University City, that artificially created place on the west bank of the Schuylkill, has suddenly become Philadelphia’s most vital neighborhood. You can see it in the luxury high-rises, office
It’s one of those quotes we frequently hear: that George Fox said a minister’s job was “to bring people to Christ, and to leave them there.” But when I go to Google, I only find secondhand references, sandwiched in quote marks but never sourced. It turns up most frequently in the works of British Friend William Pollard, who used it as kind of a catch phrase in his talks on “An Old Fashioned Quakerism” from 1889. Suspiciously missing is any search result from the journal or epistles of Fox himself. It’s possible Pollard has paraphrased something from Fox into a speech-friendly shorthand that Google misses, but it’s also possible it’s one of those passed-down Fox myths like Penn’s sword.
So in modern fashion, I posed the question to the Facebook hive mind. After great discussions, I’m going to call this a half-truth. On the Facebook thread, Allistair Lomax shared a Fox epistle that convinces me the founder of Friends would have agreed with the basic concept:
I’m guessing it is paraphrase of a portion of Fox’s from epistle 308, 1674. Fox wrote “You know the manner of my life, the best part of thirty years since I went forth and forsook all things. I sought not myself. I sought you and his glory that sent me. When I turned you to him that is able to save you, I left you to him.”
Mark Wutka shared quotations from Stephen Grellet and William Williams which have convince me that it describes the “two step dance” of convincement for early Friends:
From Stephen Grellet: “I have endeavoured to lead this people to the Lord and to his Spirit, and there is is safe to leave them.” And this from William Williams: “To persuade people to seek the Lord, and to be faithful to his word, the inspoken words of the heart, is what we ought to do; and then leave them to be directed by the inward feelings of the mind;”
The two-step image comes from Angela York Crane’s comment:
So it’s a two step dance. First, that who we are and how we live and speak turns others to the Lord, and second, that we trust enough to leave them there.
But: as a pithy catch phrase directly attributed to Fox it’s another myth. It perhaps borrowed some images from a mid-19th century talk by Charles Spurgeon on George Fox, but came together in the 1870s as a central catch phrase of British reformer Friend William Pollard. Pollard is a fascinating figure in his own right, an early proponent of modern liberalism in a London Yearly Meeting that was then largely evangelical and missionary. Even his pamphlet and book titles were telling, including Primitive Christianity Revived and A Reasonable Faith. He had an agenda and this phrase was a key formulation of his argument and vision.
He is hardly the first or last Friend to have lifted an incidental phrase or concept of George Fox’s and given it the weight of a modern tenet (“That of God” springs to mind). More interesting to me is that Pollard’s work was frequently reprinted and referenced in Friends Intelligencer, the American Hicksite publication (and predecessor of Friends Journal), at a time when London Friends didn’t recognize Hicksites as legitimate Quakers. His vision of an “Old Fashioned Quakerism” reincorporated quietism and sought to bring British Friends back to a two-step convincement practice. It paved the way for the transformation of British Quakerism following the transformational 1895 Manchester Conference and gave American Friends interested in modern liberal philosophical ideals a blueprint for incorporating them into a Quaker framework.
The phrase “bring people to Christ/leave them there” is a compelling image that has lived on in the 130 or so odd years since its coinage. I suspect it is still used much as Pollard intended: as a quietist braking system for top-down missionary programs. It’s a great concept. Only our testimony in truth now requires that we introduce it, “As William Pollard said, a Quaker minister’s job is to…”
And for those wondering, yes, I have just ordered Pollard’s Old Fashioned Quakerism via Vintage Quaker Books. He seems like something of a kindred spirit and I want to learn more.
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.
I 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.
I had an interesting opportunity last Thursday. I skipped work to be talk with two Quakerism classes at Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter School (thanks for the invite Michael and Thomas!). I was asked to talk about Quaker blogs, of all things. Simple, right? Well, on the previous Tuesday I happened upon this passage from Brian Drayton’s new book, On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry:
I think that your work will have the greatest good effect if you wait to find whether and where the springs of love and divine life connect with this opening before you appear in the work. This is even true when you have had an invitation to come and speak on a topic to a workshop or some other forum. It is wise to be suspicious of what is very easy, draws on your practiced strengths and accomplishments, and can be treated as an everyday transaction. (p. 149).
Good advice. Of course the role of ministry is even more complicated in that I wasn’t addressing a Quaker audience: like the majority of Friends schools, few Penn Charter students actually are Quaker. I’m a public school kid, but it from the outside it seems like Friends schools stress the ethos of Quakerism (“here’s Penn Charter’s statement”). Again Drayton helped me think beyond normal ideas of proselytizing and outreach when he talked about “public meetings”:
We are also called, I feel to invite others to share Christ directly, not primarily in order to introduce them to Quakerism and bring them into our meetings, but to encourage them to turn to the light and follow it” (p. 147).
What I shared with the students was some of the ways my interaction with the Spirit and my faith community shapes my life. When we keep it real, this is a profoundly universalist and welcoming message.
I talked about the personal aspect of blogging: in my opinion we’re at our best when we weave our theology with with personal stories and testimonies of specific spiritual experiences. The students reminded me that this is also real world lesson: their greatest excitement and questioning came when we started talking about my father (I used to tell the story of my completely messed-up childhood family life a lot but have been out of the habit lately as it’s receded into the past). The students really wanted to understand not just my story but how it’s shaped my Quakerism and influenced my coming to Friends. They asked some hard questions and I was stuck having to give them hard answers (in that they were non-sentimental). When we share of ourselves, we present a witness that can reach out to others.
Later on, one of the teachers projected my blogroll on a screen and asked me about the people on it. I started telling stories, relating cool blog posts that had stuck out in my mind. Wow: this is a pretty amazing group, with diversity of ages and Quakerism. Reviewing the list really reminded me of the amazing community that’s come together over the last few years.
One interesting little snippet for the Quaker cultural historians out there: Penn Charter was the Gurneyite school back in the day. When I got Michael’s email I was initially surprised they even had classes on Quakerism as it’s often thought of as one of the least Quaker of the Philadelphia-area Quaker schools. But thinking on it, it made perfect sense: the Gurneyites loved education; they brought Sunday School (sorry, First Day School) into Quakerism, along with Bible study and higher education. Of course the school that bears their legacy would teach Quakerism. Interestingly enough, the historical Orthodox school down the road aways recently approached Penn Charter asking about their Quaker classes; in true Wilburite fashion, they’ve never bothered trying to teach Quakerism. The official Philadelphia Quaker story is that branches were all fixed up nice and tidy back in 1955 but scratch the surface just about anywhere and you’ll find Nineteenth Century attitudes still shaping our institutional culture. It’s pretty fascinating really.