The Meeting as a Caring Community
The nature of their purpose and quest as Friends binds members of a meeting and of the whole Society into an intimate fellowship whose unity is not threatened by the diversity of leadings 'and experiences which may come to individual Friends. To share in the experience of the Presence in corporate worship, to strive to let Divine Will guide one's life, to uphold others in prayer, to live in a sense of unfailing Love, is to participate in a spiritual adventure in which Friends come to know one another and to respect one another at a level where differences of age or sex, of wealth or position, of education or vocation, of race or nation are all irrelevant. Within this sort of fellowship, as in a family, griefs and joys, fear and hopes, failures and accomplishments are naturally shared, even as individuality and independence are scrupulously respected.
The Love Which Abounded Among Us
William Caton, a servant in the Fell household, who became a "Publisher of Truth," wrote as follows:
Oh the Love which in that Day abounded among us (especially in that Family) and oh the freshness of the power of the Lord God, which then was amongst us; and the Zeal for God and his Truth, the Comfort and Refreshment which we had from his Presence; the nearness and dearness that was amongst us one toward another; the sights, openings and Revelations which we then had! I confess I find myself insufficient to declare these things to the utmost; neither do I now intend to go about to describe the multitude of them particularly: for then I might make a larger Volume by much, than now I am intended; howbeit, my very heart is affected with the remembrance of them at this very day.
And in them days were Meetings exceeding precious to us, insomuch that some few of us did commonly every night, spend sometime more, sometime less time in waiting upon the Lord; yea, often after the rest of the Family were gone to bed: But, Oh the comfort and refreshment which we had together, and the benefit which we reaped thereby, how shall I declare it? For if we had suffered loss in the day time when we had been abroad about our business, or the like, then we came in a great measure to be restored again, through the Love, Power and Mercy of our God, which abounded very much unto us.
William Caton: A journal of the life of Will. Caton, 1689 ed., pp. 6, 7
The Disciples Plus Christ
The Church is not simply, in the Quaker conception, a fellowship of disciples at work for the Kingdom of God; it is such a fellowship, plus Jesus Christ Himself, in whose Spirit, the Spirit which unites them one to another and to Him, they become together "one flock, one Shepherd"
W. C. Braithwaite in Braithwaite and Hodgkin: The message and mission of Quakerism, 1912, pp. 25-6.
The Art of Christian Caring
In our Meeting we should learn the art of Christian caring for one another, something more than the expression of natural kindliness, or the impulse to hold out a helping hand in moments of disaster, because Quakerism derives not only from the light of nature, but from the light of Christ. Do we know one another well enough to know one another's needs, what enjoyment this one needs to share, from what burden of fear or worry that one needs to be set free? The Overseers are the guardians of our watchfulness over one another, but we must all share in it, and be ready to seek and respond to the guidance of God. Only so can the take and use our gifts to meet the needs, sometimes even of those whom we do not know. Into such Meetings a stranger will come and feel that he has come into a group where people are upheld in prayer. From such Meetings our members may go out, even to tasks involving great responsibilities and even great isolation, knowing that they are supported by our understanding, our love, and our prayers.
Epistle of London Y M., 1960.
Living Fellowship Needs Fresh Forms
Fellowship in a common faith has often brought a religious society into being before it was in any way organized into an institution. It was so with the primitive Church and with the Society of Friends. Organization is a good servant but a bad master; the living fellowship within the Church must remain free to mould organization into the fresh forms demanded by its own growth and the changing needs of the time. Where there is not this freedom the Church has its life cramped by ill-assorted clothes, and its service for the world becomes dwarfed or paralyzed.
Thomas (Anna L.B.) and Emmott (E.B.): W. C. Braithwaite, Memoir and papers, 1931, p. 118. "The widening of the Quaker fellowship" written 1905.
Concerns and Loyalty
In the history and experience of the Society of Friends individualism has been co-existent with a strong sense of fellowship and of the whole body. In large part Quakerism can be explained as a tension, a balance, between individual faithfulness and corporate responsibility around a common centre of concern and loyalty. The individual is not really free to act until his concern has been laid before and shared by the whole meeting. The meeting, in its respect for the minority and for personality, must seek the deeper unity; it cannot over-ride or do violence to conscience; it cannot be totalitarian. The spirit of mutual respect and of reconciliation, with patient waiting upon the will of God, makes possible something more than a political unanimity.
Percy 1V Bartlett: Quakers and the Christian church, 1941, pp. 14-15. Faith and Order Commission, London Y. M.
No Bond But Love and Fellowship
By the opening of the eighteenth century the Friends were one people throughout the world, though there was absolutely no bond but love and fellowship. There was no visible head to the Society, no official creed, no ecclesiastical body which held sway and authority. But instead of being an aggregation of separate units the Society was in an extraordinary measure a living group. Friends had suffered together and they were baptised into one spirit. Wherever any Friend was in trouble the world over, all Friends, however remote, were concerned and were ready to help share the trouble if it could be shared. The greatest and the best of the entire Society made their way from meeting to meeting, and from house to house even into the cabin of the settler on the frontier and they wove an invisible bond, stronger than the infallible decrees of Councils, which held the whole body together as an integral unit. Hospitality with the Quaker was not a virtue, it was an unconscious habit.
Rufus M. Jones: The Quakers in the American colonies, 1911, pp. 314-5.
Visiting is a Ministry
In our Society visiting is a ministry in which many should share. It should not be restricted to any official body in the meeting. It cannot be neglected if inner fellowship is to flourish. Any group within the Society of Friends who have ever tried to establish a new meeting or to revive a dying one know that the first essential is to visit, and the second essential is to visit, and the third essential is to continue visiting. These visits help to draw the meeting for worship into a basic fellowship that can yield to the Spirit. If the members of the meeting know of difficulties that one or another in their midst may be facing, they can literally draw on the bank of God's healing power for that member.
Douglas V. Steere: Community and worship (Pendle Hill pamphlet, no. 10), 1940, pp. 18-19.
Not to Possess But to Share
God not only gives, God shares. Through Jesus God shares his Divinity with us. God not only gives love, God shares his love, for love becomes a reality only as it is shared. The more we share, the more we have like the parable of the widow's cruse of oil.
This same principle is evidently true in regard to all that we call our own possessions. Our whole purpose in life is not to possess, but rather to share. Joy not shared becomes stale we must tell someone. And sorrow not shared becomes an unbearable burden. Bearing one another's burdens becomes a reality through experience.
Levinus K. Painter, 'A Christmas meditation," 1980.
Corporate Life Fostered
This note of fellowship, and of a corporate binding in the life of God, is of special importance. However fully it has been realised by others, it is in fact the single dominant characteristic of Quakerism throughout the history of the Society. It appears in sharp contrast to the anarchical and individualist tendencies of much so-called "spiritual" experience. Where these appear, whether in earlier or later times, they are condemned by a strong common sense. The danger of the more intimate type of spiritual fellowship lies precisely in the tendency to hold the private experience as valid without an adequate check by the community as a whole. Within the Society, Friends have sought to recognise and guard against this danger. From early days the corporate life was fostered with care, while the whole body, likewise, cared for the life and service of the individual. Thus the ideal of a free ministry, with free maintenance during its exercise, was at a very early date associated with the care of the poor and distressed, especially those suffering in the cause of truth.
London Y. M.: The nature of the Christian church, 1945, p. 12. Committee on Christian Relationships, London Y. M.
Inward Seeking, Outward Acts
The core of the Quaker tradition is a way of inward seeking which leads to outward acts of integrity and service. Friends are most in the Spirit when they stand at the crossing point of the inward and the outward life. And that is the intersection at which we find community. Community is a place where the connections felt in the heart make themselves known in bonds between people, and where the tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening up our hearts.
The Society of Friends can make its greatest contribution to community by continuing to be a religious society I mean, by centering on the practice of corporate worship which opens itself to continuing revelation.
Parker J. Palmer: A place called community, (Pendle Hill pamphlet, no. 212), 1977, p. 27
Living in Solitude and Community
I am convinced that to be a complete Christian is to learn to live both in isolation and community. The group-minded must overcome his fear of solitude by the living practise of the belief that nothing but sin can separate him from God; the solitary must overcome his dread of his fellows by the living practice of the belief that "there is that of God in every one." Those who know communion with God most easily in isolation do not always realise that the Bread of Heaven on which they feed is given them for others as at the Last Supper, it must be broken and passed on. Those who know communion with God most easily through a group will only find in solitude whether they are depending on him or on their fellowmen.
Beatrice Saxon Snell: A joint and visible fellowship, (Pendle Hill pamphlet, no. 140), 1965, p. 7
Nurturing a Spirit of Community
Friends have discovered, therefore, that there are two primary ways of nurturing a spirit of community: through encouraging the sensitivity of individual persons as they endeavor to be responsive to the Light of Christ Within in their work and worship; and through fostering their outward concern and care for one another.
George A. Selleck: Quakers in Boston, 1656-1964, 1976, p. 270.