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350 years of Grange Friends Meeting.

David Prendergast, Cork Meeting

Grange Meeting Co. Tyrone celebrated their 350th Anniversary on 24 October 2010. 350 years is a long time in anybody's reckoning and l felt that such a historic occasion among Friends deserved recognition. So encouraged by the indomitable Richard Harrison, also of Cork Meeting, who was himself going, I decided to attend. I had never been to Grange and knew nobody there but when l rang the number given on their website, yes '' website'' others meetings take note. I made contact with Hazel Hobson and all difficulties melted away. Her welcoming warmth on the telephone was a little foretaste of the loving care and attention l received for the weekend. Hazel undertook a considerable journey to meet me at Portadown Railway station and take me to Kathy Stephenson's house where she had arranged for me to stay.

They made me feel like a hero for undertaking the journey from Cork and just could not have been more considerate.

Having had an excellent night’s sleep l ventured down into Kathy's kitchen to find her preparing all sorts of delicacies for the lunch at Grange, work which she immediately interrupted to prepare my breakfast , porridge of course by request, and she found a special niche in my heart when she sat and joined me with a bowl. Cathy rather reminded me of a well-known TV ad. which depicted their cleaning agent as a tornado. She whizzed around completing her food dishes and carried them to the car and then she whisked me and her offerings off to Grange. This involved several miles of leafy lanes deep into the countryside. It is quite fascinating that some of the Meetings Houses in the North seem to be located away from any apparent population.

When we arrived and unloaded our cargo l could see that many of the Ladies were similarly employed and the kitchen there was literally buzzing! I was released to explore the buildings. I was interested in the Meeting House itself. There is the usual raised dais for elders and also a partition a little more than half way back. Similar to the idea of the division at Moyallan Meeting House but different in execution. Evidently the Friends here met originally in a thatched cottage on this site which was abandoned in 1756. The next building to be erected which is probably over 250 years old is still in use for children's meetings and the provision of tea and coffee.

The current Meeting House is a mere 200 years or so in existence (l8l6). What a monument to the faithfulness of Friends through hard and good times. One cannot but be aware of the incredible privilege it is to be allowed to join in awe the worship of our all merciful God in such an inspiring setting. Friends should know that there is a restoration fund for the meeting house which is in urgent need of repair. Grange Friends are hoping to raise £75,000 for this major work. More information at www.grangefriendsmeeting.co.uk

As can be imagined Friends came from all quarters of Ireland and further afield to attend this wonderful celebration and there was a great festive spirit as old friends greeted one another before worship. Then we moved into the building and took our places for Meeting. Imagine my amazement and delight when a piano started up and we commenced with a Hymn. Then we continued to worship in silence. The vocal ministry was uplifting and worshipful and I found the experience deeply moving and satisfying.

We then adjourned to the old meeting house for lunch and chat. Again I was struck by differences in approach as the Grange Members sang their Grace. Lunch was delicious and again I salute the industry of the Ladies who prepared and served it. Afterwards there was time to explore some of the buildings, the stabling for horses is a reminder of a more sedate and gracious age. Behind the Meeting House are the graves of Friends who are with the Lord. This sylvan setting is a lovely haven of peace and has been for many hundreds of years. Some participants took advantage of the good weather to take a stroll in the adjoining lanes.

I was very impressed by the fact that there were some people attending who had never been to a Quaker Meeting for Worship before. They came because of advertisements in a local paper or because they were local neighbor’s and wanted to support the celebration. What a really lovely outreach opportunity and a very good introduction to Friends