When I went to university, I thought I’d try not being a Quaker for a while. My overseer at home offered to write to the Meeting in my university town, and I asked her not to. I’m going to have a break from these Quakers and explore something else, I said to myself. I’m not going to be one of those people who’s an X just because their parents are.
So when I got to university, I looked round to see what else I could be. There wasn’t a Pagan group, so although I knew I was interested in Paganism I put that on a back burner. There was a Buddhist group, but for some reason I couldn’t go – I think their meetings clashed with something else – so I left that alone, too. In hall, though, there were Christian Union meetings. I went to a couple, and kept my mouth shut, and the Bible study was interesting and the singing was fun if I ignored the words and the prayer was okay if a bit awkward… so when I met them at breakfast on Sunday morning and they said, “We’re going to go and try some churches, want to come?” I said yes.
In its way, it was a fine very church. The congregation was larger than any worshipping group I’d ever seen on a normal Sunday – more like Christmas. They met in a school hall, with the front rows perched on those benches you use in P.E. An eloquent and infuriating preacher gave us a long sermon about Jeremiah, which made my blood boil for reasons I can no longer recollect. After the service, members of the congregation took groups of students back to their homes for Sunday lunch, which was simultaneously a lovely gesture and rather a rather odd experience.
The next Sunday, I went down to breakfast and one of the CU group asked whether I was coming to church with them. “I thought I’d go and try the Quaker Meeting,” I said. “Are you coming with me?”
“No thank you,” he said, “but I hope you have fun.”
The Meeting I’d chosen, purely for being the one within walking distance, was small, welcoming, and – I say this with love – maverick. At the end, as is usual, I was offered tea and biscuits. I accepted a mug of cold water, passing up even their selection of herbal teas, and refused the biscuits. “No, thank you,” I said. “I’m not too bothered about ginger biscuits.” I think it was ginger nuts, but it could have been custard creams. I was mainly thinking about the hall-provided meal waiting for me a mere fifteen minutes away; at twelve on a Sunday I usually want my lunch, not tea and biscuits.
“What kind do you like?” they instantly enquired.
“Jaffa cakes,” I said, somewhat flippantly. It was true, although hardly the only kind of biscuit I’m happy to eat.
When I went back next week and was presented with the fresh packet of Jaffa cakes – and everyone else declined them – I realised I was going to have to keep going back until they were gone. And that’s why I’m a Quaker to this day.