Quaker Universalist Conversations

Quaker Readings: Chuck Fager & Ursula Jane O’Shea

Friend Clem Gerdelmann, a member of Chester (PA ) Monthly Meeting and blogger on QuakerQuaker, has contributed numerous posts and comments to Quaker Universalist Conversations (see “Clem Gerdelmann”).

This post offers Clem’s observations on two new books by Chuck Fager and two historical publications from Philadelphia and Indiana Yearly Meetings. We have added annotations in order to share links and quotations relevant to these books.

Chuck Fager

Remaking Friends: How Progressive Friends Changes Quakerism & Helped Save America, by Chuck Fager (2014) Have just finished Chuck Fager’s new book, Remaking Friends: How Progressive Friends Changed Quakerism & Helped Save America (2014). It is the daystar for finally making researched sense of contemporary Liberal Quakerism and Friends General Conference.

Quoting Lucretia Mott: “Truth for authority, not authority for truth.”

Or, as today’s Friends have corrupted it: “Truths for uncertainty, and skepticism for solipsistic anarchy.”

The accompanying historical study, Angels of Progress: A Documentary History Of The Progressive Friends 1822-1940 (2014), is my next consideration for why fallen angels and “neo-Quietism” (Fager’s label) have replaced elders and recorded ministers in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

—Ineluctably, Clem Gerdelmann


Remaking Friends, by Chuck Fager

“The Progressive Friends were at the leading edge of many movements for religious and social reform in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Along the way they shaped the modern liberal branch of American Quakerism. This is the first full telling of their tumultuous story, almost completely overlooked by historians. It is a rich and relevant saga of war, peace, spiritual upheavals, racial and gender struggles, and much more.” (Kimo Press, 2014)

Angels of Progress, by Chuck Fager

“The Progressive Quakers, though long forgotten by historians, were the radical seed of activist American religion in much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They included pioneer crusaders for abolition and women’s rights. They denounced authoritarianism in churches and many traditional dogmas as well. They championed the application of reason to doctrine, the Bible and theology; yet they were also welcoming to the burgeoning spiritualist movement.” (Kimo Press, 2014)

Lucretia Mott, 1793-1880: “My convictions led me to adhere to the sufficiency of the light within us, resting on truth as authority, rather than ‘taking authority for truth’.”

From “Memoranda on Herself,” in Lucretia Mott Speaking: Excerpts from the Sermons & Speeches of a Famous Nineteenth Century Quaker Minister & Reformer, compiled and edited by Margaret Hope Bacon (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #234, 1980).

See “Mott, Lucretia Coffin” (3 Jan. 1793–11 Nov. 1880), by Nancy Unger, in the American National Biography Online.


Ursula Jane O’Shea

“Living the Way: Quaker Spirituality and Community” (28th James Backhouse Lecture) by Ursula Jane O’Shea, I have been fortunate to find two Quaker publications from the 1840s. The first is The Ancient Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends (1943). The second is Discipline of the Society of Friends of Indiana Yearly Meeting (1839). Both writings use of the word “qualification” in its pre-20th century sense.

In contrast, Ursula Jane O’Shea, in “Living the Way: Quaker Spirituality and Community” (1993, 28th James Backhouse Lecture) writes this:

Modern Friends of the unprogrammed tradition are often reluctant to generalise about our collective Quaker experience, at least without qualifications or the familiar disclaimer, “I can’t speak for all Friends.”

In the 19th century documents, the qualification offered is described as “necessary” and “correspondent” respectively. Qualifications for them must be experienced by demonstration, in order to establish the authority for one’s gift or ministry, called “station.”

How confusing —not only to lose the original, pre-scientific sense of the word “qualify,” but to have it used for exactly the opposite postulation!

Alas, distortion is as distortion does!!

O’Shea also asserts in “Living the Way”:

To explain the anomalous survival of Quakerism we must look beyond the founding influence of George Fox and the powerful experiences of his early Seeker companions, to their corporate vision of their community—as the true church with a universal mission.

Universalist Friends, there is a difference!

—Prophetically yours, Clem Gerdelmann


The Ancient Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends, Commonly Called Quakers: Respecting Some of Their Christian Doctrines and Practices (1943, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) – Also available from Forgotten Books: Classic Reprint Series

Discipline of the Society of Friends of Indiana Yearly Meeting (1839, Indiana Yearly Meeting) – Also available through Google Books

Living the Way: Quaker Spirituality and Community,” by Ursula Jane O’Shea (1993, 28th James Backhouse Lecture) – Also available from Quaker Books


What we are dealing with here are specific individuals in the meetings that evolved when wagon trains went westward and meetings, meaning that they had less frequent contact with one another over the expanse of the prairie and more contact with other faith pioneers. Early folk of whatever era were creative survivors who looked for understandings to the best of their abilities and experiences. The history of Quakerism is rich with amazing stories that mirror the understanding of particular individuals.
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