Joining a Combined Meeting

by Michael Booth
Westminster (UK) Meeting


My journey into Friends included becoming convinced while at a Quaker school in southern England. My actual convincement was sitting in worship at Fox's Pulpit on Firbank Fell, on a trip to 1652 Country to learn about the early days of Quakerism.


I started going to my nearest meeting for worship, which was Ilford Meeting in east London.  Its formal name was Ilford and Barking Meeting, as it had recently amalgamated.


Barking Meeting had been in a nineteenth century meeting house, but more recently in the former caretaker’s (janitor’s) house which was on the same site. It had a burial ground which was now being used by the local council as a park. Burials included Elizabeth Fry and William Meade (one of the two Friends who in 1670 was found guilty of speaking in Gracechurch Street—the other was William Penn) so it was a meeting with a long history.


Ilford Meeting was founded in the early 20th century in a growing suburb of London: its building was nondescript and had little to attract new people. But Ilford was easier for Friends to reach, which is why Ilford Meetinghouse had been kept.


As a newcomer, and barely into my 20s, I saw a single group of about a dozen elderly retired Friends. But it became clear quite quickly that as a group they clearly knew who had been a Barking Friend and who had been an Ilford Friend. When it came to appointing Elders and Overseers, this distinction was important. 


I like to think that over time Friends stopped thinking of themselves as previously Barking Friends, or original Ilford Friends, but I don’t think that they did. They were all elderly and as over the next few years they died, or became too frail to attend meeting, the meeting itself changed. By the time I moved away from that meeting after eight years, there was perhaps one or two of the original group left, but the size of the meeting had remained constant, so in their own quiet way, this group of Friends had welcomed newcomers and become a single community.


A few Friends from that meeting stand out in my memories:


Beatrice, who lived with her sister. She had become a Quaker against the wishes of her family.  Whenever a Quaker visited her, her sister would leave the room and not acknowledge the visitor.


Bob, who only started coming to meeting after he had been widowed, as his wife would not have approved of him being a Quaker.


Amy, who was the clerk when I joined. She always came over as one of the older generation, a bit schoolmarm-ish, a maiden aunt, and very prim and proper. Amy ministered nearly every week from Advices and Queries. Later, when Amy’s short-term memory had left her, she would sometimes read from Advices and Queries, and if no one else ministered in response, would reread the same portion. Later still, Amy would have forgotten what portion she had read, so if no one responded to her reading from Advices and Queries, she would then read a different portion.


In a larger meeting, this could have been a problem. But with Ilford and Barking often being lucky to have ten Friends present, we were able to take it in our stride. In some ways it was easier for the meeting once Amy started reading different portions.


I do remember one Sunday when there were just five of us at meeting. Three fell asleep, and Amy and I just looked at each other, and silently decided not to wake them up.


Each of these were Friends who would be a stalwart of any meeting, and happily did have the courage and contentment to belong to a small and aging meeting, being part of a quiet witness in a largely Quaker-free area of London. The meeting has since been laid down. It probably lasted for as long as it did because of the commitment of Friends like these.