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.

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

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

Another Quaker bookstore bites the dust

Not real­ly news, but Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing recent­ly ded­i­cat­ed their new Wel­come Cen­ter in what was once the FUM bookstore:

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.

Quaker books and self-defeating bargain hunting

Got an email in the book­store today from a poten­tial cus­tomer who chose Ama­zon over my employ­er Quaker­books, a niche inde­pen­dent book­store, because of their cheap cheap prices. I got a bit inspired by my reply, includ­ed here.

Sub­ject: book prices

I real­ly want­ed to buy the below book [Why Grace is True], but I checked ama­zon. com. Their prices: new is $16.07, or used from $5.94. Your price is $22.95.

I know how hard it is to be com­pet­i­tive, but I want­ed to let you know that peo­ple do com­par­i­son shop.

Bless­ings, C. 

Dear Friend,

Yes, Ama­zon, Wal­mart and the rest of the glob­al media/distribution jug­ger­naut will always be able to under­price us on the main­stream books.

What we offer is a much wider selec­tion of Quak­er books than any­one else. We don’t just have the more watered-down books aimed at the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion (most­ly with the unsaid premise “what you can learn from those folksy Quak­ers”), but a whole list of books about Quak­er reli­gious edu­ca­tion, Quak­er vision, Quak­er belief, Quak­er his­to­ry and what it means to be a Quak­er today. We don’t just have the Harper­Collins titles, but those from Quak­er pub­lish­ers that Amazon’s nev­er heard of. We eas­i­ly beat Ama­zon in selec­tion and we cer­tain­ly match them in speed and cus­tomer service.

We give a more ground­ed con­text to what these books mean to Friends – the reviews on our site’s If Grace is True are writ­ten by Friends for Friends. We try to know our books. When peo­ple call us up we’ll help with their selec­tion. When they’re try­ing to decide, we’ll read the table of con­tents to them. Quak­er pub­lish­ers and book­sellers talk about the “min­istry of the writ­ten word,” which means remem­ber­ing that there’s a pur­pose behind this book­selling. These books aren’t com­modi­ties, they aren’t units, they’re not ISBN num­bers to be packed and shipped. We’d rather not sell a book than sell a book some­one wouldn’t val­ue (which is why we’ll include neg­a­tive book descrip­tions & comments).

Pay­ing a few extra dol­lars to sup­port us means your also sup­port­ing the out­reach and Quak­er self-identity our cat­a­log pro­vides for many Friends. Plus you can be assured our employ­ees get liv­ing wages and health care (for which I’m per­son­al­ly thankful).

So yes, cus­tomers can save a few bucks at Ama­zon. Always will be able to. But your pur­chas­ing deci­sions are also deci­sions about who you sup­port and what you val­ue. There’s a price to dis­tinc­tive­ness, whether it’s cul­tur­al, reli­gious, region­al, or culi­nary. By buy­ing from Ama­zon you’re financ­ing a Wall Street-run com­mod­i­ty sell­er that doesn’t give a jot about Quak­erism or even whether grace might be true. If enough Friends choose price over con­tent, then Quak­er book­stores and pub­lish­ers will dis­ap­pear, our only rep­re­sen­ta­tion being main­stream books sold at gener­ic shops. That will cost us a lot more than sev­en bucks.

Well, I hope you enjoy the book. I’m sure Ama­zon appre­ci­ates your patronage.

In friend­ship,
Mar­tin Kelley