Friends Meeting House, Ipswich, England

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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Friends Meeting House
Location: Ipswich, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 September 2019, 10:30am

The building

Photo: © Adrian Cable and used under license A private house that has been adapted to provide meeting rooms and a small kitchen downstairs. It has been used by Quakers since 1936. A few parking spaces are available in front of the house.

The church

A friendly bunch, diverse in beliefs and welcoming to visitors. Some are Christians, some theist or non-theist (including agnostic or atheist).

The neighborhood

Ipswich, in Suffolk, lies about 65 miles northeast of London. The waterfront, once an important industrial area, has been transformed into a trendy tourist district featuring pubs, restaurants, hotels and shops. The meeting house is opposite Christchurch Park, a splendid park more or less in the middle of Ipswich.

The cast

Nobody led the service. Three people made contributions.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Morning Meeting for Worship.

How full was the building?

Mostly full – about 20 people in the circle of chairs. Only a few empty chairs left, though more were stacked up in the room.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A gentleman in the entrance hall beforehand welcomed us with a handshake, asked our names and where we had come from. He gave us a Quakers ‘welcome pack’ and showed us to the meeting room at the back.

Was your pew comfortable?

Individual chairs of various sorts, wooden or plastic, with cushions. Sufficiently comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet. People came in and sat down silently.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

There were no words. We sat in silence until someone was moved to make a contribution.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books were used, but the little red booklet Advice and Queries was on most of the seats. There was a table with a selection of books on it for reference, but I don't think any were used this time.

What musical instruments were played?

No music, though there was a piano in the room. Apparently it gets used at Christmas for carols once a year.

Did anything distract you?

The room was quite plain so not a lot to look at. I read some of Advice and Queries, a paragraph at a time, and reflected on its contents, usually with my eyes closed. I noticed many others were silent with eyes closed too. There were kneelers under some chairs, but no one used them.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Silent, except for three contributions.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

No sermon. There were three contributions in this service, one about the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, where British forces attacked a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Manchester – the speaker was thankful that nowadays we can protest peaceably. Another speaker had been to Scotland and enjoyed the scenery. Another talked about conflict and how we might tackle it. Probably about 10 minutes in total.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The silence was lovely. It was undemanding. The service was so simple that there was nothing to go wrong or be embarrassed about.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

No prayers, no music, no readings, just oral contributions. There was no mention of Jesus, the Bible, or even anything particularly spiritual as far as I remember.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

When the hour was up, various people gave some ‘notices’ – things that were happening. We were invited for refreshments and for lunch, because this happened to be the day (once a month) when they had lunch after the service. It was a vegetarian buffet, bring and share style, very good. This was held in a room downstairs, where we had a chance to talk to many of those present and discuss Quakerism, etc. I unexpectedly met two old friends I hadn’t seen for over 40 years.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

In a mug of your choice, decaffeinated instant was available. It was fine – I am not a connoisseur. Biscuits were available, and lunch for those who stayed.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 — It would be a great place to visit from time to time, but I would have mixed feelings about attending regularly as my regular church. Although I liked the silence, I think I would find the lack of content limiting after a while. I would miss singing, prayers, Bible readings, sacraments, and a good talk.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. I'm glad the Quakers can accommodate Christians and others of very varied opinions. They are not dogmatic about beliefs, and people who feel uneasy in the mainstream Christian denominations can be welcomed. Doubt and questioning is OK (paragraph 5 in Advice and Queries).

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The silence, the lunch, meeting old friends (and their dog), the discussion afterwards. Also their slogan: Equality, Simplicity, Truth, Peace.

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