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.
Bristol Area Meeting