A simple stone meeting house

Triennial report 2015

Ettington Local Quaker Meeting submitted the following Triennial Report for 2012-2014 to the Banbury and Evesham Area Quaker Meeting:

Small is beautiful EF Schumacher

Ettington Meeting House and gardenAt one time, the main Warwick Road fronted the beautiful old Meeting House, and people passing would have been aware of its existence. This area is now on the outskirts of the village, and the main road is now a bypass, leaving the Meeting House tucked away at the top end of the garden, the former burial ground. The quality of the worship, however, has not diminished as the loving atmosphere of the worship from bygone days is still tangible in the very fabric of the building.

The number of worshippers has always been small, and, over the years, whilst attendance at Meeting for Worship attracts a nucleus of faithful Friends and Attenders from the surrounding area (within a circle with a diameter of 48 miles) each week, their advancing years and the inexperience of newer members have made it difficult to fill all the required roles in recent years.

To enhance the spiritual life of the Meeting, occasional discussions have been arranged on 5th Sundays, after Meeting for Worship and a shared lunch. Subjects have included ‘Forgiveness’, ‘Membership' (including ways to attract young people and children) and an account of the work of the Area Meeting Clerk.

Members have enjoyed a number of social occasions, including New Year lunch in a member’s home, several lunch visits to Stratford Garden Centre, and to Wyatt’s Farm Shop with other members of the Area Meeting. In May 2013, Ettington Friends also enjoyed visiting Anouk Naumann’s art exhibition (part of Warwickshire Art Week) and her garden, following lunch at Wyatt’s. In March 2014, a delightful Birds and Music afternoon with a bring-and share afternoon tea, took place when Friends enjoyed watching the birds in the garden and listening to their favourite music, each giving a donation when his/her track was played, raising £30.00 for Meeting House funds. In December 2013, 19 Friends and guests sampled mince pies, fruit punch and other seasonal snacks after Meeting for Worship. A small number of members also met for mince pies in December 2014.

Wooden benches line the walls of the small meeting roomTwo Meetings for Learning have been held at Ettington, in July 2012 and July 2013. In 2012, about 50 people heard Geoffrey Durham speak on Matters of Membership and Attending, and the difference between the two. Despite wet conditions underfoot, lunch was served in the garden. In 2013, Lorna Watson gave a talk entitled An Affirming Flame.

Friends have attended functions at Area, Regional and Yearly Meeting level: the Adderbury Gatherings and meetings for Worship, Regional Meetings and Yearly Meeting itself. The monthly Meeting for Worship outside the gates of RAF Croughton has been supported by Ettington Friends, as has the Experiment with Light Group which meets at the Meeting House on two Saturdays each month. Area Meeting committees have also met at the Meeting House. Friends have attended courses at Woodbrooke, on Discernment and Being Friends Together (in our Meetings).

Ettington Friends welcome visitorsDespite our small numbers, we have been able to offer hospitality and friendship on a number of open days, which have raised awareness of Quakers and of our very special Meeting House. Snowdrop Sunday was held in February 2012 (in snow!) – sadly, for the last time as, since then, the wonderful display of snowdrops has been seriously depleted, due, it is believed, to animal depredations. In September each year, we have welcomed visitors, on foot and on wheels, to the Heritage Open Days and Historic Churches Trust Ride and Stride events. In November 2014, the meeting also became a member of the Historic Churches Trust.

In January 2012, 29 Friends from Warwick and Ettington Meetings, and visitors, gathered at the Meeting House for an introductory talk about the history of Quakers in the village, followed by a walk, taking in the houses in the village which had some significance for Quakers over the years (leaflets giving directions are available at the Meeting House). The year 2012 was also a good year for welcoming visiting local history and walking groups: members of a local history group from Leicester visited the Meeting House in April, and in May, 32 visitors from the Elmbridge Lecture Group, Droitwich, also visited. Friends were surprised to find a group of 20 visitors from the Tewkesbury Walking Group coming up the path to the Meeting House after Meeting for Worship one Sunday in August! They were most interested in the Meeting House and its history.

In the garden, major work has been necessary over the three years. The head gardener of Armscote Manor carried out a survey of the work needed. The boundary fences on three sides were renewed, and an outside light was fitted to illuminate the footpath. Following a tree surgeon’s inspection, the massive hornbeam tree by the gate was found to be diseased and was felled. The hollow stump has been planted and makes a most attractive feature. Other trees, yew and hazel, have been trimmed to allow more light to the gingko tree. Two apple trees of the variety George Fox were planted and are thriving.

The electric wall heaters in the Meeting House were renewed but towards the end of 2014, went out one by one, meaning that further replacements were necessary (now completed).

A marquee and bunting in the gardenThe highlight of this triennium was the 330th anniversary celebration of the building of the Meeting House (the oldest Meeting House in the country being in continuous use) to which all members of Banbury and Evesham Area meeting were invited, together with family, friends and residents of Ettington and the surrounding villages. On Saturday 3 October, 2014, the Meeting House assumed a bright and festive appearance, complete with Ettington’s new acquisition, the Meeting’s stylish Arabian Party Tent, festooned with colourful bunting and balloons, and with tables and chairs set out ready for our guests.

The small room had been transformed, with new window-seat and ottoman cushions and two displays – an anthology, Spirit, Light and Truth, and a Timeline from 1624 (the birth of George Fox) to the present day, entitled ETTINGTON QUAKERS: linked-in to History which depicts the parallels between National, Quaker and Ettington events, complete with relevant illustrations.

People study the displays in the small roomBut the piece de resistance was the very moving audio-visual presentation made by a member of the Meeting and his team, telling the story of the beginnings of Quakerism and Ettington Meeting. In addition to the stunning photography, the characters and the narrative brought our history to life. Those who watched it were mesmerized, sitting through it several times.

The day began with a talk by Stuart Masters, senior course tutor at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham, speaking on Christ is come to teach his people himself: the early Friends’ view of Christianity. Stuart led us on a journey from the earliest days of the Society, from George Fox’s convincement that the Spirit is within us all, which is the fundamental foundation of the Quaker way, to the diversity of the Society today. It was fascinating to hear how the transformational spiritual experiences of the early Friends led them to reinterpret their previous beliefs and to develop a particular vision of the new covenant. He explained that this vision is the key to understanding all the most important characteristics of the Quaker Way and its discipline. He showed us how this vision has been interpreted over time by each of the three main forms of Quakerism that exist in the world today: Evangelical, Liberal and Conservative.

His talk, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, held the fourteen listeners riveted for an hour with his enthusiasm and knowledge and love of his subject. He invited questions, which could have continued for much longer than the twenty minutes that followed, and, rather than break for coffee, we went straight into a short Meeting for Worship. Altogether, a not-to-be-missed experience!

After our picnic lunch, we celebrated the 330th birthday of Ettington Meeting House. Quakers had been meeting in the village, suffering much persecution, for 24 years before they were able to worship in the beautiful Meeting House, thanks to the bequest of Samuel Lucas in his will in 1681. It took three years to build, and has been in continuous use since 1684.

People gathered in the marqueeOur visitors were able to watch the film, which ran continuously, both in the Meeting House and the small room, and also study the two displays. For those who were feeling energetic, there was the Quaker Walk around the village. Many cups of tea and coffee were served, with delicious savories and cakes, but the highlight was the cutting of Ettington Meeting House’s own birthday cake, beautifully made and decorated by one of our members.

During the day, we were pleased to welcome Quakers from Sibford, Kenilworth and Coventry. It was a pleasure to see so many of our friends and family, together with local visitors, and, as well as all of us enjoying ourselves tremendously, we were able to take away a little more knowledge about Quakers in general, and Ettington in particular.

Ettington is not only the smallest Meeting House in the country, but the Meeting is the smallest in Banbury and Evesham Area Meeting. However, we are ever optimistic, and we are always encouraged by the words of Rufus Jones: I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place.

March 2015