Archive for the 'Quaker History' Category

Famous Friends

I created the following list for our meeting web site (springfieldfriends.org) but thought I would share it with a wider audience as well. There are so many Friends who have had great influence — not just on the Quaker world, but on the world outside! This list is a work in progress, so please let me know what Friends I’ve missed.

Famous Friends

George Fox (1624-1691) – Probably the one person more than anyone else who can be called the “founder” of Friends. His Journal is a classic for Quakers and non-Quakers alike as a record of spiritual struggle and practical activity

Isaac Penington (1616-1679) – One of the most famous Quaker writers of the first generation, often imprisoned. Many of his writings on prayer have become Quaker classics.

Margaret Fell (1614-1702) – “The mother of Quakerism”, she was an organizing genius — setting up new meetings, arranging for the relief of Quakers in prison and their families, writing, travelling, and often in jail herself. Her home, Swarthmoor Hall in Lancashire, England, was a busy hub of Quaker activity. Eleven years after her first husband’s death, she married George Fox.

William Penn (1644-1718) – Famous not only for establishing the colony of Pennsylvania, but for making the only treaties with Native Americans which were never broken; also famous for his part in the Penn-Meade trial in 1670, which established the right for juries to bring in their verdict without being intimidated by judge or state. Among his many writings, No Cross, No Crown and Fruits of Solitude are still popular.

Robert Barclay (1648-1690) – His book, Apology for the True Christian Divinity, was for many years the “standard” book of Quaker theology. It is still one of the best guides to what Friends believe.

Mary Dyer (died 1660) – Was hanged by the Puritan leaders of Massachusetts along with four other people on Boston Common for protesting the brutal anti-Quaker laws of Massachusetts; one of the earliest witnesses for religious freedom and toleration.

Samuel Bownas (1676-1753) – traveling minister, his book A Description of the Qualifications of a Gospel Minister has been rediscovered as a Quaker classic.

John Woolman (1720-1772) – Almost single-handedly awoke Friends to the evils of slavery. By the middle of the century, no Quakers held slaves, which made it much easier for Friends to take the lead in the anti-slavery movement. Also famous for his peacemaking journeys into the wilderness among Native Americans

Stephen Grellet (1773-1855), traveling minister and reformer; born in France and served in the personal guard of Louis XVI, he escaped execution during the French Revolution and converted to Quakerism. Traveled throughout Europe, Russia and the U.S.

Elias Hicks (1748-1830) – Quaker farmer from Long Island, travelling minister and great preacher; one of the central figures of the Orthodox-Hicksite separation of Friends in the 1820’s, Hicks was a strong believer in the “quietist” tradition of complete dependence on the Spirit.

John Dalton (1766-1844) – Quaker scientist who discovered the fact that each element has a characteristic “atomic weight”; also discovered that all gases share the same coefficient of expansion; also the first person to describe color blindness.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) – Famous for her early work in prison reform and against capital punishment; personally visited all of the ships transporting women prisoners to Australia; helped to stamp out suttee (the practice in India of requiring widows to jump onto their husband’s funeral pyres); first woman to appear before British Parliament; strongly influenced founding of the Red Cross.

Edward Hicks (1780-1849) – American painter, famous for his dozens of renditions of the “Peaceable Kingdom” in Isaiah 11:6-9

Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847) – Younger brother of Elizabeth Fry, social activist, Bible scholar, organizer of Sunday Schools; author of A Peculiar People: Primitive Christianity Revived, a classic of Quaker theology. One of the chief figures in the Orthodox-Hicksite separations of the 1820’s.

Levi Coffin (1798-1877) – Known as “the President of the Underground Railroad”, helped to organize the escape to freedom of hundreds of slaves.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) – Anti-slavery writer and poet; many of his poems are found in standard hymnals in all churches

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) – Minister, anti-slavery worker, pioneer in the temperance and especially the women’s rights movements

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) – Social reformer and leader of the women’s suffrage movement.

Joseph Lister (1827-1912) – Doctor and surgeon, developed modern antiseptic techniques which have saved the lives of millions; transformed surgery from a dangerous, last-resort tool to a relatively safe procedure.

Allen Jay (1831-1910) – Minister, educator, and leader, he was one of the best-known Friends in the U.S. in the 1800’s. He worked on the Underground Railroad, built schools and colleges, helped organize Quaker missionary work, was a conscientious objector in the Civil War, and was deeply involved in the emergence and growth of pastoral Friends meetings

Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) – Mathematical astrophysicist; hypothesized that stars are fueled by the transformation of hydrogen into helium and helped to verify the correctness of Einstein’s theories.

Rufus Jones (1863-1948) – Teacher, lecturer, writer of many books, founder of the American Friends Service Committee; editor of The American Friend (now Quaker Life); travelled to Nazi Germany in an effort to negotiate the freedom of Jews.

Thomas Kelly (1893-1941) – Professor and writer, more famous after his “rebirth” as an adult. His Testament of Devotion is a classic on the inner life.

D. Elton Trueblood (1900-1994) – Professor and writer, founder of the Yokefellow movement. Influenced tens of thousands through his many books.

Other famous Quakers:

Actors and film makers:

Ben Kingsley (1943-_) GandhiSchindler’s List, Iron Man 3, Prince of PersiaThe Jungle Book

James Dean (1931-1955), Rebel Without a CauseEast of Eden

Judi Dench (1934-) (Shakespeare in Love, As Time Goes ByA Room With a View, GoldenEye, Chocolat, Victoria and Abdul, Murder on the Orient Express

Kevin Bacon (1958-), A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, Mystic River

David Lean (1908-1981), The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India

Musicians:

Joan Baez (1941-), Diamonds and Rust, There But for Fortune, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

David Byrne (1952-), lead singer for Talking Heads

Sydney Carter (1915-2004), Lord of the Dance, Julian of Norwich

John McCutcheon (1952-), hammered dulcimer player and children’s music writer

Dave Matthews (1976-), lead singer for the Dave Matthews Band

Carrie Newcomer (1958-), Sanctuary, I Heard an Owl, If Not Now

Bonnie Raitt (1949-), Something to Talk About, I Can’t Make You Love Me

Donald Swann (1923-1994), prolific British composer, wrote more than 2,000 songs

Joseph Terrell (1990-), lead singer for bluegrass band MIPSO

Nobel Prize winners:

1946 for Peace – Emily Green Balch (1867-1961)

1947 for Peace – American Friends Service Committee and Friends Service Council

1959 for Peace – Philip Noel-Baker (1889-1982)

1993 for Physics – Joseph Taylor (1941-), discovery of binary pulsar

1996 for Economics –William Vickrey

Artists:

Cassius Coolidge (1844-1934), Dogs Playing Cards

Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990) , illustrator

Sylvia Shaw Judson (1897-1978), sculptor and author of The Quiet Eye

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966), painter

James Turrell (1943-), MacArthur prize winner, famous for his SkyScape installations

Science: 

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-), astronomer, discovered pulsars

Peter Collinson (1694-1768), botanist

John Dalton (1766-1844), chemist, physicist, meteorologist; developer of atomic theory, first table of atomic weights, first description of color blindness, law of partial pressures of gasses

Arthur Stanley Eddington (188201944) – astrophysics, predicted that stars are fueled by the fusion of hydrogen into helium

Ursula Franklin (1921-2016) – metallurgist, feminist, peacemaker, environmentalist

Luke Howard (1772-1864), meteorologist and pharmacist, classified clouds

Len Lamerton (1915-1999), pioneer in nuclear medicine and radiation biology

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971), crystallographer

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889), astronomer

Thomas Young (1773-1829),doctor, scientist, developed theory of light waves; assisted in the translation of the Rosetta Stone

Joseph Taylor (1941-), astronomy, discovered first binary pulsar

Medicine:

John Fothergill (1712-1780), doctor who developed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, described trigeminal neuralgia and strep throat; also a famous botanist and founder of Ackworth School

Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866), physician who described Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Mary Calderone (1904-1998), advocate for sex education and the use of birth control

William Tuke (1732-1832) and son Henry Tuke (1755-1814), founders of the York Retreat which pioneered in the humane treatment of the mentally ill

Educators:

Elise Boulding (1920-2010), peacemaker, pioneered in peace and conflict resolution studies

Kenneth E. Boulding (1910-1993), economist, and educator

Henry Cadbury (1883-1974), Bible scholar, historian, chairman of the AFSC

Wilmer Cooper (1920-2008), founding dean of Earlham School of Religion, author of A Living Faith

Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990), management theorist, founder of the Servant Leadership movement

Barnabas Hobbs (1815-1892), first president of Earlham College later Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Indiana

Mary Mendenhall Hobbs (1852-1930), educator, historian, and worker for women’s rights

Rufus Jones (1863-1948), Quaker educator and theologian

Douglas Steere (1901-1995), professor of philosophy at Haverford College, international relief organizer, ecumenical and spiritual writer

Well-known writers:

Piers Anthony (1934-), prolific science fiction writer

Sandra Boynton (1953-), children’s book writer, composer, director

Margaret Drabble (1939-), The Millstone, Jerusalem the Golden

Richard J. Foster (1942-), Celebration of Discipline, Freedom of Simplicity

Elfrida Vipont Foulds (1902-1992), The Story of Quakerism, Blow the Man Down, Some Christian Festivals

Philip GulleyFront Porch Tales, Home to Harmony, If Grace is True, If the Church Were Christian

Jan de Hartog (1914-2002), The Peaceable Kingdom, The Lamb’s War, A Sailor’s Life

T. Canby Jones (1921-2008), professor at Wilmington College and noted scholar of George Fox and Thomas Kelly

Eric Knight (1897-1943), Lassie, Come Home

James Michener (1907-1997), Tales of the South Pacific, Hawaii, The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Tom Mullen (1934-2009), A Very Good Marriage, Where 2 or 3 Are Gathered, Laughing Out Loud

Daisy Newman (1904-1994), I Take Thee Serenity, Diligence in Love, Now That April’s Here

Parker Palmer (1939 – ), The Courage to Teach, To Know As We Are Known, A Hidden Wholeness

John Punshon (1935-2017), historian and lecturer, author of Portrait in Grey and Encounter With Silence

Brinton Turkle (1915-2003 ), Thy Friend Obiadiah, Obadiah the Bold, Rachel and Obadiah, Do No Open

Anna Sewell (1820-1878), Black Beauty

Elizabeth Gray Vining (1902-1999), Windows for the Crown PrinceAdam of the Road

Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911), The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life

Jessamyn West (1902-1984), The Friendly Persuasion, Except for Me and Thee, The Quaker Reader, The Woman Said Yes

Jane Yolen (1939-), Owl Moon, Sister Light Sister Dark, Sword of the Rightful King

Social change:

Jane Addams (1860-1935), social worker

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), American suffragist, abolitionist, and pioneer of feminism and civil rights

Eric Baker (1920-1976) activist, co-founder of Amnesty International and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961), economist, peacemaker, winner of Nobel Peace Prize

Sarah Moore Grimke (1792-1873) and Angelina Grimke (1805-1879), worked for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights

Benjamin Lay (1862-1759), early abolitionist

Sam Levering (1908-1994) and Miriam Levering (1913-1991) – peacemakers, guided the drafting and signing of the international Law of the Sea treaty in 1982

Alice Paul (1895-1977), worked for women’s right to vote

Clarence Pickett (1884-1965), longtime Executive Secretary for the American Friends Service Committee

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), civil rights leader.

Ham Seok-heon (1901-1989), Korean peace activist

Politics:

John Archdale, (1642-1717), Quaker governor of North Carolina

John Bright, (1811-1889), British politician, electoral reformer, free-trade advocate

Herbert Hoover (1864-1964), engineer, relief administrator, U.S. president

Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933), Japanese diplomat, educator, author

Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994), senator and U.S. president

James Logan (1674-1751), mayor of Philadelphia, merchant, scientist and developer of the Conestoga wagon

Philip Noel-Baker (1899-1982) British Olympic athlete, politician, peacemaker

Industry:

Moses Brown (1738-1836), industrialist and philanthropist

John Cadbury (1801-1889) and George Cadbury (1839-1922), chocolate manufacturers

Abraham Darby I (1678-1717), ironmaster
Abraham Darby II (1711-1763), ironmaster
Abraham Darby III (1750-1791), ironmaster

Charles Elmer Hires (1851-1939), pharmacist who invented root beer

Johns Hopkins (1795-1873), industrialist and philanthropist

Lydia Pinkham (1819-1883), creator of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, one of the best-selling patent medicines of the 1800’s, containing unicorn root, fenugreek, black cohosh root, and a large percentage of alcohol. You can still buy it at many drug stores!

John Wilhelm Rowntree (1868-1905), chocolate maker and reformer

Elbridge Stuart (1836-1944), creator of Carnation Evaporated Milk, “the milk from contented cows”

Journalism:

Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965), journalist

Other categories:

Jeremiah Dixon (1733-1779), surveyor who helped establish the Mason-Dixon Line

Ray Hayworth (1904-2002), major league baseball player

Jimmie Lewallen, NASCAR racing driver

Famous people with Quaker background:

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), author, printer, politician, inventor

Daniel Boone (1734-1820), pioneer

Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), Revolutionary War general

Dolley Madison (1768-1849), wife of US President James Madison

Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Trappist monk and writer

Annie Oakley (1860-1926), Wild West sharpshooter

Thomas Paine (1737-1809), political activist

Betsy Ross (1752-1836), creator of the U.S. flag

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), poet

Businesses started by Quakers:

Allen and Hanbury (pharmaceuticals)

Barclay’s Bank

Bethlehem Steel

Bradshaw’s Railway Guide

Cadbury (chocolate)

Carr’s Biscuits

Clark’s (shoes)

Friends Provident (life insurance)

Fry’s (chocolate)

Furnas Withy (ship builders)

Lloyd’s Bank

Rowntree (chocolate)

Sandy Spring Friends Bank

SONY

Waterford Crystal

Non-governmental organizations started by Quakers:

Alternatives to Violence Project

American Friends Service Committee

Amnesty International

Greenpeace

Oxfam

Right Sharing of World Resources

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Will the real Quakers please stand up?

It used to be fairly easy to tell people who the Quakers are. Quakers were born in the English Reformation. We got started in the 1650’s, and a lot of Quakers moved to the American colonies, and we’re all descended one way or another from these first Friends.

As history, that’s still true, but it doesn’t really tell about the bewildering variety we find among the many branches of the Quaker family.

Another way to tell people who the Quakers are is to say, there are the unprogrammed Friends (the ones who worship in silence) and everybody else. If you ask an unprogrammed Quaker, that’s still the way they tend to see it. Unprogrammed Friends are the ones who don’t have pastors, don’t have a creed, and don’t have a pre-arranged form of worship. Quite a lot of unprogrammed Friends feel pretty strongly that they are the only REAL Quakers, and that all of those “other” Friends don’t really count – even though those “other” Friends make up the overwhelming majority of the Quaker family worldwide.

For a long time, it was convenient to divvy up Quakers according to which umbrella organization they belonged to. In North America, unprogrammed Friends (mostly) belonged to Friends General Conference. Mainstream Friends (mostly) belonged to Friends United Meeting. And more evangelically-minded Friends (mostly) belonged to Evangelical Friends International.

That neat division ignored quite a few independent and unaffiliated meetings, as well as the small but spiritually very strong groups of Conservative Friends. It also ignored the fact that some yearly meetings (New York, New England, and Baltimore) belong to both FUM and FGC.

But in the last 10 years, the Quaker landscape here in the U.S. has been changing. Three of the powerhouse FUM yearly meetings – Western, Indiana and most recently North Carolina – have undergone serious divisions, which have drastically reduced their membership and destroyed yearly meeting ministries which had lasted for 100 years or more. These yearly meetings have been greatly weakened, and it may take generations for Friends in these areas to rebuild.

One of the major wedge issues has been support for (or opposition to) full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in our meetings – as members and attenders, as leaders, as families, and as couples who can be married under our care. Many of the recent divisions among Friends have been sparked by this issue, which is not unique to Friends – it’s also being played out in nearly every mainstream denomination in the country.

A lot of unprogrammed Friends tend to be pretty self-righteous about gay and lesbian issues, conveniently forgetting how much controversy their meetings lived through during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. My own personal observation is among most Friends under the age of 40, of nearly every branch of Friends, it’s a non-issue – polls show that more than 50% of people in the U.S. think that gay and lesbian people should enjoy the same rights as all the rest of us. In 20 years, this may be a non-issue for nearly all Friends in North America.

Another way to divide us up is into “Christ-centered” and “universalist” Friends. It’s pretty hard to dismiss this division, which many Friends feel goes to the core of who we are. I’ve heard and read dozens of presentations and books by Quakers who are passionately convinced that George Fox and the early Friends were unquestionably Christian, and by others who see the Quaker movement as having been universalist from its very beginnings.

The more excited Quakers get about this, the more ready we are to excommunicate one another and write each other out of the book. The lines have been dug very deeply into the landscape, and especially for evangelical Friends there can be no compromise whatsoever. On the other end of the spectrum, I have often encountered a lot of smug superiority among universalist Friends, who feel that they are not only right, but that in a few generations (if there are any Quakers left) history will judge that only they were correct. I find it pretty irritating, and perversely intolerant for a group which usually claims tolerance as one of their main beliefs.

I’m a Christian – or at least I try to be – and a Quaker pastor, which some Quakers see as a contradiction of their understanding of Friends’ beliefs. Probably 80% of my messages on Sunday are drawn from the gospels, and I see Jesus as my Savior. But there are all kinds of people out there, and I see Quakers as a big tent which welcomes all kinds of folks. I’m not inclined to close people out.

I’ve been a minister in yearly meetings which were predominantly liberal (New York and New England) as well as yearly meetings which are theologically more conservative (Indiana and North Carolina). I haven’t changed my own beliefs that much, and I’ve managed to reach people and speak to their hearts and minds everywhere I’ve been.

Outside the hothouse of universalist Quaker workshops, the majority of Friends worldwide identify themselves as Christians. Particularly among East African and Latin American Friends, who outnumber North American Friends of all persuasions by nearly 3 to 1, there is little or no question on whether Quakers are Christians.

Here in North America, Quakers are overwhelmingly white and mostly middle class. We talk a good game about diversity, but the reality is – well, not so much. I don’t think that this means that Quakers are bad people, but we tend to clump together with people who are like us. People argue about how intentional this is. But North American Friends have never really had a sustained, effective outreach to people in our own country who weren’t already pretty close to us.

Quakers are somewhat diverse, but we don’t really handle diversity very well. It makes us nervous the moment we encounter Quaker who really don’t think the way we do. Quakers talk a lot about unity, but the record shows that we have a sorry history of division over the last 200 years.

I’d like to see that change. I’d like to see Quakers give up drawing lines in sand and pretending that they can lock the doors of Heaven against people who disagree with them. I’d like to see us defined both by our deep faith and by our genuine welcome to people who may have taken a different journey to arrive where they are. I’d like to see our meetings reflect more of the racial and social diversity of our society. And I’d like Quakers to laugh more and divide less. For me, that would be a lot more fun than where we are right now.

 

Have we learned anything?

Quakers don’t seem to learn. There have been several major divisions in the last few years over conflicts related to sexual issues and faith – in Western Yearly Meeting (2003-2009), Indiana Yearly Meeting (2008-2013), North Carolina Yearly Meeting (2016), and currently in Northwest Yearly Meeting.

I don’t know what your position is on these issues. Quakers are all over the map, which should be no surprise at all by now – an old joke goes that in any group of 10 Quakers, there will be at least 15 opinions.

What bothers me is that Quakers have refused to learn from experience – the experience of our own generation, repeated multiple times in numerous bodies. I’m not surprised that we don’t agree – I’m just surprised that we haven’t figured out that this disagreement is apparently normal, and that we keep hammering at each other in an effort to create and enforce a uniformity which isn’t about to happen any time soon.

I’m not pushing for anyone who reads this to agree with how I interpret the Bible on these issues. What I’d like to point out are the practical lessons which Quakers across the board in this generation haven’t figured out.

  1. Division means loss – fewer members for everyone. Friends who advocate division almost always claim that we will be stronger if we break into more theologically uniform groups. In practice, every division I’m aware of has led to a drastic loss of membership. When a yearly meeting divides, there aren’t just two groups – a bunch of Quakers simply leave altogether. In the two yearly meetings I’ve studied most closely (Indiana and North Carolina) there was an overall loss of nearly 30% of the total membership.
  2. In a division, many meetings choose to not to belong to any yearly meeting. We don’t know what their future will be. A few, with considerable effort, manage to retain their Quaker identity. Many eventually disband, or become generic community churches.
  3. Attacking individuals and meetings only makes things worse. I’ve seen a number of campaigns to “get rid of the problem” by attempting to rescind the credentials of Quaker ministers or expel local meetings which don’t toe the line. This makes sense to Friends who are intent on closing ranks and cleaning house, but it doesn’t work very well on a yearly meeting scale. Other Friends rush to their defense, and the whole conflict becomes personal and bogs down.
  4. When you start making threats to leave or withhold funds, the game is over. In several yearly meeting conflicts, large meetings have threatened to pull out if they don’t get their way, or groups of meetings have announced that they will hold back funds to the yearly meeting until the conflict is settled. These tactics are seen by other Friends as little more than playground bullying.
  5. Appealing to Faith and Practice as the “rule book” may work tactically, but it doesn’t fix the real conflict. I’ve seen this tried in almost every yearly meeting I’ve ever been a part of. It’s usually seen as manipulative by the losing side. Appealing to the rules may work for the moment, but it doesn’t bring Friends back together. Changing the rules to get what you want, or ignoring Quaker process altogether, is also always seen as unfair and makes division almost inevitable.
  6. In a division, ministries and missions always suffer. In spite of the fact that these are usually the most popular part of a yearly meeting, when Quakers start talking about division, funding and interest goes down, participation drops, and gifted mission workers and ministers and their families suffer. Youth programs, schools and cooperative efforts of all kinds which have taken generations to build can be destroyed.
  7. As a practical matter, time and generational change seem to be on the side of welcoming/affirming Friends. For most Quakers under the age of 40, this is a non-issue. And for many Quakers, it’s mostly about family or close friends or co-workers – they refuse to condemn people they love. They may not have any other agenda. Federal and state laws have changed, major employers pay no attention to sexual identity, a lot of society has moved on.
  8. Quakers aren’t the only ones dealing with these issues. Other denominations are having the same problems, and they’re often making the same mistakes and refusing to learn from them. Why we think we need to re-invent the wheel, have the same conflicts, and then be surprised by the outcome is really beyond me.

Here are a few positive lessons which I wish Quakers would pick up on:

  1. Being connected matters. Belonging and being active in some kind of organization is better than belonging to none. Friends may need to find ways to change or re-purpose our structures so that we can continue to pray together and to do ministry and mission together.
  2. Ignore the boundaries. When Indiana Yearly Meeting broke up, one of the first things that happened is that the United Society of Friends Women announced that they were going to continue to meet and work together. When everybody else is set on dividing, find new ways to work together, worship together, and get to know each other.
  3. Respect each other. During a conflict, Quakers usually try to follow this, but it often breaks down in private. I’ve heard a lot of vicious name-calling, demonizing and attributing of malicious intent during Quaker conflicts. Genuine respect for the motives of people I disagree with goes a long way towards keeping things on a more even keel.
  4. Choose your Bible texts carefully. Most of us are familiar with the texts having to do with sexuality, and we’re not likely to change each others’ minds about how they should be interpreted. If we want to find our way through conflict, maybe we need to look at some different Bible passages. My personal favorites which I recommend to Friends are Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17:11), the description of how conflict was handled in Acts (Acts 10 and 11, also Acts 15:1-35), Paul’s counsel on handling disagreement (Romans 14-15), and Paul’s advice on discerning what spirit is present in a group (Galatians 5:13-23).

Update on North Carolina Yearly Meeting – III

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that North Carolina Yearly Meeting has been going through a major struggle for several years.

Leaders in many of the more evangelical meetings have been calling for a separation, and at least 20 meetings have already withdrawn from the yearly meeting. The yearly meeting’s finances have been in free fall, and there has been great anxiety about the future of Friends in North Carolina.

At the Representative body meeting earlier this summer, Friends agreed in principle to a separation into two group, with the Executive Committee to draft a proposal in time for Yearly Meeting on August 12-14.

Take a step back for a minute: internal tension and calls for separation have been taking place across yearly meetings in the U.S. for many years since the early 20th century. More recently, Western Yearly Meeting lost a number of meetings but remained largely intact, while Indiana Yearly Meeting split into two groups, about 60% keeping the old name and about 40% forming the New Association of Friends.

I attended the business session of North Carolina Yearly Meeting last weekend, and the draft plan for separation was presented. The plan received initial approval, and we broke into a number of small groups to discuss the plan before lunch.

After lunch, before the decision making resumed, we heard a number of reports – from Quaker Lake Camp, from mission workers, from Friends Disaster Relief – and it was clear that Friends are still deeply interested in continuing and supporting these efforts. No one wants to see our youth and mission work suffer because of a division.

When we took up the question of separation again, the clerk asked if the meeting would wait in prayer while the Executive Committee met to work on a modification of the plan. There was some visiting and conversation while the committee went out, but many Friends were praying quietly.

When the committee came back, they brought a rough draft of a new proposal:

  1. That the yearly meeting remain intact
  2. That the yearly meeting hold title to the physical properties and financial assets
  3. That two groups be formed, with each group being responsible for its own statements of faith and belief, as well as membership, recording of ministers, quarterly meeting organization, and internal administration
  4. That the yearly meeting continue to be a channel for mission work, youth programming, ministers’ retirement and other matters of common interest

In essence, the yearly meeting would become an “umbrella organization” or a “big tent” which will let us work together in places where we can agree, and which will let us work separately in areas where we can’t agree at present.

Neither of the two new groups would be responsible for the beliefs of the other or have disciplinary power over the other.

In many ways, North Carolina Yearly Meeting would become more like Friends United Meeting, which is a very diverse body of yearly meetings from around the world, which comes together to support Christian work in the name of Friends.

This new proposal was approved and will go back to the monthly meetings for discussion. It’s too early to tell whether this will allow us to keep together in a new way, or whether hardline Friends will insist on a complete separation.

I think that the new plan could work – but only if Friends are willing to make it work. It would allow each group to have its own space, and it would help us to maintain a measure of unity and allow us to support Christian work which we all value and enjoy. For many reasons, it may be better for Friends to re-organize than to divide.

Things to think about in North Carolina

As Friends in North Carolina move towards a formal separation, I hope that they will do more than heave a sigh of relief that maybe the fighting can be over. Friends also need to look carefully at the many legal and practical issues which separation involves.

Problems which Friends need to face up to include:

  1. Who owns the property? Many meetings have “reversion clauses” in their deeds, so that if their local meeting is ever laid down, the property goes to the yearly meeting. At a minimum, local meetings need to look at their property deeds, trust funds and other assets to make sure that their assets will go where they want them to go. When Indiana Yearly Meeting broke up, the yearly meeting paid to have the deeds of all of the departing meetings examined by an attorney, and provided “quit claim deeds” so that the yearly meeting would have no ownership or reversion of the departing meetings.
  2. Work out a fair formula to deal with assets. This can be handled well or badly – dividing the various trust funds and endowments is a complicated legal task. The intent of the donors needs to be respected, and both sides should receive a fair share.
  3. Deal with debts. Arrangements need to be made with meetings which have borrowed money from the yearly meeting for repairs and improvements. Other debts must be repaid, written off or assigned. This isn’t something which can be done quickly or easily.
  4. Agree to share resources. Both groups will probably want to continue to use Quaker Lake camp, and neither side probably has the ability to support the camping program on its own. Historians and genealogists from both groups will want to share access to historical records and minutes.
  5. Consider a new name for both groups. This can become a major bone of contention, as both groups claim to be the “real” North Carolina Yearly Meeting. It would be much healthier in the long run to lay down the old name – to retire the number on the T-shirt – and have each group start out with a fresh name.
  6. Membership matters – will individual Friends be able to move freely back and forth between the two groups? In the rest of the Quaker world, membership transfers take place almost automatically, with little or no friction. North Carolina Friends should be careful of setting up new and divisive standards for membership transfer between meetings.
  7. Recorded ministers – in the same way, most yearly meetings allow recorded ministers to transfer fairly easily, though most yearly meetings require that ministers agree to support the Faith and Practice of the meeting they’re moving into. A good deal of the hostility and bitterness among Friends in the U.S. today has risen from problems with pastors and recorded ministers. Careful thinking ahead of time can help shape our future around this issue.
  8. Retired ministers – North Carolina Friends have put a great deal of effort and resources into providing for their retired ministers. If the yearly meeting splits, arrangements need to be made so that ministers and yearly meeting staff who have devoted their lives to serving Friends will not suffer. Current pastors need to have their years of service count towards any future participation in retirement funds.
  9. Faith and Practice – Over the next few years, many adjustments will need to be made, but both sides will probably want to continue to use North Carolina’s current Faith and Practice, and both sides should be allowed to do so.
  10. Don’t try to make other Quakers take sides. So far, local groups from the United Society of Friends Women International (USFWI) are continuing to meet and work together regardless of the yearly meeting split (maybe they know something the rest of us don’t!). Quaker Men may well do the same. When Indiana Friends divided, Friends United Meeting moved quickly to recognize both groups and welcomes representatives from both groups to the Board. Other Friends may be sympathetic to our situation, but don’t expect them to choose one side or the other. Missionaries who we’ve supported for many years are especially at risk — they depend on us for their support! Don’t involve them in our unhappiness.

Whether we like it or not, separating is complicated. It can be done well or badly — a fair-minded division of assets and careful attention to detail will go far to helping the future of all Friends in our area. As we saw when Friends divided in 1828, a hostile separation will sow seeds of bitterness which can last for a hundred years.

Counting the cost

My last two posts have been about the conflict among Friends in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. At the last Representative Body meeting on June 4th, they approved the recommendation of the Executive Committee that the yearly meeting move towards a formal separation.

One of the things Jesus said was to count the cost before starting anything big (Luke 14:28). Here are just a few of the costs – some are financial, some involve relationships, some are spiritual, and all of them are important.

Things which will suffer immediately in a separation:

  • Support for missions will decrease – missions are one of the main reasons Friends gather in larger bodies, and mission support is one of the biggest casualties in any breakup
  • Youth ministry – the loss here will be both financial and in the numbers of Young Friends who are able to get together for camping, youth programs, trips and events
  • Education – yearly meeting support for Quaker colleges has been flatlined or declining for years, and the breakup will only make this situation worse
  • Yearly meeting staffing – every yearly meeting which breaks up winds up cutting staff dramatically. (In other posts, I’ve estimated that it takes roughly 2,500 to 3,000 local meeting members to support 1 yearly meeting staff person.)
  • Division of funds – hopefully there will be a fair division of the assets of the yearly meeting, which both sides can agree to. In many church break-ups, arguments over money have gone on for years, and the bitterness has lasted for generations.
  • “Lost” monthly meetings – during the controversy, some meetings choose to become community churches or become independent Friends meetings
  • Reputation of Friends – Quakers in North Carolina will no longer speak with one voice. This hurts us here in our own communities and in other parts of the Quaker world.

Other costs will show up more over the long term – say, in the next 5-10 years:

  • Long-term giving – until all of the legal issues and trusteeship of the yearly meeting funds are settled, very few people will want to make major bequests or large capital gifts.
  • Visitation between meetings – this has already declined, as people haven’t been certain about whether they’re welcome or not.
  • Leadership – one of the biggest casualties of this kind of breakup is when ministers and pastors are no longer accepted by each others’ groups. Retirement, insurance and education programs for ministers will also be a major casualty – which means that fewer people will be willing to commit to long-term involvement as pastors and ministers. As a result of this conflict, we may find it very difficult to attract talented Friends even to apply for leadership positions in our yearly meeting.
  • Burned out individuals – many of our best people, who have tried to mediate the conflict or who have stood faithfully, are simply worn out. We may lose dozens of our best clerks, ministers, committee members and staff people who have given years of their lives trying to build up and preserve North Carolina Yearly Meeting.
  • Young adult Friends – Quaker organizations across the country have been having problems for more than 30 years trying to get Boomers, Millennials and X-ers involved. North Carolina Friends have done better than most in this area, but it’s going to be much harder now. Where will our next generation of leaders, teachers, ministers and worshipers come from?

It may be a genuine relief for yearly meeting sessions not be dominated by quarreling, and I certainly hope that we will recover some of our joy again. Friends will continue, somehow. But we won’t be as strong, not for a long while.

It may be too late for North Carolina Friends to turn back – but I hope we count the cost!

Update on North Carolina Yearly Meeting

Quakers in North Carolina have been pressured for years to take sides and separate from each other. The issues have shifted from time to time and haven’t always been stated openly. Sometimes it’s been over music and worship, sometimes it’s been about accepting gay and lesbian people as members.

A lot of the time the stated issues – particular points in Faith and Practice, arguments over nominations or hiring staff, whether to allow membership in more than one group – seem to have been a cover or proxy to the real disagreement.

For many years the majority of Friends in North Carolina were determined not to separate, but more recently the arguments have become louder and (according to many witnesses) more hateful. Attendance at yearly meeting sessions has dropped as many Friends just decided to stay home.

More pressure on the yearly meeting came during this last year, as first 3, then more, and now a total of 17 monthly meetings have withdrawn from the yearly meeting.

Last weekend, the Executive Committee acknowledged to the representative body “the differences among Friends in North Carolina Yearly Meeting that are continuous and unabating regarding the use of Scripture and the freedom available to interpret Scripture through leadings of the Holy Sprit; the autonomy of individuals and individual meetings within the broader authority of the Yearly Meeting; and whether the Yearly Meeting has or should have authority to discipline meetings for what are determined to be departures from Faith and Practice.”

The Executive Committee recommended that “the member meetings of North Carolina Yearly Meeting patiently commit to an orderly, deliberate, compassionate and mutually respectful plan of separation into two yearly meetings, and in that plan of separation, allow each meeting, if it chooses, to join either of the two new yearly meetings, however organized.”

This recommendation was discussed for more than 4 hours at Representative Body on June 4th, and was approved. There are no specifics for how the separation will take place, but the Executive Committee’s report says that Friends must “consider matters of (1) faith (2) organization (3) property and (4) law.”

I’ve observed similar divisions taking place in Western and Indiana Yearly Meetings, and they have been painful. In my next post, I’ll reflect on things which North Carolina Friends may want to think about – lessons I’ve learned from the way this has gone elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I hope that folks will be careful not to feed the rumor mill, make unfounded accusations, or do anything to make things worse. If separation does take place, I hope it will be done cleanly, fairly, and at the minimum level necessary, so that friendships built over many generations will not be broken.


Disclaimer

All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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