Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 52 - Z for Zed

Well here we are at the end of 2013and I have come to the end of this year's Quaker Alphabet blog. This post is about Zed, the ending (or not) and what I have learned over the year.

Firstly I would like to say a big thank you to my fellow bloggers, Rhiannon and Stephanie. Without their inspiration and different take on subjects I think I would have given up long ago. Rhiannon has already started a new project based on the liturgy and I look forward to finding out what Stephanie will do next.

The format we agreed on, with two consecutive posts for each letter, allowed me to divide my posts up into one biography and one general topic for each segment. I made a plan at the beginning of the year and sketched out some possible subjects, some of which I stuck to and some of which changed. Sometimes I really did not know what I was going to say until I sat down at the computer to write while other posts took more than a week to research. I also enjoyed finding images to go with the words.

My blog has never been one to attract a lot of traffic. My statistics would normally show me fifty viewings or less although sometimes I seemed to say something that more people wanted to read and my views reached several hundred. For the Quaker Alphabet the picture has not changed a lot, although I have become aware of what a difference sharing posts on Facebook and Twitter can make. However occasionally this year my posts have been noticed by Quakerquaker and this has made quite a difference. I am not expecting to reach vast numbers of people but I have enjoyed the comments, both on the blog and on Facebook, and am glad that sometimes what I write seems to have been helpful.

Having said that I am not playing the numbers game I have done some analysis of the first 50 weeks! My most popular post was on Solitude and Sociability with 730 views, way out in front of the next contender Visiting at 358. 5 posts reached more than 300 views and 8 posts more than 200. The largest group of posts (23) were viewed over 100 times with 13 posts reaching less than 100 views. The least popular post at the moment is Y for Yearly Meeting with 44 views but even that is not bad for my blog. On the whole the topics were more popular than the biographies but I am happy to report that it was a close run thing and my fourth most viewed post was on Solomon Eccles

It was good for me to write regularly and I hope to continue to do so. I shall therefore be starting another Quaker Alphabet blog in 2014 although this time I will be writing it every two weeks. I hope that the space between will fill with other posts on a greater variety of topics - let's wait and see! I also hope that more people will take part in this endeavour so that we can share a greater variety of Quaker voices. I have set up an 'event' on Facebook which I hope will have some result and if anyone reading this feels inspired to try a Quaker Alphabet blog for 2014 do please comment. There is no restriction on the form which such an enterprise should take - short or long, words or pictures or a combination of both - just give it a go!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 51 - Z for Zephaniah Fry

The first Zephaniah Fry to become a Quaker was born in 1658 in Sutton Benger, a small village near Chippenham in Wiltshire, and made woolen cloth for a living. He was convinced by the powerful preaching of Solomon Eccles and was imprisoned for his faith from 1683 to 1685 when he was freed under the general amnesty after the death of Charles II. For the rest of his life he lived quietly and raised a large family as respectable Quakers before his death in 1728.

His son Zephaniah, born in 1688, also lived a quiet life in another village near Chippenham, marrying and having just one son, born in 1716 (who he called, unsurprisingly, Zephaniah). Unfortunately this Zephaniah lost his father when he was only two months old, although his mother could rely on an extensive network of respectable Quaker Fry relations to help with his upbringing.  In time Zephaniah moved to Bristol and became prosperous as a woolen draper. In 1741 he married Abigail Hiscox and the couple had two children, Robert and Elizabeth, born in 1742 and 1744. All seemed set fair for another Zephaniah Fry to lead a quiet respectable life, but ten years later a scandal arose of his own making.

Ann Jenkins was also a Quaker and a servant in Zephaniah's household. In August 1753, unmarried, she gave birth to a son who she named James Jenkins and Bristol Monthly Meeting felt that it had no choice but to bring the scandal into the open. A minute made matters very clear -
This meeting having been informed that Zephaniah Fry has lived in Criminal Conversation [adultery] with his late [former] servant Ann Jenkins, and said Fry, having sent into this Meeting a letter signifying his being under strong conviction for his late misconduct and his Sorrow for the same, William Gayner and William Fry are desired to pay Z. Fry a Visit on this Melancholly occasion, and to desire two Women Friends to visit Ann Jenkins.

A month later the two women Friends reported that their visit to Ann Jenkins resulted in a confession and admission that she hath been lately delivered of a Bastard child of whom Z Fry was the Father. In spite of their contrition both parents were disowned by Bristol Friends in order to clear the Society from any aspersions that may be cast on our principles by reason of such scandalous practices, although the possibility of future forgiveness was not withdrawn.

Zephaniah had acknowledged his son as his responsibility but wanted nothing to do with him personally. He also refused to allow Ann to keep her baby. Having lost her job and unable to gain another in Bristol because of the scandal, she moved to London where she had relatives who could support her. Baby James was put out to nurse with a non-Quaker family in a village just outside Bristol. The mortality rate for infants in this situation was very high - perhaps a fact which Zephaniah was counting on - but James survived.

Two years after his disownment Zephaniah applied for readmission and was accepted. It does not appear that Ann Jenkins ever regained her membership. When he was 10 James was sent to London as an apprentice to his kinsman John Fry, although at that time he did not know of the relationship. Here James met his mother again but only briefly as she died of consumption in 1764.

Zephaniah Fry died in 1787, leaving his son James Jenkins £300 (compared with trusts for his legitimate children and their offspring worth at least £5000) which allowed him to buy a stake in a business. There is no evidence that father and son ever met. James's whole life and attitude was shaped by the shame of his illegitimacy. Although he became a Quaker when he was an apprentice in Ireland and was treated with kindness by many Friends and relations he was always particularly aware of any hint of hypocrisy in the Society. In later life he compiled a volume of Records and Recollections which gave some details of his life and also his impressions of 'weighty Friends' he had known, painting them 'warts and all' instead of idealising them as official testimonies often did. James's writings give us a valuable, because often partial and prejudiced, view of Quakers in the 18th century and we have the circumstances of his birth to thank for that.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 50 - Y for Yearly Meeting

I can almost echo Amelia Opie when she said in 1843, 'Yearly Meeting has engrossed me much as usual, for I never missed one sitting since I obtained the great privilege of belonging to it '. I have certainly attended almost every sitting of Britain Yearly Meeting since I joined Friends in 1980 but in fact my first experience of Yearly Meeting was not as a member.

D Elton Trueblood
In 1975 I was working in Friends House Library and attended Yearly Meeting as a member of staff (with a red name badge to mark me out as I remember it). We were very busy attending to enquiries from Friends from all over the country and indeed all over the world. It was a great opportunity to get an impression of the wide variety of Quakers and to see them 'warts and all.' I particularly remember a visit from the weighty American Friend D.Elton Trueblood who stunned us with his parting remark as he left the library - "Now I must go and meet some real people"!

Edward H. [Ted] Milligan
The library closed when YM was in session and the librarian, the redoubtable Ted Milligan, encouraged us to go into the meeting where we sat together in specially allocated seats. As I was so new to Quakers and Quakerism he kindly sat beside me and explained what was going on and who people were. I particularly remember an elderly woman Friend dressed in a striking black hat and cloak and sitting in the front row  - Sybil White, then in her late eighties. I learned a lot about friends' eccentricities but was also inspired by their good sense and commitment.

Sybil White at YM 1978
But it was not just the people that drew me back to Yearly Meeting and into membership of the Religious Society of Friends. It was the experience, which amazed me then and continues to amaze me now, of a very large room full of noisy, opinionated, talkative people dropping all at once into silent worship. It was the power of that worship and the depth of vocal ministry that sometimes arose from it that reached me then and continues  - not in every meeting certainly but in enough - to reach me now.

I wish that more Friends would look outside their local meetings and take the opportunity to attend Yearly Meeting. Of course it is good to meet Friends from other meetings - as early Friends put it 'to see one anothers faces'- and to get a sense of the variety of Quakers. But it is by worshipping together, in such a large and diverse group as well as in our familiar surroundings, that we can reach for and find the Light that binds us all together in unity in spite of our outward differences.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 49 - Y for Isabel Fell, later Yeamans, afterwards Morrice

Swarthmoor Hall
Isabel Fell was the third of the eight children born to Thomas and Margaret Fell (later Fox) in about 1637. In 1652 when she was fifteen years old she was convinced of the truth of Quakerism, along with her mother and some of her siblings, when George Fox visited the family home of Swarthmoor Hall in Lancashire. The house became a centre for the new movement and Isabel was a vital part of its development. 

In 1664 Isabel married another active Quaker William Yeamans, who was a merchant in Bristol where the couple set up home. They had two sons and two daughters but William junior and Margaret died in infancy. In 1674 Isabel's husband William died and she made extended visits back to the family home at Swarthmoor with her daughter Rachel and her surviving son, also named William. She began to travel in the ministry, particularly to meetings in the North, leaving her children in the care of their grandmother and aunts, although Rachel died in 1676 at the age of ten.

Swarthmoor Hall Quaker Tapestry panel
At this time and throughout her life Isabel was much concerned with the establishment and continuance of women's meetings among Friends in the face of opposition from some Quakers. In a letter written at Swarthmoor in 1676 she says that womens meetings should be ‘constant and frequent...to wait upon the lord to feel his power to administer counsel, wisdom and instruction that thereby your minds may be seasoned and fitted for the lord’s business.’  It is, she says, the work of the ‘elder and honourable women’ to be ‘teachers of good things that they may teach the young women according to the holy apostles’ exhortation and so be good examples and patterns of prudence...’ ‘Here will be work and business enough for us all that none need to be Idle in God’s vineyard, but as we have everyone received a measure of God’s spirit and grace some may be fellow helpers and workers together with our brethren in the work of the lord in these gospel days... ‘ ‘So every member of the body whereof Christ our lord is head may be serviceable and although we may be many members and some much more honourable than others yet no member though it be small is to be despised.’

In 1677 Isabel was chosen to accompany her step-father George Fox, William Penn, George Keith and Robert Barclay, the latter two accompanied by their wives, to preach Quakerism in Holland and Germany. Isabel herself preached to Princess Elizabeth of the Palatinate who admired her 'curious voice and freer way of delivering herself.' In 1678 Isabel travelled in Scotland with Robert Barclay and his wife and for the next dozen years she lived in various places including London and Stockton on Tees, where she was again much involved with women's meetings.

Lincoln meeting house built by Abraham Morrice
In 1690, at the age of 53 and after sixteen years of widowhood,  Isabel married another Quaker merchant, Abraham Morrice of Lincoln, and settled there. Her son William Yeamans died at the house of one of his aunts in 1698 when he was only 29 and Isabel and Abraham both died in 1704 when she was 67 years old.

Isabel was a Quaker pioneer who, although acknowledged as knowledgeable and accomplished by others, defined the true believer as one who had transcended intellectual accomplishments. ‘So look not for [God] in the shadows and forms without the power and substance',she wrote, 'nor be satisfied with the hearing of him by the hearing of the ear, or a notional traditional knowledge.’ She called instead for a gradual spiritual regeneration, an inward response to wisdom’s gentle voice within the soul. ‘Return, return, hearken unto the voice of wisdom; for she uttereth her voice in the streets of the world, and in the midst of the concourse of the people.’


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 48 - X for Xmas

I know that I'm cheating for X here and that Xmas isn't even really a word, but it's almost December and I wanted to write about Quakers and Christmas as well as my own rather ambivalent attitude to the festive season.

Quakers' rejection of Christmas celebrations has always been part of their testimony regarding times and seasons, which states that all days are equally holy and that particular times for celebration should not be seen as 'special'. In this they were not alone but part of the particular time and place from which they sprang. When Quakerism first emerged in the 1650s in England Parliament itself had banned the celebration of Christmas as 'a popish festival with no biblical justification' and this very unpopular law remained in force from 1647 to 1659. In America the Puritans of New England carried on where the British Puritans left off and outlawed the celebration of Christmas in Boston from 1659 to 1681.

Friends continued to ignore Christmas, opening their shops and continuing their schooling throughout, until well into the 19th century. Over time however the testimony regarding times and seasons weakened.  The problem with making no difference between days is that the element of celebration, which might equally happen every day, in practice tends to be lost and we long for excuses to celebrate with our families and communities. In the UK too the nature of the Religious Society of Friends has changed radically with most members now coming in by convincement as adults rather than being brought up in Quaker families so that we have learned different Christmas traditions and wish to continue at least some of them. Many Quaker meetings now organise some sort of programmed meeting involving all ages in carols, seasonal readings and plays. Some also have a meeting for worship on the day that the world calls Christmas.

There are elements of Christmas celebration which I was brought up with and which I would miss if Friends went right back to their puritan roots. I enjoy the celebration with family, sharing food and giving and receiving cards and gifts. I love decorating the house with a tree and lights and looking at the decorations in the places around me. These things bring back my childhood excitement and wonder and they mean Christmas to me. I do not have to spend a lot of money or to take part in the rampant materialism which I would label Xmas, but I refuse to feel guilty about what I do.  Oh yes and I also count down the days with an advent calendar - very unquakerly!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 47 - X for eXtinct

Some people think that Quakers have died out already - usually those who confuse us with Shakers - while others worry that if numbers continue to decline we will soon be extinct.

This is far from a new worry. In the 1750s, towards the end of his life, Samuel Bownas wrote to his friend and fellow-minister James Wilson, 'The Church seems very barren of young ministers to what it was in our youth, nor is there but very little convincement to what was then.' This cry has been repeated in different forms down the centuries.

In the 19th century John Stephenson Rowntree's 1859 prize-winning essay examined the reasons for decline at that time, including restrictive practices such as expelling people who married non-Quakers, and his conclusions did bring about some change. There was a feeling too that Quakers in the 19th century were prepared to rest on the laurels of their reputation rather than looking for new converts. An article of 1880 in an American journal describes a Society of Friends in Britain in such a position, although the amount of influence it had in central government might seem enviable to present-day eyes!

During the 20th century the face of the Society of Friends in Britain changed irrevocably. No longer were there generations of Quaker families and a few members coming in by convincement. Now the position is reversed with most members joining as adults and few children continuing as Quakers when they grow up.

In 2009 The Friends Quarterly instigated another essay competition to look at the possible future of Quakerism. The judges' report set out their objectives and findings and the text of the entries can still be read online. There are also all kinds of outreach activities - not only during the annual Quaker week - that aim to spread knowledge of the Religious Society of Friends more widely and to increase numbers.

Has this made any difference to our fears about extinction? Probably not if numbers are the only things we look at. Counting members is clearcut, but counting attenders is a much more difficult exercise. The meaning of the word shifts so that some counted as attenders one year may not be noted as such at another time.

Perhaps extinction is not a subject that we ought to think about at all. Perhaps it is better to concentrate instead on faith, on living our lives as Friends and on showing a positive face to the world - but not too positive as that would be less than truthful!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 46 - W for Mary Waterhouse

Mary Waterhouse, 1871, by Samuel Lawrence

Mary Bevan (1805-1880) was the eldest child and only daughter of Paul and Rebecca (Capper) Bevan of Tottenham. Her mother died in 1817 leaving Mary, aged 12, and five young sons. In time Mary took over the role of housekeeper to her father and brothers, greatly assisted by three of her maternal aunts, Katharine Backhouse, Mary Mounsey and Sarah Harris. Mary was described as ‘of good height, graceful in figure, with perfect features and beautiful profile’ although she had a cast in her left eye (which this portrait disguises).

In 1825 at the age of 20 Mary began to write a spiritual journal. In it she recorded among other things her thoughts, prayers and anxieties, her precarious state of health and family matters. From it we learn that when young Mary refused several suitors and had feelings for one man which were not returned. Eventually in 1829, with the encouragement of her father who knew and did business with the family, she married Alfred Waterhouse (1798-1873) of Liverpool. He came from a large family of 6 girls and 8 boys, children of Nicholas Waterhouse, the founder of a very successful cotton broking business which most of his sons joined.

Oakfield, Aigburgh in 1848
Alfred built a house for his family at Aigburth, Liverpool, taking particular care with laying out the garden and trees. They stayed there, adding extensions as the family grew, until 1849. They had seven children who survived infancy - four sons and three daughters. 

Mary's journal tells of the growth of her family and also of her spiritual struggles. In Liverpool meeting the prosperous young woman was sometimes reprimanded for not dressing plainly enough and as a young mother had qualms herself as this extract from 1831 makes clear - At meeting yesterday for the first time since my confinement:- the beginning of it, I felt uncomfortable – being in a cloak – the colour of which I feared might offend some who would not wear such a one - & might be occasion of offence in others, who might like to imitate it. How much better to endeavour to keep to what could take the attention of none, though I did not feel condemnation on account of the colour with regard to myself, it not being one I preferred, or exactly what I intended to buy. – But of this, enough, - except that if it still occasion me uneasiness it will be better to sacrifice the cloak.

Mary and Alfred Waterhouse c 1872
Mary also struggled for many years against expressing her gift for the ministry, perhaps in part because of her fear of offending her husband, as this passage from 1836 shows - I had another distressing meeting, believing a few words were called for from me, even on my knees, & not obeying. My remorse was great, which my countenance no doubt bespoke, one of my sisters whom I saw some little time afterwards affectionately enquiring what ailed me:- I found no liberty to tell her, nor have I to mention the subject to any-one except that that evening, or before we rose the next morning, I thought it best to tell my precious husband part of what I suffered. The communication met with the reception I could not but expect from him – kindness but no sympathy, & I believe I promised to struggle against all feeling of the kind as long as I could. Alfred felt, and other weighty Friends often told him, that he should be the minister but in the end this did not happen and instead Mary was recorded a minister in 1842. 
Sneyd Park 1854
Alfred Waterhouse retired from business in 1847, when he was nearly 50, and having ambitions to become a farmer, looked around for a place in the country. In April 1849 the family removed permanently from Liverpool to Redland Hall, a house near Bristol, and thence in April 1850 to Sneyd Park, an imposing but damp and rather inconvenient residence in the same area where they remained for five years. As the boys were growing up they then moved to London, to 11 Cumberland Terrace next to Regents Park, so that they could attend University College School  and university.

Whiteknights House from the East
Finally in December 1858 Mary and Alfred Waterhouse moved to Reading where Alfred had purchased part of the Whiteknights estate. A new house called Whiteknights was designed and built for them by their architect son Alfred which they moved into in November 1859 and remained in for the rest of their lives. (This is now occupied by adminstrative staff of the University of Reading which eventually took over the Whiteknights site) Throughout her life Mary remained a member of the Society of Friends but her husband and children became increasingly estranged.

Alfred Waterhouse Junior
In 1864 her five youngest children were baptised into the Church of England and in 1877 Alfred junior and his family followed them.  Mary’s reaction was very like that of Elizabeth Fry – happy if she felt they were truly ‘following Christ’. Mary felt that, especially given her position as a minister, she had to stay faithful to the Society in which she had been brought up – I must stay with those who stay.

Mary was increasingly involved with her family, writing copious letters, visiting them and receiving visits, especially after Alfred junior, who had become a very successful architect (perhaps his most famous building being the Natural History Museum) built Fox Hill House, also on the Whiteknights estate, for his family in 1868. Alfred senior died while walking in his garden in 1873. After some years as a widow, cared for by her unmarried daughter Maria, Mary died in 1880 and was buried at the Meeting House in Reading.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 45 - W for Weighty Friends

Another piece of Quaker jargon that I feel really ambivalent about is the term 'Weighty Friend'. The Quaker Jargon Buster defines a Weighty Friend, with tongue firmly in cheek, as 'one who is influential (i.e: their opinion carries weight) within the Society (while remaining consistent with our testimony on equality, of course).' 

I think my main uneasiness with the term stems from that problem of equality. Of course I have known weighty friends, whose spiritual depth and experience gives weight to their words, and I have turned to some of them for wisdom and advice, but I do not see them as being 'better' than I am. I am more comfortable with the term 'Experienced Friends' as this is more plainly descriptive of someone who knows more and has done more than I have and whose thoughts are worth listening to for that reason.

My problem with the term comes to the fore whenever Weighty Friends are deferred to as authorities in any matter, either locally or centrally. All of us have a right to be listened to, even if the discernment of the meeting does not in the end agree with us. Deferring to the opinions of Weighty Friends is even worse when their 'weight' comes from belonging to a Quaker family, going to a Quaker school or even having been a Young Friend in the past!

For myself, I may answer to the name of Experienced Friend in some contexts but never to Weighty Friend. In fact I believe that if anyone sees themselves as a Weighty Friend (except in the context of a joking reference to avoirdupois) then they are certainly not one!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 44 - V for Joan Vokins and the Vale of the White Horse

Jane and Joan Bunce were born in Charney Bassett (then in Berkshire) in the 1630s, the daughters of a yeoman farmer. Both were pious women, much influenced by the religious turmoil of their times and looking for a faith they could commit themselves to.

In the 1660s both women married and both became Quakers. Jane's husband, Oliver Sansom, was convinced before their wedding and they became Friends together. Joan on the other hand had been married to Richard Vokins of West Challow for some time before her convincement and she did not rest until she had brought her husband and children with her into the Quaker fold.

The White Horse at Uffington
The area where they lived, the Vale of the White Horse (named for the prehistoric figure on the downs above Uffington), became a thriving centre for Quakerism despite continuing persecution. Oliver Sansom was imprisoned many times and his wife's administrative skills kept both his drapery business and the Quaker meeting going during his absence. Joan Vokins's gifts lay in a more prophetic direction and she took care of the spiritual needs of Friends, both keeping them up to the mark and encouraging them.

This was the period of the Wilkinson-Story separation when John Wilkinson and John Story spoke out against the formation of women's meetings and in favour of meeting safely behind closed doors rather than publicly. The Vale of the White Horse was much troubled by this Quaker heresy and Joan Vokins spoke out strongly against it. On one occasion she even turned back from a foreign missionary journey in order to make sure that her home meeting did not give way to persuasion from local supporters of Wilkinson and Story.

Although she was the mother of six children and had far from robust health Joan Vokins travelled in the ministry far and frequently.In 1680 she sailed to America, arriving in New York in May. She visited Long Island, Rhode Island, Boston, East and West Jersey and Pennsylvania. Hoping to return to England she went back to New York to find a passage but found herself suddenly called to visit Barbados. As she tells it, on the way to Barbados 'the Lord put it into my heart to visit Friends in the leeward islands' and the boat was driven there against the captain's will. Trying again to go to Barbados she felt another call to visit Nevis and the boat duly changed direction of its own volition! When eventually Joan reached Barbados she found many Quakers who had been transported from England and she held meetings for them sometimes two or three times a day.

Charney Manor, Charney Bassett
Joan returned to England, landing in Dover in June 1681 and spending some time preaching in Kent before returning home. She continued to travel extensively, encouraging persecuted Friends, but when the prisons opened and Quakers were freed in 1686 Joan went to Ireland. Here, though very weak, she went up and down the country for a full year. In 1690 she attended Yearly Meeting in London and having been refreshed by meeting with Friends turned back towards home. This time though her weakness overcame her and she died 'having finished her course and kept the faith' while staying in Reading in 1690. In 1691 Joan's brother-in-law Oliver Sansom published her autobiography and letters under the title God's Mighty Power Magnified: As Manifested and Revealed in His Faithful Handmaid Joan Vokins.

Quakerism still flourishes in the Vale of the White Horse and Joan is remembered in her home village at Charney Manor, now a Quaker retreat centre, where a room is named after her.