Quakers: a different way of thinking

Today I was at a funeral of a family relative who had reached the grand old age of 92 years. That person was born back in 1918, when Ireland was still part of the British Empire and TV hadn’t even been invented. A lot has changed since – so imagine what stories they have to tell over the course of such a long life.

What made the funeral distinctive was that the person was a Quaker, i.e. the Religious Society of Friends, so it was a Quaker funeral. Quaker’s are a small religious group in Ireland and not a lot is known about them, despite the fact that they have been hugely influential in Ireland, especially throughout the 19th century. Families such as Bewleys (coffee), Jacobs (biscuits) and Malcolmsons (shipping) are all hugely successful entrepreneurs. And Quaker families.

A Quaker funeral is unique for its simplicity and its deeply personal nature. There is no formality or ceremony as in a Catholic funeral. There is no priest. There are no formal prayers. There is no definite duration. Quaker funerals start in the graveyard and end in the Friends House. In between anybody is welcome to talk aloud to the group about the recently deceased. They can say a prayer, recite a poem, sing a song or just tell a story. It’s really that open.

This time we had a few prayers and then several really simple and interesting stories about the deceased. I learned about that person’s talents at cooking, flower arranging, gardening and most of all present giving and gift wrapping. I also learned about their interests in sailing, charity work and making friends across Waterford. I spoke to a guy who went to school with this person back in 1936. Amazing stuff that he stayed in contact and made the effort to come down from Dublin for the day.

Upon leaving, you really feel that you know that person a bit better – well you definitely have a better insight into their life. I certainly did. It’s such a genuine send off for a person, and really meaningful – maybe the Catholic Church could learn a few things? Why all the ritual, rules, ceremony, prayers? Why not a bit more freedom to think and speak your mind, if and when it suits you?

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