[saymaListserv] QUACKERS

perryt at bellsouth.net perryt at bellsouth.net
Thu Aug 9 12:04:19 JEST 2001

easily deleted

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     By Perry Treadwell, editor, curmudgeon
For those not familiar with QUACKERS: I have been writing these intermittently for several years when moved as
the ad for the food said, "Crisp Snacks." Actually it was originally a mislabled folder for Quakers.

God's Chosen People?
        by Perry Treadwell
     I bet (in a Quakerly fashion) that, if you are a convinced Friend, you remember the first time you came to
Meeting for Worship. I remember my first time in La Jolla, California. I sat in silence having been warned by my
sister-in-law that people come neither planning to speak or planning not to speak.
     Suddenly, a woman rose to speak. I really don't remember her message just the power of her presence. I do
remember feeling pleased, warm, comfortable.
     A couple of First Days later the same woman approached me with a copy of John Woolman's journal. "Here,"
she said thrusting the book into my hand, "You should read this."
     I did. After many years in different denominations and outside of any organized religion, I felt at home. "I have
always been a Quaker and never knew it," is a frequent phrase describing a new attender's experience.
     Today most of the Friends General Conference tribe of Friends are "convinced Friends."
That is, they came to Friends from other religious backgrounds or none at all. What brought us to Friends is
attributed to a variety of reasons: curiosity, association with friends who are Friends, Friends schools, Friends social
action. But I would suggest that what keeps us coming back is the common thread that we are spiritual seekers much
like those first recruits of George Fox who called themselves Seekers. We have found a place that allows us to seek
our spiritual truths. It is not a dogma that holds us together but a practice of waiting on the spirit to guide us. We test
these leadings within our community of seekers who are on different places in their spiritual paths.
     I also believe that those Friends claiming to be "birthright" are still with us because they also became convinced
to continue their membership in the society. 
     From our practice has come our service: service to one another, service within our community, service to those in
need outside of our community, stewardship of our environment. The list of Quaker organizations in which we can
serve seems endless. In this sense we are all servant ministers.
     For the first century or so of the Religious Society of Friends, we considered ourselves one of "God's Chosen
People." The original meaning of "Peculiar" People was "chosen." Chosen was not used in the sense of "special" or
good, but in our practice of discerning how we are to serve God. The word is archaic within Friends. Nevertheless,
those who are convinced Friends might consider the proposition that they were chosen to come to Meeting for
Worship to serve as God's eyes, and hands, and feet, and voice for doing God's work.

                              by Perry Treadwell  
     Much has changed over the century of Friends General Conference's existence. I doubt that most Friends are
aware of where we have come from. But to understand where FGC may discern to go in the 21st century it might
help to know our history of change. That is why I attended Chuck Fager's workshop at The Gathering this July.
     Many of us are familiar with our story in the17th century but are unsure of the 18th and 19th centuries, the
Quietist Period. Our story begins with the Great Schism of 1827 between the Hicksites and Orthodox factions.
Although many of us understand that this was a theological debate between those who believed the final authority
was the inner light and those more inclined to hold to the Bible as their final authority. However, the real struggle
was between the elders who asserted their authority of meetings, whether monthly, quarterly or yearly, and those
asserting a more democratic governance.
     Nevertheless, the Hicksite DISCIPLINE retained the two tier society of the SELECT who retained their elder
roles for life and even passed their status on to their sons. Men ran the show. The monthly meetings were
subordinate to quarters which, in turn, were subordinate to the yearly meeting. 
     In 1853, a group of Friends began the revolution against such a hierarchy and formed "The Pennsylvania Yearly
Meeting of Progressive Friends." Their "Exposition of Sentiments" affirmed the authority of the God within and
created no structure for the yearly meeting's governance. It discarded monthly meetings (if Friends got together it
would be an "association"), ministers, elders and select. The YM would be known by what it did "...for the
promotion of Temperance, Peace, Ant-Slavery, Education, the Equal Rights of Woman & etc." They met at
Longwood meeting house which is now the visitor's center for Longwood Gardens, near the present Kennett Square
meeting outside of Philadelphia. 
     Although the structure of this "Progressive Yearly Meeting" was too loose to last it began the movement toward
FGC. First, those seeing a need for consultation on religious education  formed an association of seven yearly
meetings. Then the Friends' Union for Philanthropic Labor met either before or after the religious education
meetings. Then those concerned with education met at the same time because many participated in more than one of
the associations.
     In 1900 they merged into a conference in Chatauqua, NY. A Central Committee was appointed as representatives
from the seven yearly meetings. Henry W. Wilber was appointed the first Secretary in 1902. He visited widely
before dying suddenly at the 1914 conference.
     Out of the discernment of the Central Committee came a Uniform Discipline in 1926 for the yearly meetings to
consider. All of the seven yearly meetings adopted some or all of this discipline. It clearly threw out the
subordination of monthly meetings to the hierarchy replacing the key word "accountable" with "report to." Ministers
and elders were obvious by their absence. A key phrase defined the individual in relation to the meeting: "Although
each person must follow his own leading as to truth and duty as the final authority for himself, experience has
demonstrated that in the united worship and activities of a religious group the spiritual discernment is sharpened by
the stimulus, counsel, and judgement of all, so that the final
knowledge or decision of the group is superior to that of the individual..."
     One should not get the impression that the new view of authority made FGC's later years easy. Conversely, it has
responded to many challenges:
          The peace testimony was questioned by many weighty Friends during WWI.
          Spiritualists became prominent some speaking with the dead including with George Fox.
          Humanists denied God.
          Universalists returned to Robert Barklay's thesis that there is the seed, the Christ, within
     all people through all times.
          Healing the Hicksite-Orthodox separation
          Leaving Cape May after questioning Friends commitment to race relations, ending
     poverty, universalism, Vietnam, among many social concerns.
          Sexuality at Ithaca including who sleeps with whom in 1972 and 1975 conferences.
          Homosexuality at the combined Wichita conference with Friends United Meeting and
     Evangelical Friends.
          A Hymnal without sexist words.
     During this time the Chairman of the Conference became Clerk. 
     FGC keeps renewing itself! While those of us on the Central Committee wish to emphasize that "FGC is More
Than the Gathering," we can see that the Cape May Conference has been transformed into a Gathering community
of diversity. Yesterday's controversies have become today's plenary sessions, workshops, centers, interest groups
and ad hoc discussions. FGC's role in this century can be to develop some of these into programs for nurturing our
membership, as we are able. 

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