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2036: Friargate Meeting House, Friargate, York, England
Friargate Meeting House, Friargate, York, England
Mystery Worshipper: Haywood.
The church: Friargate Meeting House, Friargate, York, England.
Denomination: Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.
The building: A large plain brick building with covered porch in a quieter part of central York. The current building at Friargate was opened in 1981, but the first meeting house in York was opened in 1674.
The church: Friargate appears to be a very active meeting. In addition to the Sunday meeting, there are activities during the week and children's groups for pre-school, primary and secondary school students. They make their rooms available for hire, providing fair trade tea, coffee and catering upon request, as well as wireless internet connectivity.
The neighbourhood: Friargate is located between Castlegate and Clifford Street and is nearly opposite York Dungeon, a tourist attraction where actors recreate some of history's more unpleasant moments; and the Gallery nightclub, a large venue featuring multiple rooms and bars. The impressive York Minster, seat of the Archbishop of York, is a short distance away.
The cast: The Quakers do not have an ordained ministry. Members of the congregation may speak at the meetings "as led by the Spirit."
The date & time: Sunday, 11 July 2010, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
About three-quarters full, nearly 100 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A woman greeted me with a smile, a handshake and a question about where I was from. She then introduced me to someone else who was a visitor. I felt thoroughly welcomed; lots of talk before the silence.

Was your pew comfortable?
I sat in a reasonably comfortable chair, which became a little hard after an hour of just sitting there. There were some wooden pews at the back which I carefully avoided.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was no noise, apart from people coming in and sitting down. On entering the meeting room, I saw that worship was already happening and we seamlessly slipped into the time of worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were none.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None, but copies of various editions of The Holy Bible were available in the seats.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Just under half-way through the service, a bird made a terrible noise at the window. Everyone jumped. It had obviously become caught inside and couldn't get out. One of the congregation opened the window after a minute or two to let the bird out. After a while, it managed to escape to freedom.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very quiet and reverent. We were allowed to make the worship whatever we wanted. Wonderful! Apart from the children going after 15 minutes and the occasional speaker getting up, little activity happened.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon (but see below).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Three people spoke in lieu of a sermon. The first read from the Quaker book, Advices and Queries. It was about being alert to discrimination throughout the world and seeking to understand the growing causes of injustice, social unrest and fear. Shortly afterwards, another speaker reflected on this by speaking of us working together and sowing seeds, even if we don't see the results in our experience or our lifetimes. The third person spoke beautifully about the bird that briefly joined us in the meeting. She said it was a bird of peace. She suggested it represented us by being caught in the meeting and either not wanting to, or being unable to, go into the outside world to take the Christian message. Someone may need to help us go there.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The silence was heavenly. I found the reflection on the bird thanks to that inadvertent but wonderful visual aid quite holy, and beautifully constructed. I find the Quakers often possess a deep sense of spirituality, and this came across powerfully at the meeting. After the service finished with the traditional handshake, there were a series of notices about future events and a report of a regional meeting. Not sure this was heavenly but mighty interesting!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A creaking door. One or two people came in late and someone left after a coughing fit. Also that bit where people are invited to say where they are from. For a non-Quaker, it felt a little uneasy as most were bringing greetings from other meetings.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people came up and spoke to me. I felt very welcome and was glad I stayed. I wonder if this is what they mean by Yorkshire hospitality.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Great cup of tea. No sign to say if it was fairly traded, but there was a Traidcraft stall in the other room so I suspect it was.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I could happily make this my regular church. It was friendly and many members exuded a spirituality that is very seductive. However, I would rather be an occasional Quaker. I loved the silence, but also want to experience other worship styles.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The holy silence – and that bird!
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