Friday, 14 January 2022

With the Saints through Christmas (20):
14 January 2022, George Fox

Robert Spence (1871-1964), ‘Woe to the Bloody City of Lichfield,’ depicts George Fox, bare-footed and ragged, denouncing the city of Lichfield in the Market Square in 1651 (Lichfield Heritage Centre)

Patrick Comerford

This is a busy week, with meetings in Askeaton, Limerick and Dublin, and columns to write for diocesan magazines.

I am in Dublin this morning (14 January) for a meeting in Christ Church Cathedral, and planning to return to the Rectory in Askeaton later this evening. But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during the Season of Christmas, which continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February);

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

In this prayer diary yesterday I reflected on the life of Saint Hilary of Poitiers, who is commemorated in the Church Calendar on 13 January. The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship on 13 January also commemorates Saint Mungo and George Fox.

However, I reflected on Saint Mungo in this prayer diary on 2 December. So this morning I am returning to yesterday’s commemoration of George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

I first experienced Friends or Quakers in Lichfield in my late teens, when I was researching the story of Francis Comberford (ca 1620-1679), a Parliamentarian magistrate in Staffordshire who became a Quaker, along with his wife Margaret and two of their daughters, Margaret and Mary, in 1653 when they met Edward Burrough and Francis Howgill, two of the earliest Quakers, at Comberford Hall, between Lichfield and Tamworth.

At the same time, I became aware of the story of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, who was born in Fenny Drayton, eight miles east of Tamworth. In 1650 he was jailed in Derby on a charge of blasphemy. On his release in the winter of 1651, George Fox, who was overwrought and weakened by six months ‘in the common gaol and dungeon,’ walked barefoot through the streets of Lichfield on a market day, crying: ‘Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!’

His own explanation of the act, connecting it with the martyrdom of a thousand Christians in the time of Diocletian, is not convincing. Fox says his mother came from ‘the stock of the martyrs’ and his protest in Lichfield may have been inspired by his childhood memories of her stories of the Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake in the Market Square in Lichfield during the reign of Queen Mary.

Thomas Hayward and John Goreway were put to death in September 1555, Joyce Lewes, a niece of the Protestant martyr, Hugh Latimer, was taken there from Mancetter, two miles from his childhood home – it had once part of the possessions of the Comberford family too – and was burnt at the stake in Lichfield on 18 December 1557. Fox would have heard too of the public execution in Lichfield on 11 April 1612 of Edward Wightman, the last person burned for heresy in England.

As a young man, George Fox became disillusioned with the religious life of his time and felt the churches had become bogged down with traditions, rituals and power politics. And so, with like-minded friends, the present-day Society of Friends had its roots.

George Fox became the founding figure of this new expression of Christianity, with a spiritual life that not include sacraments or other outer forms of worship.

When George Fox visited Limerick in 1667, he was a guest of Richard Pearce in Bow Lane. The first Quaker meeting house in Limerick was built in Creagh Lane two years later in 1671. By 1687, three Quakers, James Craven, William Craven and Samuel Tavenor, were members of Limerick Corporation. Thomas Storey, the Quaker preacher, was a brother of George Storey, the Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Other prominent early Quakers included George Fox’s wife, Margaret Fell, William Penn who gave his name to Pennsylvania, and the early Quaker theologian Robert Barclay.

Mark 2: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he said to the paralytic – 11 ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

The prayer in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) invites us to pray this morning (14 January 2022):

Let us pray for the Kwamkono Disabled Children’s Centre in the Diocese of Tanga, which provides accommodation, education and rehabilitation for children with physical disabilities.

Yesterday: Saint Hilary of Poitiers

Tomorrow: Saint Macarius of Egypt

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A plaque on the wall of Saint Mary’s Church in the Market Square recalls the Reformation martyrs of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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