Photo: Kate Graham Dove image: Xanthe Gutch
It’s raining, it’s cold. It’s getting dark and I’m not wearing enough warm clothes. Across the street workmen are coming down from their scaffolding, and a shop owner locks up, walking off along the pavement, eyes down, heels clicking on the wet street, shoulders huddled under her umbrella.
The lights are going on and our candles are flickering in the wind. It is early March 2022, and four of us are standing in silence, holding a vigil, standing for peace. The invasion of Ukraine is in its early stages, and the world is shuddering from the shock waves.
What can we do? We need to do something. A few weeks earlier, sitting round the comfortable dining table at Glenthorne, the Quaker Guesthouse in Grasmere, a fellow Quaker had challenged me to join her in a vigil, to stand up for what we believe, to stand outside, in the middle of Ilkley. I feel it as a challenge: I’m out of my comfort zone. I’m happy writing to my MP, signing petitions, sending donations, and I have joined street protests and marches before, but the idea of standing with a few other people, exposed, on a central street? That sounded difficult, but when it came to it, with a few other people there, it was actually fine. And it was more than fine: it was often enjoyable, and frequently enriching.
What surprised me, right from the start, and indeed for the three months that we held the vigil was that it felt good. It felt real, useful and relevant.
Part of me wondered how on earth it could make any sort of difference to all that is going on. It wasn’t going to make Putin change his mind, or make the Peace talks go any more smoothly. Was it?
It did feel though, as if something was happening. Maybe it was the act of standing there, focussing on peace, praying for peace, envisaging, upholding a world in which there was peace, that was changing something, changing me at the very least. And I enjoyed it when people came to join us for a few minutes, or started to come regularly each week, and when people in their cars waved and gave us a thumbs up. We were seen, we were noticed, and for some people, we were doing something that they would have wished to do themselves, that they valued.
I feel grateful that we took the time to do this, and that we made a commitment to do it, week in, week out. We stood in fellowship, in snow, in rain and eventually warm spring sunshine and encouraged each other to keep going and covered each others’ absences. We decided to stop at the end of May, not because it was no longer needed, but because we felt we had done enough for now, and that we could come back, either in a similar vigil, or in some other way. Our stillness, our presence, our prayers are, and will always be, very much needed. Thank you to everyone who took part, and to Juliet for suggesting it, and Joyce for helping us to sustain it.
Blog posts are written by members of Ilkley Meeting and occasionally other contributors. Posts are not necessarily endorsed by the Meeting and may not always represent the opinions of our members or the wider Quaker community.