Friday, June 17, 2011

Salt and Light in Ulster

Grange Meeting dates back to 1660, when families in the area between Moy and Dungannon, County Tyrone, joined the Religious Society of Friends in response to the preaching of Robert Turner. There are reports of Friends from Grange being imprisoned in Omagh in 1729 for refusal to pay tithes (taxes to the Established Church.) Arthur Chapman, Quaker historian, estimates that in the first half of the 18th century, over 2,000 Irish Friends migrated to Pennsylvania, and of those, 41 were from Grange, the greatest number from any meeting in the north of Ireland.

A century after the founding of Grange Meeting, the local landlord and occupant of the castle in Richhill (formerly Richardson’s Hill) 11 miles away in County Armagh gave land to Friends for a new meetinghouse and burial ground there. Richhill was known for its linen markets, a town on the stagecoach route from Belfast to Armagh, with connections to the west of Ireland. American Friends Job Scott and Thomas Scattergood are known to have worshipped at Richhill, and John Wesley visited the town several times.

Grange and Richhill remain thriving meetings, and together they form one Monthly Meeting. Last weekend, with more than sixty others, I attended a lively all-day session of Ulster Quarterly Meeting, held in the creeper-covered meetinghouse in Grange. Last night was the chance to revisit Richhill, for the Monthly Meeting on Ministry and Oversight, where I was the invited speaker.

My sojourn among Irish Friends has offered many opportunities for home visits. Yesterday I had tea with Gray and Elsa Peile. Gray told me that he had been at the Young Friends conference in Oskaloosa, Iowa, in 1949. He had served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in China during the Second World War and went to Iowa to meet up with some American Friends he had known in China. Elsa had been a representative at the 1967 World Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina.

After roast chicken, apple crisp and many cups of tea, we went to Richhill where I talked about the impact of world conferences on raising up new generations of Friends ready to take on responsibilities and educating all of us more about the global span of Friends. I suggested that they identify those who might not have thought of applying open places to go to Kenya, but who might show gifts in ministry or future promise. We talked about ways in which meetings could raise funds to make it possible for open place holders to attend, and also raise extra money to support the travel costs of Friends from the global south.