This afternoon, Sasha – now my wife – and I travelled together with Gretchen Castle, General Secretary of the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC), to Bath, in the southwest of England, to attend the Yearly Meeting Gathering of British Quakers.
The city of Bath is familiar to me from visits during my days at a nearby Quaker boarding school (Sidcot) and occasionally since then. I last visited Bath three or four years ago, accompanying service users from Evesham & Pershore Mind (a local mental health charity) on a trip to the Christmas market. I remember it being a wet day a few weeks before Christmas.
Today was relatively warm. A local bus took us past Bath Abbey, across the River Avon, with a good, but fleeting, view of Pulteney Bridge, and up a steep hill to the university. Bath is a fine city, famous for its Roman baths and Georgian terraces. But most of us will spend the entire week on the university campus, except when we go on various excursions on Wednesday.
About 2,000 Quakers have come to take part in the Yearly Meeting Gathering, which will combine the formal sessions of Britain Yearly Meeting and a whole lot of less formal events and activities. Most of us are British Friends, but there will be a significant number of overseas visitors amongst us. I have already bumped into Hadewijch Touwen, an old (i.e. long-standing) Quaker friend from the Netherlands. Sasha and I have been greeted by Kerstin and Ludger Mangels from southwest Germany. Kerstin is the editor of “Quaeker”, the monthly newsletter/journal of German-speaking Quakers. And Sasha has introduced me to the mother-in-law of a close friend of hers from Portland, Oregon.
Sasha has come here to work: to inform British Quakers about the role and work of the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA), and to learn about the concerns of British Quakers. I shall do what I can to support her and Andrew Lane, the Deputy Representative of QCEA, when he comes on Wednesday and Sasha returns to Brussels. I am also here as a member of Banbury & Evesham Area Meeting, one of the constituent area meetings of Britain Yearly Meeting. I’m keen to take part in the discernment of the Yearly Meeting. And I’ve been looking forward very much to meeting up with a great many old and not-so-old friends.
It was good to find Sarah here from Evesham Local Meeting. During my seven years as warden of the meeting house in Evesham, no other member of the local meeting attended Yearly Meeting. There are other friends here from Banbury & Evesham Area Meeting. I joined Maria and her daughter, Faith, at supper time. Faith is attending Junior Yearly Meeting. I asked Maria how long she had been married: 20 years! Sasha and I have been married for three weeks.
We have bumped into a few Friends who were at our wedding in Lancaster, a few who weren’t able to come, and several who would have been invited, if we hadn’t had to draw the line somewhere. John played an invaluable role in the clearness meeting in Lancaster which paved the way for our marriage. The clearness meeting was far from being a formality. So Sasha and I are prepared for married life to be challenging at times, not just a bed of roses.
Nevertheless, our experience of the past three weeks has been very positive. Although we have been living together since the end of last year, our life together somehow has a new flavour. Our love for one another is growing.
Around the time of our wedding I was reminded from time to time of a short song which I learnt many years ago:
May the love we’re sharing spread its wings
Fly across the Earth
And bring new joy to every soul that is alive.
May the blessings of the Universe
Shine on everyone
And may we all see the Light within, within, within.