Margaret Elphinstone. A great Quaker historical novel set in the War of 1812. She’s a British author, not a Friend, I think. It’s always exciting to see someone you know in the acknowledgments. In this case, Elaine Bishop of Prairie Meeting.

Walk Worthy of Your Calling: Quakers and the Traveling Ministry

Edited by Margery Post Abbott and Peggy Senger Parsons. Finally finished reading the whole thing. I like how Jan and my chapter fits in. Here are selections I read at a booksigning at the Friends General Conference Gathering last week.

Kenneth Sutton, USA: I experience my public ministry largely as an elder. As such, it is often response rather than original. It is relational and contextual. It is more concerned with uncovering what is already there than with sharing a prophetic message. It operates from a foundational faith that God is already present, at work. In fact, operating out of that faith is one indicator that I am living out of my gifts, since I am often impatient and judgmental when in my own abilities. My public and private ministry tends to be concerned with nurturing and drawing out the ministry of others. (p. 156)

Marge Abbott and Peggy Parsons, USA: We, the editors, find ourselves as part of a larger group of individuals who travel in the ministry today, sometimes under individual leading, more often in response to invitations. Whether blessed with a clear sense of the ministry from childhood, or having fought against what seemed like a highly improbable turn in life, Public Friends are a mixed set of numerous ordinary people who have felt this call to go into new places and speak. We may feel excited by the task laid before us or inadequate to fill it. We pray words will be given us and seek patience when our mouths are closed. Our responses are as different as our personalities and the cultures that we call home. (p. 271)

Marge Abbott and Peggy Parsons, USA: A few years ago we were invited to Victoria, British Columbia, to speak at the Vancouver Island Gathering of Friends. They had asked to hear side by side the evangelical and the liberal perspectives on faith. Marge spoke of the role of fear in her life, and times of knowing and responding to that perfect love which casts out all fear. Peggy spoke of the delights of risk-taking and the temptations to recklessness. Our experiences of life, as well as of being Public Friends, sometimes seem of wildly different flavors. We embody between us, however, many of the dimensions of Quaker spirituality and the distinctive ways that Friends know God–and are unified in our desire to be faithful to the one, true Guide. (p. 268)

Gladys Kang’ahi, Kenya: I have come this far on a long journey. It is a journey of faith that connects me to everyone else and affirms my need to hear other people’s stories. All of us are members of a global community, which is the community of Christ. We need each other’s support. We need sisters to listen to our pain, to share our hopes, to tell us that there are dreams to be dreamed and realities to be changed, and that we can do it. We need to look, we need to listen, we need to speak, and we need to touch. We encounter each other as a people of faith with faith in ourselves and faith in each other.
Each one of us has a wealth of experiences to share. We need therefore to affirm each other’s gifts, to affirm each other as full human beings created in the image of God. We need to listen to other people’s struggles. We have been growing and we need to look forward to growing further in our understanding of ourselves as a people who have a task, to make this a better world as we continue to minister. (pp. 3–4)

Priscilla Makhino, Kenya: God’s love sent His son into the world to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to open the prisons to them that are bound. Jesus the Son of God commissioned His believers to go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature just before he ascended to heaven. Since then the protocol has never changed for the living. Jesus Christ through the years has chosen, prepared, and sent men and women, with willing, obedient hearts and humble minds, to different parts of the world with the same word. (p. 21)

Ute Caspers (Germany): Did I, now, travel in the ministry? Probably not in the sense of an explicit call, and certainly not with an explicit backing of my home meeting. But I can see there must have been ministry involved. On my trips to the GDR my initial intention had been to make up for rigid travel restrictions that made it impossible to leave the country westward. I continued these travels over many years as my little contribution toward briding a gap-in-the-making between Friends in the East and the West of my country, fearing it could siden with a new generation growing up separated from one another. I never made a conscious commitment to continue my travels, and I seldom reflected why, precisely, I kept these contacts over all those years. Nor did I ever give account of my motives or of what it was that I received and that I brought. Looking for an answer now, there is one word that comes to mind: friendship. It was only in the process that I found that my regular visits were perceived as a special act of friendship. There are times and circumstances where simple friendship, the holding up of as much normality as possible in an abnormal situation, become ministry. It should be normal that families of one mother tongue and fatherland can freely meet wherever they wish and interact however it pleases them. A situation denying these rights is surely abnormal. In that sense I can see, in hindsight, I was certainly traveling n the ministry, in the ministry of friendship and normality. (pp. 208–209)

The Quakers in America

Thomas D. Hamm. Brand-new concise history and survey of the Religious Society of Friends in the United States. It covers the whole spectrum, blemishes and beauty spots alike. I like Tom Hamm’s writing style (and speaking style, too, as it happens), and it is good to have an up-to-date, academically respectable survey to recommend to anyone who wants to know more about Quakers.

Are Quakers trinitarian or unitarian?

To make it into a trite joke,


My co-worker Chris posed the question, it having been raised on a Unitarian Universalist discussion list. Here’s a quick stab at an answer using resources available to me at the office (which boils down to things on the web).

The current condition of the Religious Society of Friends is such that you can find Friends who believe most anything, and even Quaker bodies that endorse or tolerate quite a wide range. In addition, modern liberal Friends (the ones I’m most familiar with) just don’t do much theology. In general, though, I think most modern liberal Quakers do tend toward a unitarian understanding of God.

Historically, and for many if not most Quakers today, Friends have used the language of God/Father, Jesus/Christ/Son, and Spirit/Holy Spirit. (And some even have a developed theology of the offices of Christ!) The first Quaker systematic theologian, Robert Barclay, in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity, first published in 1678, doesn’t use the word “trinity” in this work, but on the other hand includes propositions like: “Concerning the Universal Redemption by Christ, and also the Saving and Spiritual Light wherewith every man is enlightened.” His proposition on immediate revelation begins:

“Seeing “no man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son revealeth him”; and seeing the “revelation of the Son is in and by the Spirit” (Matt. 11:27); therefore the testimony of the Spirit is that alone by which the true knowledge of God hath been, is, and can be only revealed; . . . .”

I can’t really do the research, but I recall that somewhere I’ve read early Quaker rebuttals of charges that they were unitarian, which say that “trinity” “trinitarian” and “three persons in one” are unbiblical language and therefore inappropriate (even if Quakers are, in fact, trinitarian).

Here’s a link to the Quaker Heritage Press version of Barclay’s Apology.


I’ve always wondered how to play Wink, which is a popular game among Young Friends (high school and college-age) in Philadelphia, and apparently also here in New England. Recently I’ve also come across references to UUs playing Wink. (I’ve also heard of periodic attempts to suppress or moderate Wink.)

And now I know.

“...The Authority of Our Meetings Is the Power of God”

By Paul A. Lacey. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 365, 2003.

This provocative pamphlet serves as an overview of contemporary Quaker approaches to issues of power and authority within the Friends community. The first half of the pamphlet summarizes the development of Quaker leadership structures in the 17th century, while the second half moves quickly through major changes of the 19th century and then focuses on “modern liberal Quakerism.” While contrasting “gospel order” and “Quaker process,” the author avoids making a value judgment. His last section sums up his approach:

“The point of this extended discussion of gospel order and Quaker process is not to beat one set of principles and practices with the other. It is to show that Quakerism is, as usual, at a crossroads in dealing with issues of authority and power in church governance; to point out the directions Quakers have taken and seem to be taking; and to offer some assessment of the costs of traveling one way or another.”

Paul Lacey has been a Friend for fifty years, having first joined Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1953. He has since been on the faculty of Earlham College and currently serves as the clerk of the board of the American Friends Service Committee.

By the way, don’t miss footnote 52 on the word “ancient”!

Legislative Testimony

Testimony in support of the Marriage Bill, H 3677, before the Massachusetts House
23 October 2003

To: Honorable Chairpersons, members of the Judiciary Committee, and members of the General Court

I speak in support of the Marriage Bill, H 3677. Simply as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I would urge you to approve this bill, ending discrimination based on gender and granting same-gender couples the civil rights and responsibilities of marriage.

But I speak to you today as a member of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers). As a Quaker, I am no stranger to the differences between civil law and religious practice. Mary Dyer, a Quaker whose statue stands in front of this building, was hanged by the authorities on Boston Common in 1660. She was a martyr for religious freedom. Her statue should stand as a warning against the perils of allowing religious practice, no matter how large the majority, to dictate civil practice for all.

Quakers today are not being hanged, but we still seek equal treatment before the law. Many Quaker congregations take the relationships of same-gender couples under their care, which is to say that we authorize and oversee the marriage ceremony and commit to providing pastoral care to the marriage. My own congregation, Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting, which meets only blocks away, has for over 15 years recognized marriages of its members without regard to gender. In April 1988 the Meeting officially stated that:

We, the members and attenders of Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting, affirm our belief in that of God in every person. Furthermore, we attest that this belief embraces all persons regardless of sexual orientation.

Beacon Hill affirms that all couples, including those of the same sex, have equal opportunity to be married within the framework of the meeting process. The love between these couples, as it grows, will enrich their relationship, the Meeting, and the world at large. The Meeting is committed to supporting these couples according to their needs.

Beacon Hill acknowledges the Certificate of Marriage signed by the couple and those present at the ceremony as the witness of Friends to the couple’s spiritual union. Mindful that only the heterosexual couples among us currently have the right to legally sanctioned marriage and its privileges, the Meeting asks Friends, and particularly couples preparing for marriage, to examine how best to respond and bear witness to the inequalities still present in the system.

Massachusetts, of course, long ago ceased to persecute Quakers, and statutes regarding “procedure to perform (solemnize) marriage” include not only provisions for clergy of various denominations and civil authorities, but this clause:

a marriage maybe solemnized in a regular or special meeting for worship conducted by or under the oversight of a Friends or Quaker Monthly Meeting in accordance with the usage of their Society.

Thus, for some couples whose marriages have been allowed by Beacon Hill Meeting, our action is sufficient evidence for the state to extend the responsibilities and benefits of marriage to the couple. For other couples, equally in love, equally faithful to one another, equally contributing to our community and to civic life, equally examined by our careful marriage process, our action has no legal effect. How can the Commonwealth of Massachusetts allow us to act as agents of the state in marrying opposite-gender couples and then disregard our careful religious discernment concerning same-gender couples?

If religious definitions of marriage are to continue influencing the civil definition of marriage, if the state is to continue allowing religious officials to act as agents of the state in conducting marriages, then the state must not discriminate between different and even conflicting religious practices. In this case, I urge you to extend the same civil rights and responsibilities to all the couples married under the care of Beacon Hill Meeting by approving bill 3677.

The Lost Quaker Generation

Provocative post over at Martin Kelley, Ranter: The Lost Quaker Generation, where Martin recounts a conversation with a friend and former Friend who served time in prison for a Plowshares action and has returned to his parents’ religious tradition.

Martin’s friend told Martin “He didn’t feel supported in his Plowshares action by his Meeting.” But he doesn’t say (or Martin doesn’t relate) whether he asked his meeting for a clearness committee before taking the action. Corporate discernment is central to my understanding of Quaker life, and is all too often neglected by contemporary Friends. It is too easy to assume that because there’s a hefty risk, the leading must be genuine. So, did he ask his meeting for a clearness committee as a step in asking them to support his action?

Martin’s friend concludes that

[T]he Friends in his Meeting didn’t think the Peace Testimony could actually inspire us to be so bold. He said two of his Quaker heroes were John Woolman and Mary Dyer but realized that the passion of witness that drove them wasn’t appreciated by today’s peace and social concerns committees. The radical mysticism that is supposed to drive Friends’ practice and actions have been replaced by a blandness that felt threatened by someone who could choose to spend years in jail for his witness.

I suspect he’s right about Mary Dyer’s passion not being appreciated as a model for our own lives today. But plenty of stodgy, unmystical old Friends have spent time in jail (or worse) themselves. Not knowing what the Plowshares action was, I suspect Friends’ fault was actually being unable to support destruction of property. In leading a nonviolence exercise in several Quakerism classes, I’ve found that a majority of contemporary “liberal” Friends and seekers in those classes disapprove of actions that involve trespassing, cutting fences, or hammering nosecones. Neither John Woolman nor Mary Dyer harmed the property of others. And John Woolman writes extensively about the corporate discipline to which he submitted.

Martin begins to draw to a close:

But back to my friend, the ex-Friend. I feel like he’s just another eroded-away grain of sand in the delta of Quaker decline. He’s yet another Friend that Quakerism can’t afford to loose, but which Quakerism has lost. No one’s mourning the fact that he’s lost, no one has barely noticed. Knowing Friends, the few that have noticed have probably not spent any time reaching out to him to ask why or see if things could change and they probably defend their inaction with self-congratulatory pap about how Friends don’t proselytize and look how liberal we are that we say nothing when Friends leave.

This is all too true of how stand-offish we can be in our meetings. But Martin–did you not notice? Are you not mourning? Did you not reach out to him and ask why (and even write about it)?

I know what you mean, but this is another common failing among us. We want “the meeting” or “Friends” to do something and overlook the things that we ourselves are doing or might do. Pastoral care is a big blindspot in this way. When I broke my ankle, Friends and friends stepped right up to give me transportation, company, and food. At the time, Beacon Hill Meeting didn’t even have a pastoral care committee, the meeting never took any action, and I don’t remember receiving a phone call “on behalf of the meeting.” (There were drugs involved...) Does that mean I didn’t receive pastoral care from the meeting? NO WAY. The meeting came through for me in a big way, discernably more so than my other communities. But I’ve heard others who received the same kind of loving care complain that the meeting didn’t do anything.

In spite of my contrary comments on elements of Martin’s post, I am worried by the same issues (just interpreting some of the elements differently). I came to Quakerism as a twenty-something, almost twenty years ago now. I was shocked then to be consistently among the youngest in many committees or gatherings. I’m shocked and saddened now to find that that is still all too often so. I’m glad that Martin and others like him are trying to make our Quaker home more welcoming and nurturing (and challenging) to all.

Martin Kelley, Ranter

Martin runs the Nonviolence Web and works for Friends General Conference. I originally met him through my friend Barbara and New Society Publishers. He has a blog that includes writings on Quakerism. Here’s a great post: The Younger Evangelicals and the Younger Quakers

Unfortunately most Friends in leadership positions don’t really understand the problems facing Quakerism. Well, that’s not true: they do, but they don’t understand the larger shifts behind them and think that they just need to redouble their efforts using the old methods and models. The Baby Boom generation in charge knows the challenge is to reach out to seekers in their twenties or thirties, but they do this by developing programs that would have appealed to them when they were that age. The current crop of outreach projects and peace initiatives are all very 1980 in style. There’s no recognition that the secular peace community that drew seekers in twenty years ago no longer exists and that today’s seekers are looking for something deeper, something more personal and more real.