Friday, April 19, 2019

Recorded ministry - some thoughts

Meeting by John Perkin
I have been following the conversation about recorded ministry on social media with interest. Sam Barnett-Cormack has done a good job of summing up what has been said here and has continued the debate. As well as commenting on other posts I find that I have just a few things to add, partly from my research and partly from my own experience.

First it may be useful to look at why ministers were first recorded. This practice arose in the UK in the18th century out of a problem (as so many Quaker practices have)! There were complaints that some people had represented themselves as ministers without the backing of a meeting and were travelling around the country asking for financial support in the places they visited when some of them were not even recognised as Friends. To deal with this a system was agreed whereby if a Friend was recognised by their meeting as having a particular gift for vocal ministry then their name was sent to the Yearly Meeting in London and 'recorded' in a book so that their qualification for support could be checked.

Not all recorded ministers travelled outside their local meetings but if they were moved to do so they had to obtain a certificate from their meeting which would be quite specific about where they might go. This certificate could be presented to the Friends they were travelling among to obtain hospitality and assistance in their journey, such as the provision of a guide and a horse, the expense of which could be claimed from the meeting visited if necessary. The practice was rooted in practicality as well as answering divine inspiration.

The impetus for recognising that a minister should be recorded always came from their meeting not from themselves. This was very far from a modern job application. Being called to the ministry was not a small undertaking as it could involve very arduous travel and prolonged absences from home and many ministers' journals contain accounts of long, anxious hesitation before a calling was acknowledged. Ministers did not act alone and usually travelled with a companion, another minister or a younger Friend. They were also answerable to their meetings and to their fellow ministers, some of whom were more encouraging than others. Samuel Bownas had experienced his own difficulties and in 1750 he published a self-help book A description of the qualifications necessary to a Gospel Minister which still has things to say to us today.

There was no initial intention to mark the recorded ministers out as superior, rather as people trying to be faithful to their calling. As time went on however in some cases the respect demanded for the calling could look to others like respect demanded for the person. In the mid-eighteenth century Catherine Payton Phillips was called 'a Great Autocratrix' by the young James Jenkins, although he was hardly an unbiased observer and in the nineteenth century James Bevan Braithwaite earned the nickname of 'the Quaker Bishop'!

Eventually in the early twentieth century it was felt that meetings had come to rely too much on recorded ministers and that if they were not present then no vocal ministry would be heard. There was a movement to share the responsibility for vocal ministry more equally between all members and in the UK the practice of recording ministers was officially discontinued in 1924. Since then not only have attitudes to recorded ministers changed but so has vocal ministry itself - in length, form and content - especially among 'liberal' Friends.

Part of the problem with reviving recorded ministry is that in the past ministers were recorded for life. It was possible to withdraw approval from ministers by refusing to issue them with certificates (as happened in the case of May Drummond) but this was rare. Indeed those Friends who had been recorded before 1924 in London Yearly Meeting remained officially ministers until they died and Neave Brayshaw in his book The Quakers mentions that they were qualified to attend Meeting for Sufferings in that capacity and that some were still doing so in the late 1940s and early 1950s!

The change to limited terms (usually triennial) for elders and overseers, who were also once appointed for life, has been a good and helpful reform which I don't think anyone would wish to go back on. Perhaps the way to look at any revival of recorded ministry is through a short-term, project-based approach. The Joseph Rowntree Quaker Fellowships were set up in this way by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. When I was a fellow in 1994-1995, touring the UK with workshops on spiritual autobiography, I resisted the description of what I was doing as 'travelling in the ministry' but perhaps I was wrong to reject the label so vehemently. I was not acting entirely independently as I was answerable to the trust, who supported me financially, and I also had a support group, drawn from my meeting and more widely, who gave me spiritual and emotional support, although not a certificate!

Lastly, I have also wondered whether blogging can be a kind of ministry. Here are some thoughts on Quaker blogging which I hesitantly shared ten years ago! I have aways seen my blog as an extension of my spiritual autobiography project. Should I only have to listen to readers' comments or should I be open to discipline from the meeting or from another support group? Is there a difference between a Quaker blogging and a Quaker blog? There are a lot of questions about recorded ministry still to be considered.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Esther Biddle

The Execution of Charles I, 1649
Esther (or Hester) Biddle was born around 1629 and brought up in Oxford where she received a good education. She was a staunch Royalist and loyal to the Church of England. As a young woman she came to London where, she said, she sought satisfaction 'evening, morning and noonday, in the
Common Prayer' and when only one church was left open in the City she went to it. She adds, 'when their books were burned I stood for them and my heart was wholly joined to them, and when the King's head was taken off my heart and soul was burdened that I was weary of my life.'

In 1654 her life was changed when she met Francis Howgill and was convinced by him of the truth of Quakerism. In 1656 she began to travel in the ministry and to write in order to champion her new cause. She published several controversial works, some partly in verse.

Charles II c.1653
In 1656 Esther was arrested at Banbury and also at Launceston with John Stubbs and William Ames, who later went with her to Holland. In that year she also visited Newfoundland and in 1657 went to Barbados. On her return Esther had a vision of the king's restoration and went to Breda to tell Charles about it although George Fox and others had cautioned her against this course. Esther always followed her own line, which did not make her popular among Friends. During the late 1650s she spent some time in Holland and was described by her critics as a thorn in the side of Dutch as well as of English Quakers.

The Great Fire of London.
After her convincement Esther married Thomas Biddle who was also an active Friend. He was a shoemaker and seems to have had a prosperous business in London at Old Change employing a number of Quaker apprentices. This business prospered until Old Change was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. The family then moved south of the river but evidently never recovered their former prosperity. Shortly after Thomas's death in 1682 Esther became a pensioner of Peel Meeting and remained so for the rest of her life, at one time living in one of the rooms behind the meeting house given over to 'poor widows'. The only one of Thomas and Esther's four sons to reach adulthood was Benjamin. He was apprenticed first to his father, but after Thomas's death was re-apprenticed by Peel Meeting out of a bequest left for apprenticing sons of 'poor Friends'.

Throughout her life Esther spoke and wrote as she felt called to do without considering the consequences and was imprisoned at least fourteen times. As a widow, in spite of her poverty, Esther still managed to travel in the ministry, visiting both Scotland and Ireland during those years.

Mary II
Perhaps her most famous exploit occurred in 1694 towards the end of her life. Esther was most concerned about the war between England and France and determined, against the advice of Friends, to do something about it. She went first to Queen Mary, complained that the war with its suffering was a grief to her heart as a woman and a Christian, and asked the Queen to endeavour to end it. She then asked leave to go to France to speak to the French king on the same subject. Eventually Esther obtained a pass from the Queen's Secretary and set out. After various difficulties she came to Versailles and applied to the exiled James II, who she had met before and delivered to him the letter she had written to Louis XIV. James gave it to the Duke of Orleans who promised to pass it on to the King, but Esther was not satisfied and insisted on speaking to the King herself. 'Am I permitted to speak to the King of Kings, and may I not speak with men?' she said.

Louis XIV
When he heard about this Louis admitted Esther to his presence. She implored the King to make his peace with God and with the nations he was at war with and put a stop to 'such an overflowing and Rivulet of Blood that was shed.' The King replied, 'But woman I desire Peace and seek Peace and would have Peace, and tell the Prince of Orange so'. Having delivered her message Esther returned home. Although the war did not cease at once so that some Quakers judged her to have failed in her mission, there is no doubt that she had been faithful to her calling and her straightforwardness and fearlessness could not fail to make an impression.

Esther died in London in December 1696 at the age of sixty-seven, and was buried, probably in Bunhill Fields Quaker burying ground, having been an uncomfortable and outspoken Friend for more than forty years.



A modern view of Bunhill Fields burying ground

Monday, March 18, 2019

Barbara Wheeler Hoyland


Barbara Wheeler was born in London in 1764, the fourth child and first daughter of William Wheeler who, although brought up as a gentleman, did not possess ‘a fortune fully adequate to his taste and refinement’ and found himself pushed by the needs of a growing family to take up business and become a wine merchant.

A dancing class
Her parents conformed strictly to the established Church but also to the demands of genteel society. As Barbara apologetically notes in her memoir, 'it was thought proper for us to learn music and dancing, and games at cards, and we were introduced to plays also, and trained for the ballroom and card tables.' She worshipped her father, tried to excel in everything for his sake, and would do anything to win his approval. To please him she attended a dancing school but later felt that the unthinking and trivial company she encountered there was a very bad influence on her, especially when she found herself lying to her father about where she had been and what she had been doing.

John Fothergill by American artist Gilbert Stuart
In 1778, when Barbara was fourteen, her father became ill and was looked after by the Quaker doctor John Fothergill who made a great impression on both him and his daughter. Barbara describes how the doctor's 'gentle, though firm demeanour calmed sorrow into silence. His penetrating eye and abstracted thought always inspired confidence in his judgement, though there might appear not the least prospect of success'. In the end the doctor could not save his patient and her father's death was a very great blow to Barbara. She tried to be a support to her mother, but carrying on the business proved to be a worry, as William, the eldest son, who should have been in charge of it, was only interested in following his own pleasures – wine, women and gambling.

After six years of struggling to carry on the business, Barbara's mother also died. The business was disposed of and the family dispersed, the three sons to foreign parts, one daughter to school and Barbara to live with her guardian, a clergyman cousin living in Yorkshire. It was here that she met her future husband while visiting relations in Handsworth Woodhouse, just outside Sheffield. Barbara's description of their meeting is reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel. 

‘The Parish church was more than a mile from the village where my cousins resided, yet we were pretty regular in our attendance. Once on going thither we were suddenly overtaken by a thunderstorm, when about half way, near a neat mansion very beautifully situated. This place had been taken by a person from Sheffield, who was in a precarious state of health, and a Quaker. The pathway went across the field in front of the house, and we, for a minute, debated whether we should ask shelter, especially as he was a single man. The propriety of the thing was, however, soon put out of the question, as the rain began to descend in torrents, with loud claps of thunder. We ran with all possible expedition to the asylum, the door of which was opened for our reception before we reached it. Part of our finery was pretty well drenched, and took some time to put in order again. The novelty of being in the house of a Quaker, and the idea of formality which attached to the person, were soon dissipated by the easy kindness and genuine promptness to render assistance that were offered by the master of the house. We were all pleased with our visit, and after the rain abated and the sky began to clear, we returned home, it being past church time.’

William Hoyland soon returned the visit in a more formal manner and began to improve his acquaintance with Barbara, to the point where marriage was proposed. Barbara’s relatives had several objections to the match, of which their difference in religion was only one. William was also about fifteen years older than her, of a serious temperament and suffered from poor health which might mean that Barbara would be more of a nurse than a wife. Barbara wavered, but ‘affectionate attachment’ and the renewed attentions of a former suitor made up her mind and the couple were married by Barbara’s cousin in 1787. This marriage before a priest led inevitably to William’s disownment from the Society of Friends which meant that he could no longer attend meetings for business.

The happy couple set up home in Woodhouse and Barbara found herself ‘mistress of an establishment, not indeed abounding with the embellishments of modern style or splendid convenience, but with all the pleasure of a happy and chaste simplicity.’ They took their place in Woodhouse village society but every Sunday the division between them in the matter of religion made itself evident. They walked together to the bottom of their garden and then parted, she to go to the Parish Church and he to the Meeting House. This was, as Barbara puts it, ‘a circumstance which was always accompanied by regret, but entirely without verbal remark on either side.’
St Mary's parish church, Handsworth Woodhouse.

After three years, during which ‘life seemed to flow in an easy channel’ William had to go to Sheffield for a week on business and suggested that Barbara accompany him. She had lost two children and was expecting a third so that her visiting would be confined to William’s relations, whose ‘plain’ Quaker lifestyle she found rather intimidating. However, rather than stay at home alone, she chose to go with him.


When Sunday came she says, ‘I felt a little uncomfortable in the morning, not knowing how I should get to church, but upon considering the matter, as I had often had a curiosity to sit in a meeting of friends, I thought if any of the family should invite me to go with them, I would do so.’ This happened and she accepted but her husband appeared uneasy and, making no comment, immediately rode off back to the meeting in Woodhouse so that Barbara went to Sheffield meeting without him.

The new experience was very strange to Barbara. As she put it, 'Profound silence soon reigned over a large assembly of people, most of whom were dressed decidedly like Friends; which appeared a pretty, or at least a novel, sight; but what were they doing? Sitting in an almost motionless state without appearing to notice anything. Some, whose faces I could not see, I fancied were asleep or near it. I looked on every side, and such was the stillness and settlement, that the motion of my head seemed to make a disturbing noise. I tried to sit as quietly as I could, withdrew my eyes from observation, and my thoughts involuntarily turned on my own situation and the possibility that I might not live through my confinement and on the lot of the helpless infant if it survived...These considerations were, however soon succeeded by a perfect calmness, which so much pervaded my whole mind, that I believed I could die, or bear anything that might befall me, if it were the will of God, let it be ever so sad.’ She was moved to tears and when a Friend then prayed she says, ‘it was all I had felt, all I had desired in silence, put into the most striking figures of speech and was a seal of confirmation to me of spiritual worship, indelibly fixed on my mind.’

Barbara and her husband did not speak at all of what had happened although she felt that she had his sympathy. About two years later, in 1792, she applied for membership of the Society, again without discussing it with William. However, she says 'he was told by some Friend that the application had been made, and the next time we met, he appeared very thoughtful, and I was ready to suspect the matter had been disclosed and that it was not agreeable to him. But on questioning him on the subject he very feelingly said, "No, my dear, I am glad that what I have lost thou art about I hope to gain."'.

Gracechurch St Meeting House, London in 1770. Sheffield meeting house would have been similarly arranged.
They went on their separate ways and on being accepted into membership Barbara took up her duties as a Quaker. She says, ‘The first Monthly Meeting I sat happened to be at Sheffield; and I was not a little surprised to find that my dear W.H. meant to attend the previous meeting for worship. I felt a good deal for him as it was the first he had attended at Sheffield since we had been married, and I looked earnestly about, when assembled, but could not perceive him. In about an hour after the commencement of the meeting, every interesting feeling was awakened by the sound of his voice, and seeing him stand up near the centre of the meeting and acknowledging "he had wandered from the principles in which he had been educated, and the justice of the dealings of Friends towards him", concluding with a request to be reinstated.’ William was eventually readmitted and in this way was  able to repent of his failings without regretting his marriage. He was extremely scrupulous in never blaming Barbara for his misfortune or indeed ever discussing the principles of Quakerism with her, but stood back while she came to convincement in her own way at her own pace. Disownment was inevitable when they married but he was never cast off from family or from worship and the possibility of return.

Barbara and William were now both part of the Quaker community and Barbara was recognised as a minister. Their family grew, although several of their twelve children died young. After being out of touch for some years Barbara also renewed contact with her sister and brothers including the youngest, Daniel, seven years her junior, who had been in both the navy and the army. In 1796 he wrote to Barbara asking for permission in visit her but made no formal arrangement. 

However one evening there was a knock at the door and 'a military figure presented itself, wrapped in a long cloak. He hastily enquired if Mr H. was at home. With too much perturbation to answer the question, I replied by asking what he wanted with him. “Oh. Mrs H. will do for me,” he said, in a more softened tone of voice, and entering with a light step into the parlour, he looked alternately at us, then, bowing, greeted my husband familiarly, who rose at the salutation and expressed his want of knowledge of the person; but by a steady look towards him, I caught one remembered glance of the dear orphan Daniel. The name passed my lips on the moment of recognition, and he threw his arms about my neck.The youth of fourteen was so lost in the man of twenty-four, characterised with the toute ensemble of the soldier, that scarcely any trace remained but the quickness and brilliancy of his eye.'

Daniel stayed with Barbara and William and eventually the unspoken influence of Quakerism worked on him too and he joined the Society as his sister had. He took to farming, married and took his place as a Quaker minister, becoming well known, not only for his faith, but for his adventures in Russia and elsewhere.
Quaker Tapestry panel about Daniel Wheeler's adventures

In 1797 Barbara and William moved into the centre of Sheffield where William set up an ironmongery business in partnership with his younger brother. Unfortunately his health did not improve and in 1805 he died at the age of 55. A few years later Barbara moved with her family to Bradford, another thriving Quaker community, and was active as a minister both locally and farther afield. She held numerous public meetings, for example, in Leeds in 1822, in Knaresborough and Thirsk Monthly Meetings in 1825 and in Halifax in 1827. She also travelled to Devon and Cornwall with a younger minister, Benjamin Seebohm, in 1824.

.
Towards the end of her life Barbara wrote an account of her spiritual journey mainly for her family. The manuscript (together with a transcript) is in Friends House Library, London and I have quoted from it extensively in this post. Barbara died in Bradford in 1829 at the age of 65 and was buried in the Quaker burial ground there. In 1855 the burial ground was closed by the town council and the bodies, including Barbara's, removed to the new Undercliffe cemetery overlooking the town.
Quaker graves inUndercliffe cemetery, Bradford