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Another Brick from the Wall: My (Small) Part in its Downfall, 1987-92   1 comment

Quaker

Quaker (Photo credit: kendoman26)

Another Brick from the Wall: My (Small) Part in its Downfall

by Andrew J Chandler

It’s now twenty-five years since I first ‘set foot’ in Hungary, on 22nd October 1988, as the Organiser for the West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project. In May 1987, at what turned out to be the beginning of the end of the Cold War, I was concerned about both international conflict and interpersonal conflict, having experienced both verbal and physical abuse against teachers and between pupils, as a teacher in Coventry. The Project, based in the Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham at Woodbrooke, George Cadbury‘s home, was also set up to continue to support teachers with work on controversial issues in the classroom, later characterised as ‘peace versus patriotism’ in a late-night TV programme I was invited to take part in. Since the hottest days of the Cold War, Quakers had answered invitations to visit schools throughout the West Midlands to show the film The War Game and give their views on Disarmament. The Project organised balanced debates between CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament organisers) and advocates of Peace Through NATO.  These used the BBC ‘Question Time’ format, with fifth and sixth-formers ‘firing’ prepared questions at the speakers, who had no time to prepare their answers, however.

The Project also gave scope for considering Human Rights as well as ‘Earthrights’, with a simulation of rainforest destruction with paper cups! We broadened the range of international issues dealt with to include, for example, Hong Kong, eight years before the 1997 handover. This work on global issues led to a  Sixth Form Conference at Woodbrooke with participants from Stafford, Sutton Coldfield and Coventry. Based on a quote from Peter Kropotkin, the Russian scientist, about what learners should demand of teachers, it was entitled ’What kind of world? How do we build it?’ Held over a weekend, it consisted of a series of workshops which were designed to give the students the opportunity to place themselves in the various conflict situations and to think of ways in which they might empower themselves to tackle some of the major issues facing the world at the end of the twentieth century. Various guest speakers, including Jerry Tyrrell, who had been recently appointed as Field Worker to the Ulster Quaker Peace Education Project, presented  ’case studies’ of the conflicts from their countries and regions.

Looking back, Warwickshire Monthly Meeting on the twelfth day of the twelfth month of the last year of the decade marked a significant turning point in the life of the Project in more way than one, held during the collapse of the Ceaucescu régime in Romania, the latter sparked by in Temesvár by the resistance of the Hungarian Reforrmed Church. Reference was made to the pack for upper school pupils, prepared by teachers from the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, ’Conflict and Reconciliation’, the resources for which had been provided by the Project. It aimed to develop an awareness of interpersonal and conflict between cultures at a community, as well as an international level. Although I left in February 1990 to take up an appointment, through Westhill College, with the Hungarian Ministry of Education in Coventry’s twin town of Kecskemét, Hungary, I  returned to complete work on the pack in Belfast in the Spring. This was eventually published  by the Christian Education Movement, by then also based in Selly Oak, and launched at a workshop in Sutton Coldfield in the Summer of 1991.

At the time, the work between Northern Ireland (the only part of the UK where the Government funded Peace Education as part of EMU (Education for Mutual Understanding) and the West Midlands attracted the attention of the Belfast Telegraph and The Times Educational Supplement and I was invited to make a presentation on it to an EU-sponsored Peace Education Conference in Brussels which was published in the journal, Trans-Europe Peace (1988). The CEM’s ’Conflict and Reconciliation’ pack serves as lasting testimony to the work of Q-PEP, as its Preface contains the remark that we were responsible not only for gathering together much of the material for use in the classroom, but also for ’the insistence on pupil-centred activity-based learning’. But the ultimate credit here, as in that of the Preface, goes to teachers like Terry Donaghy, from Belfast, from whom I learnt about the importance of faith-based education in helping pupils to reach out to people of other faiths and traditions. Following the Northern Ireland ‘Peace Accord‘, EMU was ‘transmorphed’ into ‘Education for Reconciliation’, a trans-border initiative which held its last conference recently, in 2012 (see links below).

Hungary: visa and stamps

Hungary: visa and stamps (Photo credit: Sem Paradeiro)

The link between Coventry and Kecskemét went back decades, one of twenty-six twinnings resulting from the Blitz of November 1940.  It had, however, been dormant since the Hungarian troops had been sent to help suppress the Prague Spring of 1968. In the run-up to the 50th Anniversary of the Blitz, the City Council asked to the One World Education Group, which met at the Elm Bank Teachers’ Centre, to produce a pack of materials for use in schools. The Project was asked to help with this. At the same time, members of our Steering Group were keen on the idea of developing school and youth group East-West links, as were Friends elsewhere. In 1987, the Project had already helped co-ordinate the production and staging in Solihull and elsewhere of an exhibition on ’Life in the Soviet Union’, based on an exchange involving Quaker women. In 1988, we had received an invitation to visit the DDR. Tom Leimdorfer, Peace Education Advisor at Friends’ House, himself a Hungarian exile from 1956, and I met teachers from ’behind the iron curtain’ at the second International Teachers for Peace Congress in Bonn in May of that year. Although we knew that ’one swallow does not a summer make’, I wrote in the Q-PEP newsletter shortly afterwards, that ’coming as it did just before the Moscow summit, there was a distinct atmosphere of Glasnost, which meant that the exchanges between the participants were relaxed, open and constructive… the spirit was very much in evidence in the opening session when children from the USA and USSR joined together spontaneously in songs from a peace musical.’  It was also apparent in the openness with which a Soviet representative spoke about the new Soviet Children’s Fund, a baby of Glasnost, through which they were  beginning to deal with child abuse and the problems of the one-third of families in which the parents were divorced. We were also particularly impressed by the frankness of Hungarian delegates who reported how, after establishing exchanges with other countries, parents meetings were held and children were enabled to speak about their experiences of abuse.

Since Éva Horváth, of Hungarian Teachers for Peace, had visited the West Midlands Q-PEP with a delegation the previous year, we looked forward to the 1990 Congress in Budapest, little knowing that she would be inviting the delegates to a very different country. Prior to that, in the Autumn of 1988, a group of us, Quaker teachers, were invited to visit Hungary, as the guests of the state-sponsored, but increasingly independent, Hungarian Peace Council.  On the first full day of our visit, the anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, our guide and hostess became ver excited about two announcements on Kossúth (state-controlled) Radio. The first was that the Uprising would no longer be described, officially, as a ’Counter-Revolution’ and the second was that the Soviet troops would be invited to leave the country.  This came as a dramatic confirmation of the sense we were already getting of a far freer atmosphere than we knew from Friends and teachers existed in other Warsaw Pact countries, including the one we were looking across the Danube at, Czechoslovakia. We visited Kecskemét a few days later and a link was formed with KATE, the English Language teachers association in the town, who needed an invitation to attend the International ELT Conference at the University of Warwick the next year.

So, with the approval of the Project Steering Group and the support of  the City Council and Martin Pounce at the Teachers’ Centre in Coventry, an exchange was established through the One World Education Group, with myself as facilitator (one result of this was that Martin later became the LEA’s International Officer). The twelve KATE teachers were hosted by Coventry and Warwickshire Friends and teachers in the Spring of 1989, and a twelve-strong OWEG group were invited to Kecskemét the following summer, including Frank Scotford, a retired teacher and ’elder statesman’ from Coventry, Gill Kirkham, a music teacher from Kenilworth, John Illingworth, a special needs teacher and bell-ringer from Monks Kirkby, and Gill Brown, a Quaker teacher at the Blue Coat School.  Stefánia Rozinka was one of our hosts who had been unable to take part in the first leg of the exchange due to her university studies in history, just as I had been unable to accept an invitation to visit the DDR the previous year because of mine, and so, academic work over, we became engaged within a week of meeting each other and the rest, as they say, is literally, ’personal’ history! This exchange also had longer-lasting effects in terms of school, teacher and trainee-teacher exchanges, the latter attracting significant funding from the EU.

I believe that the significance of Q-PEP’s work in this area cannot be overstated. At the time, the Project was reported in the local press in Hungary as having the purpose ’to educate for peace, to develop mutual understanding within the scope of a subject which is not compulsory in school in order that the children should have an all-embracing picture of the world’.  In explaining the purpose of the exchange, we tried to emphasise that ’Britain is not too great to learn from Hungary’, the Petö Institutes in Birmingham being just one example, and that Hungary was considered to be a bridge between East and West. Hungary no longer meant just ’goulash, Puskás, and 1956’. We were beginning to learn about Hungarian expertise and aspirations in Science, Mathematics, Music and Art, as well as in society in general (there were even later exchanges of police forces!) In July 1989, just after the barbed wire was first cut in May (Tom Leimdorfer was there, twenty miles south from where he escaped by crawling under it in December 1956), the Lord Mayor of Kecskemét reminded us that whilst it was important that the Iron Curtain should be removed physically, ’it also needs to be removed in people’s hearts and minds…as more and more educational links are forged between ordinary people in the East and the West, so it will become impossible for politicians to keep the existing barriers up, or to build new ones…’ Coventry had long been interested in reconciliation between Western and Eastern Europe – we could now help bring this about by our practical support for the teachers and people of Kecskemét. This public statement, from a then member of the ruling communist party in what was still a ’People’s Republic’, gives a clear indication of the importance of these exchanges and contacts between ’ordinary people’ in the tearing down of the curtain and the fall of the wall, now more than twenty years ago.

Following my three semester secondment to the Hungarian Ministry of Education, and a further year as a teacher-fellow at Westhill College, I was then invited to return to Hungary to co-ordinate a teacher-exchange being set up by Devon County Council with Baranya County Assembly in southern Hungary, in 1992. By that time the coup had failed in the former USSR, and the Cold War was officially over, so longer-term ‘transition’ programmes could take shape, like the wholesale re-training of Russian Language Teachers to teach English as a Foreign Language in Hungary, a process which took a further four years with the support of ‘NESTs’ (Native English-Speaking Teachers) who took the place of their Hungarian colleagues in the classroom while the latter attended university training colleges part-time. My initial period of work in and with Hungary therefore came to an end in 1996, by which time a remarkable transformation had taken place in the education system there, as elsewhere. Fifteen years later, I returned to Hungary in 2011, to take up an appointment as a Consultant in English Language Teaching (CELT) for the Hungarian Reformed Church Schools. I’m now working for the Piarist (Catholic) Schools in Kecskemét in a similar role, as well as at the College of Education in the town.

AJC October 2008

Updated May 2012, October 2013.

Desert Island Songs of Praise!   Leave a comment

 

Desert Island Songs of Praise!: My Testimony

There’s a long-running BBC Radio Programme called Desert Island Discs, in which the presenter interviews a different guest each week. The guest has to choose eight ’single’ recordings to take with them to an imaginary desert island, on which they will be ’marooned’ for some months with their collection of discs, a ’luxury’ item, the Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare and another book of their choice.  I thought I’d use this format to give you my testimony.

1.)  From Sherwood to Bearwood:

Both my parents were Baptists. They met and married 60 yrs ago in mum’s home City of Coventry – Dad was a steelworker from Wolverhampton, who became a pastor during the war. The motto of the town is, ‘out of darkness comes light’, as the MTK team were told when they visited Woverhampton Wanderers to play a football match to raise money for the Hungarian refugees in 1956.

Mum was the daughter of a coalminer and a ribbon weaver. I was born at home, near Nottingham. We moved to Birmingham when I was  eight and I joined the Boys’ Brigade and took part in Festivals of Arts, Sporting Competitions, Drama and Choirs. We often sang the Boys’ Brigade Anthem, ’Will Your Anchor Hold in the Storms of Life?’ based on….

Hebrews 6:19; ’So we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us are greatly encouraged. We have this hope as anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast.’

 

„…erős bátorításunk van nekünk, akik odamenekültünk, hogy belekapaszkodjunk az előttünk levő reménységbe. Ez a reménység lelkünknek biztos és erős horgonya, amely behatol a kárpit mögé.”

 

 

 

 
  
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,

When the clouds unfurl their wings of strife,

When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
 
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?
 
 
 
We have an anchor which keeps the soul,
Steadfast and Sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the saviour’s love!
 
 
 

2.)   When I became a teenager, a Caribbean Gospel group came to our church and performed a number of Negro Spirituals and Gospel Songs. At the end of the concert, I gave my life to the Lord andwas baptised on Whit Sunday, just before my fifteenth birthday, almost exactly forty years ago. I became very involved in youth work, forming a rock group, writing musicals and attending Chritian Rock festivals. We were at a ’Youthquake’ event for the city’s young Christians, at the Cathedral, one Saturday night when a huge terrorist bomb exploded in a pub nearby, killing and seriously injuring many young people.  Two of us, both pastors’ sons, began preaching and performing peace songs in B’ham churches. We went on a pilgrimage together to raise money for charity following the hills from the Midlands to the Lake District in northern England, for a distance of 250km along ‘the Pennine Way‘, a long-distance footpath. Every night we read our bibles together, prayed, and washed each other’s feet – Philip had a club foot from birth. We both felt a calling to the ministry, but I decided to qualify as teacher first, in Wales.

Yes! Jesus Loves Me

Yes! Jesus Loves Me (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

One of the songs we used in our rock musical was ’Yes, Jesus Loves Me’, which I sang as Phil acted the part of ’Desperate Des’ coming to Christ. The words are based on….

Luke 18:17; Remember this! Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it!

„Bizony, mondom nektek: aki nem úgy fogadja az Isten országot, mint egy kisgyermek, semmiképpen nem megy be abba.”

Jesus loves me! He who died

 Heaven’s gate to open wide;

He will wash away my sin,

Let his little child come in.

Yes, Jesus loves me! (x3)

The Bible tells me so.

 

3.)   The next stage of my journey took me from to Snowdonia and from those Mountains in North Wales to Iona, a small island off the west coast of Scotland where Celtic Christianity was brought to the Saxons from the sixth century.  At the stone altar, made of a huge rock quarried from the island, I rededicated myself to a ministry of reconciliation.

 
Returning to my university, where there was a lot of conflict about the Welsh Ianguage, I learnt Welsh and became a student leader, making many friends among the Welsh Baptists and Congregationalists I lived and studied with.  However, I became critical of the churches and lost my spiritual direction while a research student in south Wales. It was in my final year in Wales, at a Church College in the west, that both my spiritual and physical health returned, as I began running long distances over the hills and along the river valleys.
 
 
 
 
I became a Religious Education teacher, and began my thirty years in my chosen ’vocation’ at a Church School to the north of  Manchester. There I continued running and walking over the Pennine Hills. The words of Paul to the Hebrews often came to my mind, together with the verse from the hymn based on it:

Hebrews 12.1; ’Let us run with patience the race that is set before us’

„..állhatatossággal fussuk meg az előttünk levő pályát.”

Run the Straight Race,

through God’s good grace,

Lift up thine eyes and seek his face;

Life with its way before thee lies,

Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

During my three years there, it was my Christian colleagues who helped to keep me ’on the straight and narrow path’, though we had lots of fun together too, on various school trips. I attended the local Anglican Church, but felt uncomfortable with its hierarchical organisation and very traditional forms of worship.  So I found the local Quaker meeting and began attending as an ’enquirer’ (Quakers have no formal ministers or services).

4.) From the West Pennine Moors to the Hungarian Puszta

……is a long way in the mind and spirit as well as in body. After visiting me in Lancashire and telling me that he thought I was following his ministry in my own vocation, my father’s death took me home to Coventry, where I continued to teach History and RE.  I went to the Baptist Chapel (with mum), but attended Quaker meetings and then worked for them in Birmingham for three years, while finishing my doctorate. As Quaker teachers, we visited Kecskemét in October 1988, and set up an exchange with the local teachers the next year. One of our visits was to the Reformed Church camp at Emmaus, near Lakitelek. As we walked over the sandy puszta, talking about all our experiences in Hungary, we felt the same sense of enthusiasm for the gospel that Cleopas and his fellow disciple must have felt:


’„Maradj velünk, mert esteledik, a nap is lehanyatlott már!” Bement hát, hogy velük maradjon. És amikor asztalhoz telepedett velük, vette a kenyeret, megáldotta, megtörte és felismerték, ő azonban eltűnt előlük. Ekkor így szóltak egymásnak: „Nem hevült-e a szívünk, amikor beszélt hozzánk az úton, amikor feltárta előttünk az írásokat?” ’

Luke 24:29; ’Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ’Wasn’t it like a burning fire within us when he talked to us on the road and opened the scriptures to us? ’

Personally, I was walking in darkness at the time, and meeting and falling in love with Stefi was a clear sign that God’s grace and redemption from sin. The following hymn, based on this passage, promises this:

I need thy presence every passing hour:

What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me!

The hymn, Abide with me, written by the Devon pastor, Henry Lyte, is well-known in Britain, as it has been sung before every Football Association Cup Final since 1927. Another good reason to treasure it!

5.) Love Divine: Marriage in Bournville and Kecskemét:

At the Quaker Meeting held to celebrate and bless our ’forthcoming’ marriage in Birmingham the following January, we were given the advice by a  Hungarian 1956 exile,  to ’live adventurously.’  Since then, we’ve never done anything other than to follow this advice! We also sang ’Love Divine, All Loves Excelling’, Charles Wesley’s great hymn about ’the Greatest Love’ which Paul writes of in…..

1 Corinthians 13:13: ’Meanwhile, these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.’

„Most azért megmarad a hit, a remény, a szeretet, e három; ezek közül pedig a legynagyobb a szeretet.”

Love divine, all loves excelling,

Joy of heav’n to earth come down,

Fix in us thy humble dwelling,

All thy faithful mercies crown,

Jesu, thou art all compassion,

Pure unbounded love thou art,

Visit us with thy salvation,

Enter every trembling heart.

 

 

6.) Freedom in Christ; ‘Out of darkness comes the Light’:

The year after our wedding in Kecskemét, Steffan was born here in Kecskemét. We were ’euphoric’, but only spent a short time in Stefi’s home town before I took up a teaching and pastoral role in Pécs.  Here, the British and American teachers met for English-language ’Sunday School’ in our own homes. My mother’s sudden and unexplained accidental death triggered severe depression, a condition inherited from her, which affected my life for much of the next fifteen years. I attended a ’Freedom in Christ’ course held by our church in Canterbury, which, together with counselling and therapy provided by the Health service, helped me come to terms with this ’dark illness’ which I now know has burdened me since childhood.

Although I still lack self-control at times, regaining self-awareness was like being released from a long prison sentence.  This sense of release was like that written about by Paul in Galatians, on which Wesley based his intensely personal hymn about ’Free Grace’:

Galatians 2:20;  ’So it no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This life that I live now, I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I refuse to reject the Grace of God.’

„Krisztussal együtt keresztre vagyok feszítve: többé tehát nem én élek, hanem Krisztus él bennem; azt az életet pedig, amit most testben élek, az Isten Fiában való hitben élem, aki szeretett engem, és önmagát adta értem.

En nem vetem el az Isten kegyelmet.”

 

 

And can it be, that I should gain?

 Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, –

I woke, the dungeon filled with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

7.) The Wondrous Story: Chosen to Care.

When Stefi became pregnant with our second son we also ’houseparents’ to fifty international students at a Quaker School in the west of England. On weekends off, we worshipped at the local Baptist Church, where I became a member. At twenty weeks, Stefi’s scan revealed that Oliver’s right hand had not developed, and we were also told that he may have other unseen problems, which could only be diagnosed at birth. Devastated by this news, we were visited by our pastor, Stephen. He listened to all our thinking and emotions, without giving opinions or making judgements. When we asked the common question of him, ’why us?’ he paused for thought, and said that God may well have chosen us to be parents to a disabled child because He felt we could cope with difference and disability.

 
 
 
Suddenly, through our tears, we were given a sense of purpose. When Oliver was born, only the fingers on his right hand were missing. As he’s grown, we’ve also realised how much use he has in the remaining part of the hand.

The name of the Welsh tune, Hyfydol, also means ’wonderful’.When Oliver’s dedication was held, we also rededicated ourself as a whole family, reading the following passage from scripture, on which a verse from the hymn, ’Wondrous Story’ is based.

Matthew 18:10-13; ’See that you don’t despise any of these little ones. Their angels in heaven, I tell you, are always in the presence of my Father… What do you think a man does who has one hundred sheep and one of them gets lost? He will leave the other ninety-nine grazing on the hillside and go and look for the lost sheep…In just the same way your Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost.’

 

„Vigyázzatok, hogy egyet se vessetek meg e kicsinek közül, mert mondom nektek, hogy angyalaik mindenkor látják a mennyben az én mennyei Atyám arcát… Mit gondoltok? Ha egy embernek száz juha van, és eltéved közülük egy, nem hagyja-e ott a kilencvenkilencet a hegyekben, és nem megy-e el megkeresni az eltévedtet?…Ugyanigy a ti mennyei Atyátok sem akarja, hogy elvesszen egy is e kicsinyek közül.”

I was lost but Jesus found me,

Found the sheep that went astray,

Raised me up and gently led me,

Back into the narrow way.

Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story,

Of the Christ who died for me,

Sing it with the saints in glory,

Gathered round the crystal sea.

 

8.) The ‘Enchanted Ground’; Bunjan Zarándokútja:

I said at the beginning that, besides the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, I am allowed to take one other book to the desert island. This would be ’Pilgrim’s Progress’ by the seventeenth-century Bedford Baptist preacher, John Bunyan. Although I listened to and watched the story as a teenager, and have taught it in Literature classes, I’ve never read it cover to cover. Also, apart from its simple, beautiful English, it was the one book which, beside the Bible, could be found on the shelf of almost every English cottage, including my great-grandparents’.

A Zarándok Útja a Biblia mellett a világ legolvasottabb könyve. Ez azértkülönös, mert ennek a klasszikus műnek az iírója egy üstfoltozó volt, aki alig tudott írni és olvasni.

The hymn, ’To be a Pilgrim’, is based on a poem which appears in the narrative near the end of the long pilgrimage, when the pilgrims have reached ’the enchanted ground’. Mr Valiant-for-truth introduces it with the words: ’I believed, and therefore came out, got into the way, fought all that set themselves against me, and, by believing, am come to this place.’

„Hittem így elindultam a zarándokuton, leküzdöttem minden nehézséget, ami utamba került, és hitem által eljutottam e helyre.”

He who would valiant be

’Gainst all disaster,

Let him in constancy

Follow the master;

There’s no discouragement,

Shall make him once relent

His first avowed intent

To be a pilgrim.

 

 

So, by believing, I have come to this place, this ’enchanted ground’, because I believe this is where God needs me to be. The title of Bunyan’s other book, ’Grace abounding to the chief of sinners’, sums up what I feel about my own pilgrimage. I am here, in this enchanted place, despite my own failings and because of his grace, and I have been made to feel most welcome….

Andrew J Chandler

Kecskemét, Hungary, June 2012

Prayer Book & Persecution III   Leave a comment

George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, called ‘Quakers’, kept a journal, like Richard Baxter. In it, he describes his imprisonment in Scarborough Castle on the Yorkshire Coast:

‘One day the governor of Scarborough Castle came to see me. I desired him to go into  my room…and it was so filled with smoke from the little fire that when they were in it they could hardly find their way out again…(After) I was removed into a worse room where I had neither chimney nor fire hearth. This being to the sea-side, the wind drove in the rain forcibly, so that the water came over my bed and ran about the room. And when my clothes were wet, I had no fire to dry them; so that my body was benumbed with cold and my fingers swelled…The officers often threatened that I should be hanged over the wall…But I told them that if that was what they desired and it was permitted them, I was ready; for I never feared death nor suffering in my life’.

Fox was later better treated by the governor, who tried to get him released and the leading Quaker’s fearless suffering changed not just the governor’s attitude, but also that of the officers and soldiers, who reported him to be ‘as stiff as a tree and as pure as a bell; for we could never bow him’. Nor was Fox alone in this example of endurance. From the time of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 to the Toleration Act of 1689, the Quaker movement continued to grow, despite, perhaps because of, imprisonment and persecution. At least 21,000 ‘Friends’ suffered fines or prison sentences, many more than once, and at least 450 died in prison, or as a result of their sufferings while in prison. But whatever was done to them, like George Fox, they held firm.

In 1678, the King’s ‘Indulgence’ towards Catholics and Non-conformists was brought abruptly to an end by the supposed ‘discovery’ of a Catholic plot to kill Charles and put his brother James on the throne. Titus Oates made up this story, and also claimed that Catholics had been responsible for starting the Great Fire twelve years earlier. Ever since, Catholics had been blamed for every fire that had broken out, and Oates’ story of a plot brought back even earlier memories of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Most people hated and feared the idea of a Roman Catholic King, and wanted the Duke of York passed over in favour of Charles’ cousin, William, the Dutch Prince of Orange. Baxter, however, did not believe everything he heard, and warned of the dangers to the future liberties of England of lying on oath, as Oates had done:

‘Only that those coming after may not be deluded I shall truly tell them that lying most impudently is become so ordinary a trade…that I must confess it hath greatly depressed my esteem of most history and of human nature’.

Of course, this view of human nature was one point on which he would have quarrelled with the Quakers, whose doctrine of ‘the inner light’ of the divine in each one of us led them to proclaim the essential goodness of human nature, in conflict with the more Calvinist view of its sinfulness held by Baxter and most Protestants of all persuasions at the time. The doctrine of ‘that of God in everyone’ also led to their rejection of a professional, trained ministry, and the 1667 ‘convincement’ of courtiers like William Penn, the son of Admiral Penn who appears in Pepys’ Diary, of these beliefs, had led the authorities to think that their might be plotters among the movement, despite its declared pacifism. Quakers were mostly of low birth, but they had ‘Friends in high places’ and their beliefs were therefore seen as a direct challenge to the authorities of Christ, the Church and the Stuart state. Baxter, of course, respected them, and had made a public show of this by holding a public disputation with Penn at Rickmansworth, in which he nevertheless tried to correct what he saw as their doctrinal errors.

When Charles II died in February 1685, James was proclaimed King, despite the efforts of many Protestants to prevent this. Unlike his brother, James II hated the Nonconformists, many of whom had opposed him. As Baxter had feared, he began to persecute them more than ever. Worse still, as the most famous Nonconformist preacher, Baxter was a clear target as a leader to be made an example of by being brought to public trial. Since he had given up preaching, and had sold all his books, Baxter could only be charged with sedition through his writings, especially his newly-penned commentary on the New Testament. So, on May 30th, 1685, Baxter was brought to what we would call today a ‘show-trial’ at the Guildhall by the Lord Chief Justice of England, Judge Jeffreys. The hall was packed with crowds, some of the more ignorant asking, ‘surely this Baxter is one of those who burnt the City?’ This comment shows that it was perhaps now more fashionable to accuse the Nonconformists, rather than the Catholics, for starting the Great Fire, as they had sometimes been in the past. Jeffreys would not let Baxter’s lawyers answer the charge against the ‘commentary’, but continued to rant and rail against the ‘old rogue..with his Kidderminster doctrine‘ in the dock before him, giving such a performance that some in the crowd began laughing out loud. Baxter calmly replied:

One day, all these things will surely be understood and it will be seen what a sad and foolish thing it is that one set of Protestant Christians are made to persecute another set. I am not concerned to answer such stuff (as I am accused of) but am ready to produce my writings, and my life and conversation is known to many in this nation’. 

The jury had been hand-picked by Jeffreys and didn’t even bother to leave the court to reach their ‘Guilty’ verdict. Baxter was fined 500 marks, but Jeffrey’s attempts to have the ‘old knave’ whipped through the streets, was ‘stamped on’ by all the other judges. Later the same year, however, Jeffreys did have his fill of bloodshed and cruelty against the Nonconformist agricultural workers of  the West of England who rose up in support of the Duke of Monmouth’s ‘Pitchfork’ Rebellion against the tyrannical rule of James II. Monmouth, Charles II’s son by an earlier, secret ‘marriage’, landed at Lyme Regis and gathered his supporters together in Dorset before marching into Somerset, where he was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Jeffreys was sent to try the poor farmers and fishermen who had followed him, hanging as many of them as he could in what became known as the Bloody Assizes. When his master, James II, was forced to flee England in 1688, ‘the hanging judge’ Jeffreys tried to escape disguised as a sailor. However, he was recognised trying to board a ship in Wapping, and was nearly torn apart by the angry crowd. He was rescued and sent to the Tower, but never recovered from the ‘justice’ he had received at the hands of the people.

Meanwhile, refusing to pay the fine which had been imposed on him, Baxter remained in prison for eighteen months, until, in a belated attempt to appease the Nonconformists, the beleaguered James II released him. Baxter continued to preach at Charterhouse Yard  to crowds reported to be bigger than any Cathedral congregation in England. William III’s Parliament passed a ‘Toleration Act’ in 1689 which grant the right of religious worship to Protestant non-conformists as long as they agreed  to certain tests. Baxter persuaded many of his friends to agree to these, but died in December 1691, sad that there still had to be divisions and quarrels and that his dream of one Church was still only a dream. Although everyone was allowed to worship as they liked, Catholics and Nonconformists were not yet allowed to go to the universities or take jobs in the government, including the standing army and the Royal Navy. This meant they were still excluded from public service and the ‘mainstream’ of ‘established’ English society, though they were no longer punished for their beliefs and could build any sort of chapel or church they liked to worship in.

In 1672, Baxter published ‘a psalm of praise’ to the tune of Psalm 128, Ye Holy Angels Bright. This is the last verse of the famous hymn:

My soul, bear thou thy part,

Triumph in God above;

And with a well-tuned heart,

Sing thou the songs of love.

In 1838 John Hampden Gurney took Baxter’s verses as the basis of a new hymn, which became a favourite congregational hymn. An Anglican educated at Cambridge, after 23 years as a curate at Lutterworth in Leicestershire, he became rector at St Mary’s, Bryanston Square in London and in 1857 was made prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral. So, Baxter’s words were brought home to the City of London. However, if there’s one group of people to which Baxter’s ‘well-tuned heart’ belongs, it is not the Church of England, nor even his parishioners in Bridgnorth or Kidderminster, nor John Hampden and the independent soldiers of Cromwell’s Army, nor the Royalists of Charles II’s Restoration, nor the Protestant Nonconformists. He belongs to all those believers persecuted for righteousness’ sake and, above all, to to all those who, like him, deserve the blessing, Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the Children of God.

Prayer Book & Persecution II   Leave a comment

 

When John Bunyan had been brought before the judge in 1660 he had been told that if he did not stop preaching he would be hung. He replied, ‘If I were out of prison today, I would preach again tomorrow, by the help of God’. He remained in prison for twelve years, during which time he wrote many books, including The Pigrim’s Progress, once to be found in almost every home in England. He had friends, even among the judiciary, like Sir Matthew Hale, who tried to get him out of prison and who also helped Richard Baxter, when he, too, found himself in prison after 1672.

The picture below shows Bunyan in the stained glass window which was installed in Bedford Free Church for the 300th anniversary of The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1978.

This was made into commemorative postcards, one of which found its way to Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s  special envoy, who was held captive by ‘Hizbollah’ in the Lebanon in the 1980’s. It was sent by Joy Brodier, with the simple hand-written message ‘We remember, we shall not forget. We shall continue to pray for you and to work for all people who are detained around the world’.  When he was eventually freed, Terry Waite brought the postcard home with him and  showed it to the world’s press as Joy watched the scenes at the airport on television. She said,

“Like everyone else I was glued to the television, celebrating his release. Then he mentioned the card. I could hardly believe it. I knew we couldn’t put anything too explicit. We addressed it to the Party of God just to be flattering and hoped that it would get through.”

Terry Waite said that the message boosted his hopes more than anything else during the darkest days of his captivity, despite his envy of Bunyan’s apperently better conditions.

When he was in prison, Baxter wrote the following poem:

Must I be driven from my book

From house and goods and dearest friends?

My Lord hath taught me how to want

A place wherein to put my head.

No walls or bars can keep Thee out

None can confine a holy soul,

The streets of heaven it walks about

None can its liberty control.

In the period of  Bunyan and Baxter prisons were very crowded and unhealthy. In winter they were bitterly cold and damp, and in summer they were full of flies and rats, spreading disease. Baxter became ill and may have died had his friends not managed to get him released before his sentence was over. However, after his release, he could not return to his house in Acton, but had to spend the winter in lodgings near Barnet. He could not preach, but continued to write to help men settle their quarrels. He received letters from many ministers who had also lost their homes because of the Act of Uniformity. One wrote that his wife and children had lived ever since his ejectment on black rye-bread and water, and another that he had to spin all day and night to make a living.

James, Duke of York, Charles II’s brother and heir, was Roman Catholic and Charles was also secretly a Catholic. He wished to protect the Catholics. Left to himself, he would probably have allowed both Catholics and Non-conformists to worship in freedom, but Parliament wanted to uphold the Act of Uniformity. However, many magistrates understood the King’s sympathies and allowed preaching in private homes. In 1672 the King went further in issuing a ‘Declaration of Indulgence‘ which granted licenses for preaching to some non-conformist preachers, Baxter among them. He came back to London and settled in Bloomsbury, but Parliament soon forced Charles to put an end to the Declaration, and it wasn’t long before Baxter found himself in danger of being imprisoned once more. Despite feeling too ill to travel, three friends persuaded him to leave London for Hertfordshire, and he therefore avoided six months in a common prison, which probably would have killed him.

While at Rickmansworth he met the famous Quaker, William Penn, who later founded the American colony of Pennsylvania, based on principles of religious toleration. He and Baxter held a meeting in which they discussed and disputed in front of an audience, from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon, without a break. Penn, like other Quakers, such as James Nayler, had won fame as a soldier and had become a favourite at Court, but had long-since left the Army to uphold the Peace Testimony of the ‘Society of Friends‘, as they called themselves. Baxter and Penn respected each other, though they disagreed on many points, since they were both courageous men in constant danger of persecution. Here is a description of the persecution of the Quakers by Bishop Barnet, who wrote a history of his own times:

‘When they were seized, none of them would get out of the way. They all went together to prison; they stayed there till they were all dismissed, for they would not petition to be set at liberty, nor would they pay their fines…and as soon as they were let out, they went to their meeting-houses again; and when they found these were shut up by order, they would, they held their meetings in the streets, before the doors of those houses. They said they would not be ashamed of their meeting…but would do it the more publicly, because they were forbidden to do it.’

As a result, the authorities simply didn’t know what to do with the Quakers, who showed so little fear and so much firmness. They crammed them into prison, but they still held their meetings there. They told their jailers that ‘they might as well stop the sun from shining, or the tide from flowing whilst two of them were left together’.  The children showed the same courage as their parents. At Bristol, Reading and Cambridge, when all the men and women were in prison, the children continued the meetings. A letter to George Fox, dated November 15th, 1664, says that ‘our little children  kept up the meeting when we were all in prison‘, so that ‘the wicked justice, when he came and found them there, beat them with a staff he had with a spear in it’. In Bristol, the children were also savagely beaten, but ‘bore it patiently and cheerfully’ and ‘were unmoveable’.

After his disputation with William Penn, Baxter felt strengthened to return to London to preach to the many thousands who, after the Ejectment and the Fire, were still without churches and ministers. He decided to sell all his remaining possessions, including his books, so that he would have nothing for the authorities to seize. Losing his books was a great sacrifice, but he was determined to have some peace in order to continue preaching. Then, in 1678, national events took another turn for the worse…

Prayer Book and Persecution, 1662.   Leave a comment

001

Listening to the Sunday morning service on BBC Radio 4, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, preaching on this the first Sunday in Lent, I was reminded of two great events in Church History which happened 350 years ago this year. The first was referred to in the introit sentence for Lent, taken from the Prayer Book published in 1662, ‘Rend not your garments, but your hearts’. I quoted this in last week’s blog about the Lent Events of last week, some outward signs of which are based on the Old Testament signs of penitence, ‘sackcloth and ashes’. The second, which I was reminded of by broadcasts and discussions throughout last week and again, by Dr Williams’ sermon from the King’s School in Canterbury this morning, referring to ‘God’s Liberty’, is known as ‘the Great Ejectment’ which followed ‘the Act of Uniformity‘ of 1662.

First, a little personal background is perhaps necessary in order to explain my spiritual motivations. I lived and worked in Canterbury until last year, worshipping in two very different Anglican churches and the United Reformed Church in Watling Street. I also attended Evensong at the Cathedral, and walked with my son on the Youth Pilgrimage twice on Easter Monday, a walk led by Rowan Williams along the River Stour into the city, where we sang joyful, vibrant songs accompanied by a rock band. The Pilgrimage started at Chartham, where I lived and worshipped, on opposite sides of the Village Green. Although a Nonconformist, a Baptist by believers’ baptism at the age of fourteen and a Quaker ‘by convincement’ in my twenties, I had, like Rowan Williams, found a home as a student in the disestablished Anglican church in Wales, training for teaching Religious Education at Trinity College, Carmarthen before taking up an appointment at a voluntary-controlled Church of England Secondary School in Lancashire. There I worshipped regularly at the local parish church, until I was told by the rector that if I wished to continue to take communion, I would need to be confirmed by the Bishop. Since I had already given my confession and been received into ‘the church universal’ ten years earlier, I saw no reason for this, and stopped attending. Instead, I found a very open, if small, meeting of Quakers in the town, and having attended Quaker meeting in my early student days in Bangor, again became a ‘refugee’ attender in Lancashire, then moving to Coventry, where I am still in membership, though unable to attend at present, being ‘in exile’ here in Hungary. So, when we went to live in Chartham as a family, we were delighted to be welcomed by the rector and congregation there, who had seen the last Nonconformist ’causes’ in the village close down, and made it clear that everyone living in the village, from whatever Christian ‘tradition’, was welcome to receive communion on equal terms. On this basis, I also became a member of the Parochial Church Council until the rector left and diocesan ‘authority’ was again restored.   From this background, you may begin to understand why I hold strong beliefs about religious liberties in general, the role of the state in this, and the rights of parents to have access to a broad and deep Religious Education for their children within the state-funded system which they support through taxation and, indeed, in the case of Nonconformity, helped to create.

I’ve always been interested in the History of Nonconformity, or ‘Dissent’, going back to the time of the Reformation and the ‘Gunpowder Plot‘. As a History teacher in my second appointment in Coventry, I researched the Catholic Rebellion in the Midlands which accompanied ‘the Plot’, which I discovered was really a plot by the Stuart state in Whitehall against the ‘recusant’ Midland gentry. I also joined the English Civil War re-enactors, ‘the Sealed Knot’ and began to play a ‘Quaker’ corporal in the New Model Army. It was then that I encountered the real chaplains in the Army, Henry Pinnell and Richard Baxter, both of whom had worked for a lasting peace with the King based on a tolerant, national church for all Protestant believers, which would no longer have the monarch as its Head. Charles refused this, and thereby lost his. I played the part of Pinnell in my regiment, much of the part being based on Baxter, about whom we know a lot more.

After the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and state, Baxter, as a leading Puritan, continued to work for a broad settlement in the Church of England. However, the restored bishops refused to take the hand of friendship from those, they believed, who had turned them out of their ‘livings’.  They also sincerely believed that the people were being wrongly taught, and persuaded the new King to agree to ‘The Act of Uniformity’, to make everyone conform to a uniform way of worship. The Puritan ministers would need to promise to use the restored Prayer Book and obey their bishops, or they would be expelled from their parishes. The deadline for this was set as St Bartholemew’s Day, August 24th, 1662. Baxter was one among many ministers who could not promise this, not because he couldn’t use the Prayer Book, but because he believed that it was wrong for the state to force people to do anything against their conciences, and so could not accept the Act itself.  Being turned out of their churches also meant losing their homes so that, as Baxter wrote in the autumn of 1662, “hundreds of good ministers with their wives and children had neither home nor bread”. Worse was to follow. Many of the people loved their ministers and tried to help them, following them about, listening to their teaching in private homes and outdoors. A further law was made, this time against the people as well as the ministers, stopping such meetings and imprisoning those attending to prison. This was called ‘The Conventicle (or Meeting) Act’. Prisons soon became full of brave people who defied the Act, especially the Quakers.  Baxter admired them for their courage in the face of persecution, though disagreeing with many of their ideas. They met openly and didn’t resist arrest, continuing their meetings in prison.  Baxter also fell victim to these laws. He couldn’t return to Kidderminster and had to move home nine times in three years, being followed by spies wherever he went, who reported even his visits to the sick, in which he prayed with them. This, the magistrates claimed, was a ‘conventicle’ under the law.  “What a joy would it have been to them” he wrote, “to have found but such an occasion as praying with a dying woman to have laid me up in prison.” Another time he was preaching in the window of a house when he was shot at, but muskets and pistols were not very accurate weapons, so thankfully no-one was hurt by the ‘sniper’s bullet’.

In 1665 the Great Plague came to London. Of course, it was the duty of clergymen to stay with the dying and help the  bereaved families, but so many fled into the country that the silenced nonconformist ministers were needed too badly for anyone to stop them from ministering to the Plague victims. They said that “no obedience to any laws could justify them from neglecting men’s souls and bodies in such want and that it would be a poor excuse to say to God, ‘how I was forbidden by the law’ “.  Despite this, or perhaps because of the popularity they had gained because of it, another Act was passed against them, the Five Mile Act, forbidding them from coming within five miles of any important town or any place where they had once been ministers. Since help from ‘the Parish’ for the jobless could only be obtained from the area which was, or had been, their home, this meant that the nonconformist ministers would be starved out. Some emigrated, and those that stayed either hid in out-of-the-way villages, or lived secretly near their own homes, visiting their wives and children only at night.  Baxter shows how, even by this hard law, God was able bring good out of evil, because many ministers had little to lose by continuing to preach and teach openly rather than see their children starve. So congregations continued to grow and support them, and there were not enough jails to hold the numbers defying the  three Acts of Parliament.

One of those living in prison was John Bunyan, who had been an officer in Cromwell’s Army, and wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, which became the second most popular book in England, and one of the most important works of literature in English, because of its influence on the development of the language. It was written during his seven years in Bedford Jail.  Baxter himself, and his family, escaped the Plague, though the churchyard at Acton, six miles from London, “was like a ploughed field with graves”.  The Great Fire of 1666, the next terrible event to strike the City. Everyone knows Pepys’ version of these events, and I’m using a simplified English reader on it in class at present, but Baxter noticed that “those who had money managed to get their carts and carriages and horses to carry away their possessions from the burning houses, but the poor lost almost all they had”.  The only possessions Baxter ever cared much about were his books, perhaps because he, like Bunyan, believed the pen to be ‘mightier than the sword’ or, to put it another way which I was also reminded of last week, ‘books are weapons’ (it’s a pity that those American soldiers who burnt copies of the Qu’uran were not educated enough to understand the symbolic force their act would have). Baxter noted in his diary the huge number of books destroyed in the fire:

“Almost all the booksellers in St Paul’s Churchyard brought their books  into vaults under St Paul’s where it was thought almost impossible that fire should come. But the Church itself being on fire, the exceeeding weight of stones falling down did break into the vault and let in the fire and they could not come near to save the books.”

Many othe libraries were burnt and six miles away at Acton Baxter noticed half-burnt pages blowing past his cottage door. Just as he had had to go to the battlefield at Edgehill to see the destruction for himself, so too with the Fire. Defying the Five Mile Act, on his way to the City he saw “the fields filled with heaps of goods and costly furniture” and at last caught sight of “all the buildings aflame” and “the air as far as could be beheld, so filled with the smoke that the sun shined through it with a colour like blood”.

Baxter thought these events should have stopped the religious quarrels and persecutions, but each side blamed the other for what had happened. The nonconformists, who were among the poor Londoners who suffered most, were one of the groups blamed for starting the fire, perhaps because their ministers had been forced, like Baxter, to leave the City’s churches, and people suspected it was an act of vengeance on their part. This shows how little such people understood the beliefs of the Dissenting congregations, however, who once more were allowed to open their meeting houses to those who needed comfort and shelter, or a place to meet,  having not only lost their houses and possessions but also their places of worship.

Baxter himself was careful not to be seen as setting himself up in competition with the established church, still hoping for a better settlement with it. He continued to preach to family and friends in Acton, and then to growing numbers from surrounding parishes, but he did not preach during church times and, since his house was close to the church, he took people to hear the Vicar after he had preached to them!  However, the Vicar eventually became jealous of Baxter and informed the King that Baxter was breaking the Conventicle Act.  He was visited by the magistrates, but refused to stop preaching and so was imprisoned, but Newgate was too full of Quakers already!  So instead, he was sent to Clerkenwell where he was allowed a room of his own, which his wife could share.  However, he knew that, on release, he would have to leave Acton, because of the Five Mile Act.

I’ll be writing more about his time in and out of prison later in the week. For now, I want to conclude with the points that I raised to begin with. The attempts of the state to impose uniformity in religion through the 1662 Prayer Book seem a very long way away from the tolerant, multi-cultural, multi-faith society we live in today. Yet our society did not emerge out of that one like a butterfly out of a chrysalis as if by magic. It required the courage, self-discipline and sacrifices of men and women like Richard Baxter,  John Bunyan and William Penn, whom I shall also be writing about later. Let me sign off, for now, with this paradox: ‘out of unity, comes diversity; out of diversity comes unity’.

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