Future of our Meeting House

Where next? – Deciding the future of our Meeting House

Early in 2018 the main hirer of our Meeting House in Redland, Bristol, gave notice of their  closure. This gave rise to the challenge – and opportunity – for Redland Friends and  Attenders to consider not only the future uses of our Meeting House but how we thought of  ourselves both as a nourishing worshipping community and as a radical force for humane  social change.

We offer this account of our experiences to encourage other Friends who may be facing the  possibility of a similar upheaval.

Redland is the largest meeting – and Meeting House – in the Bristol area, drawing together  some 140 members and attenders, with around 40-60 at Meeting for Worship on Sundays.  The danger of powerful and divisive disagreement over our future was recognised from the 

beginning and we agreed on the necessity of creating a process to ensure that everyone felt  heard and a whole range of possibilities could be considered. A group of eight Friends were  convened to consider this process. 

This group discerned that there was general acceptance that “The use of our Meeting House  should reflect our primary purposes as a worshipping community committed to ‘letting our  lives speak,’” They then had oversight of a series of meetings over many weeks in which we  listened to each other’s views and feelings. These initiatives – both formal and informal – included Meetings for Learning, a talking wall and sessions of All-Age Worship.

Having given us the opportunity to inform ourselves and listen to others, this process  culminated in a Meeting for Worship for Business in early December, in which this matter  was the only agenda item. 64 Friends attended this meeting (a record!) and the tone was  co-operative and worshipful. Our Children and Young People had a separate meeting at the  same time and produced a minute which they read to us towards the end of our meeting.  Their helpful minute reads in part:

‘We feel that the Meeting House is very important to us; it is a place where we can feel safe and meet our friends. We enjoy the peaceful silence and learning about Quakerism as well  as having fun. We feel that the Meeting House is welcoming to us but perhaps not to others.  We would like to do more to share our Meeting House with other groups of children,  perhaps from the refugee community. The Meeting House stands for peace and welcome;  we could do something to say this at the front of the building by making it recognisable as a  Meeting House.

We dream of a space of our own in the Meeting House with more youth-based activities.’ This minute was attached to our own, which reads in part:

“We live in difficult times and we understand that our Quaker Meeting leads us, through  worship, towards a healing of the world. Contemplation and action have always been  closely linked in our Quaker traditions and we hope our Meeting House will continue to  justify its heavy financial costs by providing both a focus for worship and a base for sharing  our concerns and serving our local community.

The importance of young people to the future of our Meeting leads us to consider their  long-term future in relation to sustainable living and the sustainable development of our  Meeting House. We face the future with hope, and with confidence in our faithful  commitment to healing ourselves and our society. Our Meeting House is well-used and we  can build on what we already have in this wonderful building. At the same time, we  recognise the need to be open to new Light and to be ready to consider more adventurous  proposals.

Redland Meeting House is widely used by local groups and as a drop-in for people needing a  peaceful, supportive place to be. We hope this welcoming role will continue and expand in  the future.

Our current ‘visioning’ has recorded the needs of refugees, homeless people and people  with mental health problems. We also feel a growing concern for environmental  sustainability, and will express this in the future management of our building as well as in  environmental campaigning and in our personal lives.

Though there is not yet a single, united vision for Redland Meeting’s future involvement in  the wider community, we have begun to develop a renewed sense of purpose through the  current visioning exercise.”

At this stage of our process we feel better-informed and more “gathered” – in spite of our  numbers and diversity we have not fallen out! There is of course much more to think about  and do, but what we have decided so far forms a strong basis for future discernment.

Heather Lister
Bristol Area Meeting