LEIGHTON BUZZARD FRIENDS TRIENNIAL REPORT 2016-2018
Meetings for Worship and Spiritual Life of the Meeting
This triennial period has been quite a momentous one for Leighton Buzzard Meeting. For many years before any of us can remember, we have been holding meetings for worship twice monthly on the second and last Sunday of each month. In September 2017 we took the decision to go back to regular meetings every Sunday. Any original concern that the numbers attending meeting for worship might fall has been dispelled. The average attendance has remained fairly constant with as many as 8 or more attending on most Sundays. We do not read Advice & Queries regularly, but often spoken ministry includes quotations from Faith & Practice or Advices & Queries. In addition to our Sunday meetings, we decided to hold regular short meetings for worship at midday on the first Wednesday of every month. These have also worked well and are often followed by communal lunches and preceded by gardening working parties. They are held at lunchtime to encourage local working people to attend. Members of other churches have also come along. In addition we are now holding our meetings for worship for business on a regular basis, usually on the first Sunday of each month. We adhere to right ordering by keeping minutes of our meetings properly and have made no new deposits to the County Records Office in this triennium.
We continue to have a strong core of members and attenders and welcome occasional visitors, and some of our attenders are now coming more regularly to meetings. We have noted that there is now a more positive atmosphere in the meeting and that we are all working together. We held a Threshing Meeting at the beginning of this year to help determine the way forward. Though we do not currently have any children or young people worshipping with us, we are aware that this could change in the future, and we have taken note of safeguarding issues. We have a number of Friends in the meeting who are CRB cleared.
We have held shared meals with Milton Keynes Friends and others and a Quiet Day on the themes of “Compassion and Love”. We invited Paul Parker, the Recording Clerk, to a shared meal and he gave a very inspiring talk afterwards. In addition we have held coffee mornings at Friends’ homes and meetings for worship at the homes of Friends who have been unable to travel.
In August 2017 we welcomed two new members who transferred from Penrith Meeting – John and Adela Atkinson. With much sadness we held a memorial meeting in June 2017 for our Friend Pam Ambrose. Pam had been a member of our meeting many years ago and had come back to live in Leighton Buzzard. Unfortunately she did not live for very long after her return.
Sadly Ted Wortham, our former caretaker, and long term friend of the meeting, died in January 2017. Although he was never a member or attender of the meeting he had been devoted to the meeting house from the time he moved into the cottage near the meeting house gate many years ago. His funeral was held in the meeting house and he was buried in the burial ground as was his wish.
We continue to devote a lot of time and energy to our meeting house and garden/burial ground. Our Premises Group has continued to meet on a regular basis throughout this period. A considerable amount of work has been carried out to the meeting house with the aim of making it a more pleasant and welcoming place. Internal decorating was completed in August 2016 and external painting started in November of that year. A new courtyard path was completed in May 2017 after much delay. Double glazing was installed in August/September 2017 resulting in much praise from some of our hirers and helping to make the meeting house noticeably warmer. An internal doorway has also been replaced and widened, but the most noticeable improvement of all is that our kitchen has been completely refurbished and now looks brand new. Plans are in progress to provide better shelving for our library, improvements to the buffer space between the two meeting rooms, possible construction of a new patio and internal access to our toilets. Following a visit from Naomi Randles, arrangements are being made to make the meeting house more compliant with disability access. As our meeting house is also a listed building we have to be ever mindful that all changes we make do not harm our Quaker heritage.
A lot of our energies have also been channelled into maintaining and attempting to transform our garden/burial ground as a tranquil area for both people and wildlife. We had a visit from a wildlife expert in 2017 who advised what steps we needed to take to make our garden more wildlife-friendly. We have subsequently installed bird boxes, bird feeders and created an access for hedgehogs. We also created an area of wildflowers for bees and butterflies which, once planted up became, a very colourful site throughout the spring and summer. We have plans for further wildflower areas and the creation of a labyrinth for meditation.
Due to the retirement of our gardener/handyman in June this year, major gardening work such as lawn mowing is now carried out by contractors. However, we continue to have regular gardening working parties throughout the year.
Life within the Religious Society of Friends
We have been represented regularly at Area Meetings and several of us attended Yearly Meeting. We also had a participant at BYM Sustainability Gathering at Swanwick. In August of this year we were very pleased to welcome 17 riders for the Ride for Equality and the Common Good who stayed at the meeting house and in Friends’ homes on their way to present their Declaration to Downing Street. The shared meal and worship with them was a very moving experience and we were able to share many stories. Friends from our meeting joined other Friends from around the country in the March Against Trumpism and the March Against Trident and more recently in the blockade of the London bridges for Extinction Rebellion.
Sustainability and Quaker witness to the rest of the world
We have continually worked alongside local activists including members of other churches as part of Christian Ecology Group, Low Carbon Leighton Linslade and South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth by hosting many of their meetings and providing practical help. As well as making our garden/burial ground more wildlife friendly, we have also switched our energy supply to Good Energy. On Remembrance Sunday for the first time we laid a wreath of red and white poppies on our local war memorial as a witness to peace. We have also provided support to Refugees Welcome Milton Keynes.
We continue to value the stillness and the ministry of our meetings for worship, which refresh and challenge us to live our faith in the world. Many organisations in the local community value the meeting house as a peaceful and spiritual place to practise meditation, yoga, Pilates, Reiki etc. We want to continue to build on this by making our meeting house even more welcoming and, hopefully, future plans to alter the layout of the building will be a big help. In addition we want to continue to develop our garden/burial ground as a peaceful refuge for people away from the noise and bustle of everyday life, and as a haven for wildlife.
Previous Triennial Report 2013-2015
Spiritual life of the meeting.
We have continued to meet twice a month for Worship. We have a strong core of members and attenders and welcome occasional visitors. Our recorded membership is twelve, though half of these are never seen at meeting for worship. Of the ten recorded attenders most are very committed. Attendance at meeting for worship has been hovering about nine or ten, though sometimes we have had only three or four. On one special occasion we had eighty or more, to help celebrate a couple’s fortieth wedding anniversary. This meant we opened up our partitions for the ﬁrst time for many years. We do not read Advices And Queries regularly, but spoken ministry is offered often, if not at every meeting for worship. Sometimes this ministry includes quotations from Faith & Practice or Advices & Queries. We play our part in Churches Together in Leighton Linslade.
We continue to deepen our spirituality through study sessions. We have had four on Quaker testimonies in 2014 and another four in 2015, resourced from ‘Being Friends Together’ on different aspects of Spirituality (worship, ecological living, drawing on our tradition, and building community). All of these were led by local Ffriends. We continue to add to our library with regular purchases from a book budget.
We have become a more fully functioning meeting. We were well served by the elderseers who held the meeting together in a difﬁcult time. We have appointed new two elders, who are also overseers, together with another overseer, and we have appointment two Co-Clerks. We are grateful for the help of Clerks from Milton Keynes meeting who helped us through the difﬁcult transition to this stage, and for the continuing help of our Treasurer who is part of Milton Keynes Meeting. Meetings for worship for business have been held regularly since 2012. Last year we had these meetings on the ﬁrst Sunday of the month. They begin with quarter of an hour of worship, and we aim to complete our business within an hour. Next year we will alternate between the ﬁrst Sundays and ﬁrst Fridays. The meetings are well attended, with about the same number as those who come to Meeting for Worship. We adhere to right ordering by keeping minutes of our meetings properly and have made no new deposits to the County Records Ofﬁce in this triennium.
We have managed to hold two Quaker Week events this triennium. In 2013 we invited Owen Everett to speak to us about Peace-making. He was young, passionate and articulate. After his presentation he was joined by two Friends from the Area who gave their personal testimony about living in a peace-making way. We were pleased to have several local residents and some from other local meetings join us. In 2015 we invited Alastair Fuller, Head of Outreach Development for BYM to speak on Living Adventurously. The attendance was smaller than in 2013, but two members of the Methodist Church came and a Friend from Bedford. Both events were worthwhile in giving the meeting encouragement as well as making our presence known in the town.
Last November we hosted a Quiet Day in the Meeting House, on the theme ‘Live Adventurously’, which was led by two local Friends. It was offered to ecumenical and other faith participants. There were six participants, ﬁve from our Meeting and one non- Quaker.
We have continued our involvement with Anglia in Bloom through the Open Garden days. They have been a spur to our work in the garden, which has been improved by pruning, weeding, new planting, and relaid gravestones. Through the Open Days we have welcomed visitors, who have discovered a haven of quiet in the centre of town.
This year we contributed and beneﬁtted from a scheme to sponsor local schools to make hanging baskets, two of which we had displayed at the Meeting House. We received commendation for an ‘improving’ garden. We have also made available our Meeting House for the annual Historic Churches Bike’n’Hike day in September. One year we offered tea and cakes as refreshments for those who came on bikes or walking. This year the building was in use but we still offered a welcome and an opportunity for those who come to register their visit. Our website is kept up to date with current events and features several photographs. We have had several enquires as a result of our presence on the web, though most were related to using the building. We are continuing to explore how to use the website for outreach.
A lot of our time and energy has been spent on the premises. We have established a Premises Group which has been dealing with both details and broader issues. We have been greatly helped by all those who have dealt with lettings. Our ﬁrst paid Lettings Agent left in June 2012. One of our own meeting then served admirably, to the end of the triennium, ﬁrstly in a paid capacity and then voluntarily (at his own insistence). Our relationship with our user groups has generally been good, and linking with them is an enjoyable part of the role of Lettings Agent. More demanding has been care-taking, which has been exacerbated by repeated visits to the Meeting House to set out rooms, check the boiler timer, and occasionally responding to cries for help from hirers. We have recently agreed to separate these two aspects, of lettings and care-taking. We are looking to appoint a new Lettings Ofﬁcer. We will carry the care-taking duties between us, which will be easier thanks to a new 24/7 timer on the boiler.
A major piece of work has been the renewal of the side path, as part of a refurbishment programme. There has been slow but steady progress on minor repairs, e.g. to the brickwork and porch. We have had extra loft insulation and instigated electrical work to meet ﬁndings of a safety inspection and increased the number of sockets. A replacement of the crazy paving and uneven path from the entrance gate to the two doorways is agreed and in hand, with attention being given to the state of the cobbled courtyard which is part of the conservation area.
Financially, our best year was 2013 when Lettings income was high. Since then there has been a drop in income, but we hope the refurbishment of the building will lead to increased revenue. We have begun to contribute again to Area Meeting and Britain Yearly Meeting, and though we no longer host Leighton Linslade Homeless Service we are giving them ﬁnancial support.
Life within the Religious Society of Friends
We have been represented regularly at Area Meeting and several of us have attended Yearly Meeting. Though we do not have any children or young people worshipping with us, we have taken note of Safeguarding issues and we are discussing the way forward. When there were young children present for the special meeting to celebrate a wedding anniversary, they met separately for a time with their parents with them and were supported by several Friends. We have four people in the meeting who are CRB cleared for work with children and vulnerable adults in other contexts.
We are still a very small meeting and this shows particularly when it comes to nominations. However, we have been active in lobbying our MPs recently and taking part in the climate change march. We are also living out our Quaker Faith in caring, visiting, and through our involvement in the activities of our local community. We are in good spirits, and hope to continue growing in numbers, in action, and in depth of spirituality.