While in Sommieres I had done some research on the history of the Quakers in Congenies; I was curious to know how an English 'sect' had come to the south of France.
The region of Languedoc was full of heretics, from the Cathars, who were anti-sacerdotal, gnostic and pacifist, to the Huguenots, who were inspired by Calvin, and have left a legacy in the Reformed Churches which exist alongside the Catholic Church in most villages.
Another heretical group which flourished in the mountains north of Congenies were the Camisards, who, while quite belligerent, believed in the individual's capacity to prophecy. From the warlike Camisards came a small group of pacifists, called the Inpirés, or the Inspired, by some, and the Gonfleurs, or the Swellers, by others. The 'Inspired' believed in an inward testimony of the Holy Spirit, in non-resistance, and in a universal priesthood that included women. (Wikipedia)
It took the 'Inspired' some twenty years in the late 18th century to become Quakers, starting with one of their members, named Paul Codognan, who in 1769 walked to the Low Countries. He heard of the Quakers, went to England, and though speaking only Languedocien, was able to communicate to the extent that the Quakers there gave him two books in French. He walked back to Congenies with the books hidden under his shirt.
Then in 1788, an English, Quaker shipowner named Edward Fox placed an announcement in the 'Gazette de France'. During the American Revolution his ships had been armed, against his wishes, by his partners, and several French ships had been captured as a result. In the 'Gazette', Fox now announced his intention to reimburse the owners of those French ships which had been captured by his own. In Congenies, the 'Inspired' were impressed by Fox's integrity, and after contacting Quakers from both England and America, they were recognized as French Quakers.
Finally, in 1791, France had asked for help from the whalers of Nantucket to re-establish its own flagging whaling industry. Many of these whaling shipowners were Quakers, and concerned by the prospects of violence in the French Revolution, a few of these Quakers accompanied Jean de Marsilac, from Congenies, to present a petition to the National Assembly in favor of a non-violent revolution. (Most of this information comes from the Congenies Quakers website).
The Congenies Quakers survived until 1908, when many of its members left France to avoid the national conscription.
The meeting house remained in Quaker hands, but only recently became a functional meeting house once again.
|On the far left, Françoise and Dennis Tomlin, who helped re-establish the Quaker meeting in Congenies|
|From L to R: Janet Ferguson, Libby, Brian and Ann Kendall, Allison and Michael, and Dennis and Françoise Tomlin. Françoise is the Clerk of the meeting in Congenies.|
|Bonnie and David Parsons, Resident Friends in Congenies|
David is what is known as a 'birthright' Quaker, having been born into an old Quaker family. He is a member of New Garden Friends Meeting in Greensboro, NC, and attends Friendship Meeting in the same city. As a conscientious objector, he worked with American Friend's Service Committee in Algeria, where he met Bonnie.
Bonnie learned about the Quakers in Atlanta as she was preparing to march in Selma, Alabama. She became a Quaker in Victoria, B.C. after serving with the AFSC, also in Algeria, for 2 1/2 years. She is now a member of Friendship Meeting in Greensboro.
Both Bonnie and David are the Resident Friends in Congenies at the moment, and it was through them that my visit became known to the Quakers in the area, and through their help that I was so warmly welcomed.
My second meeting for worship took place on the Sunday after I'd returned from La Fleyssiere, and I found myself 'centering down' not long after having a seat among the circle of Friends who were gathered. I had often thought it would be years before I spoke in a meeting, if ever, so I was a bit surprised when I found myself standing up and giving a bit of ministry on our 'walk' toward a spiritual Jerusalem. Two others also spoke during the meeting; one telling how Quakers had not abolished the priesthood, but the laity, and the other on reflecting on our strongest opinions, and that we may be wrong.
There was another big lunch afterwards, and then more food at the Tomlins. I returned to Libby's house very well fed, on both good food and company, and on the Bread of Life.
The next morning, after saying goodbye to my good friend, Libby, I walked down the Avenue of the Quakers, only to be greeted by several of them (and some friends of Friends too). They walked with me to the edge of the village, and I headed off toward Nimes.
Thanks again, Quakers of Congenies and visiting Quakers, for all the moral, spiritual and material support you gave to keep me walking for peace!