Dusting off the Elders of Balby

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/​t​e​x​t​s​/​b​a​l​b​y​.​h​tml
Street Cor­ner Soci­ety: strecor​soc​.org/​d​o​c​s​/​b​a​l​b​y​.​h​tml
Wik­isource: en​.wik​isource​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​e​_​E​p​i​s​t​l​e​_​f​r​o​m​_​t​h​e​_​E​l​d​e​r​s​_​a​t​_​B​a​l​b​y​,​_​1​656

DISCUSSIONS:
Brook­lyn Quak­er post & dis­cus­sion (2005): brook​lyn​quak​er​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​0​5​/​0​3​/​e​l​d​e​r​s​-​a​t​-​b​a​l​b​y​.​h​tml