Continuity and Change

by Margaret Fraser

Richhill guest bookIn April, on the final Sunday of the Good News Associates pilgrimage to Ireland, our group attended meeting for worship at Richhill, County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

After worship I signed the visitors’ book in the entrance hall, then flipped through the entries to look for names of past visitors whom I might know. Surprisingly, I met myself, and my elder daughter, from a visit fifteen years earlier. On 20 August 2000 we had written our names in the book, and our addresses at the time – mine in Wallingford, Pennsylvania and Laura in Cambridge, U.K.

Those entries reflected our changing lives – in microcosm. Fifteen years ago, when Laura and I had visited Richhill, I was serving as Dean of Pendle Hill, and had a couple more years to serve in that role before I moved on to Friends World Committee for Consultation. Laura had returned from a year in East Africa as a volunteer teacher with Mennonite Central Committee, and was continuing to volunteer – this time living in a group home in England and providing support for adults with mental health and developmental needs.

A few lines below our signatures we found the entry for Laura’s friend Chris, who was visiting Richhill in September 2000, from her then home in Coleraine in Northern Ireland. Laura and Chris had met on the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage in 1996. They have remained friends, though they rarely see each other. One lives in Michigan now, the other in Belfast. Both are married, each with two young children and with busy professional lives. Neither of them had met their future husbands back then, so they could not have predicted the families that would be theirs to bless and challenge them. Perhaps they did know, by their values, that they would both be working to improve the world – Laura as a teacher, and Chris for an international development organization focused on ending world hunger.

To what extent had Laura and I changed, other than being fifteen years older? To what extent had Richhill meeting changed? One thing that I noticed was a relaxation of the informal dress code – no longer were all the men in suits and women in dresses. Clothing was more casual. “Sunday dress” is probably no different now from what is worn to the office or classroom during the week. Encouragingly I saw more families with children in worship this time around.

In 2000 Laura and I had visited Northern Ireland for the first time, as guests of Simon Lamb. Little did I imagine that a little more than a decade later, I would be taking Quakers from the U.S.A. on regular visits there. The threads of hospitality continue. The Lamb family are still at Richhill. Simon is still connecting Quakers globally, currently as clerk of Friends World Committee for Consultation. And Richhill Friends continue to welcome those who attend worship with them. Those connections continue an important Quaker tradition of “traveling in the ministry.”