Quakers and The Archers: An Everyday Story?

I have been attending my local meeting for just over a year now.  I have been a fan of The Archers for over 40 years. I never imagined that the two would have anything to do with each other… until recently.

(Please note this blog contains spoilers for episodes broadcast up to and including 18 May)

Quakers and The Archers: An Everyday Story? Woodbrooke Quaker learning and research

Listening to the long-running radio soap opera as the ‘everyday story of country folk’ unfolds, I have found myself considering certain storylines in relation to Advices & Queries, Quaker testimonies or simply Quaker ways in general.

Take Jim’s unflinching opposition to the proposed electric charging station in Ambridge, for example. As well as being highly entertaining, I found his dalliance with ‘activism’ – staging a sit-in at the B&B run by the farming family who (unwittingly) sold land to the developers of said charging station, and then trying to gain a following on social media – particularly moving when his young friend Chelsea was able to ‘talk him down’ by gently pointing out that his gifts lay elsewhere.

Do we not have our Kirsties, Helens and Pats: strong women who believe in just causes (rewilding, organics and sustainability) and live ‘a life that speaks’ of these values?

Do we not have our Lindas and Jims: committed individuals who offer much in the way of service to their community, never ‘shrinking in the time and effort that (their) involvement may demand’?

Do we not have our Tom and Natashas: our Kates and Adams: passionate people with a vision, who are striving to ‘live adventurously’ in ways that are meaningful for them and the environment?

In the current storyline around Lower Loxley’s display of a painting depicting someone made wealthy through slavery, and the fascinating difference of opinions in what best to do about this, I recognise echoes of the Quaker path to reparations, and have been prodded to explore my own feelings and response to such a moral dilemma.

Particularly emotional – and potentially transformative, for both myself as listener and for the characters – is the recent resurfacing of Rob Titchener, the abusive ex-husband of Helen Archer. Like Helen, I was initially horrified at the prospect of having to cope with this distressing scenario. For me, it triggered painful memories of being in a controlling and toxic relationship (thankfully, now only a memory). However, I sensed a possible turning point in the episode aired on Thursday 18th May. Rob’s brother came to see Helen to try and explain that things had changed, that Rob would like to see his children. Something in what he was trying to say made me wonder. Something about the fact that the police said that Rob had a ‘rock solid alibi’ for not having made a phone call to Helen last week made me pause. What if..?

As Helen vehemently cried ‘No, No, Never!’, I felt compassion – and was surprised that, almost despite myself, it was for both of them. From a place of love and openness, I yearned to say to Helen, ‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’. What if his circumstances, his mindset really have changed? What if the reason he could not have made the phone call, and wants to see his children, is that he is now somehow impaired or seriously, even terminally ill?  It goes without saying that Helen and her children need protecting from potential future harm and distress. Our Quaker belief in ’that of God’ in everyone should never mean that we shy from our safeguarding responsibilities, but might there possibly be a safe way to allow both father and children the chance to meet?

Yes, this is ‘only’ fiction; but we humans make meaning through story – and I find myself making meaning of my own developing Quaker life and values through this familiar yet ever-evolving narrative. I am reminded of Ben Pink Dandelion’s comment that ‘we don’t become Quakers, we realise we are Quakers’. This is certainly my experience so far. Perhaps one of the characters in The Archers will one day feel the same?

(Note: this article was written before I had listened to any subsequent episodes – I didn’t want any spoilers to influence my thoughts or feelings)

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