Mystery Worshipper: Urganda
Church: Quaker Meeting House
Location: Painswick, Gloucestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 August 2019, 10:30am
Built in 1706, the building is set in a small, delightful garden with some Quaker graves. It still has an early Quaker feel, although it has had many refurbs. There are some original benches and an upstairs schoolroom with small library. It is also comfortable, with kitchen, toilets, heating. I loved the room and its huge 18th century windows through which sunlight poured. But from the ceiling of a fairy unspoilt interior hung four chunky (1930s looking but they could be 1950s) overhead lights. They seemed out of keeping with the beautiful room. Fortunately they were kept turned off, allowing the sunlight to be the only illumination we had or needed.
Very friendly and inclusive, though few of the Meeting actually live in Painswick. In addition to their Sunday meeting, there is a morning meeting every first Wednesday, and a Children’s meeting every third Sunday. They also make the meeting house available for hire.
Painswick, in Gloucestershire, is the quintessential English town. It is known for its beauty. In the 18th century, clothiers from the Stroud Valleys built houses here. The churchyard has gorgeous Baroque tombstones and clipped yews, which do attract tourists, but Painswick is still lived in as a village with shop, pubs, school, etc. There is often an art exhibition going on – this week it's sculpture. The meeting house is in an idyllic setting looking out over the Painswick valley.
No one was introduced.
What was the name of the service?Meeting for Worship.
How full was the building?
Twenty to thirty in a room that holds about fifty. One person had a dog with them.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Everyone was delighted to see me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was an 18th century wooden bench. Cushions and kneelers to put feet on were on offer, but I ignored them.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly at first. Then deep silence.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were no words at all.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used for the service, but some were set out on the central table. Quaker Faith and Practice was prominent.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Quakers talk of a ‘gathered meeting’ when a hush comes over the room and a divine presence is felt that binds all present together. I had never experienced one before, but today’s event did come close in my mind.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
English Quakers sit in silence for an hour. If anyone feels moved to offer ministry, they stand and speak while the rest listen is silence. There were three lots of ministry: one on truth; one on warmth and friendship, quoting the Dalai Lama; and one on the place where the words come from. Apart from the ministry, it was completely silent, with a depth of silence that was remarkable. The three people who spoke were all impressive – but for me, they could have been briefer.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beauty of the place. The simple friendship. The perfectly behaved dog.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The dreadful light fittings. There really wasn't anything else to detract from a strong feeling of heaven.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone talked to me and to everyone else. They offered me tea and biscuits and gave me flowers.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Definitely fair trade. Pleasant mugs. Everything is managed with extreme simplicity and everything works.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — I don't join groups, but Quakers are one of the most attractive groups I don't join.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Quakers grew out of a Christian tradition but they are not specifically Christian now. Some are Buddhist Quakers or Atheist Quakers. I certainly felt that I was being 'held in the light' (a Quaker way of putting it).
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The yellow roses I was given.