Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Firbank Fell anniversary meeting - Ann Newby Audland Camm

Fox's Pulpit
This is the text of a talk I gave at the 2019 annual meeting to mark the anniversary of Fox speaking on Firbank Fell in 1652. It should have been delivered near the spot known as Fox's Pulpit but because of heavy rain was relocated to Briggflatts meeting house nearby.

When does a movement begin? One reckoning dates the beginning of Quakerism from the day, June 13th 1652, when George Fox spoke to a large gathering here on Firbank Fell, but he had been gathering support and supporters before that date and continued to do so. Perhaps the setting up of an organisation spreading from Swarthmoor Hall and the fell family, who he was yet to visit, is a more effective beginning?

I want to talk today about someone who may or may not have been here that day, although her husband certainly was. Someone who lived long enough to see great changes in the movement that began in 1652 and who outlived many of its founders, including George Fox.

Ann Newby was born in Kendal in 1627. When she was twelve years old she went to London to live with an aunt for seven years before coming home to Kendal. She went into service with a well-to-do family in York but when her mistress died she returned to Kendal. She was concerned about her spiritual life and joined a group of Seekers of which John Audland was a member. They married when she was 23 and he was 20. They both thought that they had found their spiritual home until they encountered George Fox.

John Audland was here that day as he and Francis Howgill were preaching in Firbank chapel in the morning. Ann may have been part of the crowd but she certainly met Fox when he stayed in their house. He also stayed with John Camm and his wife Mabel and perhaps made as much of an impression face to face as he did preaching for three hours in the open air!

For John and Ann Audland convincement did not come easily as it overturned everything they were sure of. Ann reports of her husband,
'He was high in Notion and Profession, imagining that he had been filled with durable Riches and Wisdom; but in the Light of this Day he saw the emptiness of it all, while he wanted the Substance, Life in the eternal Word, and by the same to be sanctified throughout. Therefore under the sense of this great want, many and great were his Sighs and Groans and his Tears not a few; Days and Nights of Sorrow many an one he underwent, the Word and Power of the Lord being as a Fire revealed within him, to burn the great building, that he had been erecting and setting up of Hay, Wood and Stubble; and in this exercise I also had a share with him, and in great Lamentation I have heard him often sorrowfully say; "Ah! what have we been doing? What have we been labouring for? or what availeth our great Profession? all our building tumbles down!"'

Once they were convinced they could not remain at home but set out two by two as 'morris dancers from the North'. John Audland travelled with John Camm to Lancashire, Cheshire, Oxford, the Welsh Marches and, perhaps most notably, Bristol. Ann Audland travelled with Mabel Camm to Auckland in Durham and then to Banbury where they were imprisoned for more than a year. Ann also travelled to Launceston in Cornwall to visit George Fox in prison.

The travelling and the rough treatment they encountered took its toll. John Camm died in 1657 of consumption made worse by the rigours of his ministry. Mabel Camm died not long after. In 1664 John Audland died of a fever, leaving his wife Ann with a small daughter and heavily pregnant with a son who was born only a few days after his father's death. So of the four travellers only Ann was left. She continued on and in 1666 she married Thomas Camm, John and Mabel's son and fourteen years her junior, who had himself been convinced by Fox as a twelve year old boy in Preston Patrick chapel.

Camsgill today
They lived at Camsgill, the house that John Camm had built in 1647, and were both active in the Quaker cause. Thomas travelled extensively and was also fined more than thirty times for refusing tithe payments. Of the forty years of their marriage Thomas spent nine in prison - six years in Appleby and three in Kendal. Ann did not travel during her second marriage but continued to speak, to petition and to support her meeting as a minister and a 'mother in Israel'. She was also a 'powerful fellow-labourer' with her husband.

She might sometimes 'be grieved' when women friends spoke too hastily or unseasonably in large meetings and she might reprove them for it, but that did not mean that she was actively discouraging. She herself was careful about when to appear in public in preaching or prayer 'but when she did it was fervent, weighty and with the demonstrating of the spirit, and with power' - the same power that she had felt and expressed from her first convincement.

After the Restoration Friends concentrated more on organisation and discipline. Fox established separate womens' meetings for business to encourage women to take a full part in the Quaker movement, to be helps-meet and equal labourers in the vineyard. Ann pursued her Quaker path by encouraging women to be faithful in their attendance and ministry in these meetings.

Ann was also a fierce critic of John Wilkinson and John Story, two Westmoreland Friends who opposed womens' meetings, as well as advising Quakers not always to meet in public but to hold safer, private meetings. The two men had also refused to go to John Audland's aid in Bristol in the 1650s and Ann had neither forgotten nor forgiven that. John Story was dismissive of women Friends who defended their right to hold womens' meetings and to preach, telling them to stick to washing dishes and sending them crying home.

Ann spoke out against Wilkinson and Story whenever she could. In 1675 the Kendal Womens Meeting wrote to another womens' meeting, the Box Meeting in London, 'Our meetings are lightly looked upon and of little esteem among some who should have strengthened us' (i.e. Wilkinson and Story) and Ann Camm was a signatory of that letter.

As Ann grew older she continued on her faithful path, supporting her husband and family, encouraging and directing other women Friends and never forgetting the revelation that had come to her and so many others that day on Firbank Fell. She died in November 1705 'in a good Old Age being in her 79th year, as a Shock of Corn in Season...and was Honourably buried, many Ancient Friends of about thirteen adjacent Meetings Accompanied her to the grave.'

Ann Camm was a survivor and her spiritual journey went through changes in emphasis over time, as the movement which she had been part of starting also changed - as it would change again and is still changing. Faithfulness to the truth is what is important, but that faithfulness can mean different things at different times. There are many different paths that can lead to a vibrant Quakerism for today.

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