One of the blueprints for Quaker community is the “Epistle from the Elders at Balby” written in 1656 at the very infancy of the Friends movement by a gathering of leaders from Yorkshire and North Midlands, England.
It’s the precursor to Faith and Practice, as it outlines the relationship between individuals and the meeting. If remembered at all today, it’s for its postscript, a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians that warns readers not to treat this as a form to worship and to remain living in the light which is pure and holy. That postscript now starts off most liberal Quaker books of Faith and Practice.
But the Epistle itself is well worth dusting off. It addresses worship, ministry, marriage, and how to deal in meekness and love with those walking “disorderly.” It talks of how to support families and take care of members who were imprisoned or in need. Some of it’s language is a little stilted and there’s some talk of the role of servants that most modern Friend would object to. But overall, it’s a remarkably lucid, practical and relevant document. It’s also short: just over two pages.
One of the things I hear again and again from Friends is the desire for a deeper community of faith. Younger Friends are especially drawn toward the so-called “New Monastic” movement of tight communal living. The Balby Epistle is a glimpse into how an earlier generation of Friends addressed some of these same concerns.
ONLINE EDITIONS OF THE EPISTLE AT BALBY:
Quaker Heritage Press: qhpress.org/texts/balby.html
Street Corner Society: strecorsoc.org/docs/balby.html
Brooklyn Quaker post & discussion (2005): brooklynquaker.blogspot.com/2005/03/elders-at-balby.html