Tag Archives: conservative

Visit to Vineland Mennonite Church

Yes­ter­day the fam­ily vis­ited Vineland NJ Men­non­ite Church.

We were com­ing after 8:30 Mass at Julie’s church and arrived a few min­utes before the wor­ship ser­vice while they were doing their reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­gram. But the dis­tinc­tion between reli­gious ed and wor­ship was min­i­mal, almost non-existent. Atten­dance at both was near-universal (about 110 total) and much of the wor­ship itself was reli­gious edu­ca­tion. There was a series of 15 minute’ish ser­mons (deliv­ered by var­i­ous men), bro­ken up by some four-part a capella singing (beau­ti­ful), recita­tions from a Bible verse they were mem­o­riz­ing and kneel­ing prayer (a sur­prise the first time, as they all spin around sud­denly to face the back, kneel and pray).

It’s prob­a­bly one of the most reli­giously con­sci­en­tious com­mu­ni­ties I’ve seen. A lot of the ser­vice involved review­ing belief struc­ture. Their book of dis­ci­pline is very slim, not much more than a tract, but it’s some­thing they use and they spent part of the time read­ing from it. Much of the wor­ship hour was meant to rein­force who they were, why they were and how they were–to explain over and over why they led their dis­tinc­tive life. Theirs is a vol­un­tary asso­ci­a­tion for those who agree to fol­low the author­ity of the group’s teach­ings. I sus­pect that every adult in the room could give a detailed pre­sen­ta­tion on con­ser­v­a­tive Men­non­ite faith and give detailed answers about points of doc­trine. At the risk of insert­ing my own opin­ion I will ven­ture that the wor­ship ser­vice felt a bit dry (as Julie said, there wasn’t a ounce of mys­ti­cism in the whole pro­ceed­ing) but I don’t think the mem­bers there would feel offended by this obser­va­tion. Excit­ing the senses is less impor­tant than review­ing the val­ues and liv­ing the moral life.

Visu­ally, the group is strik­ing. Every man in the room wore a long-sleeved white dress shirt but­toned all the way up, dark pants and black shoes; all had short hair and only one or two had facial hair. I was more dis­tinc­tively plain in my broad­falls and sus­penders but the effect of sixty-or-so men and young boys all dressed alike was visu­ally stun­ning. Like a lot of plain peo­ples, the women were more obvi­ously plain and all but one or two wore lightly-colored cape dresses and head cov­er­ings (I later learned that the excep­tions were new­com­ers who weren’t yet mem­bers). Seated was seg­re­gated, women on the left, men on the right. Gen­der roles are very clear. There were kids–lots of kids–all around, and a big focus of the ser­mons was fam­ily liv­ing. One extended ser­mon focused on dis­cern­ing between pro­vid­ing well for one’s fam­ily vs. greed and the bal­ance between work­ing hard for your fam­ily vs. giv­ing up some things so you can spend time with them. Kids were present through­out the ser­vice and were rel­a­tively well behaved.

The church itself was called a meet­ing­house and was plain–no crosses of course. Peo­ple sat in pews and there was a raised area up front for min­is­ters and elders. The build­ing dou­bled as a school­house dur­ing the week and its school­rooms had a lot of Rod and Staff books, famil­iar from our own home school­ing. A mem­ber described the school as one leg of the three-legged stool, along with church and fam­ily. If any one part of the equa­tion was lack­ing in some way, the other two could help insure the child’s moral wel­fare. School was free for church mem­bers but was open on a tuition basis to non-Mennonites. These out­siders were required to make cer­tain lifestyle choices that would insure the school stayed rel­a­tively pure; the most impor­tant require­ment was that the fam­ily not have a tele­vi­sion at home.

My reg­u­lar read­ers will have one ques­tion on their mind right about now: did any­one invite us to lunch? Why yes they did! We didn’t even have to prompt it. We knew a cou­ple there–M and J, who run a restau­rant in the local farmer’s mar­ket, a favorite Sat­ur­day morn­ing stop for us. They took us under their wing when they rec­og­nized us, sit­ting with us dur­ing wor­ship and then show­ing us the school. J said that if we came back again we could come over for lunch. Then she back­tracked and offered that we could come now, explain­ing that the church had had recent dis­cus­sions over whether it was too pushy to ask first-time atten­ders to lunch or whether they should restrain them­selves and invite them on the sec­ond visit. Wow, a church that thinks about this?!

So we fol­lowed them to their place for lunch. It was a won­der­ful oppor­tu­nity to ask more ques­tions and get to know one another. Meals are impor­tant. Julie and I had won­dered why there were Men­non­ites in Vineland NJ of all places–and two Men­non­ite churches at that! Short story is that there had been a civil­ian pub­lic ser­vice facil­ity in Vineland for con­sci­en­tious objec­tors and Lancaster-area Men­non­ites decided that “the boys” sta­tioned there needed the ground­ing of a local church com­mu­nity (appar­ently other C.O. camps were scenes of debauchery–Mennonite drag rac­ing in Col­orado Springs was cited). This became Norma Men­non­ite Church, which still exists and is another local church I’ve been mean­ing to visit for years (hi Mandy!). In the 1960s, there was a great round of lib­er­al­iza­tion among Men­non­ites, an unof­fi­cial aban­don­ment of the dis­tinc­tives cod­i­fied in their books of dis­ci­plines. Many churches split and the Vineland Church was formed by those mem­bers of Norma who wanted to main­tain the discipline.

This prob­a­bly explains the strong focus on the rules of the dis­ci­pline. For those want­ing more of the his­to­ries, I com­mend Stephen Scott’s excel­lent “An Intro­duc­tion to Old Order and Con­ser­v­a­tive Men­non­ite Groups” along with any­thing else Stephen Scott has writ­ten. The Vineland con­gre­ga­tion is part of the East­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Men­non­ite Church con­fer­ence, pro­filed on pages 173–176. A lot of the Men­non­ite issues and splits are echoed among Friends and we’d do well to under­stand these cousins of ours.

The result is a church that’s big on group prac­tice: the dress, the lifestyle. M. told me that they don’t believe in the­ol­ogy but in Bib­li­cism. He explained that they don’t think the Bible con­tains the word of God but instead that it is the Word of God and he paused to let the dis­tinc­tion sink in. The Bible is not to be inter­preted but read and fol­lowed, with spe­cial atten­tion given the gospels and the let­ters of Paul.

So no, I’m not going to go Con­ser­v­a­tive Men­non­ite on you all. I have a TV. My pro­fes­sion is web design (they’re not into the inter­net, natch). I’m mar­ried to a pracitic­ing Catholic (I don’t know how they would bend on that) and at this point my brain is wired in a curi­ous, out­ward way that wouldn’t fit into the nor­ma­tive struc­tures of a group like this. Doctrinally-speaking, I’m a Friend in that I think the Word of God is the Inward Christ’s direct spirit and that the Bible needs to be read in that Light. There’s a lot of peo­ple who wouldn’t fit for var­i­ous rea­sons, peo­ple who I would want in my church (they main­tain a hard line against remar­riage after divorce and I didn’t even ask about gay issues). But I have to admit that the process and struc­ture puts together a really great com­mu­nity of peo­ple. They’re hard-working, kind, char­i­ta­ble and not nearly as judg­men­tal as you might imagine–in prac­tice, less judg­men­tal than a lot of pro­gres­sive reli­gious peo­ple I know. Non-resistance is one of the pil­lars of their prac­tice and they were gen­uinely inter­ested in Julie’s Catholic church and my expe­ri­ences among Friends and we talked a fair bit about Islam.

Nor­mally I’d give a big thanks to the church and M & J here, except I know they won’t read this. I am grate­ful to their kind­ness in shar­ing their church, beliefs and fam­ily meal with us.

Communities vs Religious Societies

Over on Tape Flags and First Thoughts, Su Penn has a great post called “Still Think­ing About My Quaker Meet­ing & Me.” She writes about a process of self-identity that her meet­ing recently went through it and the dif­fi­cul­ties she had with the process.

communitysocietyI won­dered whether this dif­fi­culty has become one of our modern-day stages of devel­op­ing in the min­istry. Both Samuel Bow­nas (read/buy) and Howard Brin­ton (buy) iden­ti­fied typ­i­cal stages that Friends grow­ing in the min­istry typ­i­cally go through. Not every­one expe­ri­ences Su’s rift between their meeting’s iden­tity and a desire for a God-grounded meet­ing com­mu­nity, but enough of us have that I don’t think it’s the foibles of par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­u­als or monthly meet­ings. Let me tease out one piece: that of indi­vid­ual and group iden­ti­ties. Much of the dis­cus­sion in the com­ments of Su’s post have swirled around rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent con­cep­tions of this.

Many mod­ern Friends have become pretty strict indi­vid­u­al­ists. We spend a lot of time talk­ing about “com­mu­nity” but we aren’t prac­tic­ing it in the way that Friends have under­stood it–as a “reli­gious soci­ety.” The indi­vid­u­al­ism of our age sees it as rude to state a vision of Friends that leaves out any of our members–even the most het­ero­dox. We are only as united as our most far-flung believer (and every decade the sweep gets larger). The myth of our age is that all reli­gious expe­ri­ences are equal, both within and out­side of par­tic­u­lar reli­gious soci­eties, and that it’s intol­er­ant to think of dif­fer­ences as any­thing more than language.

This is why I cast Su’s issues as being those of a min­is­ter. There has always been the need for some­one to call us back to the faith. Con­trary to modern-day pop­u­lar opin­ion, this can be done with great love. It is in fact great love (Quaker Jane) to share the good news of the directly-accessible lov­ing Christ, who loves us so much He wants to show us the way to right­eous liv­ing. This Quaker idea of right­eous­ness has noth­ing to do with who you sleep with, the gas mileage of your car or even the “cor­rect­ness” of your the­ol­ogy. Jesus boiled faith­ful­ness down into two com­mands: love God with all your might (how­ever much that might be) and love your neigh­bor as yourself.

A “reli­gious soci­ety” is not just a “com­mu­nity.” As a reli­gious soci­ety we are called to have a vision that is stronger and bolder than the lan­guage or under­stand­ing of indi­vid­ual mem­bers. We are not a per­fect com­mu­nity, but we can be made more per­fect if we return to God to the full­ness we’ve been given. That is why we’ve come together into a reli­gious society.

What makes us Friends?” Just fol­low­ing the mod­ern tes­ti­monies doesn’t put us very squarely in the Friends tradition–SPICE is just a recipe for respect­ful liv­ing. “What makes us Friends?” Just set­ting the stop­watch to an hour and sit­ting qui­etly doesn’t do it–a wor­ship style is a con­tainer at best and false idol at worst. “How do we love God?” “How do we love our neigh­bor?” “What makes us Friends?” These are the ques­tions of min­istry. These are the build­ing blocks of outreach.

I’ve seen nascent min­is­ters (“infant min­is­ters” in the phras­ing of Samual Bow­nas) start ask­ing these ques­tions, flare up on inspired blog posts and then tail­dive as they meet up with the cold-water real­ity of a local meet­ing that is unsup­port­ive or inat­ten­tive. Many of them have left our reli­gious soci­ety. How do we sup­port them? How do we keep them? Our answers will deter­mine whether our meet­ing are reli­gious soci­eties or communities.

QuakerQuakers in the World

I was able to make up this list that dis­plays Quak​erQuaker​.org mem­ber­ship pro­files and upcom­ing gath­er­ings in a geography-focused way.

Coun­tries

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=AU”>Australia
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=BE”>Belgium
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=CA”>Canada
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=FR”>France
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=DE”>Germany
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=GR”>Greece
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=IE”>Ireland
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=KE”>Kenya
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=MX”>Mexico
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=NL”>Netherlands
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=NZ”>New
Zealand

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=GB”>United
Kingdom

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?country=US”>United
States

Select Cities

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=london”>London
“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​p​h​i​l​a​d​e​l​p​hia”>
Philadelphia

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​n​e​w​&​a​m​p​;​2​0​y​ork”>
New York

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​r​i​c​h​m​ond”>
Richmond

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​g​r​e​e​n​s​b​oro”>
Greensboro

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​p​o​r​t​l​and”>
Portland

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​s​e​a​t​tle”>
Seattle

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​b​i​r​m​i​n​g​ham”>
Birmingham

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​b​o​s​ton”>
Boston

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​m​i​n​n​e​a​p​o​lis”>
Minneapolis

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​s​a​n​+​f​r​a​n​c​i​sco”>
San Francisco

U.S. Regions

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ct+OR+ri+OR+ma+OR+nh+OR+vt+OR+me”>New
England

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​n​y​+​O​R​+​n​j​+​O​R​+​d​e​+​O​R​+​p​a​+​O​R​+​m​d​+​O​R​+​v​a​+​O​R​+dc”>
Mid-Atlantic

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​n​c​+​O​R​+​s​c​+​O​R​+​g​a​+​O​R​+​f​l​+​O​R​+​a​l​+​O​R​+​m​s​+​O​R​+​k​y​+​O​R​+​t​n​+​O​R​+​w​v​+​O​R​+​a​r​+​O​R​+tx”>
South­east US

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​t​x​+​O​R​+​o​k​+​O​R​+​n​e​+​O​R​+​i​a​+​O​R​+co”>
Great Plains

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​c​a​+​O​R​+​n​v​+​O​R​+​a​z​+​O​R​+​n​m​+​O​R​+ut”>
Southwest

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​o​h​+​O​R​+​i​n​+​O​R​+​m​i​+​O​R​+​i​l​+​O​R​+​m​n​+​O​R​+​w​i​+​O​R​+​n​d​+​O​R​+sd”>
Midwest

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​?​l​o​c​a​t​i​o​n​=​o​r​+​O​R​+​w​a​+​O​R​+id”>
North Pacific

U.S. States

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=al”>Alabama
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ak”>Alaska
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=az”>Arizona
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ar”>Arkansas
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ca”>California
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=co”>Colorado
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ct”>Connecticut
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=de”>Delaware
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=dc”>District
of Columbia

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=fl”>Florida
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ga”>Georgia
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=hi”>Hawaii
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=id”>Idaho
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=il”>Illinois
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=in”>Indiana
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ia”>Iowa
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ks”>Kansas
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ky”>Kentucky
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=la”>Louisiana
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=me”>Maine
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=md”>Maryland
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ma”>Massachusetts
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=mi”>Michigan
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=mn”>Minnesota
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ms”>Mississippi
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=mo”>Missouri
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=mt”>Montana
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ne”>Nebraska
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=nv”>Nevada
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=nh”>New
Hampshire

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=nj”>New
Jersey

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=nm”>New
Mexico

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ny”>New
York

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=nc”>North
Carolina

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=nd”>North
Dakota

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=oh”>Ohio
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ok”>Oklahoma
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=or”>Oregon
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=pa”>Pennsylvania
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=pr”>Puerto
Rico

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ri”>Rhode
Island

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=sc”>South
Carolina

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=sd”>South
Dakota

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=tn”>Tennessee
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=tx”>Texas
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=ut”>Utah
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=vt”>Vermont
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=va”>Virginia
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=wa”>Washington
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=wv”>West
Virginia

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=wi”>Wisconsin
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/members/search?location=wy”>Wyoming

Gath­er­ings by Theme

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/events/event/listFeatured”>Convergent
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/events/event/listByType?type=yearly”>Yearly
Meetings

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​e​v​e​n​t​s​/​e​v​e​n​t​/​l​i​s​t​B​y​T​y​p​e​?​t​y​p​e​=​g​a​t​h​e​r​ing”>
Gatherings

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/events/event/listByType?type=retreat”>Retreats
“http://www.quakerquaker.org/events/event/listByType?type=online”>Online
“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​e​v​e​n​t​s​/​e​v​e​n​t​/​l​i​s​t​B​y​T​y​p​e​?​t​y​p​e​=​y​o​u​n​g​+​a​d​ult”>
Young Adult

Gath­er­ings by Location

“http://www.quakerquaker.org/events/event/listByType?type=new+england”>New
England

”%20http://www.quakerquaker.org/events/event/listByType?type=united+kingdom”>
United Kingdom

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​e​v​e​n​t​s​/​e​v​e​n​t​/​l​i​s​t​B​y​T​y​p​e​?​t​y​p​e​=​m​i​d​+​a​t​l​a​n​tic%”>
Mid Atlantic

“http://​www​.quak​erquaker​.org/​e​v​e​n​t​s​/​e​v​e​n​t​/​l​i​s​t​B​y​T​y​p​e​?​t​y​p​e​=​b​a​l​t​i​m​ore”>
Baltimore

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Philadelphia

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Great Plains

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Northwest

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Sustaining the purpose for which we were peculiarly raised up

Marlborough meetinghouseJust fin­ished: Ken­neth S.P. Morse’s “A His­tory of Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends” from 1962. Like most his­to­ries of Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends, it’s both heart­en­ing and depress­ing. It’s great to read the quotes, which often put the dilemma very clearly, like this one from Iowa Friends in 1877:

In con­sid­er­a­tion of many and var­i­ous depar­tures in Doc­trine, Prin­ci­ple and Prac­tice, brought into our beloved Soci­ety of late years by mod­ern inno­va­tors, who have so rev­o­lu­tion­ized our ancient order in the Church, as to run into views and prac­tices out of which our early Friends were lead, and into a broader, and more self-pleasing, and cross-shunning way than that marked out by our Sav­ior, and held to by our ancient Friends.… And who have so approx­i­mated to the unre­gen­er­ate world that we feel it incum­bent upon us to bear testimony…and sus­tain the Church for the pur­pose for which is was pecu­liarly raised up.

I love this stuff. You’ve got the­ol­ogy, polity, cul­ture and an argu­ment for the eter­nal truths of the “pecu­liarly raised” Quaker church. But even in 1962 this is a story of decline, of gen­er­a­tions of min­is­ters pass­ing with no one to take their place and monthly and yearly meet­ings wink­ing out with dis­arm­ing reg­u­lar­ity as the con­cept of Friends gets stretched from all sides. “It is cer­tainly true that most of those who call them­selves Friends at the present time are only par­tial Friends in that they seem not to have felt called to uphold var­i­ous branches of the Quaker doctrine.”

Putting the book down the most remark­able fact is that there are any Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends around still around almost fifty years later.

The task of shar­ing and uphold­ing the Quaker doc­trine is still almost impos­si­bly hard. The mul­ti­plic­ity of mean­ings in the words we use become stum­bling blocks in them­selves. Friends from other tra­di­tions are often the worst, often being blind to their own inno­va­tions, oftener still just not car­ing that they don’t share much in com­mon with early Friends.

Then there’s the dis­unity among present-day Con­ser­v­a­tives. Geog­ra­phy plays a part but it seems part of the cul­ture. The his­tory is a maze of tra­di­tion­al­ist splin­ter groups with carefully-selected lists of who they do and do not cor­re­spond with. Today the three Con­ser­v­a­tive Yearly Meet­ings seem to know each another more through carefully-parsed read­ing of his­to­ries than actual vis­i­ta­tion (there is some, not enough). There’s also the human messi­ness of it all: some of the flaki­est lib­eral Quak­ers I’ve known have been part of Con­ser­v­a­tive Yearly Meet­ings and the inter­net is full of those who share Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends val­ues but have no yearly meet­ing to join.

No answers today from me. Maybe we should take solace that despite the tra­vails and the his­tory of defeat, there still remains a spark and there are those who still seek to share Friends’ ways. For those want­ing to learn more the more recent “Short His­tory of Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends” (1992) is online and a good introduction.

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