He Showed me the Way

In 1994 two events occurred in my life, the first was expected, the second was not and it was from the second event that I was able to enter a whole new chapter in my life with God’s help. At the end of January my Father died (my Mother had died 10 years earlier) so in many ways I was free from all the constraints that my parents imposed on us. Then early in May I was asked to go into the general secretary’s office of the department in which I worked at Friends House, to be told that there would not be a job for me there in that office after the end of the year and that in the meantime I was free to find another opportunity for work in Friends House if I so wished. The word “redundancy” had not been mentioned, so I voiced it by saying that I was willing to accept redundancy although I was unhappy about it and had no idea where it would lead. I had no computer skills and I know myself well enough to realise that they would take many weeks or even months to acquire. I was then told that the date for leaving Friends House would be 31st of August.

A feeling of rejection went through me, and I was reminded of times during my school days when teachers had left me out of groups who wanted extra help with their education. When I joined the staff of Friends House in 1978 I felt very strongly that I was meant to be there and what was happening to me now was going backwards and taking me away from Friends. How would I fill my days? It would be just like one long weekend, day after day, and as I soon discovered everyday tasks seemed a real chore.

Every time I walked out of the office, on the wall of the corridor Quaker Home Service (QHS) poster hit me. One of them quoted query 1.07 of Quaker Faith and Practice: “Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? Do you approach new ideas with discernment?” I felt that these were speaking to me, and although previously I had been the sort of person who had never asked much out of life, the time had now come to be more aware of what could be opening up for me if I would only listen to that still small voice within myself, and also to other people making suggestions as to the future.

A few weeks passed and obviously word got round that I was leaving. I had occasion to go to QHS, where to my surprise I was offered a bursary for one term at Woodbrooke. I didn’t accept immediately as being a student at my age did not really appeal to me. However, after a little persuasion from a colleague I accepted the bursary and a place for the Autumn term there. After a few days it began to dawn on me what an Autumn term would mean. It would finish in December and I would be going back to a bedsit in London, the darkest days of the winter, and perhaps bad weather. The spring term seemed more appealing with nature beginning to wake up after the long winter sleep. Towards the end of my time at Friends House I found it very difficult to get there on time and do a full week’s work; obviously the strain was beginning to show itself. I finally left at the end of July 1994, a month earlier than had been arranged. Before I left a colleague had kindly been in touch with the National Peace Council and I was able to work there as a volunteer for two and sometimes three days a week. This was good for me as I got to know other people and also another part of London. It made me feel a useful member of a team.

Before the end of July and going to Woodbrooke other significant things happened that are worth mentioning here. I first went to Claridge House which is owned by Friends Fellowship of Healing in the autumn of 1990, and during this visit I was amazed at the peacefulness of the house and large garden amid the busy surroundings of commuter Surrey. Being easily accessible from London it was perfect for much needed short breaks. I still continue to visit the house as much as possible and am beginning to realise what has been gained by my time there. Had I not been there my attitude to the redundancy both before and after I left Friends House would have been very different. I began to delve into Quaker history and then found it possible to visit Swarthmoor Hall and the Quaker Tapestry in Kendal. To be able to make these visits meant a lot to me at this time.

I have always liked visiting cathedrals and experiencing the peace that these ancient buildings provide. So one day in September I went to see Winchester Cathedral. Unknown to me there was a service there when I arrived so I sat at the back and when it had finished I had a look around. Then I found out that it was possible for me to attend Choral Evensong. I often listen to these services on Radio 3 on Wednesday afternoons but to sit just yards away from the choristers and in such an old building was a treat indeed and something I will never forget.

During my time at Friends House all I knew about Woodbrooke was the address and so I wondered how the next 11 weeks would seem away from familiar surroundings, meeting lots of people and remembering their names. I arrived at Woodbrooke one cool, wet afternoon in early January to be met by one of the tutors who had been alerted to my arrival by someone I had met at Claridge House; this was a very good introduction.We gathered in the common room after dinner and with the aid of a world map I began to realise just how many different countries there were represented. I found myself talking to someone who knew an ex-colleague of mine and this helped to make me feel more at home. During the next few days I met fellow students on the Quaker course and in a group session we shared a bit about our backgrounds and our reasons for coming to Woodbrooke at that time in our lives.

A week or so passed and I was sitting in the common room waiting for the start of a meeting. Next to me sat a student who, with her husband, was living in a flat 5 minutes walk from the college. She suggested to me that as my circumstances in London had changed she was wondering whether I had considered moving to Selly Oak. They were only going to be in the area for another three to four months and then would be returning home, and the flat they rented would become vacant. As the meeting was just about to start I said I would think about it and let her know. Two weeks later and after some thought I decided that the whole suggestion of moving was not on for various reasons. My mind was far too churned up by the events of the past 18 months. Looking back on it, the mere fact that I got to Woodbrooke at all was amazing; I had nearly rejected the whole thing.

I was pleased to be able to join a local choir which took me out of the college every Monday evening. Although I had not sung in a choir for nearly 30 years I come from a musical family, so it did not take long to feel that I was making a contribution to the singing. I had not visited a Quaker meeting in the area since my arrival in Birmingham; the only Quaker meetings for worship  I had attended during that period were those held in the college. I chose to go to a Meeting which is about one mile from Woodbrooke. This proved to be a good choice, the ministry was Bible based and Quakers there were friendly and welcoming.

Weekends at Woodbrooke were difficult for me. I was too tired to do much and yet I could not relax enough to sleep. My sister and family who live in Oxford were pleased to have me for two weekends in February and it was while there on the second visit that I attended the United Reformed Church in Summertown. In my teenage years I knew many of the hymns associated with the Presbyterian Church, but the words and tunes of the ones chosen on this particular Sunday were new to me. During the course of the service two lines of a hymn made me look twice at them and stop and think for a while:

“God’s mercy holds a wiser plan

Than you will fully know”

As with all plans, it is better to sleep on them before making a decision, but travelling back to Woodbrooke the following day I was certain that God was speaking to me through the two lines of that hymn and that this was something I could not ignore. More than that, it was as if my parents had spoken to me and said: We think you should move from London to the area around Woodbrooke and start a new chapter in your life.

The days and weeks passed fairly quickly and it was time to find out more about the flat that had been mentioned to me earlier in the term. It turned out that a Quaker Family Trust owned a few flats within a short distance of the College. Apparently most of them were let to retired Quakers. At the time I did not fit into either category, nevertheless I got an interview and to my great surprise and delight was offered a flat, subject to the agreement of the Trustees. It was also amazing to me to discover that one of the Friends I met had a relative who for many years worked in Friends House. This was truly home from home. I returned to Woodbrooke full of the joys of life, and as one of the staff put it; “grinning like a cheshire cat”! I found it difficult to believe that all this was happening to me; what had I done to deserve it?

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