Local Quakers Seek to Learn more about Emerging Gender and Sexual Identities

 

Progress Pride

Image: the Progress Pride Flag: The white, pink, and light blue chevron design on the Progress Pride Flag reflects the colours of the Transgender Flag, while the brown and black stripes represent marginalised people of colour. The black also stripe honours those lost to HIV/AIDS.

We are pleased to share part of the Epistle from Emerging Gender and Sexual Identities Summer Gathering weekend for Friends in our Luton and Leighton Area Meeting. Approximately 25 Friends gathered at Watford Meeting House from 10-12 June. 

We have agreed to share our learning, challenge our local meetings to rethink gendered toilets and engage with local churches. Can we find a way to create an accompaniment process for anyone needing spiritual or pastoral support as they journey towards their new selves? Can we be more visible in pride events, for example on notice boards, banners and our websites? We need to find ways to share our stories more often. Visible role models may be another important step. We ask AM clerks and trustees to take up and support these concerns.

 

We thank Ryan Kemp, Sarah Hagger-Holt, Leslie Tate, John Presland and others who
helped make the arrangements for the Summer Gathering and Watford Friends for giving
hospitality. Also special thanks to Chris Pettit who filmed some of the event and produced a
YouTube film. The film of the Summer Gathering is available to view on YouTube at:



As a local meeting, we have been asked to consider these questions: 

 
i) to consider how we might create gender neutral spaces which would be
acceptable to the LGBTQ+ community (We already offer a gender neutral toilet at Hemel Meeting House)  
ii) to consider how they might raise gender identity issues with their local churches, interfaith
groups.
iii) to encourage Friends to consider if spiritual or pastoral support might be offered to
accompany those in our meetings who are journeying towards their new selves.
iv) to consider being more visibly supportive of pride events which might be done via our
notice boards or websites. 

We would like to make our meetings a safe space for everyone and we celebrate the diversity of Quakers everywhere.

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by | 25th July 2022 · 1:50 pm

The Life of Bob Parsons, by Audrey Pitchforth

A photo of Bob Parsons

Bob Parsons, Friend

This Sunday there will be a memorial Meeting for Worship to commemorate and celebrate the lives of Bob Parsons, and his wife, Ann.  All are welcome to join. If you have not attended a Quaker meeting before you may find this useful: How Quakers Worship

This is the story of the life of Dr Bob Parson, a regular member attending our Quaker meeting until shortly before his death aged 88. It’s a personal perspective from our Pastoral Friend, Audrey Pitchforth who knew Bob for many years. We have pleasure in publishing it here in full. We will send a shorter version – a TESTAMENT TO THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE LIFE OF DOCTOR ROBERT PARSONS : MBE : OBE to our Area Meeting and it will be submitted for sharing at Britain Yearly Meeting 2023:

Bob Parsons was a Member of Hemel Hempstead Quaker Meeting from 1965 until his death in March 2022. 

He was a Probation Officer, a Save the Children Officer and latterly the Founder of Hope for Children, an internationally known charity. 

Where did the man described, known always as Bob Parsons, come into being? He was born in south London in 1933 in materially poor circumstances. This was the time of worldwide recession with high unemployment throughout the UK. His mother was Scottish, his father a Londoner, both experiencing difficulty getting regular work. But what Bob lacked materially was made up for by the love showered on him, an only child. His mother was adept at producing food from the cheapest cuts of meat or bones which nourished the sturdy boy. But a world war was rumbling in the 1930s – to begin in 1939 when Bob was six years old. Bob’s father was conscripted immediately and posted to Africa and soon after Bob’s seventh birthday, he was evacuated with his school to Sussex and learned for the first time the anxiety of a child who feels lost without a parent and was looking for a mentor. He waited to be chosen and given a home, which turned out to be in a village shop. But Bob’s mother missed him, so she decided she would up sticks in London and take Bob to live with an old friend in Dunoon – they were travelling to a foreign land – Scotland. 

This awakened a love for Scotland in Bob – the people, the scenery, the sea and kippers and this love never left him. But their stay was short lived as his mother decided to move to Cornwall to be with one of her sisters and her family. Another happy move but his father altered this (intervening from Africa) when Bob was around ten years old and he was put forward for a London grammar school place which was awarded. This resulted in another separation from his mother as the school had been evacuated to Sussex and he would be boarding there. He basically hated the place with its rule-ridden regime, the canings, and the food. 

But the war came to an end, the school relocated to London, and Bob’s father came home. Life became more bearable but Bob left the school happily when he was 16 and with his father’s help and approval, he got a job locally in a print works as a trainee manager. For his parents, new doors were opening for regular employment and the opportunity to advance materially. His parents were delighted that their son was receiving training for what they believed would provide a job for life. Unfortunately, this was Bob’s great fear. He also had to acknowledge that his hope of playing football for Chelsea was receding! A friend told Bob of his work in the Probation Service and the fact that it was not profit driven but done in the hope of making life better for people who needed some help. And there came an offer to allow Bob a day observing the work of a Probation Officer. 

This day opened Bob’s eyes to an awareness not only of the interest of the work but also that there were people who were regarded as a useless underclass, and it was possible to work to help to better other lives. This presented Bob with the challenge he wanted and also a way out from his boring work – which was not well received by his parents. After their experience of unemployment, a safe job for their son “for life” their son was throwing his life away. 

Changes were the order of the day in other departments and Bob married in 1960 and he left his safe job to train as a Probation Officer. Bob was certain that the change of career and his marriage to Ann Baker were splendid moves and he believed all his life he was right. 

1963 saw Bob qualify as a Probation Officer, become a father, move to Hemel Hempstead and get a permanent job at Watford Probation Office, under the guidance of Tom Burk It should be noted That Tom was not only a splendid senior officer, in fact he became Chief Probation Officer for England and Wales. It is also worth remembering Tom was a member of Hemel Hempstead Quaker Meeting. The caseload was heavy and Bob soon realised many of his clients were adolescent boys who had known poverty and deprivation all their lives. Bob and his friend in the service organised camps for these boys, at Dover under canvas which proved a great success, especially as there was no trouble with their behaviour. The camps ran for a number of years and on the first occasion, one boy was missing when the coach came to take them home, and he was found hiding up a tree, refusing to return home. 

By 1965, a daughter was born to Bob and Ann and they started to attend Quaker Meetings in Hemel Hempstead, where they remained as members. In his autobiography, Bob said how much Quaker principles spoke to him and helped him keep in mind the importance of looking for the best in everyone . In 1968, he got a job as a Lecturer in Social Work at North London Polytechnic. Again we see Bob aware of giving people new challenges as his students came from all walks of life and were seekers after something better for themselves and the hope they would be able to make life better for others. The workload continued to be heavy and in early 1980s, Bob was looking for something new and he found it via an advert in “New Society” for someone to work in Sri Lanka as establishing training schemes to aid children in Asia and the employer was the Save the Children Fund. 

With Ann’s encouragement and support, he applied and got the job and in 1982 was on the plane to Sri Lanka. The job was a two year contract to set up Child Care Training in a country with little or no organisation for homeless children. There simply was no infrastructure to help the children or the staff trying to assist them. Bob thought he had seen everything in respect of deprivation in the UK but he realised in Sri Lanka, he had seen nothing. In particular, he missed hearing children and found the children in Sri Lanka had stopped crying or complaining. He called it pitiful, bleak and unclean and the staff overworked and underpaid. 

As Bob commenced his work to organise and train people, he began to realise he had also joined a country with a powder keg beneath it – Sri Lanka was on the way to a Civil War. On the surface, the Tamil and Singhalese population got along with each other. The staff in the office and Bob’s home were a mixture of the two and worked well together. Once settled in, Bob arranged for his daughter, Kathryn, and her friend Claire to visit and do some voluntary work in the country during their summer holidays. Little did they know they were coming into a very violent and dangerous situation as the tensions flared with open fighting between the two factions and there would be thousands killed. 

This escalated for Bob on 23rd Jul 1983 dubbed “Black July” and he witnessed some of the conflict and young armed men were stopping cars to find out Tamil or Singhalese and Tamil houses were set alight. He continued to distribute food and milk powder and try in vain to get flights home for Kathryn and Claire – which happened after a few aborted attempts at the airport, much to Bob and Ann’s relief.

Bob’s next concern was the plight of some of his work force. His Tamil cleaner, Manium, and his family lived a 30 minute drive away from Bob, and his life and that of his family were in danger. Bob decided he would drive there and rescue them – often being stopped on the way but his white skin saved him and the shouting of “I work for Save the Children”. Once at Manium’s home, he advised them all to get into the back of the car, and crouch down beneath a blanket. Bob continued his “passport” phrase, but towards the end of the journey, the crowd realised he had passengers and they were trying to stop the car completely and were throwing stones. Bob’s well known method of driving saved the day – put your foot down, sound your horn and get through. It is a matter of opinion whether this method was already in place or whether it followed Bob back to the UK. But he got Manium and his family back to safety. 

A couple of days later, Bob’s landlady, who was Tamil and lived in the house, found herself the target of the mob. She was afraid they would come into the house for her, or destroy the property. That night, Bob stood at the gate ready to face the mob. He was prudently armed with his passport, two oranges and four bananas should he have to run for his life. He stood his ground against the leader, expecting violence, when the mob espied a car across the road and the whole mob left Bob to get to the car and drive away. The violence continued, with many deaths. Food was in short supply and under Bob’s guidance, the Save The Children Fund responded distributing flour, bread, rice and sugar. The war was of concern to the UK government and eventually, Chris Patten, their Overseas Development Minister, visited, followed by Margaret Thatcher, with a five million pound grant to Save the Children , to be used for improving conditions, particularly for children. A two year contract became an eight year stay in Sri Lanka. 

The Fund introduced 3 00 Supplementary Feeding programmes throughout the country and Bob learned first hand the importance of a charity being there, on the ground and able to assess and meet needs immediately. But eight years away from his family was more than enough for Bob and Ann, and he decided to return home and also to receive his MBE from the Queen – but this award remains framed and hangs on the wall of the Save the Children Fund office in Colombo. Bob continued to work for the Fund, but as a Regional Director for Asia, commuting daily from Hemel Hempstead to London. 

This job did involve some trips to troubled areas of Asia and some personal danger, particularly when Bob tried to implement a programme of help in Burma which failed because settlement of conflict and violence was not what could be accepted. On his return to London, he returned to the Probation Service in London for a short time, but the Save the Children were soon on his track again and asked him to become their Tracing Consultant in Africa – in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda. 100,000 children had fled Rwanda for neighbouring African countries and Bob’s task was to help to trace their families and homes. The task seemed impossible but many were reunited with their families as photographs and details of refugees were obtained and distributed. 

And it was a middle aged Rwandan woman who impressed and inspired Bob. Her name was Maisie and she had lost her entire family – children, parents and husband. She was about 50 years old, illiterate and penniless. Instead of giving in, she took in two orphaned children. Within a week of this act, several more children were brought to her door and she took all of them in. No-one was turned away. When Bob met her, she had 50 youngsters under her wing. What she lacked was money to house and feed them but no-one could give her money. Bob put his hand in his own pocket, but that was not enough and he tried to get her funding from well-established UK charities, but because she herself was not registered as a charity, no funds were available. So in July 1994, Bob lost faith in the larger charities. He managed to get some minimal help from small charities, but a solution was lacking. He returned to the UK disillusioned and disheartened. 

On his return, Bob spent a lot of time with his father, who had Alzheimer’s disease and by 1991 was failing. Just before he died, he said something profound to Bob : “In your last moments of life, will you be able to say that the world has been a better place because of your presence?” Two things spring to mind upon hearing this. When Bob disappointed his father by leaving a safe job for the Probation Service, Dad’s response was “you must be bloody joking” and Bob always suspected this feeling prevailed in his father’s mind. There was never a feeling of approval of his choice and he always felt these final words to be a challenge. It is possible they were an endorsement of Bob’s life and work. Both men were unaware of the opportunity that was on its way. 

Bob was working for the Probation Service when he came into contact with a man, Jim Ward, who was on licence following his release from prison He had been sentenced for murder. Bob befriended this shy, inarticulate man who had “done his bird” and upon his death, he bequeathed Bob £5,000 – asking that he would use the money to help children. What would Bob do with the money?  Distribute it to the big charities for their use? Maisie and Rwanda were in Bob’s mind and after a lot of thought, he said to Ann, “I am going to start a charity that supports disadvantaged children.” He told Ann what he had in mind, starting with work in Sri Lanka where he already had good contacts. 

The plan was to help smaller projects round the globe which had difficulty finding funding from the larger charities (Maisie again). They would work from home, the work force would be voluntary and costs kept to a minimum. Ann supported his ideas and of course would help, as did a number of friends. His next door neighbour became the treasurer and Ann the secretary. 

At first, it was simply a matter of enough people rattling tins in the streets but a fundraiser was appointed and he made the income grow, as did a local events organiser who also aided the funds. And the charity got a name HOPE FOR CHILDREN – and Hope stood for Handicapped, Orphaned, Poor and Exploited. Bob and Ann’s own home was turned into an office and a small extension built to take some of the strain (although I did hear Ann say occasionally “I would like my front room back”). 

Bob was involved in the first project when he flew back to Sri Lanka at his own expense to look at a project identified by a Sri Lanka friend for a centre for street children which Bob had set up years back and was in danger of closure. Bob was met by Tyrell, his friend, and arrangements were made for funds to be available to keep the centre open. And throughout the years, Bob has witnessed the skills learned and lives saved there. 

Fundraising at home continued and Bob retired early to give more time to using the money wisely. Another project was in Zambia where AIDS had wiped out a generation of people who left their families without support. The children were cared for by their grandparents, who had no income. Bob visited the country and found only 20% of the population had jobs – what hope had these grandmothers? They were desperate to work. HOPE arranged individual, interest free loans of £100 to each grandma. In tum the women would buy sewing machines, goats, chickens and be able to sell goods in the markets. They had an income to buy food and education for their grandchildren. When they could, they repaid their loan and the money was used to lend out again. 

Bob said HOPE did not keep money in the bank but tried hard to use it quickly and effectively. This meant a need to keep money flowing in and Bob and his volunteers had to continue their fundraising efforts. So successful were they, a million pounds per annum was turned over. He worked tirelessly for the charity for 27 years and acknowledged he could not have done so much without friends and helpers – particularly his wife Ann. The writer did a sponsored walk across London one Sunday and was on a train with Bob before 9am, aiming for the starting point at the Albert Memorial. And when we arrived, Ann was there already, with her stall set out, selling things to raise money for HOPE.

The variety of events to raise money is amazing – marathons, quiz nights, concerts, sponsored swims, the HOPE BALL in London (with Bob in his kilt) parachute jumps, meeting Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela were all part of his life brought about by his work for HOPE. Some were big projects – HOPE was in Sri Lanka within hours of the tsunami, others were a washing machine for a woman in South Africa who cared for children orphaned by AIDs and £200 for a local branch of Home Start who were in trouble with money. A tip off by one of their volunteer workers told them HOPE would respond. It did. 

Ill health dogged Bob over his final years and he died in April 2022 aged 89. His charity continues and the memory of a modest man who had a great zest for life is left with HOPE.

Bob wrote: “Being a Quaker has been an important part of my life. I have found that the belief that there is that of God in everyone is important. Also that the relationship between faith and witness are inseparable.  I find the testimonies to peace, equality, integrity and simplicity provide the way I try to conduct my behaviour and actions towards making the world a better place.”

Donate to Hope for Children 

 

 

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MUSIC AT THE MEETING HOUSE – is back !

We hope you will be able to attend this wonderful concert to celebrate the arrival of our new baby grand piano. 

Anna Le Hair poster Nearest PAY&DISPLAY nearby in AUSTEN’S PLACE (150 yards)

LOCATION: Close to the Old Town High Street: limited street parking.

Friday 8TH JULY 12.30 – 2 pm : PIANO RECITAL  with ANNA LE HAIR

********************************************************

£10 (tickets on the door – cash only please). Cold drinks available from 12.30, bring your lunch : performance begins @ 1pm prompt. If you are planning to attend it would be helpful to know by Thursday 7th July by TEXT on 07770971218 or EMAIL : roger.ramsden@ntlworld.com THANK YOU. 

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Bach               Italian Concerto BWV 971 1st movement Allegro

Beethoven    Rondo op. 55 no. 1

Bizet               Aurore (Dawn) from Songs of the Rhine

Messaien      Prelude no. 7  – ‘Plainte Calme’

Debussy        Arabesque no. 1

Brahms          Rhapsody in G minor op. 79 no. 2

MacDowell    Midsummer from New England Idylls

Chopin            3 Waltzes in A flat major

Op. 64 no. 3

                 Op. 69 no. 1

                 Op. 64 no. 1

 Gershwin          6 (very short) arrangements

I’ll build a stairway to Paradise: Do it again : Oh Lady be good

  Do do do : S’wonderful :  I got rhythm–

Hemel Hempstead Quakers

1 The Alleys, St.Mary’s Road,
Hemel Hempstead HP2 5ZB

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Quakers Gather Plant Data as Act of Peaceful Resistance on Armed Forces Day

 

On Saturday 25 June this group of 8 Friends came together in the Meeting House Garden. We conducted a biodiversity survey of our wildflower meadow, newly established in 2022.

The range of species identified was impressive. Using a plant identification app called Picture This, we photographed wild plants and flowers in the grass area. We uploaded these results to a record section on the Royal Horticultural Society website.

 

 

The event was inspired as a response to Armed Forces Celebration Day. A number of us were led to write a letter to our local newspaper, the Hemel Gazette.  This is an interview with Friends. Hemel Hempstead member Jonathan Kempster,  who is also an audio journalist and podcaster,  recorded it on the day and posted it on his Oral History series on Soundcloud.

Quakers are opposed to war.  The Peace Testimony has been a source of inspiration to Friends through the centuries, for it points to a way of life which embraces all human relationships. As a Society we have been faithful throughout in maintaining a corporate witness against all war and violence. However, in our personal lives we have continually to wrestle with the difficulty of finding ways to reconcile our faith with practical ways of living it out in the world.

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Filed under Events, News, Uncategorised, Woodlands and Climate Justice

Quakers Send Letter to Hemel Gazette: Celebrating Peace on Armed Forces Day

Quakers are inspired by a 350 year testimony to peace:

“All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.”
(Quaker Declaration to Charles ll 1660)

We sent this letter to the Gazette this week.

Dear editor 

“Preparation for war” is what it says on the tin. Quakers believe that peace, not war, is the way to peace. 

As we approach the celebration of Armed Forces day in Hemel Hempstead, the announcement this week by Patrick Sanders, the new head of the British army, that a new generation must prepare to fight in Europe is chilling and a challenge to Quakers to act in faith against all war, and preparation for war. The belief that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests is preparation for war. This makes the world less, not more secure. 

Quakers believe investment in humanitarian, peace-building and development efforts will wither the roots of war and build true security. We work closely with other organisations such as Forces Watch, Veterans for Peace UK, Global Campaign on Military Spending UK and Rethinking Security.  

The Quaker Friends Meeting House was established in Hemel Hempstead Old Town 300 years ago. In the last 100 of those years war has been waged almost continually at home and abroad by British forces.  While considering this truth, a small group of Quakers will be drinking coffee, eating cake and cataloguing the biodiversity of the plant-life in our historic walled garden on Saturday 25 June – the morning of the war fete to be held in Gadebridge Park. In good faith, we welcome anyone who wishes to join us for thought-provoking conversations. We will willingly share the stories of our conscientious objectors and other war resistors. 

   

Yours sincerely

Madeline Edmead

Mermie Karger

Alison Kempster

Jonathan Kempster

Roger Ramsden

Suzanne Watts  

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Sharing in the silence of us

It’s secret friend hugs and the hokey-kokey at sunrise.

It’s silence seeping through the being of me.

It’s turning the pages (in my mind).

It’s expanding my views.

It’s challenging myself: thinking about EVERYTHING.

It’s stimulating, concentrating, contributing, supporting, reflecting, thinking, feeling, hoping.

It’s crafting and folding.

Making paper cranes for peace.

It’s listening.

It’s loving.

It’s sharing.

 

A collaborative poem by young Quakers aged 11 – 18 written at the Britain Yearly Meeting, May 2022. 

Over 1,000 Quakers met for their Yearly Meeting at Friends House in London and online for the largest single Quaker meeting in History. There , they decided that Quakers would make practical reparations for the economic injustices and exploitation of the slave trade.

Read the epistle (an advisory or admonitory letter, sent to a group of people)

 

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Roger Ramsden Tests the New Piano – Listen on Soundcloud

Here is Roger Ramsden, an active member of the Meeting, trying out the recently installed Broadwood baby grand piano. 

“It will sound wonderful once a skilled piano technician has tuned the instrument.” says Roger. We think it sounds pretty wonderful already.
Performance, rehearsal, recordings, and spiritual outreach through music are among the Meeting’s ambitions.

Quaker Meeting House Piano By Oral History Sound Recording & Storytelling is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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Goodbye to Bob Parsons, a cherished Friend 

Hemel Hempstead Friends are sad to announce the death of Dr Bob Parsons  who died on 29th March at the age of 88 following an 18 month decline in health.

Bob was a well-loved Friend and had been a member of our meeting for many years. His strong Quaker faith inspired him to work in social justice, and he founded the Hope for Children charity in Hemel Hempstead following his retirement in 1994, with the mission to create opportunities for children living in extreme poverty.

At a meeting for worship shortly after his death was announced, numerous Friends gave ministry, recalling the man who had not only inspired them with his faith, but entertained them with excellent humour, and cared with enormous empathy. 

Our memories of Bob  

 

The Quaker advice of George Fox in 1656, was shared at the meeting: 

“Be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone”   Quaker Faith and Practice 19.32

Bob Parsons certainly lived up to this advice and he will be very much missed. 

In a statement released by the charity, Hope for Children, Bob was described:   

“This man was an amazing person; an energetic Christian socialist and philanthropist with a strong Quaker faith. 

“Peace and social justice were at the centre of his life and work. The charity he founded, Hope for Children, is determined to carry forward that work. The charity continues to strive to deliver Bob’s mission, to create opportunities for overlooked, vulnerable and exploited children living in extreme poverty.”

Bob’s funeral took place on Friday 8 April at Garston Crematorium. It was attended by Friends, colleagues and Bob’s family including children and grandchildren who had travelled from far and wide.

According to Bob’s wishes, his ashes will be buried in the Meeting House Burial ground gardens. A meeting for worship will be held in memoriam at which we hope to welcome Friends from near and far. The date Sunday 24 July. Bob’s beloved wife Anne who died several years ago will also be remembered. 

A full obituary to Dr Bob Parsons, OBE,  was published in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette
https://www.hemeltoday.co.uk/news/people/obituary-tributes-paid-to-bob-parsons-founder-of-hemel-hempstead-charity-as-hope-for-children-3640963

 

           

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Filed under News, Notices

Beautiful New Baby

We are delighted to welcome a new baby to Hemel Hempstead Quaker Meeting House. A Broadwood Baby Grand piano!


We hope the piano can be enjoyed by music groups using our main hall,  which we have been told,  has excellent acoustics.

We were treated to hearing it played by Lewis of the Parsons family who said that when he sees an unfamiliar piano, he is compelled to play to see if it’s in tune. It responded wonderfully, and he played well.  Many thanks to our premises manager,  Roger Ramsden for all he did to research and source this wonderful instrument.

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Meeting for Worship Free From Government Pandemic Restrictions 

We have decided to continue with 

  • Ventilation – one of the most effective ways to mitigate transmission
  • Hand sanitising – keep available 
  • Mask wearing – down to personal choice 
  • Shaking hands – hand shaking will be reinstated but can be refused without offence.
  • Hugging – is permitted at the discretion of the individual – indicate if you do not wish to accept a hug
  • Hospitality – the coffee rota will be reinstated.
  • Zoom – we have discontinued blended meeting on Zoom until further notice.

In January 2022 we experimented with joining an online area meeting for worship from the Meeting House. This was very well attended by 100 Friends from Meetings across our area including Ampthill, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Leighton Buzzard, Harpenden, St Albans and Watford. The Area Meeting is reviewing the success of the worship and we have indicated that we would be happy to join in again in future.

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