There have been Quakers in Shrewsbury since the 17th Century. They first held meetings in a pair of houses on St John’s Hill and used the gardens as a burial ground. They built a Meeting House in the garden in 1670 and built two subsequent ones on the same site. The last, built in 1807, still exists and is now the parish hall of the neighbouring St Chad’s Church.
The Meeting dwindled during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the Meeting House was sold in 1924. In about 1936, George and Helen Landsdowne, Quakers from the south of England, moved to Shrewsbury and started a Meeting for Worship in their own home in Kemps Eye.
Since then it has grown out of several properties until the present building in Coton Hill was bought in 1985. There is at present a membership of about fifty and many regular attenders. Until recently there has been a children’s class but this only occurs when requested these days.
During the Covid 19 pandemic we no longer meet in the Meeting House. We are meeting online using Zoom, asking other friends to ‘hold us in the light’. Groups of no more than six meet on fine Sundays in the Meeting House garden, by arrangement.
The Early Days: Swarthmoor Hall
In 1660, Margaret Fell, one of the first Quakers, who lived at Swarthmoor Hall, told the new King, Charles II: “We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love and unity; it is our desire that others’ feet may walk in the same, and do deny and bear our testimony against all strife, and wars, and contentions that come from the lusts that war in the members, that war in the soul, which we wait for, and watch for in all people, and love and desire the good of all… Treason, treachery, and false dealing we do utterly deny; false dealing, surmising, or plotting against any creature upon the face of the earth, and speak the truth in plainness, and singleness of heart.”
Swarthmoor Hall: www.swarthmoorhall.co.uk
George Fox 1656
“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.”
The Quaker Tapestry outlines Quaker History from the 17th to the 21st century.
The Quaker Tapestry: www.quaker-tapestry.co.uk
2016 Brexit – from Peter Parker’s Blog on the Quakers in Britain website.
In 2016, just after the EU referendum, Quakers in Britain said: “There is now a great need for bridge-building, for reaching out to one another in love, trusting that below the political differences lie a shared humanity and a wish for flourishing communities … We will look for creative ways to find common cause, to listen, to influence and to persuade. As the status quo is shaken we and our neighbours must look to one another for support, wisdom and above all ways of healing divisions.”
Quakers in Britain website: https://quaker.org.uk
Fierce Feathers – A true story of the Society of Friends in America
In 1775, there were many communities of European settlers in the American West. Some of these were followers of William Penn, and called themselves the Society of Friends, though others often called them Quakers. These people keep to a simple way of quiet worship. They meet in silence. They are determined to be peaceful in every situation. Many Friends went to America to find the religious freedom that was denied them back in Britain. You may have heard about the Pilgrim Fathers, and the Mayflower, their ship.
Robert Nisbet was a Quaker preacher. One weekend he had to set out on Friday to walk to a new and remote settlement, to preach on Sunday. It was a thirty-mile walk, tiring and thirsty, and he slept two nights in the open. The journey was dangerous too. Many of the European settlers, though not the Friends, had used guns against the native Americans, and their response with bows and arrows was swift, and often murderous.
As Robert walked, he thought about how to preach. The small community of Friends he was visiting was fearful and hard-pressed, but faithful to their peaceful intentions. Every day there were stories of fierce fighting between settlers and Native Americans. Robert chose a Bible verse, Psalm 91 verse 4. ‘God will cover you with his feathers. Under his wings, you will find refuge. Do not fear the terror of the night or the arrow that flies by day.’
On Sunday morning, as usual, all the Friends, from the eldest grandparent to the tiniest child, sat together in silent worship and meditation in the largest of their wooden cabins. It was a fresh morning, with a clear sky. The doors and windows were left open, and a gentle wind blew through. Robert read his text, and the people listened while he spent a few minutes sharing his thoughts. “God is like a mother bird. God will cover you with feathered wings and keep you safe.” Silence descended: the community was worshipping. No sound arose inside the cabin. But outside soft and dangerous footfalls came into the little village.
The Native American chief followed by many braves crept into the little group of wooden buildings. They carried war axes, scalping knives, bows and arrows. They came to kill and drive settlers away from their land. At first, they thought the tiny village was deserted, but their trackers noticed footprints leading to the largest cabin. They silently surrounded the wooden building.
Then two braves stepped across the open window. Two more, and the chief, stood in the doorway. One by one, the worshipping Friends inside noticed the presence of the attackers. The air crackled with tension. Each one looked to Robert: he motioned gently with his hands to keep still, to continue in prayer. Time stretched. The Native American eyes took in the scene. They saw that the people inside carried no guns. No swords. No weapons.
Then the chief murmured to his braves in a low voice. Silently, one by one, each brave laid his axe and weapons on the ground at the door. Each one filed into the crowded cabin. They too sat at peace with the Friends in worship.
Minutes passed, and the oldest of the Friends, a man called Zebulon, closed the meeting with a blessing. He stood, approached the chief, and wordlessly motioned him to follow. He took the chief home and shared his meal with him. Another of the braves, who could speak English, told Robert ‘We came today to kill you, and destroy your settlement. But you worshipped the Great Spirit in silence as we do. We couldn’t kill you at worship. We’ve learned something today.’
The braves gave the Friends a white feather and an arrow as signs of peace, to display from their rooftop. There was no war between them.