The tour of the north I made with my wife Clancy in the first week of the year to film more interviews for A Quaker Perspective was one of the most intensive but fulfilling of my life.
Standing in Brigflatts Meeting House I felt in the centre of a centuries-old continuity of faith & testimony that was at once robust, unemphatic yet totally contemporary. Zen-like in its strength and detachment.
The interior was totally unchanged from this 19thC photo (except for the removal of the stove) to the degree that it had no power sockets in the MH – an unforeseen hazard. This drawing of a wedding ceremony was particularly charming – an interesting period detail being the ‘hat honour’ of the men on the back row.
I felt drawn to go there and shoot an opening sequence. Probably this won't be relevant for a Quakers-only version, but I thought it might be handy for outreach purposes.
Our first port of call was Marcie Winstanley near Hexham, a 19 y/o Friend who was coherent and focused in her intention to enter politics at some point after she graduates as a teacher. It's an ambition she has held since seeing the Iraq War on TV at the age of 8. On of the reasons for going to film before doing any further fund-raising
I hope to have clips ready in a fortnight or so. Editing each interview is at least 3 days’ fulltime work.
Some of Marcie’s Quaker roots stem from her grandparents by whom Clancy & I were handsomely entertained. David and Caroline Westgate run a series of Peace Lectures in Hexham, and while we were there they were busy preparing for a WW1 exhibition voicesandchoiceshexham.org/ presented in Hexham to travel to Noyan, France.
The next port of call was Lancaster, where Sam Barnett-Cormack spoke eloquently on topics which included disability campaigning and his own position as a non-theist Quaker - a term which I discovered had nothing in common with atheism.
Finally to Ackworth School where Junior Head Katharine Elwis argued forcefully for the importance of Quaker schools as a bridge between doctrinaire nature of the state system and the economic elitism of the private sector.
But for me, the highlight of the trip was Brigflatts. Someone /sun-one was smiling on us since our scheduled afternoon there was the most beautiful ‘mid-winter spring’* amid a week of fairly grim weather. I felt that in that truly sacred space the essence of what I am trying to capture today has always existed and that our job is merely to be the means through which it speaks.
This film is a celebration of Quaker testimonies in the lives of the interviewees. See our first interviewee Harvey Gillman.
In February I shall announce the next step, which is a crowd-funding appeal in order to meet the costs of the filming - which so far I have met myself.
Eliot was writing about the church of the religious community started by Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding Cambs in 1625; but what he writes applies just as much to Brigflatts.
Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
[…] This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
[…] And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.