Just Say Yes
At the Quaker Meeting House in inner city Belfast, worshippers sit in a circle in a round room, a space which was today bathed in sunshine. Service lasts about an hour and ends with two elders shaking hands.
Our service today consisted of periods of silence punctuated by three thoughtful contributions by members of the Society of Friends who rose spontaneously.
I was especially taken by the words of Gavin Walker who spoke of his “spiritually uplifting” week during which he had repeatedly met people who responded to every question with ‘yes’.
In a part of the world where we are sometimes accused of being experts in saying ‘no’, positivity, said Gavin, brings its own reward.
Quakers, of course, are renowned worldwide for their opposition to war and their commitment to social justice. They are best-known locally for setting up and running a visitors’ café at the Long Kesh prison camp in the immediate aftermath of internment in 1971.
Their generosity and selflessness was also felt throughout the peace process — indeed, before the peace process – when they brought warring parties together to try to replace jaw, jaw with war, war.
I was honoured therefore to be invited to join their service today, especially at the new meeting house — built in the seventies — which matches in its astounding beauty the magnificence of the listed former meeting house next door in Frederick Street.
It would be a shame if the new University of Ulster development was to overshadow this treasure in the very heart of Belfast with an ugly car park. The Quaker meeting houses should be at the heart of this new development, not cast to the shadows.
Finally, it was also my great pleasure to say a few words of introduction to Belfast Poet Laureate Sinéad Morrissey when she was honoured at an Ulster Museum reception on Friday to mark her winning of the TS Eliot Prize. As with all our Belfast artists, she is the bearer of a torch illuminating our path from the dark end of the street to the bright side of the road. Go maire sí a gradam. May her pen never dry.