The first minute to take effect was minute 2023.12.1b of the Lower Sittingbourne Local Meeting Hospitality Committee: Arrangements for social lunch. With Christmas coming, the three Friends who comprised the hospitality committee had spent several hours in Jackie’s living room. They sampled her mince pies as a possible contribution to the lunch. They played with her cat. They shared news of mutual friends, including Owen, a member of their meeting who was currently working with a peace-building charity in an active war zone.
Eventually, they got around to the main business: discerning the appropriate arrangements for the local meeting’s December social, which should be, they felt, just a bit special in comparison with their usual monthly potluck. “Minute 2023.12.1b: Arrangements for social lunch,” Jackie read. “We agree that we will provide sandwiches, mince pies, vegan sausage rolls, pizza, sourdough bread, and hummus, as well as the usual tea, coffee, and biscuits.” She paused. “Is that minute acceptable, Friends?”
Sue murmured a heartfelt, “Hope so,” and Claire, perhaps overcome by emotion, replied, “Amen.”
A plate of cheese sandwiches appeared on the coffee table in front of Jackie. It appeared silently. Later, Sue would report that there had been a slight popping sound, but she had been sitting opposite with a clear view and saw it happen. Claire and Jackie agreed that there was no sound, and this makes sense of Jackie’s failure to notice the first appearance. The coffee table was hidden from her by the notebook she was holding, and she started to introduce the next item of business. “We also need to discuss the coffee machine . . .”
A large Tupperware box full of mince pies appeared on the arm of her chair. They looked very much like the ones she had baked herself, and for a moment, as she stared at them, she thought she had indeed made them herself and simply forgotten that she’d balanced them on the chair arm. However, her intimate knowledge of her own Tupperware inventory crept in, and she realized that they couldn’t be her own mince pies because it was definitely not her box. “Oh,” she said, looking from the box of mince pies to Claire, who was closest, sitting on the end of the sofa, “Did you make these?”
Claire shook her head, silently, and pointed at the stack of packets of vegan sausage rolls, branded with the name of the local supermarket, which were appearing, one on top of the other, on the heavily patterned carpet at her feet.
“Oh,” Sue said, as the pile grew, “We’d better get those in the freezer.” Six pizzas materialized on the sofa next to her, followed by a loaf of sourdough bread larger than her head.
Jackie’s husband Paul opened the door from the garage to find the living room piled high with food. “Gosh, you three have been busy,” he said, nudging a large tub of hummus with his toe. “Can you let me through? I need to wash this grease off my hands before I touch anything else.”
It took a while, but they managed to explain to him that they hadn’t been busy. The food had just appeared, as if by magic. Paul agreed to walk round the outside way to the kitchen door, wash his hands, and help them pack it away.
“But really,” he said when the floor was clear again, “where did it come from?”
That question remained unanswered. The eight members of Lower Sittingbourne Local Meeting, two grandchildren, three visitors from the refugee center next door, and Clancy’s guide dog Zeus ate extremely well at their social lunch. They discussed the events of the previous week at length, and in the end, Kim, their clerk, suggested they should write a minute about it at their January business meeting. Other suggestions included phoning the BBC and asking the stars of The Great British Bake Off for comment, but Kim’s approach gathered the most popular support and was widely felt to be sensible and not making too much of a fuss.
It took them 45 minutes in January’s meeting to agree on a minute. Kim’s draft, which had focused on the social lunch, had to be deleted in favor of something which told the story of the unexplained appearances in detail. They ended up with a three-part minute: a factual account based on the testimonies of Claire, Sue, and Jackie; a theological remark, which opened the possibility of a miracle, without settling on that as a conclusion; and a closing line agreeing to forward the minute to area meeting.
“Is that minute acceptable?” Kim asked, tiredly, when she had read it out for the umpteenth time. It was almost one o’clock, and stomachs were audibly rumbling in the meeting room.
“Hope so,” they chorused. Kim felt some sort of power flow out from her keyboard, but she assumed it was relief and moved them quickly on to the final items: sending a care package to Owen (and hoping it would get through) and recording the date of their next meeting.
That afternoon, she was in her rocking chair trying to get up the energy to go and send some emails, when her phone rang. It was Oliver on a video call.
“I was just about to email you,” she said. “We’ve got a minute from Lower Sittingbourne which needs to go to area meeting.”
“Yes,” Oliver said, drawing out the vowel until the positive word became doubtful. “I think I know. Your hospitality committee made a minute about food for the December social, and it appeared by magic.”
“That’s right! Who told you?”
Oliver shook his head. “Nobody. I mean, there have been some rumors. But the bit about the minute just popped into my head after meeting for worship today, while I was in the hovercar on the way to my mother’s.”
“Was it . . . about ten to one?” Kim guessed.
“How did you know?”
“That’s exactly when we approved our minute about it.”
“Interesting,” Oliver said. “You will be at area meeting, won’t you? I’m going to talk to my co-clerk and see if we can test this.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Kim assured him. When he’d hung up, she thought carefully about the two events . . . and then she messaged her sibling whose eldest daughter was writing listicles for a news app and trying to get her break as a real journalist. A really good story would be a gift.
Photo by bignai
A week later, area meeting gathered at the community center in Ambingham. Kim didn’t see her niece on the way in but noticed a couple of people yelling at each other and hoped it wouldn’t go any further.
The first few items proceeded as normal. The worship was quiet, with only Barbara’s sporadic snores to distract them, as usual. Oliver and his co-clerk, Noah, guided them through some minutes of record, then read out Lower Sittingbourne’s minute. “And our plan for today,” Noah explained, “is to minute receipt of this—but also to try it ourselves. Your clerks have consulted Jackie, convenor of the Lower Sittingbourne Hospitality Committee, and we suggest we begin with a minute about a cake. If that succeeds, we suggest a minute curing Jackie’s arthritis. And if that succeeds, we suggest trying a minute about world peace.”
One or two refinements to the plan were suggested from the floor, but overall the meeting seemed to assent to this plan.
Noah read out a draft minute specifying the type and size of cake required for area meeting tea. “Is that minute acceptable, Friends?”
“Hope so,” they said.
The cake appeared—not in the middle of the room or on the clerk’s table, as Oliver had somehow expected—but neatly by the hatch which led to the kitchen, just as if someone had brought it and put it there ready for tea.
“Okay,” Noah said. He took a deep breath. “Minute 2024.01.4: Cures for arthritis . . .” There was a little bit of editing as two other people put their arthritic joints forward, and when he asked Friends whether the minute was acceptable, the “Hope sos” were loud and confident.
Oliver looked to Jackie, while others turned to George and Ruth. Jackie moved her fingers, then stood up, shaking out her knee.
“Yes,” she said.
It took a while to get the room back to silence after that, but when they did Noah read out the draft of their final test minute. “. . . and so we agree that there should be an immediate peace throughout the world,” he said. “Is that minute acceptable, Friends?”
The meeting chorused, “Hope so!” and then looked at one another, wondering how to know whether it had worked. Someone checked the BBC news on their phone. Kim walked out of the double doors at the front of the community center and looked across the street to the pub, where her niece was now photographing a three-way fist fight which had spilled onto the pavement.
Behind her, Claire was on the phone. “I don’t know why you’d ask that,” Owen said sadly from his bomb shelter. “Nobody out here would agree to it even if God gave them orders in person.”