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Quaker Tour of England, Page 16 of 22
|Brigflatts Friends Meetinghouse photos by Bill Samuel, 24 June 1998|
Sedbergh, where Brigflatts Meeting is located, was another place that George Fox visited in 1652. Sedbergh was a flax weaving community. Before Fox came, there was already a group worshipping based on silence, meeting in 15 houses, and marrying themselves (first recorded in 1649). They were being fined for not attending public worship in the established church. Fox tells of his visit in the Journal of George Fox, Chapter VI, A New Era Begins, 1652:
The next day I went to a meeting at Justice Benson's, where I met a people that were separated from the public worship. This was the place I had seen, where a people came forth in white raiment. A large meeting it was, and the people were generally convinced; and they continue still a large meeting of Friends near Sedbergh; which was then first gathered through my ministry in the name of Jesus.
In the same week there was a great fair, at which servants used to be hired; and I declared the day of the Lord through the fair. After I had done so, I went into the steeple-house yard, and many of the people of the fair came thither to me, and abundance of priests and professors. There I declared the everlasting truth of the Lord and the Word of life for several hours, showing that the Lord was come to teach His people Himself, and to bring them off from all the world's ways and teachers, to Christ, the true teacher, and the true way to God. I laid open their teachers, showing that they were like them that were of old condemned by the prophets, and by Christ, and by the apostles. I exhorted the people to come off from the temples made with hands; and wait to receive the Spirit of the Lord, that they might know themselves to be the temples of God.
Not one of the priests had power to open his mouth against what I declared: but at last a captain said, "Why will you not go into the church? this is not a fit place to preach in." I told him I denied their church. Then stood up Francis Howgill, who was preacher to a congregation. He had not seen me before; yet he undertook to answer that captain; and he soon put him to silence. Then said Francis Howgill of me, "This man speaks with authority, and not as the scribes."
After this, I opened to the people that that ground and house were no holier than another place; and that the house is not the Church, but the people, of whom Christ is the head. After awhile the priests came up to me, and I warned them to repent. One of them said I was mad; so they turned away. But many were convinced there that day, who were glad to hear the truth declared, and received it with joy. Amongst these was Captain Ward, who received the truth in the love of it, and lived and died in it.
In 1675, Friends built the Brigflatts Meetinghouse on a cooperative basis. It was originally four walls, dirt floor, no ceiling, and a flagstone roof which needed to have cracks filled in. The flagstone roof symbolized permanence as it couldn't be burned. In 1681, Friends added a wooden floor. They added a ministers' bench in 1710-11, and a gallery system in 1714. The Meeting had a dog pen with a stone floor. In 1715, Friends added a ceiling. Not until 1735-39 were backs put on the benches, despite meetings for worship that usually lasted 3-5 hours in the early days. In 1749, the Meeting added paneling for the quarters of the women's business meeting (Friends had separate men's and women's business meetings). The Meetinghouse today looks like it did in 1749. A little school was built across the lane in 1711.
You can see from Fox's account that Fox was concerned with the concept of the church. How did Friends see the church?
In the first place, we can say that Fox saw the church as the body of Christ as described in Ephesians (and elsewhere in the New Testament). Thus, it consisted of the believers rather than of institutions. There are always forces at work to corrupt the institutional church. Therefore, one needs to begin anew. Fox was a revolutionary, not a reformer.
Fox grew up in a Puritan environment. However, he rejected some Puritan ideas and transformed others. Some examples:
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||19. The Retreat Mental Hospital
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|10. Crawshawbooth Meeting
||21. Earlham Hall
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||22. Reflections After the Tour
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