Inter Faith Week November 2019 – Preston Quakers: People Who Inspire My Quaker Faith

On Sunday 17 November, the final day of Inter Faith Week 2019, Preston Quakers and Preston Faith Forum jointly organised a discussion on the theme ‘People Who Inspire My Quaker Faith’. The event was held at the Quaker Meeting House from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and Janet from Southport Quakers was among those who attended (two Muslims, one Bahá’í and nine Quakers). Three members of Preston Quakers each gave a short talk on people who inspire(d) them.

The first was Janet (a different one!), who chose Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), best known for her work with prison reform, especially for women and children. She was born into a prominent Quaker family in Norwich, where her father was a partner in Gurney’s Bank. Many professions were closed to Quakers at that time, of course, but banking was an area in which they were able to work. Her mother died when Elizabeth was 12 years old, and she became partly responsible for the care and education of her younger siblings. At the age of 20, Elizabeth married Joseph Fry (also a Quaker and a banker) and moved to London. Between 1801 and 1822 they had 11 children. She visited Newgate Prison for women in 1813 and was horrified by the conditions there. Despite her own busy life, she became involved with improving conditions for the women and their children, who were also imprisoned with them. One of her main aims was to provide them with education, thus improving their prospects after release. From this beginning, her work extended to several other areas where reform was greatly needed: the welfare of prisoners who were being transported, shelters for the homeless, training for nurses and the abolition of the slave trade. Her efforts were supported by many influential individuals during her life, including Queen Victoria, and her name and reputation live on as inspiration for others today.

The next speaker was Alastair, whose choice was William Penn (1644-1718). His father, Sir William Penn, was an admiral and politician, his position in society making him especially concerned when his son became interested in the Quaker movement around 1660, at the age of 15. Throughout his life, beginning with his time spent at Oxford University, William junior would not be swayed from his convictions, despite encountering considerable personal difficulty as a result. His highly eventful life has been well chronicled, and certain aspects were less successful than others (most particularly his business affairs), but his determination in the face of opposition was the aspect that Alastair found most inspiring. His vision of a good and just society influenced the founding of Pennsylvania Colony. Alastair also read two quotations from Penn, which are included in Quaker Faith and Practice. Firstly, on the importance of forgiveness and love: ‘Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.’ Secondly, on Penn’s idea for a European parliament, which could ‘establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe one to another,… before which sovereign assembly should be brought all differences depending between one sovereign and another…’.

Finally, Anne took a rather different approach, speaking about three non-Quakers who had inspired her own Quaker faith. The first was Mario Borelli (1922-2007) of Naples who, as a young priest in the late 1940s, lived on the streets with the abandoned children (scugnizzi) to gain their trust, before establishing a shelter for them in the ruins of a church. Anne attended a talk that he gave at her university, where she was studying Theology, and was inspired by his willingness to take action and to help others where he saw an urgent need. She then spoke about Dr. Arnold Bloom (1915-1992), a medical doctor and diabetes specialist, who wrote the influential book Diabetes Explained. After being diagnosed with this condition as a young woman, Anne was referred to Dr. Bloom, and his advice and encouragement helped her to take responsibility for managing it herself: a most valuable lesson in self-empowerment. The third and last source of inspiration identified by Anne was Bruce Kent (b. 1929), a high-profile figure in the CND. She went to one of his talks at the time of the Cold War, which was causing global concern about ‘mutually assured destruction’ by nuclear weapons, and was impressed by his determination to speak out in the cause of peace.

The talks were followed by a lively discussion, focusing particularly on aspects of Christian doctrine and the Quaker view on these. It was also interesting to learn more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the emphasis placed on ‘love for all, hatred for none’. We all learned a little more about each other. The afternoon concluded with refreshments and further informal discussion among the attendees.

The Inter Faith Week (https://www.interfaithweek.org/) is organised each year by the Inter Faith Network for the UK. A number of other events were held in Preston during the week, relating to the Christian (Anglican and Quaker), Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Bahá’í and Buddhist faiths.

Janet Taylor

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