Burford Reflections: December 2020

Issue no. 34

Thought for the month

The following is taken from the diary of Cyrus Pringle, forced against his conscience to fight in the American Civil War:

“We came over a long stretch of desolated and deserted country, through battlefields of previous summers … Seeing, for the first time, a country made dreary by the war blight, a country once adorned with green pastures and meadows and fields of waving grain, and happy with a thousand homes. Now laid with the ground, one realizes as he can in no other way something of the ruin that lies in the trail of a war. When one contrasts the fact of this country (Pringle is referring to Virginia) with … New England, he sees stamped upon it in characters so marked, none but a blind man can fail to read, the great irrefutable arguments against slavery and against war”

(Taken from Daily Readings from Quaker Writings Ancient & Modern, Ed. Linda Hill Renfer, Serenity Press)

Sadly, this account remains all too familiar. Currently we hold in the Light just two areas of conflict –  Ngorno Karabagh (Artsahk) where  Burford Local Meeting supports the work of the rehabilitation centre and Ethopia.

Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

Burford LM’s December’s charity is the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) which was formed in 2002. Its creation was prompted by a letter and an appeal from local church leaders to establish an international presence in the area. Since then, 1,800 ecumenical accompaniers (EAs) have worked to create conditions for a just peace.

The Ecumenical Accompaniers  strive for justice and peace based on non-violent and a non-partisan approach. This is clearly outlined and emphasized in the programme’s key principles. To insure adherence to these vital principles at a local level in Israel and Palestine, a Local Reference Group (LRG) with representatives from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities, is appointed every three years.

The IRG and the LRG provide guidance, advice and support to the WCC-EAPPI staff and national coordinators. Other main tasks are, strengthening relations with the local churches and local partner organizations, as well as promoting the  EAPPI programme at local and national levels.

Recruitment is still taking place for EAs to serve in Palestine and Israel in 2021 in the hope that the current coronavirus crisis will have passed by then.

If you’d like to support this month’s charity and haven’t already done so, please donate to British Yearly Meeting, earmarked for EAPPI.

Oxford Hosts Enquiry Meetings

Designed for new Friends but also of interest to any who would like to find out more of what it means to be a Quaker, Oxford LM is offering a programme of Enquiry Meetings. Online at 7.30 pm (Zoom lines open at 7 pm), the programme will run from December to next April.

Introduced by a Friend, the meeting will then allow reflection, discussion and questions.

The first dates are:

  • December 3 (Quaker Worship & Ministry)
  • December 17 (The Inner Light)
  • January 7 (Quaker Testimonies)
  • January 21
  • (Belief and Uncertainty).

Details from Oxford LM (01865 557373).

Book Reviews

A book is a great and necessary friend in times of lockdown, especially for those living alone. So, please, send BR (glhadley@hotmail.co.uk) a short – or long – review of books books that you have enjoyed (or disliked) for readers to share).

 Very many thanks to all reviewers of books in this and past issues.

The Kendal Sparrow – A Novel of Elizabeth Fletcher

Ben Pink Dandelion, Director of the Centre for Research in Quaker Studies at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. describes The Kendal Sparrow by Barbara Schell Luetke thus: ‘Carefully researched, this novel captures the excitement and risk that Quakerism offered its early converts, how outcasts could find meaning in a life of ministry and preaching, and how loving friendship bound the Quaker network together.  Deftly paced and very moving.’

The (paraphrased) description on the back cover says, ‘The early Quaker movement was one fired by the spiritual activism and vision of young adults.  The Kendal Sparrow is a fictional account of one of them.  Elizabeth Fletcher, a real-life, sheltered, English farm girl, was convinced in 1652 by George Fox.  Based on historical records and in-depth research, the author brings to life the story of Fletcher, a young Friend who breaks from the prescribed roles of women of that time to travel hundreds of miles to preach and find purpose in her life.  The book includes the ‘tellings’ of many of the youngest members of those known today as the Valiant Sixty and shows that each of our lives matters and can speak.’

This book is divided into 4 parts: Northwest England, 1653; Convincement, 1654; Oxford and Chester, 1655; and Ireland, 1656-1658.  There is also a biography of Elizabeth Fletcher, and shorter ones of the other young Quakers in the novel, as well.

(Barbara Schell Luetke is a Quaker from Seattle, Washington, USA.  After a pilgrimage to 1652 country and study at Woodbrooke, she decided to write this novel.  She was a professor in Deaf Education for 50 years and has written 8 books and over a hundred journal articles.  This is her first novel).

 I read only the first two parts, as I couldn’t bear to read the second two, knowing what would happen.  I will pass this book on to the Meeting library.

                                                                                                            Myra Ford

Humankind: A Hopeful History

By Rutger Bregman (published by Bloomsbury, 2020)

The book begins with the claim that it explores ‘a radical idea’, ‘a new view of humankind’- surely a ludicrous overstatement when it turns out that the new idea is that ‘most people, deep down, are pretty decent’. His argument is that generally we do not accept this premise, believing rather that humans are at bottom selfish and egotistical; in support of this he quotes, for example, Thomas Hobbes, Machiavelli, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the doctrine of original sin, and Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.  Rather, he prefers to follow Rousseau in envisaging a pre-lapsarian Golden Age, when people were born with an innate morality which was only lost when we switched from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to living in settlements and pursuing agriculture.

The author proceeds to give a whistle-stop tour of encouraging anecdotes to counteract what he sees as our tendency to take this grim view of humanity: a real-life Lord of the Flies’ situation involving  six Tongan boys who were marooned on a remote Pacific island for over a year and survived through cooperating with each other, Londoners’ reaction to the Blitz in 1940, the Christmas Eve truce between British and German soldiers in 1914.

But Bregman’s is surely an overly simplistic view: human beings are far too complex creatures to admit of such a false dichotomy: we are all of us neither essentially good nor essentially wicked, neither angels nor devils. It is hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with this. The book makes for an easy read: some readers, myself included, may find the chatty style irritating. That said, it cannot do any of us any harm to dwell on heart-warming examples of kindness and goodness in these difficult times. As Quakers, we pray with Robert Barclay that by God’s power we may find ‘the evil weakening in us and the good raised up’.

                                                                                    Margaret Stewardson

Our House is on Fire

Written by Greta Thunberg, her parents and her younger sister, this is an easy read in one sense because it is written like a series of one-page press releases. However, the message is a stark warning about the shortage of time before we reach irreversible climate change. 

Clearly the Thunbergs are a talented family:  mother is a solo opera singer and between them they have a spectrum of  medical problems such as autism and ADHD.  So, although  it is a worrying read, I would recommend it.

David Day

We are all Greta

by Valentina Giannella (Laurence King Publishing; also available on Kindle)

This is an excellent, well-researched but clear and accessible account (in just over 100 pages) of climate change/global warming and the steps that need to be taken. I think that everyone, younger or older should read it!

I didn’t find it a depressing read because it does draw attention to the work already being done to tackle the crisis. However, MUCH more is needed to be done by EACH of us and internationally.

I would particularly recommend We are all Greta to non-scientists who may not have felt drawn to going into this topic a little more deeply but who  nevertheless are concerned about the global problem. We all need to be concerned and to be doing more to take care of our planet.

The book ends with a list of ten small actions which can help to contribute including drinking tap rather than bottled water ancarrying your own bottle/rediscovering bars of soap instead of using detergent in plastic bottles and avoiding single-use plastic. Leave the car at home as much as possible; cultivate a vegetable patch.

                                                                                                Ruth Day

What Price Peace?

The Peace Museum in Bradford has launched an urgent appeal for funding to help towards building new premises. The Museum is seeking to raise £20,000 but hurry – closing date is DECEMBER 21! Further details and/or to contribute the site to visit is crowdfunder.co.uk/thepeacemuseum

The Museum currently offers virtual tours and talks.

What do we have to offer?

This was a recurrent them of BYM 2020 held online last November.

To quote just one section “In these extraordinary and challenging times, we have seen that it is possible to make changes in our way of life. We have hope. We trust that the leadings of love and truth will come right”.

Further reference to BYM 2020 can be found in Charlbury LM’s Newsletter for December (Thank you, Charlbury for Zooming in and reporting).

Financial Help

In these difficult times it is good to learn in Quake 26 (November 2020) that financial help for Quakers is available.  See grants@quaker.org.uk

Friendly Advent!

Quake 26 reports that a video will be available on each Sunday of the Advent season to explore with Friends from 4 different Yearly Meetings, Woodbrooke tutors and FWCC staff.

Contact Woodbrooke for further information.


The latest issue of The Friends Quarterly contains some long and rather sombre articles dissecting what Christmas should mean for Quakers. There weren’t many mentions of joy or celebration – understandable in this year of all years. We think of those who have suffered illness, bereavement, loneliness or insecurity.

But whatever our situation, there remains so much for which to be thankful. I heard on the radio a few days ago a woman recounting how much satisfaction she took from the simple act of hanging out her washing. It was about living in the moment, noticing the sounds and sights around her. She said that, a year ago, she would have been embarrassed to report this publicly but that lockdown had taught her to value simple things.

This is surely something which will chime with many of us and will especially resonate with Quakers. Christmas should be a time for celebration – maybe quieter this year but none the worse for that. If we only recognise them, there are so many sights, sounds, and sensations to take pleasure in – evidence of what William Boyd calls “life’s sweet caress”.

Life itself was – and is – the greatest Christmas gift.

Graham Hadley

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