Burford Reflections: October 2020

Issue No. 32

Thought for the month

“Just as ripples spread when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”

The Dalai Lama.

Changing Troubled Lives

The Dalai Lama’s words are particularly applicable to Burford LM’s charity for October:  Glebe House (Friends Therapeutic Community Trust). GH is a Quaker Charity registered as a children’s home, an independent special school as well as an accredited therapeutic community, which has been changing the lives of troubled adolescent males since 1965 (see also ‘Afterword’ at the end of this issue). In its Autumn 2020 Newsletter, staff and residents write movingly of the safe and supportive setting of Glebe House and of its outreach programme for leavers which includes a Circle of Support and Accountability.

You can sign up to receive GH’s regular newsletter by phoning 01799 584359 or email info@glebehouse.org.uk.

Please do help if you can!

“Enemies of the State”?

A new book about Cromwell’s Protectorate, Providence Lost by Paul Lay, devotes two full chapters to the charismatic Quaker James Nayler’s ride into Bristol in 1656, his subsequent trial by Parliament and his savage punishment. The reason is that the author sees this episode as one which epitomised the chronic factionalism in the British state which led to the ultimate failure of Cromwell’s regime. Such was the hunger of ordinary people for peace and security, after nearly 20 years of civil war and social disruption, that republicans and monarchists came together to call back Charles II in 1660.

From the perspective of Quakerism, too, the episode was also highly significant (though Lay touches only briefly on this). The Nayler trial could be seen as the moment in the history of the Quaker movement when it had the biggest impact on Government, and perhaps also on public opinion.  In the 1650s, the movement had many firebrand activists. Though Nayler himself never claimed to be the new Messiah making Christ’s second coming on his ride, some of his followers did make such a claim. Nayler’s preaching in London the previous year is characterised by Lay as a “dangerous moment” for Quakerism.  

A clear majority in Parliament viewed Nayler as subversive. Where they were disunited was in whether Nayler’s action was blasphemous. The Instrument of Government, which enshrined the Protectorate’s constitution, stated “all should be protected that profess faith in Jesus Christ”. Surely, said Nayler’s apologists in Parliament, he was among that company. Cromwell himself, a defender of freedom of religion, tended to that view, and in fact took some steps to mitigate the later stages of Nayler’s punishment. But Puritan extremists believed that Nayler’s blasphemous actions and teachings should meet with extreme capital punishment. If Parliament failed to deliver such a verdict, the regime would be “gambling with God’s Providence” (in Lay’s words) – and it was that Providence which had so far sustained it. Crucially, the religiously intolerant united with those who wished to make an extreme example of Nayler as a threat to civil authority. In the end, Parliament voted against execution, but only by the narrow margin of 96 to 82.

The brutality of Nayler’s punishment and public humiliation reflected this.

Fox and Nayler had been in contention for the leadership of the movement. Fox (one of the last people to confer with Cromwell before his death) was determined that Quakerism should survive the turmoil of the Protectorate years, and the Restoration, which saw the rapid introduction of discriminatory measures against non-conformists. The Quaker doctrine of pacifism was adopted in 1661, at least partly as a signal to the new regime that the Quaker agenda did not include state subversion, such as Nayler had been seen to personify.

In fact, Quakerism had always been primarily apolitical. The belief that everyone has that of Christ in him or her (misunderstood by many who witnessed Nayler’s ride) leads to belief that true religious faith derives from individual experience, not from doctrine embodied in either  an established church , or in the state, whether monarchical or republican. Although some individual Quakers continued to suffer persecution, Fox’s achievement was to protect the movement from being hung collectively with the label of Enemy of the State (as Roman Catholicism often was), at a time when the desire for civil peace in society was paramount and the movement needed to build a structure for survival.

Graham Hadley

Helping the Aged, helping the environment

BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast an interesting story on a project by Liverpool City Council and builders Paul Flanagan. At the time of writing, the Council was running a pilot scheme of helping those nearing the end of life to stay in their own home. This involved the installation of a ‘pod’ attached to the rear of 5 terrace house properties comprising living area and shower and toilet facilities.

Advantages described include being able to stay in one’s home with no need to go upstairs while other benefits is the short installation period (7-14 days) with 90% of the module being capable of disassembly and reuse.

Funding is from adult social care through the occupational therapy services.

“A truly healing environment” …

… is just one of the comments made by visitors to Claridge House in Lingfield, Surrey. This Quaker residential centre reopened on September 1. Other visitor comments included “surrounded by quietness and nature” and “exceptionally good meals”.

Among a variety of planned workshops and events is a retreat looking at nature in and around the CH garden (October 16-19), Five Steps to Happiness led by mindfulness trainer and coach Lotus Nguyen (October 23-25) and T’ai Chi Qigong Shabashi – exercises to keep fit physically and emotionally (November 6-8). Small numbers only to comply with Covid regulations.

Details are available from claridgehouse.org.uk or by telephoning 01342 832 150 (weekdays only, please).


For those planning a trip to London (!) please be advised that the café and bookshop at Friends House are open but only on weekdays, from 8am until 3pm. Friends House Library remains closed until 2021, as does the Kitchen Restaurant. Lettings for commercial customers can be prebooked (at the time of this issue going to print!). The Penn Club in London is also open for visitors.

Sadly, for visitors to the Lake District, Swarthmore Hall and café are closed until March 2021 but one can prebook self-catering holidays.

Unlike the 3 sheep trying to get inside the door at Glenthorne (a charming photo in a recent edition of Quake!), visitors to this lovely residential centre in the Lake District just outside Grasmere will find the door open and are assured of a welcoming stay. Contact 015394 35389.

Mindful Eating

“The kitchen can be a meditative practice space if we practice mindful awareness while we are cooking and cleaning there. We can set an intention to execute our tasks in a relaxed and serene way, following our breathing and keeping our concentration on what we are doing. If we are working with others, we may only need to exchange a few words about the work at hand”.

(Thich Nhat Hanh in How to Eat, Rider Press (part of Ebury Publishing)

Recently announced online courses from Woodbrooke include Kindful (Mindful?) Eating: making Peace with our bodies. This runs from October 19 to November 29, cost £54.  The course covers individual reflection, a private discussion forum, written and visual materials and live sessions on Thursdays from 21.00-21.30. Find out how to “join the dots between food, health & body respect and help build a world where no one is starved of food, connection, dignity or security”.

Quaker Living

The latest edition of the US Friends Journal is full of interesting articles including an interview with George Lakey on Quakerism and Quakerism Process. Gabriel Ehri’s foreword describes how frustration, self-doubt and a lack of technical help can result in some of us shying away from using Zoom. (This subject is also addressed in the recent issue of Forty-Three, Oxford LM’s newsletter, where Jenny Buffery reports her “journey from technophobe to technophile”).

There is an interview with Paulette Meier (Friends will remember her chanting workshop in Burford Meeting House some years ago) and a letter from Glenn Boylan on the use and misuse of anger.

CRAG Appeal

Charlbury Refugee Action Group urges us to buy a washbag of toiletries (or nappies) on behalf of refugees in Greece who are in urgent need of such items. Contact clerk.charlburyqm@gmail.com for information.


Shall I compare Glebe to a summer’s day? (After Shakespeare)

No, Tis more an all seasons storm of love-and-hate
On rough morns I wonder,can I ever stay?
So rude are the lads, so Indolent, so late.
Sometimes the sun breaks through and willingness shines,
But oft with horror and wild insurrection brims
The classroom when with wails and whines
New buds of friendship are sadly strimmed!
But Glebe thy uniqueness shall not fade
Nor lose possession of the care you bestow
Nor shall Covid brag that you wander in his shade
When strict observance to guidelines will (I pray)grow.
So long as such boys are spurned by society
So long blooms Glebe nurturing new life for many

(by Helena, teacher at Glebe House)

STOP PRESS: Please hold in the Light those caught in the outbreak of war in Ngorno Karabakh (Artsakh).

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