Just got Carole Dale Spencer’s Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism in the mail. There’s been some blogger buzz around it and I’m glad to check it out for myself. I can tell right off the bat that I’m probably not going to be convinced by her arguments. Flipping through the index (the place to start any book like this) I see she makes three scant references to tradition-minded “Conservative” Friends. That’s not a good sign, but she’s far from the first modern historian to quarantine this branch to the footnotes.
I’ll cut her some slack because she’s traveling an interesting route. She’s spending a lot of time talking about the Methodist and Holiness influences in Friends – John Wesley himself directly is indexed eighteen times. If you look at the people who defined modern 20th Century liberal Quakerism, folks like Rufus Jones (28 index references), you find that these influences were very strong. They still are, even if they go unacknowledged. And many of the issues Spencer is tracing are still with us and continue to be relevant even as some of us are talking up the possibilities of a new renewal/revival movement.
On September 15, 2007, FUM dedicated the space once used as the Quaker Hill Bookstore as the new FUM Welcome Center. The Welcome Center contains Quaker books and resources for F/friends to stop by and make use of during business hours. Tables and chairs to comfortably accommodate 50 people make this a great space to rent for reunions, church groups, meetings, anniversary/birthday parties, etc. Reduced prices are available for churches.
Most Quaker publishers and booksellers have closed or been greatly reduced over the last ten years. Great changes have occurred in the Philadelphia-area Pendle Hill bookstore and publishing operation, the AFSC Bookstore in Southern California, Barclay Press in Oregon. The veritable Friends Bookshop in London farmed out its mail order business a few years ago and has seen part of its space taken over by a coffeebar: popular and cool I’m sure, but does London really needs another place to buy coffee? Rumor has it that Britain’s publications committee has been laid down. The official spin is usually that the work continues in a different form but only Barclay Press has been reborn as something really cool. One of the few remaining booksellers is my old pals at FGC’s QuakerBooks: still selling good books but I’m worried that so much of Quaker publishing is now in one basket and I’d be more confident if their website showed more signs of activity.
The boards making these decisions to scale back or close are probably unaware that they’re part
of a larger trend. They probably think they’re responding to unique situations (the peer group Quakers Uniting in Publications sends internal emails around but hasn’t done much to publicize this story outside of its membership). It’s sad to see that so many Quaker decision-making bodies have independently decided that publishing is not an essential part of their mission.
Geeky readers out there might want to know that Google Books is now making many of its out-of-print collection available as downloadable and printable PDFs. They list 42,500 entries under “Society of Friends”:http://books.google.com/books?q=%22society+of+friends%22&btnG=Search+Books&as_brr=1 I’m unsure whether this is books with that phrase or pages inside books with that phrase, but either way that’s a lot of reading. A quick breeze turns up some good titles. Thanks to “Tech Crunch”:http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/08/30/google-allows-downloads-of-out-of-copyright-books/ for the Google news. Older online book projects worth a mention: “Project Gutenberg”:http://www.gutenberg.org the “Christian Classics Etherial Library”:http://www.ccel.org/ and the Earlham School of Religion’s useful but clunky “Digital Quaker Collection”:http://esr.earlham.edu/dqc/.