Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The death of Liberal Quakerism (and the birth of something new?)

I returned from the recent Kindlers conference at Woodbrooke with the sense that Liberal Quakerism has run out of steam, but we may be in a period of transition to a new era of Quaker history, that as yet we don't have a name for.

The Quaker movement in Britain has famously been through several distinct historical eras, from the prophetic period of Early Friends, to its 'Quietist' phase in the 18th Century, followed by 19th Century Evangelical Quakerism. The era of Liberal Quakerism is usually dated from the Manchester Conference of 1895, and has remained the dominant paradigm throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. The principles of Liberal Quakerism were formulated by writers such as John Wilhelm Rowntree and Rufus Jones, offering a powerful reinterpretation of traditional Quaker spirituality that spoke to the contemporary condition. These included the primacy of experience over religious belief, an openness to 'new light' from other faiths and traditions, the acceptance of 'continuing revelation' and an engagement with contemporary science and society.

Since the early 20th Century, Liberal Quakerism has had a dramatic impact in many fields of social action, including war resistance, famine relief, social housing, the peace and environmental movements, feminism and LGBT equality (including our recent commitment to equal marriage). The continuing appeal of Liberal Quakerism is eloquently expressed by the Quaker Meeting House sign, which is quoted by Gerald Hewitson in his Swarthmore Lecture:

'Quakers are people of different beliefs, lifestyles and social backgrounds. What we have in common is an acceptance that all people are on a spiritual journey. We hope that we are indeed a real society of Friends, open to the world and welcoming everyone.'

For many Friends today, especially those who have been hurt or excluded by traditional churches, this is the version of Quakerism that they were attracted to and the only one they are comfortable with. For them, the Quaker Meeting is primarily a 'safe space' - a place to be themselves, where they will be accepted for who they are, without expectations or demands. There is a liberating acceptance of differences in lifestyle and sexuality, and no oppressive or patronising 'leaders' imposing their own rulings on acceptable belief and behaviour.

However, over recent decades Liberal Quakerism has unmistakeably declined in numbers, and in spiritual coherence and vitality. Although many Friends are very active in a huge range of social action, we no longer have a shared language with which to communicate our spiritual experience, or a shared understanding of core Quaker practices such as Meeting for Worship, testimony or discernment. We have retreated from sharing our spiritual experience with each other or with the wider society. Consequently we have shrunk to a group of predominantly White, middle class retired people, while complacently assuring ourselves that 'people will find us when they are ready', without the need for any action on our part.

We have cultivated a marked hostility to spiritual teaching, insisting that 'Quakerism is caught not taught', and as a result many Friends who have been members for decades remain ignorant about traditional Quaker practices and spirituality. We have developed a hostility towards any suggestion of leadership or authority, and by failing to encourage and support each others' gifts and leadings we have deprived ourselves of direction. We have become collections of like-minded (because socially similar) individuals, rather than true communities of people who are both accountable to and responsible for each other.

We have rejected the Quaker tradition, with its embarrassingly fervent early Friends and old-fashioned religious language, and ended up with a Quakerism that is almost evacuated of religious content, in which our spiritual experience is something 'private' that we cannot share with each other. Consequently we have little to offer to people who are seeking a deeper spiritual reality beyond an accepting 'space' for their own solitary spiritual searchings.

There is considerable momentum within Britain Yearly Meeting towards an increasingly attenuated version of Liberal Quakerism, as first Christian and now 'theist' language is steadily rejected as too exclusive and old-fashioned. The current trajectory of Liberal Quakerism is towards a secular friendly society, which has replaced any spiritual content with a vague concept of Quaker 'values' that are almost indistinguishable from the background liberal middle-class culture. With nothing deeper to offer people who are genuinely seeking a path of spiritual transformation, Quakerism would no longer have any distinctive identity or any reason to exist.

Throughout our history as Quakers we have been able to transform our Society, when old forms no longer served as vehicles for the Spirit. Each period of Quakerism has seen a renewal of spiritual practice, conviction and witness; drawing from, transforming and enriching the tradition to meet contemporary needs.

Are we at such a transition moment today? There are significant signs of a counter-movement to the continued dilution and diminution of Quakerism in Britain, although there is as yet no name for it, beyond aspirational words such as 'renewal' and 'Whoosh'. We cannot legislate for what this new form of Quakerism might eventually look like, but some hints seem to be emerging from the conversations that are bubbling up across Britain Yearly Meeting, and that were evident at both the Kindlers conference and the Whoosh event last year. These characteristics are striking because of some radical departures from Liberal Quaker orthodoxy. They include:

A desire for deeper, more disciplined worship and spiritual practice. In the words of one Friend, 'how many of us really, really understand the profound depths of this experience, how many of us spend years not ever understanding... yet not daring to say. Is my Friend who reads all through Meeting gaining and contributing to the essential heart of our Tradition?.. does it matter? Yes.'
Many Friends have adopted the Quaker meditation practice of 'Experiment with Light'. Some Meetings are experimenting with forms of semi-programmed and extended Meetings for Worship, or with spiritual friendships, silent retreats, journalling, or other spiritual disciplines beyond an hour on Sunday mornings.

Recognition of the need for leadership that empowers others, and that supports and encourages the development of everyone's ministry. This understanding of leadership includes a renewed attention to the value of eldership, spiritual accompaniment, travelling ministry and spiritual teaching. As one Friend put it, 'there is nothing to be gained by stepping back and giving people space when they are in reality desperate to know more, to experience and understand more. What are we afraid of?'

A willingness to work towards a shared understanding of the Quaker Way, and a new clarity of language to communicate the experience of spiritual reality, God, worship and prayer. As one Friend at the Kindlers conference said, 'at each stage in the Quaker past Friends have been clear about these things; we need to become clear about them too, knowing that our clarity may not be their clarity'. As another put it, 'it is not enough to flippantly talk of discernment, of 'gathered' meeting... what does it all really mean? How can we start to arrive together through our own understanding to the real true authentic meaning of these things?'
This shared language will not be imposed by any group, but may emerge through a process of 'threshing' throughout Britain Yearly Meeting. A pointer to one direction that such a language might take is Rex Ambler's approach in his new book The Quaker Way – a rediscovery.

Deliberately reaching out to the wider society with a confident Quaker message and invitation. Since the spread of Quaker Quest around the country, initially resisted by many Friends as 'proselytising', there has been a growing enthusiasm for Quaker outreach, including other initiatives such as Quaker Week. This is often accompanied by a conscious intention to create more diverse Quaker communities – socially, ethnically and generationally.

A re-engagement with Quaker tradition. There is a growing enthusiasm for the spirituality of early Friends, reflected in recent Swarthmore Lectures and the popularity of Experiment with Light. In the foundational insights of the first period of Quakerism, many Friends are rediscovering the passion and authenticity of Quaker spirituality. Far from being embarrassed or put-off by the uncompromising vision and message of 17th Century Friends, many of us are being drawn to find ways of experiencing it for ourselves.

A willingness to overhaul Quaker structures and bureaucracy to serve the spiritual practice of the community. Some Meetings, overburdened and exhausted by the pressure to fill nominations for Local, Area and national committees, have laid down all of their roles while they re-examine their real priorities from scratch. Longer term, a renewed focus on the spiritual priorities of the community seems likely to require a drastic slimming down of Quaker structures, and a reduction and decentralisation of our centrally managed work.

These possible characteristics of an emerging new form of Quakerism are of course speculative, based on conversations with an unrepresentative minority of Friends. I have also spoken to experienced Friends, who are sympathetic to the critique of Liberal Quakerism above, but sceptical about the prospects for a resurgence of British Quakerism. No doubt I will also have offended some readers by my rather harsh assessment of Liberal Quakerism. What is your judgement of the state of Quakers in Britain, and of our prospects for the future? Do you recognise any of the characteristics of an emerging 'new' Quakerism in your Meeting? And what have I missed?


  1. These are all very much in-line with observations I've been making from this side of the pond for awhile. For example, see this _Friends Journal_ article from 2006 ( that was based on an earlier blog post ( These discussions are some of the roots of what developed into the Convergent Friends movement.

    What's been interesting from the U.S. perspective is that the Liberal Friend side of this threshing has been joined by surprisingly-kindred Friends from other Quaker traditions--Evangelical and Conservative Friends. The back-and-forth and challenge of this has been healthy. I have the impression that Britain is more of a monoculture in terms of theology (despite the valiant work by New Foundation and others), which I think will unfortunately make your conversation more one-sided than it need be.

    The other observation to make is that many of those lonely-voiced bloggers of a decade ago are now working in the mainstream of Quaker organizations. I'm don't think we could all say that Convergent Friends have become the mainstream of Liberal Quakers, but we have a recognized place at the table and aren't regarded as a "counter-movement" (as you describe it). But bottom-line: I still don't see an influx of new seekers or of Friends getting more involved in their faith at the meeting level.

    1. Martin, I don't think that UK theology, as far as Quakers are concerned, is a monoculture. It just happens that our relatively small numbers and wide geographical spread (if I can convince anyone in the US that the geography of Britain is wide) makes us seem so. All possible shades of Quakerism do crop up, but sheer lack of numbers prevents the 'critical mass' from ever becoming a movement in itself, nor indeed even show up as a deviation from the norm. What social media has shown me, is that Quakers in America have exactly the same issues as Quakers in the UK, but greater numbers of Friends, and better geographical concentration of Friends, makes the US look more theologically diverse.

    2. Building on this, I notice Quakers in Britain tend to ignore the Conservative Friends who live in Britain and (because...Conservative) don't belong to BYM. I'm thinking of those involved with They associate with Ohio Yearly Meeting because they need to reach all the way to Ohio to find an association of Friends who didn't go for the Liberal thing.

      But as Martin says, over here in the US we've got this convergent thing going on where all the branches are learning from each other, and hey, maybe one of these days we'll find a middle ground. Has there been any interest in BYM regarding reaching out to Britain's Conservative Friends to talk and worship together? Maybe invite some of them to Annual Sessions and see what can be learned from the more tradition-oriented Friends regarding that "shared understanding"?

  2. I'm not sure we need a shared theological position in order to have a shared understanding of various ideas - we just need to come to an understanding which admits the different theological positions.

    Nontheist Friends have difficulties talking about discernment as "finding the will of God". Can we phrase it in a way which is acceptable to Christians, Nontheists, and all the other theological positions to be found within our Yearly Meeting?

    Finding ways to talk about these things that embraces the range of theological positions, or accepting that while we use different language we mean compatible things, is the challenge and the strength of liberal Quakerism. I do not see why any of these should be a challenge to our unity of difference that we have now.

    Stagnation in numbers and practices is a local/regional phenomenon. Some areas are doing pretty well. So let's explore different ways of doing things, talk about what we mean when we use our Quaker jargon, and so on - but none of that need contradict the premises of liberal Quakerism.

    1. "Nontheist Friends have difficulties talking about discernment as "finding the will of God". Can we phrase it in a way which is acceptable to Christians, Nontheists, and all the other theological positions to be found within our Yearly Meeting?"

      I want to suggest that these two sentences do not necessarily follow from one another, that there is a space in that "difficulty," not to rephrase but to reconsider. Not to reconsider the literalist sense of God we are often presented with as the only alternative to non-theism, but to reconsider what "finding the will" outside of ourselves, and considering what that will would look like, personified. Personally, I find a potential resolution to this question in the way we as a culture approach fiction. Others will presumably have other ways around it. But it's not semantics. There is a fundamental human response at question here: things shift when you place yourself in the position of asking what is needed, instead of deciding what is needed.

    2. This nontheist Friend has no difficulty in talking about discernment as seeking/finding the will of God. We know what that traditional language harbors in our tradition. It is relational in a way that our does us the kindness of exposing and challenging our narcissism; it directs us to a power that judges us for and leads us to justice, peace, mercy, and generosity. But we don't know what anyone has in mind when she speaks of "discernment": who is discerning what, what are the criteria, motivations, etc.? Such a nebulous concept invites, perhaps, delusion.

      From my perspective, we nontheist and other liberal Friends have a responsibility -- to ourselves, to other Friends living and dead, and to the broader world -- to open ourselves fully to traditional Quaker discourse, which can discomfort and thereby open our minds and hearts, rather than insist on replacing it with that of our generally all-too-comfortable and self-absorbed social classes.

      -- George Amoss

  3. Craig speaks my mind and renews my jaded hope in the beginning of something new. Thankyou

  4. It may mean a split so that some non-programmed meetings can refer to Christ and Christianity and discipleship in a way that then frees us to participate with both non-christian and conservative/fundamentalist Quakers in other settings. I don't want to quiet my relationship with Jesus anymore, but do not have a home outside of the liberal tradition. I am a Pagan-Jewish-Quaker who wants worship to be vital in the way Woolman describes it.

  5. Susan, I am curious to what you mean when you say you "don't want to quiet your relationship with Jesus." Could you explain that? I am not a Quaker (yet), just exploring it, coming from a liberal Christian background. Thanks!

  6. Thanks for this, Craig - many interesting ideas. Personally, I'm especially interested in the idea of a threshing process which might help us to come closer to a shared language, but I think the points about leadership and teaching also very important.

  7. I'm aware there is work by Brent Bill in FGC about meeting planting, and as someone who is discerning that this may be a path in the future I've got some clear ideas about things that are essentials to get a vibrant meeting.
    Before the first child arrives at your meeting, you need a children's programme. Parents need to be given the freedom to attend meeting, not shoulder the burden of child care. Consider paid support for your children's meeting, so you can be safeguarding compliant, 2 hours a week of a living wage is the best money we spent as a small meeting.
    Do not assume your enquirers have any knowledge of any faith tradition, you may need to direct their reading and exploration. Once an attender has been coming a few months deliberately invite them to meeting for worship for business. Follow this within 12 months of attending by a conversation on membership.
    Use opportunities as they arrise to discuss our traditions and practices. Having an attender recently talk about a family wedding was a great opening to discuss Quaker marriage process and several of our attenders were delighted and had lots of questions about issues as wide as remarriage after divorce and pre-marital sex

    1. Helen, thank you for this, especially the first item which really speaks to my experience. I have been to Meetings that made wonderful provision for children, who welcomed me with hearts, minds and Lego box prepared, but in the end the lack of provision for childcare was what made me leave our local Meeting. I had four young children; my husband was away during the week. I was shattered most of the time and eager for just an hour of peace, as well as spiritual nourishment. Our elderly Meeting had two volunteers who ran a children's Meeting once a month. It wasn't always easy to coincide with that Meeting. Then the meeting told me the two elderly women didn't feel up to continuing, and suggested we took on looking after our children in future. This would have meant my husband and I would never get to worship together, never be able to discuss the shared experience or both feel spiritually refreshed and one of us would have spent an hour driving to sit in a room and play with the children, something we could do at home. We were made to feel that they were our children, so childcare was our business. It was the end of our attempt to integrate our children into Quakerism, and I still have not, many years later, recovered the habit of regular attendance.

  8. I'm aware Liberal Quakerism is dwindling in numbers, and I fully agree with the criticism of becoming a Middle-Class social club. But I haven't experienced so badly the lack of a shared spiritual language or valuing of contemplative discipline as well as outward caring action.

    I'm not clear from the bookshop description of Rex Ambler's book whether he's advocating a return to more traditional theology?

    I don't mean to be unsympathetic, but New Foundation Fellowship style does not speak to my condition, at all. I agree this is not the most important thing, but I also think it would definitely not increase membership.

    I'm on the Non-Theist Friends forum altho I rarely participate. I find myself sort of in the middle. I tend to use naturalistic language when trying to explain things clearly to other people, and the more metaphorical theistic language when I'm 'talking' within myself, because it's so much more concise.

    I have also from time to time felt that British Quakers should maybe consider looking at the earliest Quaker sources and comparing them with the range of theological positions in Religious Naturalism, Process Theology, Emergentism. I think a combination of traditional language and naturalistic language would be more inviting to new members, and help us be clearer and make it more worthwhile talking about inner experiences again and not only expressing our Quaker values in political and activist ways (which I respect and value, but just feel we need some more of the other side of the balance as well).

    1. Kester - thanks for this. Rex Ambler is not promoting a return to a more 'traditional' theological language. I would describe it perhaps as existential and pragmatic. Here's a taster from 'The Quaker Way - a rediscovery':

      "The truth that really helps us, we have found, is not the kind that can easily be put into words, and it is therefore not easily formulated as a belief. It is, first of all, the truth of our own life. We have to look at it and accept it for ourselves. This is not easy, we know, because we are all wary of truth, in this direct, personal sense, and the temptation is to deny it, and therefore to pretend that our life is other than it really is. But if we do accept it, we find that the truth is liberating, and gives us a sense of our own true selves, free from all pretence. We are able to live more freely and fully as we most deeply wish to. We also become aware of the larger reality in which our life is set, the reality of our world, and finally, the ultimate reality which is the basis of everything, including our own life."

      If the idea of an emerging 'post-Liberal' Quakerism turns out to be correct, it certainly won't be a 'return' to any previous period of Quaker history, but the emergence of something genuinely new, that draws on the foundational insights of early Friends while reinterpreting them for the contemporary world, just as every other period has done.

  9. Thanks for this Craig. You sum up the situation very well. Another side effect of the Liberal Quakerism is a widespread ignorance, and even suspicion of, the Bible. The Biblical texts are part of our Quaker heritage and have huge potential to provide us with a shared language, as they did for the early Friends. However, we are leaving the Bible to the fundamentalists, losing a wealth of passages on social justice, non-violence, green spirituality, and personal/corporate integrity in the process.

  10. Thank you for this. I think you sum up the problem with liberal Quakerism very well. I was a very active Friend for 15 years but left the Society a few years ago, as I wanted to worship in a more explicitly Christian way. (I'm now happily part of the United Reformed Church.) To me, the openness you describe has led to a lack of spiritual discipline, an unwillingness to challenge others to express and test their spiritual leadings really deeply, and a growing reluctance to use even the most basic religious language in ministry. There's much that's wonderful about British Friends, but the worship began to feel hollow for me, lacking in a centre.

  11. I find myself fed up with attempts to find ways to talk about our religion that don't push anyone's buttons. Real prophetic religion is supposed to push buttons. Tolerance and the idolization of diversity of thought (not race or social class, though) are often just a cover-up for unwillingness to really engage with our issues together as a covenantal community. You leave me alone and I'll leave you alone. Hogwash. We should speak from our experience, confidently, prophetically, unapologetically, whatever that experience is. Friends who want their sensitivities pandered to should question whether they are in the right religious community.

    For it's not the talk that really matters, it's the experience. Our job as the Religious Society of Friends is not to create a safe environment in which people can pursue their personal spirituality, but to offer the world the truly distinctive opportunity of Quakerism: to meet God directly (and by "God" I mean the Mystery Reality behind your religious experience, whatever that experience is). Our purpose is to help each other discover our spiritual gifts and to discern the ministries—the spirit-given tasks—that we believe come to everyone out of our direct communion with the Divine; and to help each other be faithful to those calls when they come.

    "What canst thou say?" That is the question, not can we find a new way to talk? Hast thou experienced the Light? Do you know your God through direct experience? What are your spiritual gifts? Do you just come to meeting FOR something, or do you also come to meeting WITH something? Do you know what you are called to do in this world?

    Does your meeting care? Does your meeting welcome your experience and whatever language expresses your experience with integrity? Does your meeting help you discern your gifts of the spirit? Does your meeting help you discern your calls to service? Does your meeting help you be faithful to those calls? Is there a chance that your meetings for worship might be gathered in the Spirit? Are there at least two people in your meeting who know our tradition well enough to pass it on to others, to seekers, to the children in your meeting?

    Real renewal comes from communion with God (remember my definition). There are quite a few Friends out there who do enjoy this communion. The job for the rest of us is to be ready and willing to hear the prophet's call, to recognize the prophets of our age, our George Foxes and Margaret Fells, our John Wilhelm Rowntrees and Rufus Joneses.

    1. Hear, hear. I have just one critical comment. I would prefer to say, "Friends who object to pandering to - perhaps being "manipulated by" - the hyper-developed sensitivities of other members should realize those other members are most definitely in the right religious community - one they especially need; one with the vitality to challenge them. Well, that is, if this community really has the vitality/leading to do so..

  12. It is encouraging to hear Friends voicing perspectives so resonant with my own. I don't hear much of this in my own AM but I have not yet given up hope of change, along the lines of what is being aired here.

  13. I'm not sure that the 'problem' is needing more clarity of language. I suspect that the 'problem' is saying that 'we welcome a diversity of beliefs' when that isn't actually true. If theological diversity was actually welcomed then we wouldn't be so afraid of talking to each other! My experience of building spiritual community is that the best foundation is learning how to really deeply listen to each other even when we disagree. If we want to explore spiritual experience and discernment more powerfully together then we have to first trust each other. That may involve us suspending judgement and embracing diversity even more than before.

    I do agree that there is a real energy around wanting deeper spiritual communities. Maybe this is an indicator of a new period of Quakerism. I just think that there are positive lessons to be learnt from all periods of Quaker history, including the most recent. I wouldn't want the positive elements of Liberal Quakerism to get lost in the process! My personal leading in this is to try to spend equal time talking to people who I disagree with as I agree with.

  14. For me the issue is that of worship, a sense of the transcendence as well as of immanence. I long for something deeper than simply nice people exchanging nice liberal attitudes. Something more holistic than intellectual uncertainty. Does this require us to go back to the Bible? - I'm not so sure, but it does demand that we understand our tradition even if there are parts there which no longer speak to us. How is the Holy Spirit speaking to and moving us today is the question.

  15. Very relevant to this week's ADR post: John Michael Greer describes religion as the one kind of institution which has the power to respond in this kind of situation of economic deflation/energy crisis etc. I would love to see Friends responding to the challenge of these times. I'm interested to hear about the Anabaptist church planting group 'Urban expressions' -- they seem to be equipping mostly under-40yos who live mostly in troubled urban housing estates to support and resource each other for the journey of faith, and help with the shared troubles people are experiencing.

    There's much a humble & confident Quaker church could be doing -- from modelling frugality and food skills to nonviolent conflict resolution. I guess I might be drifting away from Quakers -- I mostly talk about think about God and Jesus. The Quaker tradition is full of riches for lives of christian service in a world where that is desperately needed. Many people are hungry, thirsty, and hurting, and yet there is a call that beckons everyone, and the whole earth community, into a restored wholeness. There's a power which I experience as being far beyond the narrowness of my self, which I think not only calls but which can fuel and equip us, day by day.

    I think first we have to know that power of that presence, and learn how to live from it, and to help each other stay in it. When we have the taste for that goodness, and live from it amongst the difficult circumstances of our times, we have something to offer the world again. Living water. But I'm not really encountering a shared understanding of that at Meeting. I have been learning this way and I am still going to Meeting, and hoping to encounter it there. I actually find it easier to talk the Quaker way with disenchanted and unattached ex-pentecostals I meet. I'm trying to look out for where God-beloved is moving, whether that's in Quakers or not.

  16. I was a part of the Kindler's conference and am interested in the observations here. It seems to me that liberalism is a post-modern phase we go through on our way to somewhere else. It certainly shouldn't be an end in itself any more than evangelical or traditional phases. I see it as a big mistake to try to develop "Quakerism". We need a movement, An 'ism' is a stagnation. Whatever it is we refer to as 'God' is not a Quaker and is doing vastly more in the world than is encompassed by our tiny bit of it. We need a vision of what 'God' is doing in the world, not simply how we think we should box God into a Quaker format. I love Quakers, but would rather not be labelled as one, simply because I think God is so much bigger than that.

    Having said that, I think Quakers are in a wonderful position to fulfill a role as 'co-creators' with God in developing the spiritual community that is breaking free from doctrinal constraints and realizing an actual and embodied experience of 'the Divine'. It is that experience that many of those I met at the conference were thirsting for. Sadly, I think some of us felt the conference, good and inspiring though it was, missed the mark in this respect. Many of the dialogues in sessions were heavily orientated towards 'how to do' (which we Quakers are pretty good at) instead of 'how to be', which many of us are not.

  17. Yes. I like what you express here, especially about not getting caught in our Quaker ism. I am still a Quaker at the moment, because I think that as an ism it is a form which is still permeable by Spirit, and can therefore still do God's work. Some of this is happening in our small local meeting, but sometimes it feels like a lonely and uphill work to support and share in it, and it is so good to hear on this blog from others whose vision is closer to my own than most Quakers, that I meet.

  18. Thank you for this thoughtful blog. It feels as if there is a change coming among Liberal Quakers in the U.S., though I'm not sure what it is. There seems to be greater comfort with traditional Christian language than there has been in the past 20 years. There seems to be more Bible study, more talk of "ministries," and in my particular meeting, a delving into the teachings of the first and second generations of Friends. I've noticed as well a growing, renewed interest in social justice among Evangelicals.

  19. Hello Craig,

    I am reading this very helpful article of yours at the same time that I am participating in a discussion on quakerquaker on Quietism (presented in a good and Divine light for a change, by Jim Wilson there in the post "The Heresy of Silence" and in subsequent discussion). I recommend this option for consideration too as we see and feel our way in the dark about how we are being led, going forward. I am sure we are not all being led one way! However, it speaks to my condition that in a time of all outward focus on social activism -- and for a tired, very tired, and very busy crew -- there may be some who turn toward the strange divine power found only when we simply STOP and be Quiet, with God. The action that only comes when we ourselves quit soo much. If anyone wants the link it's:

    Thank you for the lesson in Quaker history -- it is good to hear that Liberal Quaker has been around this long and that typically this is when such a thing becomes something new.

    in peace,

  20. Hello Craig,
    I'm glad to read this very interesting blog post and the conversation after it.
    I study and write about the beginning of the Quaker movement because I think it was more radical than subsequent historians have let us know, and I sense we have something important to learn from it. What we need most, however, even more than learning from Friends of the past, even more than learning from early Christians, even more than experiencing the divine Mystery in which we live, is to give ourselves over to it. A new movement is emerging. I hope and believe that the escalating crises of our time will wake humanity up to possibilities pointed toward by our early Friends, by early Christians, by Jesus, and by the most prophetic and inspired people of many traditions.

  21. Hello Marcelle,

    This is Gerry Guiton. Hope you are well and thank you for your post here. I still remember our time at PH and the lovely extended M4Ws we had at various MHs in Philly. Homer says, Hi, too.

    Craig, have you seen my The Early Quakers and the 'Kingdom of God'? Inner Light Books published it in 2012. I'm finishing off a work on the Kingdom of God and modern Friends. I call the Kingdom, the Way. I think the Way is a central idea for Friends today. I'd like you to read it and offer suggestions and improvements. If you (Marcelle) or anyone on this blogsite want to do the same, pls feel free to contact me at: I'd appreciate your help. Many blessings, Gerry/Gerard

  22. Can I suggest something? At the risk of Quaker doing rather than being I would like to suggest that if Liberal Quakerism was formulated by writers such as John Wilhelm Rowntree it was probably Active Liberal Quakerism. In 1895 the United Kingdom still had many Quaker businesses (including Rowntrees) that were in effect 'proselytising' for Quakerism by showing Quaker concerns for Social Justice in an immediate, easily understandable and highly visible way. Quakers invested in the local community which gave them their wealth.

    We can build Social Enterprises again and we now have the opportunity to rebuild our reputation in UK banking by backing an unadulterated Quaker Bank

  23. Meetings have become dominated by a caste of mutually supportive 'club members' for whom 'things are just fine as they are'. These 'insider', 'club members' are socially 'conservative' rather than ecumenically 'liberal' so the decline in attendance, attenders and membership has nothing to do with Quaker spiritual experience but rather what part the meeting house 'insider' 'club' has in fostering that experience. A good number of Quakers find 'insiders' have made them into 'outsiders' and so they have left. The same social phenomenon is emptying church pews.

  24. I don't think I have seen any of you use the term "Gospel" in your discourses on how to work toward spiritual renewal in the Society of Friends. Given the deep Christian roots of the Quaker tradition, I submit that refocusing on the Gospel is the right place to start from in seeking spiritual renewal. What does "Gospel" mean? This is a good question with which to start the dialogue!

  25. "Are we at such a transition moment today?" Craig asks.

    "Probably" I would say, but it will be many years hence before we can say that with any certainty. My reasoning is that firstly bodies of people do not usually make such spiritual transitions as a body. They make it one person at a time - in other words this is something each of us as individuals have to do in our personal lives. Once we have a mass of people at the next stage, then it will become evident that "Quakers" have entered a new phase or era.

    You may wonder why I use the term "next stage"? It implies that we are headed somewhere quite definite and foreseeable. In broad terms I think we are. I would say most Quakers are now at state III in Scott Peck's "stages of faith", which he published in his books "The Different Drum". This can be found at or

    Scott Peck's stage III is characterised questioning, subjecting everything to scientific analysis and for some, going as far as outright atheism, while being strongly committed to social causes. Could be describing liberal Quakers to a T!

    Many Quakers are already at stage IV, of course. I think I moved from stage III to IV around 2000 to 2005, but its taken me some ten years to become clear about the transition. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. Its only with long hindsight that I can see the route I have taken. I hope many other Quakers will take the same path.

    One difficulty of making such a transition is that some choose not to make it. And thus we are likely to have meetings with a mix of people at very different stages, and perhaps no longer talking in terms that all can understand. We already have this problem where meetings have a mix of stage II and stage III people. I haven't experienced this myself, but I would hope that with enough love and patient listening its possible to co-exist with fruitful results.

    Another observation I would make is that the transition will be uncomfortable for many. The impetus to change can come from a deep dissatisfaction with the present state of things, and that is not an easy place to be. It can engender a feeling of lostness, of not fitting in, of having no home, maybe even resulting in depression for some individuals. And I can't say for most that it will be over quickly. For myself, the dryness, searching and wondering lasted at least five years. Part of my journey involved psychosynthesis counselling, as well as treatment for depression. It also coincided with a loss of my career through ill health. From the advantage of a "ten+ years later" I can look back and say these were all blessings in disguise.....but that doesn't make it easy to live through at the time!

  26. Always interesting Craig but my frustration is with an underlying premise that really we should all believe the same things. I think we need to embrace more fully those early words ... " Not that such a man walk in my path .... " Hoping Friends will know the reference. I think there's more scope for accepting and celebrating diversity, a witness the world is much in need of. Also personal spirituality and ministry valuable as well as growth of our community

  27. As part of my spiritual journey within Quakerism, I feel strongly that the Quaker testimonies of Peace, Equality, Truth and Integrity, Simplicity and sustainability are more important in todays Society than they have ever been. I for one believe in Radical Quakerism - where these testimonies are constantly tested in our actions as Quakers within Society, where we can create non-violent collective experiences in society that demonstrate and support these testimonies.

  28. I feel excited about the changes happening, I feel called to testify to Christ working today. I am looking forward to Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering at Warwick. Quaker Renewal UK are having a gathering on Saturday April 22nd at 12 Noon at Lancaster meeting house and some of us are staying at Yealand Conyers for the night after. Another Quaker Renewal extended worship will be happening in July in an ancient forest in Golders Green. Those of faith please come and support this unfolding renewal with your bodily presence in worship. Meet we must, this is the way forward. Thank you Craig for your faithfulness, I am so appreciative. Hopefully we might have an impromptu Quaker Renewal UK extended worship session outdoors at BYM Warwick University too. Meet we must. We are listening for the leadings of the spirit in our renewal. Meet we must, tenderly with love and humility, open to the divine word in our hearts.

  29. Thanks for a great article. The future of Quakerism is by no means certain, and we need to make it appeal to and work for people in the 21st century. My personal view is that the language of early Christianity is too obscure and inaccessible for modern-day people, and today we have a different language (for example that of psychology) that we should use. Also, the spiritual path isn't clearly mapped out in Quakerism, so work needs to be done on that. I'm of a very universalist bent, and feel that if we can sort out such issues, Quakerism has a lot to offer.


"When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken."
(From Quaker Advices and Queries 17)