This is probably the third or fourth time we’ve been to Oatland Island. I think we have versions of these shots from every trip.
When I became an editor at Friends Journal in 2011, I inherited an institution with some rather strong opinions. Some of them are sourced from the predictable wellsprings: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s foundational mid-century style guide and the editorial offices of the Chicago Manual of Style. But some is all our own, logically tested for consistency with Chicago but adapted to Quaker idiosyncrasies.
One of our most invariable (and contested) formats comes from the way we list congregations. Quick aside for non-Quakers: you will often see a Quaker meeting listed as Town Monthly Meeting, Town Friends Meeting, Town Quaker Meeting, etc. People often have strong opinions about the correct ways to write them out. Occasionally an author will insist to me that their meeting has an official name that use consistently across their publications, business minutes, Facebook pages etc., but after a few minutes with Google I can usually find enough counter-examples to prove inconsistency.
To cut through this, Friends Journal uses “Town (State) Meeting” everywhere and always, with specific exceptions only for cases where that doesn’t work (meeting is named after a street or a tree, etc.). Town/state abbreviation in parentheses/capital-M–meeting. This formatting is unique to Friends Journal—even other Philadelphia-based Quaker style sheets don’t follow it. We’ve been doing it this distinctively and this consistently for as long as I’ve been reading the magazine.
Fortunately we have digital archives going back to the mid-1950s thanks to Haverford College’s Quaker and Special Collections. So a few months ago I dug into our archives and used keyword searches to see how far back the format goes. Traveling the years back it time it’s held remarkably steady as “Town (State) Meeting” until we get back to the fall of 1962. The October 15 issue doesn’t have consistent meeting listings. But it does announce that longtime Friends Journal editor William Hubben was to begin a six-month sabbatical, with Frances Williams Browin to fill in as acting editor.
It didn’t take her long. The next issue sees a few parentheses unevenly applied. But by the November 15th issue, nineteen meetings are referenced using our familiar format! There’s the “member of Berkeley (Calif.) Meeting” who had just published a pamphlet of Christmas songs for children, an FCNL event featuring skits and a covered-dish supper at “Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting” and the announcement of a prominent article by “Kenneth E. Boulding, a member of Ann Arbor (Michigan) Meeting.”
I’ve tried to imagine the scene… Browin situated in her new temporary office… going back and forth, forth and back on some listing… then finally surprising herself by shouting “enough!” so loudly she had to apologize to nearby colleagues. At the end of the six months, Hubben came back, but only as a contributing editor, and Browin was named editor. Friends Journal board member Elizabeth B Wells wrote a profile of her upon her retirement from that position in 1968:
Her remarks usually made sparks, whether she was expressing an opinion (always positive), exerting pressure (not always gentle), or making a humorous aside (often disturbing). For in her amiable way she can be tart, unexpected, even prejudiced (in the right direction), then as suddenly disarmingly warm and sensitive.
This sounds like the kind of person who would standardize a format with such resolve it would be going strong 55 years later:
She was so entirely committed to putting out the best possible magazine, such a perfectionist, even such a driver, that her closest colleagues often felt that we knew the spirited editor far better than the Quaker lady.
It’s a neat profile. And today, every time an author rewrites their meeting’s name on a copyedited manuscript I’ve sent them for review, I say a quiet thanks to the driven perfectionist who gives me permission to be prejudiced in the right direction. Wells’s profile is a fascinating glimpse into a smart woman of a different era and well worth a read.
Over email, the news that Christine Manville Greenland has passed. In recent times I worked with Christine mostly through the Tract Association of Friends but I’ve known her for so long I don’t know when I first met her.
Whenever she said something it was well worth listening to. On online forums from Soc.religion.quaker to Facebook she was always encouraging to what Samuel Bownas had called “infant ministers.” She had the rare ability to slice through thorny Quaker issues with unexpected observation and wisdom. She had a long view of recent Quaker history that put things in context and she would pull metaphors from her training as a botanist to explain mystifying behaviors in our coreligionists.
She also had a wealth of institutional memory. There’s incredible value in this. Friends, like most humans, give a lot of value to the ways we’re doing things right now. It only takes a few years before a process feels timeless and essential. We forget that things once worked differently or that other Friends have a different methods. By being involved with Friends in different areas — Canada and Colorado — Christine brought geographic awareness and by being involved in Philadelphia so long she brought a modern historical awareness. That dysfunctional meeting everyone’s talking about? She’ll remember that everyone was talking about it thirty years ago for another controversy and point out the similarities. That doubt you’ll have about a path? Christine will tell you how others have felt the leading and assure you that it’s genuine.
She did all this with such gentleness and modesty that it’s only now that she’s gone that I’m realizing the debt I owe her. More than anything perhaps, she showed how to live a life as a Friend of integrity through the politics and foibles of our Religious Society.
I used Google to find precious gems of wisdom she left on comment threads. It’s a long trail. She was active on soc.religion.quaker back in the day, commented on most Convergent Friends blogs and was active on Facebook. She took the time to write many enlightening and warm commentary. Here is a random sample.
Yesterday, I clerked a small quarterly meeting working group — I’m co-clerk, since it isn’t my quarter… and the other co-clerk is, which works well. We keep asking the questions and seeing the potentials … but when it comes down to being faithful (a term I use instead of “accountable”) that needs consistent testing. It is important to center in worship, no matter what we are doing.
I had the experience of being chair of a group of biologists, and found that, even then, I conducted business in the same way… one of seeking guidance from other members of the group — even though the group of which we were a small part used Robert’s rules of order. I felt our group was too small to make that approach workable… Occasionally, I forgot I wasn’t among Friends until another member of the group (a United Church graduate of Swarthmore College) reminded me… Church of the Brethren folks just grinned and allowed as how they preferred the approach; we were, after all, both friends and biologists. For most of us, the work had both a scientific and a spiritual basis.
I checked in with Friends at our Quarterly Meeting picnic yesterday; responses were mixed for a variety of reasons, some having to do with resistance to changing the ways in which we are Friends, and other responses that I can only describe as “institutional cheer-leading”.
Some of this has to do with expected tensions as we grapple with matters of both race and class; still other matters have to do with the fact that our structures have changed at least twice in 30 years, as has the outline of our faith and practice. The question I have (of myself and others) is “How do we — individually and corporately — show that we truly love one another as Christ has loved us?” By that, I mean all others.
The most hopeful exchange was speaking with a dear Friend in my former meeting who had gone for the first time in decades, and feels strongly led to encourage her meeting to assist in work going on at both the quarter and yearly meeting level; this will cross boundaries. I was hopeful in part because this Friend exudes consistent love. … and has in the 25 years I’ve known her. Love of God/neighbor are inseparable. She lives that better than I do.
It seems I have much to learn.
Comment on my “What Does it Mean to be a Quaker?” (on an old site)
I cringe when I hear the word “Quakerism” or “the Quaker Way”… I find the two terms interchangeable — both can lack substance. It seems we have finally become the “bureaucratic association of distant acquantances” rather than the Religious Society of Friends. Some years ago, an experienced Friend wrote that Integrity (saying what one means, meaning what one says) was at the heart of Quaker Practice — as a testimony.
If we’re just going for PR, that lacks integrity.
The question — for me — becomes “How can I live as a Friend?”
When I first came to Friends, it was the way of life — not the intellectual construct — that drew me to meeting week after week (a university meeting in what later became Intermountain Yearly Meeting). When I applied for membership, my committee of clearness questioned more whether I could live into a way of life, into the community of that particular meeting. Friends felt that wrestling with the understanding of the faith tradition was a part of my education. Only after I moved to Philadelphia did I begin hearing of the “parsing” of the faith tradition. It seemed too pat.
Still, the overlapping categories are still as useful by way of explanation, but it isn’t the whole story.
As with many matters of faith, for those who possess it, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible. Howard Brinton did his best by way of explanation, but faith-wrestling is a task we all have.
My question about younger Friends serving as traveling ministers is somewhat more serious: Are their meetings attentive to both the spiritual gifts and the needs (cost of travel, etc.)as well as the spiritual need for support. If not, is the Friend with a concern for travel, teaching, or any other ministry) humble enough to ask the questions Jon is asking. In my experience (as an older adult Friend)there is little communication among age groups so that gifts of ministry are fully recognized… Young Friends are often left to their own devices. It may be that lack of spiritual support that is the “last door out.”
For instance, I would not travel without the full consent of my past committee of care, all of whom know me well. They have generously supported me this year (as well as my co-leader).
What concerns me is the energy it takes (spiritual and physical), and that it most often takes an elder to attend to the mundane things — as well as to keep the minister on track.
She was also always one to think of the kids. Here she is commenting on Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby’s “Bringing Children to Worship: Trusting God to Take Over from There”
I recall one parent of a small meeting in Ontario at Canadian Yearly Meeting sessions trying to encourage his daughter to sit quietly during worship… Her very reasonable response was “but Daddy, I can pray standing on my head!” Her ministry caused me to reflect on whether I could indeed pray/worship in all circumstances, and from whatever position I was in at the time. I still reflect on that…
At another meeting, when Friends noticed the power struggles between children and their parents, we asked elder Friends to serve as “adoptive” grandparents, with whom the children could sit… That defused the power struggles, and members of meeting who had no children of their own were very helpful to parents in that meeting.
I also recall learning to sink deeply into worship — and hearing a younger Friend’s grandmother giggle. I looked down and there was the 1 – 2 year old peering up in wonder at why/how I could sit so quietly when he was busy crawling under the benches. it was just fine. He became a part of my prayers that day, and still is a part of them.
And this one has to be the last I’ll share, from a QuakerQuaker discussion started by Richard B Miller and titled “Elders’ Corner”
Like you, I learned about the role of elders from Conservative Friends (in Canada and Ohio). In the context of my own meeting (and quarter), however, there are Friends who can and do serve as guides and sounding boards — offering corrections as may be required. Ideally, elders should arise from the monthly meetings, and then be recognized in larger bodies of Friends, not necessarily being named by a yearly meeting nominating committee.
I was asked to serve as an elder for Yearly Meeting/Interim Meeting… but because I was also on the nominating committee, had a “stop” about whether that was rightly ordered. I consulted some North Carolina Friends, who agreed with the “stop”.
One difficulty that you raised is that many of the conservative Friends who held that tradition are no longer available as guides… One effect is that the role elders once played is diminishing among conservative Friends.
I’m feeling pretty broken up right now. And I’m feeling the weight of this loss. I’ve found myself more and more to be the one giving out advice and giving historical context that newer Friends might not have. It’s the kind of perch that Christine had. I’m only starting to appreciate that she formed a gentle mentoring role for me — and I’m sure for many others.
A few years ago my wife and I lost our remaining parents (her dad, my mom) and we had the unescapable recognition that we were now the oldest generation. I know there are older Friends around still and some have bits of Christine’s wit and wisdom. But one of our human guides have left us.
We love our Francis. Now 11, he can go from sweet and huggy to upset in a matter of moments. Autistic, sensory issues around sound can easily trigger an meltdown. With three siblings, sound is all pervasive in our house. We've read books, tried therapy, had him on anti-anxiety medications... While everything's helped, nothing has helped enough.
It feels like a crucial time for him. He's getting too big for angry outbursts. He needs to learn how to deal with his emotions and calm himself down. A teenager or young adult melting down in public won't get the sympathetic glances—or even tsk-tsk judgements—that passersby display for toddlers. These next few years will largely determine whether he will be able to become a semi-independent adult.
What Francis does love is dogs. Anytime we run into a dog he befriends him within a matter of moments. He shows a patience and calmness with them that is transformative. He's started going on weekly dates with our uncle to walk around the marshes. And so it's time to find Francis a therapy dog. The hope is that a trained dog would help him in times of stress. Those skills should then (fingers crossed) transfer over to dog-less times.
We've put together a fundraising page to help defray the considerable costs. Details at the link.
A few weeks ago, reader James F. used my seldom-visited “Ask me anything!” page to wonder about two types of Friends:
I've read a little and watched various videos about the Friends. My questions are , is there a gulf between "conservative" friends and liberal? As well as what defines the two generally? I'm in Maryland near D.C. Do Quakers who define themselves as essentially Christian worship with those who don't identify as such?
Hi James, what a great question! I think many of us don’t fully appreciate the confusion we sow when we casually use these terms in our online discussions. They can be useful rhetorical shortcuts but sometimes I think we give them more weight than they deserve. I worry that Friends sometimes come off as more divided along these lines than we really are. Over the years I've noticed a certain kind of rigid online seeker who dissects theological discussions with such conviction that they'll refused to even visit their nearest meeting because it's not the right type. That’s so tragic.
What the terms don't mean
The first and most common problem is that people don’t realize we’re using these terms in a specifically Quaker context. “Liberal” and “Conservative” don't refer to political ideologies. One can be a Conservative Friend and vote for liberal or socialist politicians, for example.
Adding to the complications is that these can be imprecise terms. Quaker bodies themselves typically do not identify as either Liberal or Conservative. While local congregations often have their own unique characteristics, culture, and style, nothing goes on the sign out front. Our regional bodies, called yearly meetings, are the highest authority in Quakerism but I can't think of any that doesn't span some diversity of theologies.
Historically (and currently) we've had the situation where a yearly meeting will split into two separate bodies. The causes can be complex; theology is a piece, but demographics and mainstream cultural shifts also play a huge role. In centuries past (and kind of ridiculously, today still), both of the newly reorganized yearly meetings were obsessed with keeping the name as a way to claim their legitimacy. To tell them apart we'd append awkward and incomplete labels, so in the past we had Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Hicksite) and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox).
In the United States, we have two places where yearly meetings compete names and one side's labelled appendage is "Conservative," giving us Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Over time, both of these yearly meetings have diversified to the point where they contain outwardly Liberal monthly meetings. The name Conservative in the yearly meeting title has become partly administrative.
A third yearly meeting is usually also included in the list of Conservative bodies. Present-day Ohio Yearly Meeting once competed with two other Ohio Yearly Meetings for the name but is the only one using it today. The name “Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative)” is still sometimes seen, but it’s unnecessary, not technically correct, and not used in the yearly meeting’s formal correspondence. (You want to know more? The yearly meeting's clerk maintains a website that goes amazingly deep into the history of Ohio Friends).
All that said, these three yearly meetings have more than their share of traditionalist Christian Quaker members. Ohio's gatherings have the highest percentage of plain dressing- and speaking- Friends around (though even there, they are a minority). But other yearly meetings will have individual members and sometimes whole monthly meetings that could be accurately described as Conservative Quaker.
I might have upset some folks with these observations. In all aspects of life you'll find people who are very attached to labels. That's what the comment section is for.
The meanings of the terms
Formal identities aside, there are good reasons we use the concept of Liberal and Conservative Quakerism. They denote a general approach to the world and a way of incorporating our history, our Christian heritage, our understanding of the role of Christ in our discernment, and the format and pace of our group decision making.
But at the same time there’s all sorts of diversity and personal and local histories involved. It’s hard to talk about any of this in concrete terms without dissolving into footnotes and qualifications and long discourses about the differences between various historical sub-movements within Friends (queue awesome 16000-word history).
Many of us comfortably span both worlds. In writing, I sometimes try to escape the weight of the most overused labels by substituting more generic terms, like traditional Friends or Christ-centered Friends. These terms also get problematic if you scratch at them too hard. Reminder: God is the Word and our language is by definition limiting.
If you like the sociology of such things, Isabel Penraeth wrote a fascinating article in Friends Journal a few years ago, Understanding Ourselves, Respecting the Differences. More recently in FJ a Philadelphia Friend, John Andrew Gallery, visited Ohio Friends and talked about the spiritual refreshment of Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting Gathering and Quaker Spring. Much of the discussion around the modern phrase Convergent Friends and the threads on QuakerQuaker has focused on those who span a Liberal and Conservative Quaker worldview.
The distinction between Conservatives and Liberals can become quite evident when you observe how Friends conduct a business meeting or how they present themselves. It's all too easy to veer into caricature here but Liberal Friends are prone to reinventions and the use of imprecise secular language, whileConservative Friends are attached to established processes and can be unwelcoming to change that might disrupt internal unity.
But even these brief observations are imprecise and can mask surprisingly similar talents and stumbling blocks. We all of us are humans, after all. The Inward Christ is always available to instruct and comfort, just as we are all broken and prone to act impulsively against that advice.
Finally, pretty much all Friends will worship with anyone. Most local congregations have their own distinct flavor. There are some in which the ministry is largely Christian, with a Quaker-infused explanation of a parable or gospel, while there are others where you’ll rarely hear Christ mentioned. You should try out different meetings and see which ones feed your soul. Be ready to find nurturance in unexpected places. God may instruct us to serve anywhere with no notice, as he did the Good Samaritan. Christ isn't bound by any of our silly words.
Thanks to James for the question!
Do you have a question on another Quaker topic? Check out the Ask Me Anything! page.
Shock and awe is the tactic of a bullying invader who wants to demoralize a country into surrendering before a defense has been mounted. It a strategy you choose if you don’t think you can win in a long, drawn-out battle.
Trump has surrounded himself by a protective scrum of advisors who spend much of their time keeping him steady and massaging his ego to assure him the people are all behind him. I don’t think he knows how to deal with the size of the opposition so far. He turns to conspiracy theory to try to convince himself that what he wants to be true really would be except for evil “dudes” out there — George Soros hiring actors to protest, millions of undocumented aliens voting, etc., and of course the original Trump conspiracy that refused to think a black American could be a legitimate president.
Back in November I started a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was reacting to the progressive debates about safety pins as a symbol but it seems we’re are in another round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and other initiatives. As I find myself frequently saying, we need lots of different kinds of people organizing in lots of different styles. So maybe this blog posts’s time has come again.
Maybe this is just another stages of grief but I’ve been noticing a number of online discussions in which progressives are shutting down other progressives for not being progressive enough. Every time I see a positive post, I can predict there’s going to be about three enthusiastic “yes!” comments, followed by a 500-word comment explaining why the idea isn’t radical enough.
Folks, we’ve got bigger problems than trying to figure out who’s the most woke person on our Facebook feed.
Successful social change movements are always a spectrum of more or less politically-correct and radical voices. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrating on different frequencies sound better together. Sometimes in politics you need the crazy radicals to stir things up and sometimes you need the too-cautious liberals to legitimize the protest message.
Some years ago I was part of an campaign in Philly that targeted what many of us felt was a propaganda push around Columbus Day. An attempt by all of the concerned activists to come together predictably went nowhere. There were too many differences in style and tactics and language and culture. But that breakdown in coördination allowed each subculture to pick a tactic that worked best for them.
The Quakers did their visible agitprop leading and got detained. The anarchists made creative posters and set off surreptitious stink devices. Some anonymous pranksters sent out fake press releases to disrupt media coverage. The resultant news coverage focused on the sheer diversity of the protests.
If protest had indeed come from a single group following a single tactic, the dissent would have been buried in the fourth paragraph of the coverage. But the creativity made it the focus of the coverage. Diversity of tactics works. Mistakes will be made. Some progressives will be clueless – maybe even some of the ones considering themselves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wearing safety pins was effective – or we might wonder why we ever thought it was meaningless symbol. Whatever happens, let’s just encourage witness wherever and whenever it’s happening. Let’s be gentler on each other.
We're less than two weeks from the deadline for writing about "Race and Anti-Racism" for Friends Journal and I'd love to see more submissions. It was two years ago that we put out the much-talked-about issue on Experiences of Friends of Color. That felt like a really-needed issue: no triumphalism about how white Friends sometimes did the right thing as Abolitionists or posturing about how great we are, forgetting the ways we sometimes aren't: just a collection of modern Friends talking about what they've experienced first-hand.
I think it's a good time to talk now about how Friends are organizing to unlearn and subvert institutional racism. It was an important issue before November--ongoing mass incarceration, Standing Rock, and the disenfranchisement of millions of African Americans was all taking place before the election. But with racial backlashes, talk of a religious or nationality-based registries, and the coziness of "alt-right" white nationalists with members of the Trump campaign it all seems time to go into overdrive.