but the children enjoyed this freedom I was told (there is a bus which takes older children to secondary school). The local teenagers gather around our house in the evening in spite of parental protest (no change here!) and use a derelict building at weekends for dances where fights sometimes occur (not much change here either). The local primary school has about forty children aged seven to eleven and two teachers. My host wants £4000 to buy a building for a local secondary school (the government will provide the teachers). The building is the disused communist civic centre complete with theatre and assembly hall. It is now owned by the local bread manufacturer who bought it at the time of independence.

Had I known in which opera Donatelli appears I might have had material to reflect on a cow that can only be milked by two people and no-one else; I could reflect on petrol no longer being taken from the van outside our house after the near road fatality and perhaps relate it also to the disappearing pig. (one of the pigs will be killed for Christmas and smoked by a neighbour). But it does not quite ring true. Mr Blythe must have a greater sense of perception and a greater skill in writing than I had recognised in his weekly article in the Church Times.

It was only when I stood by the ruined castle in Kaunus and reflected on the fact that I was standing where Napoleon had been based prior to his ill-fated attack on Russia, and so magnificently captured by Tolstoy, that my imagination began to work. Here I was on that North European Plain for the first time, having picked potatoes as millions of others were doing, and walking in the rich unspoilt forests of birch and Scots pine that stretched to Siberia.

Indeed Siberia seemed almost to dominate the holiday. Not only did I recall the fatalism of Tolstoy but I was informed that every family has a member who had been deported to Siberia since I950 - associated with the collectivisation of the land and the building of new townships. Some returned, others did not or were maimed for life - no wonder there are a surprising number of shops selling walking aids, back supports, wheel chairs etc. Prior to this many of the men had been killed in the war. Indeed my observation that the men seemed not to be very demonstrative and the expressed wish of some to return to communism, (with its guaranteed employment and therefore significant personal role within society) suggested reasons for what seemed at times like a degree of autism. Perhaps this is why the new President seemed to have decided to place more emphasis on rural development where a third of the countries population is still rural.

But I have forgotten the image I said that I would remember. It seems to have stayed with me from my earliest travels to Europe. It is the image of old ladies dressed in black with long shawls washing the marble tiles of the Catholic Churches with a wet cloth wrapped around a large brush. I am not sure I have ever seen an Anglican Church being cleaned but I suppose they must as they never seem dirty.

The one Quaker meeting in Lithuania was reassuring. There were five women there and myself. One was a shop manager, another a make-up artist for television, another a student in clothing design and fashion. We all sat up straight with hands folded, palms upward on knees. Simplicity of dress and shoes and a desire for silence were reassuring and the decision not to advertise (in order that Quakers should not be seen to be like all the other sects who seem to be invading former Eastern Europe) seemed reminiscent of similar attitudes nearer home! The meeting started after a visit by Rex Ambler to give a talk at a public forum on the Light.

An overwhelming sense of pain and need for gentleness came to me from time to time symbolised by the striking Lithuanian image of the suffering Christ - an old man sitting with his chin resting on one hand. Spiritual here is more to do with a reaction to communist materialism and pagan spirits dun a deeply felt sense of discernment - but perhaps that is not so unusual after all and certainly does not describe the Carmelite nuns I met. Compassion and gentleness were seen as love. Now where had I heard that before. It was in Colorado, USA; a guide was telling how badly treated the women were and therefore how easy it was to exploit the situation sexually.

Everywhere there was a sense of large scale communist activity. The collectives, the hundreds of miles of large drainage ditches dug by hand in the last 30 years, the new factory towns and large dormitory, high rise, flats and a sky line stretching without limit to the Pacific Ocean. And the Autumn weather of clear blue skies while the potatoes were harvested and stored safely to protect them from rats and frost.

But as in Russia in 1960, or thereabouts, I again learnt a lesson in poverty. One thing I did not do with my hosts was window shop. Money is important and not to be wasted on ice-creams or fashion or eating out. It was not a lack of generosity on their part. It was a sense of affluence on my part. The smart fashions and the plentiful restaurants indicated that I was not alone. So it was with some sadness that I noted contemporary aspirations to join the EEC (Lithuania gained independence from Russia in 1991 and is now strongly capitalist). The reason for this is clear with Russia as an immediate neighbour. In eight years there have been enormous changes in life style - many for the better, and yet also a loss of togetherness. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all trying in their different ways to establish new identities as nations but the pressures of capitalism, without the mediating effects of a social perspective, seem dominant.

In some ways it would seem appropriate to end with Ronald Blythe. So let me finish with a reference (pp179-80) in his recent book called Divine Landscapes as a recognition of my inability to identify the inner landscapes of Lithuania. He quotes from the end of David Pownall's description of "the Galilee of Quakerism" between the rivers Lune and Ribble. Pownall refers to a final landscape (of the 1650's) which could be seen in the eyes of the people, in their stance, talk, character, relationships reflecting all the corners and spires, trees and houses, aspirations and realities within their horizon. In their expression exists this landscape in such a fashion that only the writer can see it. That was always the true landscape, the revolving inner mystery.

Peter Bevan

The people which sat in darkness saw a great light. And to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. Mathew Ch 4 v 16

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Faith in Practice

I carry the maker of the world in me, who was before I am, yet comes after me. I wear my AIDS badge as a personal, political and religious statement, and as a sign of commitment to qualities in relationships of warmth, honesty, openness, respect, faithfulness, responsibility, affection, privacy, and consent, as well as sheer damn friendliness, fun, humour and joyfulness.

If, as Jim Morrison sings, Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night, then the AIDS badge signifies the end of the night. Not the end of difficulties, but the end of the endless night. The end of people being made to feel small for who they are, or for what they believe, or for whatever personal choices they might make. An end to treating people like dirt, and a beginning to treating people for who they are, not what they are. Nobody, high or low, rich or poor, is worth nothing. No personal relationship, however ephemeral or superficial, counts for nothing.

No matter how decadent, dissolute, reprehensible, or reprobate someone's lifestyle may seem to be, whatever their lifestyle, no matter how they got it, nobody deserves this disease.

The AIDS badge implies that personal relationships are private and are not for sale, exhibition or display. Personal relationships are freely entered into according to feelings of affection and respect. They should not be made according to, or even against, any form of 'correctness', whether political or religious or otherwise. No one should be bullied, pressurised or otherwise cajoled into making personal choices that they would not otherwise make.

I wear my AIDS badge as a beacon of light in the dark. Never again should anyone be bullied, derided, put down or mocked on account of any personal difficulty that they might have. Never, never, never !

There is a light that enlightens the darkness, and it's carried by me, and it's carried by you, and it's carried by her, and it's carried by everybody. The AIDS badge implies respect and space for people's personal choices, whatever they might be. Personal lives are private; people are free to make whatever choices they wish in respect of their personal lives, whether or not these choices are 'conventional' or otherwise. George Fox wrote, That to be bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to make a man fit to be a minister of Christ. (Jnl p 7). That is, all are equal in Christ, and there is an end to high or low, rich or poor, worthy or unworthy. All are entitled to their own personal relationships and their own personal choices concerning these relationships.

The AIDS badge stands for a commitment to integrity in all relationships. Any relationship which is coerced or bartered or manipulative or abusive is a relationship from hell.

The AIDS badge also signifies a stand against any personal, or sexual molestation or abuse of any kind, whether voyeuristic, physical, exhibitionistic, or verbal.

The AIDS badge is also a stand against all those fascists who would seek to remove a flower from a young girls hair.

Andrew Blunden

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The Divine Image

William Blake

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A Poetry Reading At The Meeting House

On Friday October 1st a group of Friends and others gathered in the Social Room to hear Philip Pollard read a selection of his poems.

During the first part of the evening we heard some of Philips earlier poems, covering a wide range of subjects. These included a delightful piece about one of his grandchildren falling downstairs - fortunately she wasn’t hurt! Other poems, some in the form of sonnets, reflected his love of natural beauty, and many of them recorded his thoughts about places he and Myrtle had visited together, both in this country and abroad.

Following a break for refreshments, Philip read some of the sonnets he had written during Myrtle’s last illness and since her death, on the subject of love and loss. His sharing of these and other poems with us as "a tribute and a remembrance", to use his own words, was a deeply moving experience.

Thank you Philip.

The event raised the sum of £78 for the Meeting House Restoration Fund.

Lawrie Hackwell.

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Our thanks to all those, and there are many of you who have contributed to the Newsletter over the years. A special thanks to Michael Wetton who took on the sending out of the Newsletter from Marie to those who have moved from the area. Like Marie he adds a personal touch.

We look forward to a bumper crop from you in the New Year.

High Leigh Weekend
All Age Conference
April 14th-16th

Please keep these dates clear and book early for what promises to be a successful conference. More details later.

Redbridge Night Shelter

Redbridge Night Shelter is once again opening its doors to offer a warm meal, a bed and breakfast to homeless people here in Redbridge. The churches who are offering their premises this year are as follows:

Wanstead United Reformed Church, Grosvenor Road, Wanstead

Woodford Green United Free Church, High Elms, Woodford Green

St. Mary's, High Road, South Woodford

Vine United Reformed Church, Riches Road, llford - Premises still needed urgently

St. Clements, Granville Road, llford

Newbury Park Methodist Church, Oaks Lane, Newbury Park

You will notice from this list that we have one new site; St.Clements Granville Road, Ilford and we are very grateful to the church for offering their premises to us from January 2000.

We urgently need more volunteers for most sites except on Sundays. Volunteers welcome the guests, set up the shelter, prepare and clear up the meals and drinks and clear away at the end of each session. They work in shifts: 7-10 pm in the evenings, overnight and from 6.30 - 8.30 am in the mornings. We now have a paid, waking member of staff during the night to work alongside the volunteers. Volunteers work when they are able, some as often as once a week, some once a month.

If you would like to know more about volunteering please contact us on 0181 500 9341 or write to our Volunteer Coordinator c/o St. Mary's Church, High Road, South Woodford.

Forms are available with further information.

Churches Together In Wanstead

The meeting of the CTW Coffee Morning Committee agreed at their recent meeting, that after a donation to the Cambridge Park Methodist Church for the use of their hall, £40 should be sent to Redbridge Night Shelter and the balance to CAFOD to be given to the East Timor Crisis Appeal.

The coffee morning was set up as a social chance to meet across the churches. It would be nice if a few more Friends could drop in on a Saturday morning. The next coffee morning will be on the 8 January.