Growing Up Quaker
And Universalist Too
For the last sixteen years Sally Rickerman has
given unstintingly of her considerable energy to the
Quaker Universalist Fellowship. She is now the only person
who has been and is still actively connected with QUF's
Steering Committee from its founding. Until 1997 she served
as treasurer, kept membership records, and saw to
the production and distribution of QUF publications.
As publications clerk, she still performs the last-named
tasks. None of this has kept her from working hard on other
Quaker causes and committees, including service to her
own monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings, as well as
Friends General Conference. Currently she is clerk for the
Western Quarter of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
Here she looks back on her journey as a Quaker universalist from her ancestral roots in
17th-century Quakerism, to her family's experiences on the
American frontier, to her own upbringing as a
20th-century Friend by "both nature and nurture." She also reflects on
her perceptions of Quakerism and the leadings that have
drawn her into working for QUF. The essay is based on a talk
she gave in 1988 to a meeting of the Quaker Universalist
Group in Bath, England. The opening quotation is from
Ralph Hetherington's Swarthmore Lecture, The Sense of
Glory, published by Quaker Home Service in 1975.
Rhoda R. Gilman
The raw material of thinking, imagery, dreams and fantasies, therefore must come
from firsthand empirical experience in the
Reliance on the experiential is the basis of my Quakerism, my universalism, and my Quaker
universalism. To give flesh to this statement, I wish to trace the growth
of my experience through my family background,
Quakerism in the frontier communities, my own growth as a
Quaker universalist, the Quaker Universalist Fellowship and
my interaction with it, and finally, why I have continued
my involvement with it.
My family background
Part of all experience is background, and as John
Donne has reminded us, "No man is an island." My background
is intertwined with the Religious Society of Friends. Some
of its members are very closed, exclusive and narrow, and
some are part of an amazing, open and nonjudgmental group
of people. This group seeks a direct relationship with the
Divine, free from the imposition of past discoveries codified by
an elite. Because I honor this second kind of Quakerism, I
do not like to use the term "birthright" in contrast to
"convinced" to describe my
membership.1 I say instead that I am a
Quaker both by nature and nurture. Nature is divinely given.
Nurture can be acquired during a long lifetime or as recently as
the onset of one's first religious experience, which could
have happened only a moment ago.
Another part of my experience is that like Johnny
out of step with the army I belong to a minority which
is out of step religiously with the larger society in which I
live. As an unprogrammed Quaker, I am a member of a
group that represents only one third of North American
Friends. All branches of Friends together are only .045 percent
of the population of the United States. Unprogrammed
Friends are only .0021 percent of the world's Christians, and a
mere .000013 percent of the earth's religious people. If being
a part of this diminishing fraction were not minority
enough, I am faced with being born of Quaker parents and
registered at birth. Birthright Friends are only 13.41 percent of
all unprogrammed Friends across the country, and even
in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting that bastion of
Quaker establishment we are only 26.6 percent of
total membership.2 On my paternal side I belong to one
more minority. That is the class of presently practicing
Quakers who can trace their Quaker ancestry from the
mid17th century. (There are no known statistics here.)
An additional part of my experiential foundation lies
in the life journeys of my Quaker ancestors as well as those
of my immediate family. These have been a fertile seedbed
that has nourished my own experiences as a Quaker
who considers herself universalist in her perspective. On
my father's side I am in a direct line from William
Edmondson, who gathered people together at the first Quaker
meetings for worship in Ireland, in North Carolina (where it was
the first European religious service), in New York, and
in Pennsylvania.3 His influence is still felt in today's
Quakerism, for he along with George Fox set up the system
of autonomous business meetings for each worship
group, which helped to balance the concerns and leadings of
the individual with the collective prayerful wisdom of that
group. This delicate balance has permitted the Religious Society
Friends to survive for almost 350 years, while some
eighteen other dissident groups that formed in England at about
the same time disappeared before the 17th century
Even though Edmondson did not develop a concern
for the plight of American Indians, his stance on slavery
was unique. As the distinguished Quaker scholar, Henry
J. Cadbury stated in 1968: "Like other Friends from the
British Isles who visited the American colonies he was
confronted unprepared with the phenomenon of Negro slavery. None
of these visitors spoke against it any earlier or more
strongly than Edmondson did."5 It is a heritage that carries with
it great responsibility.
I also have a broken-line side from Quakerism, and
it may be the only majority class into which I can fit. On
my maternal side, back five generations, is James
Wigham. When on a recent trip to England I discovered that he was
a son of Cuthbert Wigham, the first to take Quakerism
into Scotland. James had married out of meeting, was
disowned and had disappeared.
Through this line I could qualify for a society to
which my neighbor belongs. At the time she moved into a
nearby house, I invited her to meeting. She refused the
invitation and told me that she was a happy Presbyterian. She
went on to say, however, that her ancestors were Quaker
and she had a certificate to prove it. When I questioned
her further, she informed me that there was an organization
in or near Washington, DC, that would register the
applicant who had evidence of Quaker ancestry for a mere $100.
By belonging to this society of Quaker descendants one
could attend its annual meeting. The other privilege of
membership was a certificate that proved the connection with Quakers!
Within months after a "little Irish weaver," my
ancestor, arrived in 1794 on these shores from County Tyrone,
Ireland, he married. Thomas Hinshaw's chosen one was the
granddaughter of William Edmondson and they were
married under the care of Marlborough Meeting in North
Carolina. His path was that of one of the major Quaker migrations
to the New World from the British Isles. It occurred
five generations ago in my family.
At that time Friends were already becoming more
and more concerned with the institution of slavery. Since
1776 no Friend had owned slaves not even in the South
but additional problems were arising in their relation to a
society based on slavery. Unfortunately, freed slaves, including
those formerly owned by Quakers, were often taken by slave
traders and were sold despite their "freedom" papers. To solve
this problem Friends began "selling" them to the yearly
meeting, but even with that evidence of "ownership" established,
these black people were still kidnapped and resold. The evils
of slavery and the difficulty of making a decent living in a
slave economy without slaves became more and more
apparent to many Quakers. This led to another major migration,
as large numbers of Friends journeyed across the
Appalachians to the free Northwest Territory, decimating the state of
North Carolina of a great part of its Quaker
Thus Thomas Hinshaw's grandson Andrew left
North Carolina with his parents in 1830 at the age of three.
The family settled just north of Indianapolis, but Andrew,
who was my great-grandfather, eventually pushed on
westward. His intended bride, Sarah Ann Hiatt, had moved with
her parents from Indiana to the banks of the Neosha River
in Kansas Territory. A year later Andrew followed, traveling
by stagecoach to the end of the line at Des Moines, Iowa,
and then walking to his destination near present-day
According to family tradition, for the final 24 hours
of his arduous journey across a largely uninhabited
area, Andrew had no food with him except two apples. But
he did not eat. He had brought them all the way from
Indiana as a token for his beloved, who had been "appleless" for
the year that she had lived in the new territory. A few days
after his arrival, they became the first European couple to
be married in Chase County, Kansas, and a year later
Stephen, my grandfather, was the first European child to be
Quaker background in the frontier communities
For a majority of Quakers and also for others the
most frequently used route westward went straight
across Pennsylvania to the newly opened Northwest
Territory. Friends were often in the vanguard and were the first
to establish new communities. This became one of three
factors in their evolution from the original method of worship
in the sphere of silence into what became, over time,
pastoral and evangelical Quakerism, both of which have
prearranged or what is called "programmed" worship services.
As newcomers from disparate religious
backgrounds arrived and settled in Quaker communities, membership
in meetings increased, but often because it was the only
church in town. These new members were not
necessarily empathetic to the mystical and universalist strains
which had been present in Quakerism since its earliest days.
When they joined the meeting, they did so because it was
their only choice, not because they were either convinced or
were comfortable with the method of worship.
Secondly, even the migrating Friends who were at
ease with their religion had difficulty in maintaining
their faithfulness. The hardships of the frontier and the
isolated farm life made attention to spiritual matters a challenge.
In addition the absence of internal and external nurture
from the traveling ministers and the elders they had left
affected the quality of their worship. As Howard
Brinton points out: "Traveling Friends were the links which
bound the widely scattered Society together, giving it a
coherence and insuring a certain degree of
uniformity."7 When visits from traveling ministers to the struggling Quaker
enclaves became more infrequent, and the vocal ministry in
meetings for worship dried up, the local elders frequently
would beseech a Friend who had spoken well in the past to
extend his ministry, and they would offer him (invariably a
"him") compensation for the time lost plying his usual trade.
Hence the custom of having paid ministers or "pastors" arose.
My great-grandparents were sensitive to this need
and both of them served as traveling Friends. This
produced family stories and traditions to which I am the heir.
My great-grandmother Sarah Ann Hiatt Hinshaw traveled
as far as Sweden on such a mission. At one time when
Andrew, her husband, was in Chicago with one of their sons as
a traveling minister, a woman of questionable
intentions approached him. Since Andrew was deaf at this point in
his life, he turned to his son and asked in a very loud
voice, "Son, could thee tell me what this woman requires of me?"
I have been sufficiently inspired by my father's
accounts of the importance of traveling ministers to the
little community of Quaker Valley, Kansas, that I
undertook, under the auspices of Friends General Conference,
to produce the first two editions of The Directory for
Traveling Friends, which is still updated and issued biennially.
This volume permits 20th century Friends to visit with
other Friends as they travel on business or pleasure.
Quaker communities are often hard to find, since they no
longer cluster near a meetinghouse, and if travelers do find
the meeting place, they are usually unable to be present on
The frontier revival movement was a third main
factor in the shift away from the discovery of George Fox and
early Friends that the meeting for worship is the ideal
matrix in which the direct relationship with the Divine in
oneself and others is best nurtured. In the mid- and late
Victorian Age, when conflicting aims and a growing
urban industrialized society produced a perceived need to
protect its new values, prudery and conservatism became
important societal standards. One result of these turbulent times
was that the population flocked to the revival tents and
sinners benches. Quakers, then as now, were subject to the
winds of the time and joined with the rest of society in
bringing this sinner-oriented spirit into their "church." These
"new" understandings of the evangelicals and their method
of approaching religion were antithetical to early
Quakerism in my opinion. But, as with all reformers in any era,
the innovating Friends feel that they are the "real" Quakers
and the ones who interpret Quakerism's message correctly.
My own further growth as a Quaker universalist
The first memories I have of Quakerism are of a
small child, the only one in Twentieth Street Meeting, going into
a vast well-windowed room across from Gramercy Park in
New York City. This unprogrammed orthodox meeting was
the one to which my family chose to go and the one my
mother joined, even though we lived across the street from
Fifteenth Street Meeting, which was Hicksite.
My mother had come east from Kansas after
college and worked in New York, as did my father. Their
marriage meeting for worship was held at Croton Valley Meeting
at Mt. Kisco, New York, for at that time the meetings in
Kansas were evangelical. She had long since left her
childhood church because its religious understandings were rigid
and too well ensconced to her way of thinking. She found
no fulfillment in the services, and she wished to bring her
children up in a religiously united home. In Quakerism
she felt she could explore her own spiritual depths.
At her clearness committee for membership, my
mother felt it was incumbent upon her to be clear that Friends
knew she neither believed in the divinity of Jesus nor the
virginity of Mary. Even so, she was welcomed into membership.
Those on her committee apparently ignored this variance with
their yearly meeting's statement of faith and practice and
its support of the Richmond Declaration of Faith adopted
by orthodox Friends in 1887.8 That yearly meeting was part
of the Five Years Meeting, now renamed Friends United
Meeting (FUM). But Twentieth Street Meeting was unprogrammed
as was Philadelphia. It was closer to what I would
today understand to be a Wilburite or Conservative meeting
than to the present programmed and pastoral meetings in
In today's religious (or nonreligious) climate my
mother's views may not seem exceptional. They would easily fit
into the world of the late 20th century. But she was born
in 1887 and grew up in the heyday of the Victorian era
a climate that made such views as she held almost
heretical. As she grew into womanhood, this country was
recovering from the strictures of 19th-century evangelism and the
throes of World War I. Added to that were the climate of the
"Roaring Twenties," the controversy over the Scopes "Monkey
Trial," and the agitation over votes and other rights for
women. The resulting contradictions are illustrated in a
conversation that my mother reported overhearing on a Pullman car:
Three women, returning home from a church convention,
were discussing its decision to abolish the doctrine of
infant damnation. They expressed approval of that action but
also wondered if the delegates should not have made the
decree retroactive, thus rescuing the previously damned
infants out of an eternity in hell.
Another part of my journey was attending
Friends schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. For the
three years I went to Friends Seminary on 15th Street
and we lived directly across the street from the school. It was
a Hicksite school, where there were only four Quaker
pupils out of a student body of two or three hundred. I would
say that at that time it did not project much Quakerism.
From the fourth grade on I attended Westtown, a Philadelphia Orthodox school. During those years it
was my only community, for we lived near the campus and I
had few other regular social contacts. In school we were
given Bible studies every year, and in the tenth grade we had
a required course on Quakerism. As a part of living in
Quaker communities, I was also exposed, of course, to regular
doses of First Day school!
Reviewing milestones on this universalist journey
of mine, there are certain events which stand out. One of
these occurred when I was about ten. A classmate of mine
told me the following story about her four-year-old sister. I
still enjoy its humor and its message.
A dear Friend of sweet earnestness and
understanding love was teaching her infant class at First Day school.
She carefully explained to the children that God was to be
found everywhere. When the sister of my friend returned
home, the child went to her room. There she opened her
bureau drawer and said, "God's in there!" She went to her
closet and opened its door and repeated, "God's in there!"
Finally she looked under her bed and repeated her
statement. Whereupon she stood in the center of her room,
arms akimbo, and emphatically proclaimed, "I don't believe a
damn word of it!"
Those were and still are my sentiments as well.
Somewhere, too, in those early years at Westtown,
I was introduced to Job. The event in his life that I
remember and cherish was his direct reply to the Jews. When
they taunted him about God's apparent lack of support for
"shown" by the travails heaped upon him, he sternly
told them: "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom
shall die with you."10 The understanding that it was all right
to question the arrogant and the opinionated confirmed to
me that no one, no religion, no nation had a patent on the Truth.
Recently, in reading Christopher Hill's The World
Turned Upside Down, an account of the turmoil of
16th- and 17th-century England, I found an equally salient and
universalist remark. In 1645, William Dell, who was a "low
church" Protestant minister, said: "Unity is Christian,
uniformity anti-Christian."11 In today's language, this can be
interpreted as the life of the spirit being unity with one another and
the dependence on uniformity of belief and action being
its antithesis. So for my spirit, I need unity and
Looking for other landmarks in my developing
thought, I can remember that when I was around ten I
questioned the arrogance of sending missionaries to go among
the "heathen." I wondered how these Christian saviors
could have the effrontery to be sure that the relationship to
the Divine which the native had worked out was not the
best for that person in that culture, or that it did not
contain many universal truths within it.
The final youthful milestone on my journey in
what has been labeled in recent years as Quaker
universalism, but which I then thought of as merely Quakerism, was
my introduction to the prophet Hosea. He demonstrated
the validity of new revelations concerning the nature of
God. His story helped validate for me that new insights
and enlarged horizons are constantly available to those who
seek with open hearts and minds.
As many realize, before the coming of this
prophet, Jaweh was known as a mean, patriarchal, and vengeful
god, one who had little love, forgiveness, or compassion in
makeup. Hosea's experience with his wife led him to
reason from the specific to the universal, from the particular to
the general, from the individual to the group. Based on this,
he arrived at the amazing discovery that God was a god of
love, acceptance and forgiveness.
The story, as we know it, described Hosea's
desertion by his wife, who first became another man's mistress.
Then Hosea became aware of her traveling down the
primrose path to become the woman of many men. Her next step
was to become a common prostitute, and finally she dropped
to the depths of society to be sold as a slave. On the
slave block in the market square, Hosea found her. Then
and there he bought her. Not for vengeance, but for love! Not
to humiliate her and grind her under his feet, but to
elevate her once again to the position of mistress of his home.
Then, it appears, he reasoned from the specific to the
universal and concluded (paraphrased by me), "If I, a mere
mortal, am capable of this love, acceptance, and forgiveness,
surely the God whom we worship is capable of this and more."
Here lies the intellectual basis for my
universalist beliefs. Namely, if I a mere mortal am capable
of understanding that no Divine Spirit would eliminate
from true enlightenment the 98 percent of the past, present,
and future world population who have never heard and will
never hear of Jesus, then surely the God whom we worship
is capable of revealing the Divine Nature, with validity,
through many prophets, in many cultures, and in many eras.
The Quaker Universalist Fellowship and my
interaction with it
The Quaker Universalist Group formed in England
in 1979 as a result of John Linton's talk, Quakerism
as Forerunner, given in 1977.12 John and his wife Erica
served British Friends at the Friends Centre in New
Delhi for many years. They developed two main thoughts as
a result of their experience there, where they met many
godly people from many different faiths. One concept was
that Quakerism with its positive message of that of the Divine
in each, no creeds nor dogma, and its worship occurring
in nonpejorative communal silence could be a nurturing
milieu in which those of all faiths could worship together. The
other was concern arising from the fact that certain Friends
in Britain and elsewhere, especially those associated with
the New Foundation movement, were beginning to
circumscribe Quakerism by using the words of George Fox and the
Bible as their major guide.13 This meant that these
Quakers seemed to be ignoring the important experiential
and continuously revealed aspects of Quakerism.
Linton's thoughts, expressed near the conclusion of his initial
lecture in 1979, were:
The weeding out of irrational dogmas, however, does not in my view mean adopting a
rationalist position. I believe in mystical religion. I don't
think we have an inkling about the whole truth yet.
What I envision for Quakerism is to become a
meeting place for spiritual seekers of all faiths or
none, where they can worship or meditate as they
feel drawn. It will be a worldwide religion, without
any particular bias, Christian or otherwise, but enshrining the supreme truths of all religions.
This speech, delivered in England, excited
interested Friends in both the United Kingdom and the United
States. In 1982 Linton was invited to come to the U.S. to give
talks at certain meetings on the East Coast. In March, 1983
an informal group of Friends arranged a gathering at
Providence Meeting in Media, Pennsylvania, where Jim Lenhert,
editor of Friends Journal spoke on "Great Blue
Herons, Wineskins, and Universal
Love."14 By May of that year this group, which included Friends from several states,
gathered at London Grove Meetinghouse near Kennett
Square, Pennsylvania, to form an organization.
I had missed the first meeting but learned of this
one in time to be present. The various offices of the
new organization were filled by willing volunteers, except that
of treasurer. There was general doubt as to who might do
the job. I opined that the task was not that difficult, for I
had served as treasurer of two nonprofits. So Friends offered
me the dubious honor on faith.
Our next agenda item at that meeting was
establishing our name. We were certain that Quaker we were,
and universalists we also were, but we wished to indicate
two perspectives with our third name. First, although we
were in close cousinship with QUG, we were not QUG.
Second, we were aware that in American usage the word
"group" implies exclusivity. Therefore we chose "Fellowship"
to indicate inclusiveness. Our aim was to be
consistently universal, so at that time we used the terms
"subscribers" and "fellows" rather than delineating the ins and outs
with the words members and membership.
The Why of my continued involvement
In a world which has the luxury of leisure time,
all individuals, in my opinion, have their own agendas
into which they put their spare time and energy. Quakers are
no exception. My own effort is based on my deep leading
and concern for more effective outreach for the Religious
Society of Friends. I regard this concern as the
ministry of outreach. As with all ministries, we rise to the call. Then after
we have responded to the Spirit, we find justification for
actions and look for intellectual shoring up so that we
may continue on our path in internal peace. I think I can
say with honesty that I have not put this energy into
establishing the legitimacy of Quaker universalism because I
felt threatened in my own beliefs (as some others have told
me they did) by those among Friends who differed with me.
My self-justification for following my ministry
of outreach within the vehicle of QUF is that I feel there
are many people looking for the Quaker religious home.
Among Friends there is always a creative tension between
the individual's leading and concern, the group with which
that individual is working, the group's understanding of
that leading, and that group's own leading(s). Since
Quakerism is such a minority religion in the world (all varieties
of Quakers total only 213,800), many seekers are
disheartened by their inability to find us as they look for us and
This frustration was not present during our early
days. With the first enthusiastic flush of discoveries, Friends
felt impelled to share their insights with all others. Later,
as the second and third generations appeared with their
wish to consolidate their beliefs and preserve their
community, they withdrew from vigorously sharing their message
with outsiders. Not until after World War I did they do so
again, when Friends, through service to the war-torn world,
became more open to helping those who were seeking the
freedom of a direct relationship with the Divine through Quakerism.
My perception has been and still is that what we
have to offer seekers is important to both them and us, and
to the world as a whole. There is need for a religion that
accepts the rich variety of understandings of great religious
truths without being confined by absolutes. Therefore I
constantly strive to make both Quakerism and Quakers better
known. Most of my efforts are directed toward making the
Society of Friends available to all people who have a
basic commitment to a direct, unfettered relationship with
the Divine and a recognition of that of the Divine in each.
My fondest dream, therefore, is to continue to
have Quakerism accessible to those holding all shades and
hues of theology from universalism to Christocentricity. I hope
to enable both universalist and Christocentric Friends
and those in between to worship in peace, acceptance,
pleasure, and comfort with one another. I am not alone in
this understanding of the depth and breadth of Quakerism.
Even Douglas Gwyn, the newest and best grounded
spokesman for the New Foundation, acknowledges that both
the universalist and Christ-centered threads have been a
part of our religious society since its very
beginning.15 My own image of this symbiotic relationship is that of the
double helix the DNA and the RNA strands first coming
together, crossing, and then parting to recross soon
again. Occasionally, either or both of the strands will gain the
added bonus of a gene from the other, which enriches
This process is essential to the health of an
organization, for it gives it new blood, new genes, and new
strength. Part of this health is in maintaining a balance,
neither swinging radically away from what appear as
"theologies" in apposition nor risking stability by climbing out on a
tiny, fragile limb. When the danger of extremes is avoided,
gross overcorrection threatening the life of the organism does
not have to occur at a later time.
My hope for those involved with Quaker
universalism group or fellowship is that we:
- will be the first with a new-old perspective;
- will not swing so vehemently from the center in
our attempt to gain balance that future overcorrection
will be needed;
- continuously remember that the goal of religion is
to provide a guide to a better way of life, one which
includes both love and acceptance;
- remember that no one not even we, the anointed
has a patent on truth.
Quakerism can be a beautiful multi-colored shawl.
It has grades and shades of color for interest. Its richness
and strength are shown through its weaving. The
disparate threads contained are, in the cloth of a religious
society, ready to revolutionize the world and bring the Kingdom
of Heaven into its full reality on earth.
We need all the fresh eyes, the fresh light and the
fresh insight available to help create a better amalgam. These
are needed regardless of our individual end purposes.
Whether our goal be having the blessed uniqueness of
Quaker universalism or the Quaker understanding of
real or primitive Christianity, it does not matter. That which we
share, universally, with all religions is the wish to implement
our divine interconnectedness. This goal, to be neither
divisive nor exclusive, but to wear proudly the beautiful
Quaker shawl, is our human and Quaker responsibility.
In the 1980s many Friends did not (and some still
do not) see the point of having another Quaker
organization. The question most often posed to those involved with
Quaker universalism was: "Don't most Quakers hold these
views?" My usual reply was, "Yes, but not all by any means."
There are a goodly number of Christocentric Friends. For the
most part both they and we are pleased to worship in a
religious community which permits and encourages all to seek
their light. Now and then there is a Friend from either
perspective who will positively proclaim a provocative and
exclusionary truth. There was one such universalist Quaker who said
with absolute conviction that Quakerism had not arisen out of
Christian background. In the same vein a young
New Foundation Friend informed me that New York
Yearly Meeting's outreach committee was unable to go
forward because they were not able to agree on "the Quaker
message." My response to those of either extreme is that there is
no Quaker message save the one that states:
"Quakers continually seek to expand their understandings of
the eternal verities but do not expect to find the final
So from my perspective, QUF is and has been there
to help those new (and some old) to the Religious Society
of Friends to acclimate. These are the Friends who
have difficulty in "hearing where the words come from" when
those words differ from their own. They can be Friends who
have trouble translating seemingly opposing views into their
own language. It is possible that they are new attenders or
even old members who feel that they are alone and
uncounted. We in QUF are there to help them know that indeed
most Friends feel about two essentials of Quakerism as they
do. Those two gifts of Quakerism are the ability to see the
Divine in each one of us and the ability not to be mired in
symbols and dogma.
For QUF to help further these goals, we met and
meet together in person, in our journal, in our pamphlets,
and now on the internet.16 As an "official" voice we have an
effect on other Quaker bodies. In one instance we, as
an organization, were able to modify the definition of
Quaker universalism in a pamphlet which was frequently used
in mailings to inquirers. As individuals we would not have
had the capacity to do this.
I would like to share my personal reflections with
an excerpt of some words that I used at a joint conference
of QUF and the Religious Education Committee of
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.17 These were:
Also I have learned Experimentally that if and when I give myself space and quiet, I can tap
into unity with all creatures and aspects of our
earth and our cosmos. The easiest place for me to
do this is in Meeting for Worship, for it is in
this location that I can most clearly hear from
whence the words of others come, rather than
permitting their spoken words to interfere with my unity
I was thrilled recently to have these feelings validated when I read Geoffrey Holyland's
Use of Silence, where he says that God does not speak
to any of us in words, that we are spoken to
through grace, and the words that result, however
deeply and truly they may be inspired are still our
words, human words from the vocabulary of everyday
life. And grace is what I strive to hear from
others, rather than to be constricted by their words or
by their particular theological understandings.
There are other special locations beyond the Meetinghouse, where I have this same sense
of belonging to all others. These are where it is
evident that those who have preceded me have
themselves reached out to that which is universal and
divine. These sites are those of the great cathedrals
of Christianity, the Acropolis of the pagan
Greeks, the currycombed Hindu ashram of Gandhi,
and the pre-Celt Stonehenge. I cannot believe, since
I feel such unity with those who created these
places special to their faith, that their God and my
God are not one and the same. We differ only in
our interpretation and cultural understanding, not
The third class of location is the one which
occurs in the midst of the indifferent
vehemence of "natural" forces, when it seems as if I am
no more than a mindless leaf tossing about in a
violent storm. Here, I have felt at one with the
universal Uniter, the Spirit able to lift us, up and
beyond our limited selves, to the heights which we do
not know that we can attain. For here, in these violences of "nature," I am whittled down to
size, appearing to be as infinitesimal and
insignificant as any trivial unit can possibly be. It is as if I
were merely a single drop of water absorbed
without trace in all the oceans of the world, one grain
of sand merged indistinguishable with others
on all the beaches on this earth, or the lone ant working in isolation in its towering hill.
Yet, even as I intellectually discern this apparent loss of separateness and uniqueness,
I find in this loss that which is exhilarating,
uplifting and quickening: my sense of the universal
unity with all. I find in the experience the
knowledge that each drop of water is more than just a
single isolated drop, for together with other drops
all necessary they form magnificent oceans; that our vast land mass arises from the collection
of all grains of sand; and that even the huge and amazing ant hills of Africa depend on each
and every ant for their size and efficient functioning.
The latest affirmation of the appropriateness of
my understanding that Quakerism is truly universal and
has been since its earliest days is in recently finding a
quotation from George Fox's journal in which he states: "The
Lord taught me to act faithfully in two ways, viz., inwardly
to God and outwardly to man." The author who quotes
the phrase goes on to say:
To the old question that resounds through the history of Christianity, the issue between faith
and works, he proclaimed this plain answer, that
faith must be accompanied by works, that the
worship of God is incomplete without helpfulness to
men. That phrase of his, expressing this principle is
to be found on one of the very first pages of his
Journal; it was thus a fundamental principle
of the young preacher's, dating from the time when he was still wrestling with himself.
Conversely, the way to the knowledge of God lies, he
held, through men's "setting their lives in the way
I can think of no better way to setting my life in
the way of good than in honoring and respecting the
discernment of all others about their relationship to the Divine. I
feel that this path is the basis of universalism in a
Quaker setting. Thus, it is mine.
1. The term `birthright" has been used in Quakerism
since 1737 when memberships first became recorded.
This system was instituted in an era when churches
were legally required to be the agencies of all social
services to their membership. Therefore membership
was recorded and the children of adults of record
were designated members at birth to establish the
children's claim to Quakerism and its resources. Within
the unprogrammed yearly meetings around the world, Philadelphia is the only one which still accepts
full membership which is registered at birth.
2. These figures are based on four surveys which I did
on the background of Quakers. Two were done at
Friends General Conference gatherings in 1986 and 1987.
One was done at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting session in
1988 and the other at North Pacific Yearly Meeting, also
3. The Journal (Abridged) of Wm Edmondson, Quaker
Apostle to Ireland and the Americas, pp. vvi, ed. by
Caroline Nicholson Jacob. Foreword by Henry Joel
Cadbury. (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. 1968).
4. Among the better known of these groups were the
Children of the Light, the Familists, the Ranters, the
Levellers, and the Seekers. See The World
Turned Upside Down, by Christopher Hill (Penguin edition, 1972).
5. Journal of Wm. Edmondson. p. vi.
6. Today the Quaker population of North Carolina is
mostly the result of Friends from Baltimore Yearly
Meeting moving there after the Civil War to educate and help
the former slaves.
7. Friends for 300 Years, by Howard Brinton, p. 187
(Pendle Hill Publications and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. 1964).
8. The Richmond Declaration was an attempt by
yearly meetings to put forth an agreed-upon,
scripturally based statement of belief. See Uniform
Discipline, Constitution and Discipline for the American
Yearly Meetings, pp. 78 103, Adopted by New York
Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
1901 (Friends Book and Tract Committee).
9. Brief (and therefore oversimplified) definitions of the
four branches of Quakerism in North America are:
Unprogrammed (Hicksite) Those which use
the original form of Quaker communal worship where
both the worship and the ministry arise out of the unstructured silence. Friends General Conference is
the service organization for 13 affiliated yearly meetings
out of a total of 16 unprogrammed yearly meetings.
Conservative (Wilburite) These Friends also use
the traditional manner of worship but are apt to place
greater emphasis on spiritual living and the divinity of
Jesus than do the unprogrammed or "liberal" Friends.
There are three conservative yearly meetings Ohio, Iowa,
and North Carolina. They have no interconnecting organization.
Pastoral or Programmed (orthodox*)
Orthodox Friends frequently have short periods of "open
worship" but rely on the leadership of a paid pastor, and
their worship includes preplanned hymns, sermons,
and Bible readings. Friends United Meeting (FUM) is
the overarching adjudicatory organization.
*Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Orthodox did not join FUM nor
have programmed meetings.
Evangelical Like the orthodox meetings,
evangelical Friends have pastors and programs. They feel
that salvation can come only through Jesus and that
the Bible is both the word of God and the final
religious authority. Six of the seven evangelical yearly
belong to the adjudicatory Friends Evangelical International.
10. Job 12:2.
11. P. 100.
12. This talk has been reprinted in Quaker
Universalist Reader Number One A Collection of Essays,
Addresses and Lectures, pp. l13, (Quaker Universalist
13. In 1964 Lewis Benson, a Friend in Philadelphia
Yearly Meeting, gave a series of five lectures at
Woodbrooke College in Birmingham, England (an adult Quaker
study center). He had become exercised that liberal
Friends had drifted away from what he considered the
Christ-centered message proclaimed by George Fox.
Benson and his followers formed the New Foundation,
which supports this thesis.
14. See In the Eyes of the Beholder A Collection of
Addresses 19831986 pp. 6 12, (Quaker Universalist
15. Gwyn gave a lecture for QUF in 1989. See
The Quaker Dynamic: Personal Faith and Corporate Vision,
by Douglas Gwyn (Quaker Universalist Fellowship. 1990).
16. The QUF mailing list has between 350 and 400
names; Subscriptions are due at the first of the year, but
since people drift in at various times, they are carried
until the beginning of the year following. (No one can
make Quakers do anything, let alone subscribe at
the appointed time) There are some who offer
exchange subscriptions and a few to whom we feel it is
important to get our message in any case, and to them we
send our mailings free of charge. We have obtained
501-C-3 status from the Internal Revenue Service and
bulk mailing rates from the Post Office. QUF has a
steering or executive committee with its clerk, a journal
pamphlet editor, publications clerk. membership
clerk, treasurer, and distributions clerk. We arrange events
at the FGC annual gathering and mail out two
journals and two pamphlets a year. We also have a web site
and an e-mail list.
17. See Hearing "Where the Words Come From? Four
Friends Share, pp. 7 -8. (Quaker Universalist Fellowship. 1992).
18. The Quakers, p. 42, by Otto Zarek (The Religious
Book Club. London, 1943).