Burford Reflections, Issue No.21, 2019

Thought for the month:

In what ways are you involved in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations? (Advices & queries, 32). Are you alert to practices here and throughout the world which discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs? Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or its laws. Try to discern new growing points in social and economic life. Seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest and fear. Are you working to bring about a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacity and fosters the desire to serve? (Advices & queries, 33).

The topic for Area Meeting on October 26 is Building Understanding and Tolerance in a divided society. Reading Meeting House11 am– 6 pm.

“The World Turned Upside Down”

No, NOT a reference to the current British political turmoil, not even the more threat of worldwide climate change but a history of the C17th origins of revolutionary groups, including Quakers. Christopher Hill’s seminal work first appeared in 1972 but is no less relevant in these times of strife.

Graham Hadley writes:

The English Civil War in the C17th produced two revolutions: the first, which happened, was the permanent shift in the balance of power away from the king, to the propertied classes; the second, which didn’t happen, was the overthrow of secular and religious authority based on hierarchy and property and its replacement by a truly egalitarian society. Hill, a Marxist, explores the ideas of the second, in which the C17th landless poor substituted for the

urban proletariat as the revolutionary class according to Marxist philosophy.

The English Civil War produced an explosion of radicalism, spread by pamphlets unhindered by state censorship which had collapsed. The agents and leaders of the new movements were mainly landless men, often itinerant, who sought the end of oppression by the church (the hated tithes), and the landed classes – enclosure of land had accelerated, producing increased numbers of the displaced.

In Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, there was an embryonic instrument for the radicalisation of society on the basis of equality and democracy. The defeat of the king and the Royalists made it seem possible that a new order would transform society, truly turning the world upside down.

However, in the late 1640s, the tide began to turn. Once the king was dead, thoughts started to focus on just what sort of government should replace the Crown. The turning point, according to Hill, was the defeat of Levellers within the army at Burford in 1649. After years of lawlessness, there was a widespread desire for peace and those opposed to radical solutions were able to argue that to allow untrammelled individual rights and powers would simply lead to the breakdown of all civil and moral order. The disproportionately cruel punishment imposed by Parliament on James Nayler in 1656 (the leading Quaker who was accused of blasphemy when he rode a donkey into Bristol, in memory of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem) testified to the fear of radicalism which by that time had permeated the country’s rulers.

But the flame of liberty, once lit, continued to burn, even though it had failed to consume. Hill’s hero is Gerard Winstanley, the Digger, whose philosophy certainly anticipates C19th and C20th communism.

The most durable of the many radical sects and movements, though, were the Quakers. In making their peace with Cromwell and then with the Restoration of the monarchy after 1660, the Quakers moderated some of their original radicalism.  In effect, Quakers had recognised that survival required organisation, and that organisation required some compromise with the absolute freedom of the individual. (Bolsheviks of course took this very much further during the C20th). Quaker adoption of pacifism could be seen as an acceptable justification for their abandonment of revolutionary activism against church or state. However, the core of Quaker beliefs did not change, they continued to win new support (including in the Americas) and the thread of continuity remains very visible.

The actual C17th revolution loosened the remaining bonds of feudal society, and enabled huge economic growth whose benefits many were able to share. It led in due course to the Age of Reason, which progressively removed the worst abuses (spiritual and material) of the established church. The values and objectives of the C17th radicals were able to revive, and this led in due course to democratisation and the promotion of individual rights – though of course society today is still full of injustice.

Quakers continue today to speak truth to power, to value deeds above words, and to give utmost respect to all individuals, recognising that of God in all. It was immensely stimulating to learn the Quaker “back-story” and its context from this scholarly and generous-hearted account, which became a classic soon after its publication in 1972.


Nancy Kress, winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction, may seem an odd choice for the library at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Study Centre.

However, her novel Crossfire deals with a group of “New Quakers” who form part of a multi-ethnic/religious group of earthlings who colonise what they believe to be an uninhabited planet in a galaxy far, far, away.

Unsurprisingly, the planet turns out to be inhabited by a non-human species. The plot twists and turns …

One of the main characters of Crossfire is Dr. Shipley, “leader” of the New Quakers. His non-violent belief and his approach to waiting in silence for the Light play a large part in the ensuing struggle for survival of more than just one species. A page turning read – with lots of thought-provoking challenges.

No One is Too Small to make a Difference

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage ecological activist, arrived in New York City on August 28. Greta is a controversial figure for her encouraging schoolchildren to strike for change in governmental policy on protecting the environment. The most recent youth day of protest was September 20.

A collection of her speeches is published by Penguin Books (£2.99)

Greta and her father travelled on a zero emissions yacht which took 15 days to cross the Atlantic. The UN climate summit is on September 23 and Greta is scheduled to be in Montreal for World Climate Awareness Day on September 27 and in Chile for the COP25 climate conference in December.

The Quaker Bookshop’s Book s of the Month flyer for September is full of interesting reads on a range of topics including Homesick

: Why I live in a Shed by Catrina Davies, The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson, James Meek’s Dreams of Leaving and Remaining and Matthew Legge’s Are We Done Fighting?: Building Understanding in a World of Hate. Insufficient space to describe them all here but the flyer is posted in the Meeting House.

All are available from Friends House.

Just before He died, Jesus called out “Into thy hands I commend my spirit!” (Luke 24:46)

Richard Rohr, the Franciscan monk and prolific author has rephrased these words thus: “Into MY hands I commend Your spirit”.

You can find a full list of his publications and access his Daily Meditations via the internet.

The Widow’s Mite

The Bible (1 Kings Chapter 17) describes the encounter between prophet Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. The widow has but a handful of grain and a little oil in a small cruse (container).

Burford Meeting’s September charitable cause is CRUSE.  Started in 1959 to help widows, CRUSE has expanded to provide a free and confidential service for anyone suffering the loss of a loved one. The organisation has around 5,000 trained volunteers and provides free booklets on grief and bereavement.A list of recommended reading is also available.

Locally, CRUSE Friendship groups meet in Abingdon, Oxford and Wallingford, CRUSE operates in the centre of Oxford (but home visits can be arranged). Telephone contact is also available for those unable to drop in. There is a waiting list of some 6 weeks and CRUSE estimates that it costs approximately £30 per client. As CRUSE is only part funded by the NHS and relies heavily on donations, please contribute if you can. Further details from info@cruse.org.uk

Next month’s charity is the Amos Trust – see Burford Reflections next month.

At the Meeting House

Burford Meeting House and garden was open on Saturday September 14 to welcome visitors participating in the Ride & Stride day and those taking advantage of Heritage Open Day to visit buildings of interest.

The first group far surpassed the latter numerically. Altogether there

were 29 visitors to take advantage of our facilities, sample drinks and cakes or just sit in the garden to pause awhile.

There is now a box in the Meeting House for any contributions to BESOM (see Meeting Minutes). Non-perishable food, good quality household goods (including electricals) will be collected by Paul Wadsley on behalf of BESOM.

HELP, Please!

Deb Arrowsmith reports that Burford Meeting’s website is now up and running but what good is a website without contributions. Ideas, photos of events, please, ASAP. Also needed urgently is someone to maintain the website – with contributions from all of us, of course.

Thanks from Asylum Welcome

The number of people calling Asylum Welcome’s Oxford Centre for help more than doubled over the last year.

Our Clerk Myra received a wonderful letter of thanks from Asylum Welcome (Burford Meeting’s June charity). Dr Gilberto Estrada Harris, the fundraising and development manager, reports that

≈  £25 pays for two bags of food to help families maintain their health

≈ £50 pays for a month’s bus fare to college to learn English

≈ £100 pays for a consultation with a solicitor for a refugee hoping to reunify with their children in the U.K.

Just some examples of how your donations are used. Thank you.

For your Diary

October 1 7 pm at Oxford Meeting House. Dr Jeremy Howick, director of the Oxford University Empathy Programme together with a panel of ex-prisoners present hard evidence for a softer approach. Organised by the Prison Phoenix Trust

October 5 7-9 pm at Oxford Meeting House. Jenny Lewis, author of Gilgamesh Retold (published by Carcanet) will shed new light on ancient texts

October 6 7 pm in Wychwood Library. Theo Hobson addresses the Wychwood Circle on ‘Does Liberal Christianity have a future?’

October 8 7-9.30 pm  North Cotswolds Rotary Club  evening on practical initiatives for local communites to save our planet. Stow on the Wold Rugby Club. Details and tickets from NCR3RS@gmail.com

October 12-20 Lift your spirits with music. Contact Judith Kashoff at

maison-quaker-congenies.org. The Quaker centre is at Congenies, ??? of Nimes in southern France

October 19 Quaker Mental Health Forum at The Priory Rooms, Birmingham. This year’s Forum will explore the impact of community on mental health, consider what makes a healthy community and reflect on Quaker witness in creating spiritual connections within the community. Contact Alison Mitchell (07483 028490) or mhdo@retreatyorkbfund.com

October 26 Area Meeting in Reading Meeting House 11 am – 6 pm (see Thought for the Month this issue)

November 8 7 pm in Wychwood Library. Greg Stagg presents ‘To be a pilgrim: A non-believer’s journey to Jesus’

November 16 7pm, Oxford MH. Fiona Sampson reads from her forthcoming collection of poetry, Come Down, published by Little Brown

November 23 7pm, Oxford MH. Lucy Newlyn reads from Vile Stream, published by Carcanet


Did you know that in Spain, members of the Religious Society of Friends are called Los Quakeros?

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