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.
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.