New England Yearly Meeting

A community of Quakers and Quaker meetings across New England.

Unity and Diversity (1945–1980)

The Reunion of New England Friends

The joining together of the two separated bodies and the three independent groups into the consolidated New England Yearly Meeting of Friends took place on the campus of Phillips Academy at Andover, Massachusetts, on June 21, 1945, one hundred years after the separation. The closing minute of the Yearly Meeting acknowledged that the 1945 session had been blessed by a sense of divine leading and that, in joining together, the Yearly Meeting had truly been born anew. Since this reunion took place in, the closing days of the Second World War, Friends were able to find in their own reunion a hope for the future. "We have felt love, warm and gentle, flowing through this group at Andover, and we have realized that this is the only agent that can unite all the world in one community, resolving difficulties without rancor and providing a firm base on which to build the structure of peace." (Minutes of NEYM, 1945, 80–81)

The task of rebuilding the reunited Yearly Meeting was not completed in a single session, however, for it had to be demonstrated that the spirit of love that flowed through the 1945 session could penetrate to all corners of the Yearly Meeting and inspire all of its activities. One of the most critical early signs of this spirit of reconciliation was the way in which the Yearly Meeting approached the task of revising Faith and Practice, as the book of discipline was now called. There was a recognized need to have some guidance on organization and business procedures. Yet the statements of faith and the various understandings of its application to daily life contained in the 1945 draft prepared by the Five Years Meeting struck many Friends as too doctrinaire and prescriptive. Nor did the draft adequately reflect the preference for silent worship of the Wilburite meetings and of the newer independent groups.

After careful study over the next two years, the Yearly Meeting of 1948 agreed that the discipline must respect this diversity "rather than attempt to ignore it through exclusive emphasis upon points of view thought by us to be the most prevalent or the most "Friendly" (Minutes of NEYM, 1947, 35). Rather than rely upon formal statements of faith and prescriptive applications, the Yearly Meeting turned instead to the diverse testimonies given by Friends during the 300 years of Quaker history. The anthology of Quaker testimonies has remained a part of Faith and Practice ever since, in part because such testimonies have proved instructive and even inspirational to new Friends whose paths to modern Quakerism have continued to be diverse, but also in part because the tenderness with which Friends in the 1940's sought to understand and accommodate each other in revising the discipline has proved an enduring contribution to the spiritual life of the Society.

The Changing Character of New England Quakerism

The reunion of 1945 took place in the midst of a slow, but persistent, transformation in the character of New England Quakerism. Changes in the forms of worship, in the location and characteristics of meetings, and in the concerns and commitments of members have combined to give New England Friends in the 1980's a character that is recognizably different from what it had been in the 1930's and 1940's.

Well into the 1930's the predominant form of worship had been the prepared or pastoral. By 1980, however, a number of new meetings (such as those in the Connecticut Valley) and revitalized, existing meetings (such as those in Boston and Providence) had grown with the influx of a new generation of Friends, many of whom had experience of silent worship elsewhere. Though usually built around a core of seasoned Friends, these meetings soon attracted members who had no previous experience with Quakerism. On the average, some 90 such newly convinced Friends join New England Yearly Meeting each year, their numbers in large measure compensating for deaths and removals to other yearly meetings of other members. The new and revitalized meetings, concentrated in academic communities and large cities, followed the unprogrammed form of worship. In the 1960's and 1970's, a number of small, new unprogrammed meetings sprang up in northern New England, where many retired Friends and others seeking simple, natural living had settled.

During this same period from the 1930's to 1980, social changes and economic hardships in older industrial cities and rural towns contributed to a decline in membership in a number of pastoral meetings. Before the reunion in 1945, the five largest meetings in New England, all pastoral, were the two Portland meetings and the Worcester, Dover, and Winthrop meetings. By l980, the five largest in New England, all unprogrammed, were the Cambridge, Hartford, Providence, Mt. Toby, and Wellesley meetings. At the time of the reunion, New England Yearly Meeting had 3,529 members in 36 meetings. In 1980, there were still only 3,693 members, but they were in 57 monthly meetings.

These developments in turn have given rise to important changes in functions and outlook within the Yearly Meeting itself, especially in the areas of evangelism and missions. Until 1945, the Yearly Meeting had an Evangelistic and Church Extension Committee and a General Superintendent, whose primary responsibility was to broaden the work and influence of monthly meetings and to overcome what he called "religious illiteracy" by preaching the Gospel. This evangelistic outlook, seeking to lead other men n1 women into a knowledge of God and the Christ Way of Life, was gradually transformed into a concern for the quality of spiritual life within the Quaker community itself, an inward looking emphasis which is still present.

Out of concern for the welfare of elderly members, New England Friends have long maintained the New England Friends Home, now located in Hingham, Massachusetts. They have also sought to minister to the young and to promote Quaker values through the development and maintenance of schools that seek to apply Friends' principles and outlook to the whole of life. The oldest of these is the Moses Brown School, and the youngest is the Cambridge Friends School. The Yearly Meeting's Youth Secretary, China Camp, and Committee on Christian Education have all helped young Friends to understand the values inherent in their Quaker upbringing and to apply them to a complex and changing world.

Concern for the world at large was not abandoned, however. Although more traditional missionary activities were sometimes seen as imposing cultural values rather than sharing Quaker experience of Truth, direct overseas service to schools, clinics, hospitals, and other development projects continued to be supported.

At home, the commitment of New England Friends to peace and social justice remained strong and found new forms of expression. Support for conscientious objection and opposition to conscription have been consistent from World War II to the present. New England Friends have protested military intervention in Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, just as they have worked to end the nuclear arms race. In opposing the spread of militarism in the United States, some Friends have refused to pay taxes that will support militarism and war and have sought legal alternatives like a world peace tax fund.

Working for social justice, Friends in New England promoted inter-racial fellowship in the 1940's and supported racial integration in Quaker and public schools. Through the New England Office of the American Friends Service Committee and the Yearly Meeting Committee on Prejudice and Poverty, they have worked with and supported a wide range of communities whose needs often could not be met elsewhere: refugees, prisoners and ex-prisoners, victims of family violence, Indians, and low-income groups.

The Prophetic Tradition Reexamined

For the past two centuries the Society of Friends has been a small religious group by comparison with other religious organizations in New England. Today it is very small indeed—a body of less than 4,000 in a total population of more than 12 million.

Size alone, however, has seldom mattered to Friends. Instead, they have sought to be witnesses to the Truth.

In this sense they have remained faithful to the prophetic vision that first moved the "Publishers of Truth" to visit these shores. Each succeeding generation has struggled to interpret this vision within the context of its own times and with the spiritual .and material resources available to it.

In the twentieth century, the demands upon these spiritual and material resources have at times seemed overwhelming. Two world wars and countless smaller ones, racial hatred at home and abroad, economic and social inequities in the midst of abundance and technological promise, and weapons capable of annihilating ',millions of people and their civilizations at a stroke have created unprecedented challenges. In the midst of these global issues, .and not unrelated to them, modern secular life has given rise to a 'umber of more intimate, personal problems of great consequence to millions of individuals: the disruption of family life, the .'alienation of workers from their labor, the destructive violence of sexual and racial discrimination, and the uncertainties of growing up in a world of rapid change and shifting values.

It is difficult to live in harmony with a world filled with such problems, yet perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Quaker movement in the second half of the twentieth century has been its persistent effort to confront these challenges with the confidence that peace and reconciliation, understanding, and justice can be achieved by a people willing to do God's will in the world. This confidence has not been based on a remote hope or on a naive misunderstanding of the difficulties involved. Rather it has been derived from the practical experiments of a living faith experienced by each believer in his or her own life and by communities of believers acting together. For Friends in New England, .'s for Friends everywhere, this faith has been sustained and ',,nourished by three centuries of a prophetic tradition.

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends

901 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602

(508) 754-6760 - [email protected]