Monday, February 25, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 8 - D for Discipline

Quaker Faith and Practice, the red book, is as its subtitle reveals 'The book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain'. It was first issued in 1738 following requests for a compilation of those minutes of advice and counsel which the yearly meeting had sent out from time to time over the years to quarterly and monthly meetings. Many revisions have followed at the rate of roughly one a generation. The process for the last revision began in 1985 and was published in 1994 although with changes in practice there have been several new editions since then and the book is kept up to date online. Perhaps the time for a new revision is drawing near.

Australian book of discipline
Ireland book of discipline

Each Yearly Meeting, and sometimes smaller groups such as Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon, publishes their own book of discipline, also revised from time to time. Two of the most recent examples are from Australia Yearly Meeting, the fruit of a 10 year process, and Ireland Yearly Meeting whose Quaker Life and Practice has also been laboured over for many years. I find that reading these different books of discipline both historical and recent gives me a very good picture of the differences and similarities between the branches of worldwide Quakerism.

Although these compilations of Quaker practice have always been known collectively as books of discipline it is noticeable that modern editions do not generally include the word in their main title. What discomfort with the concept does this show? As the introduction to Quaker Faith and Practice says, 'Discipline is not now a popular word. It has overtones of enforcement and correction but its roots lie in ideas of learning and discipleship. Discipline in our yearly meeting consists for the most part of advice and counsel, the encouragement of self-questioning, of hearing each other in humility and love...'

For myself I certainly struggle with aspects of self-discipline in my Quaker life. Living in community, living simply and giving myself time to be open to the Light within are all things I find difficult. What keeps me going in the end is the corporate discipline of Friends.

Discipline in the way meetings for worship of all kinds are held is important to me. Ways change over time - in general we no longer kneel to pray in worship or stand when others minister in this way - but the discipline of waiting attentively for the Light, of waiting to be sure that the words that may come to us are to be shared with others rather than being for ourselves alone is still valid. The discipline of taking part in a meeting for worship for business, speaking only when called by the clerk, speaking only once on each topic, leaving time between contributions, upholding the clerk in the process of drafting and agreeing a minute - all this is vital.

Discipline in the Society of Friends is not easy but it is necessary. For me it is part of an active engagement with our endeavour, individually and corporately, to discern and act on the will of God.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 7 - D for May Drummond

George Drummond Provost of Edinburgh
May Drummond was born about 1710 in Edinburgh. She came from an eminent family, her eldest brother George (1687-1766) being lord provost of Edinburgh six times and another brother, Alexander, consul in Aleppo. In 1731, when she was only 21, her curiosity led her to attend Yearly Meeting in Edinburgh with her society friends. Here May was convinced by the travelling minister Thomas Story. Her family were very much against her choice but she persevered and was soon recognised as a minister. She began to travel extensively in the ministry in Scotland and then, about 1735, moved to England where she created a stir among the general public.

May Drummond aged about 25

May was a tall handsome woman who spoke very eloquently and drew large crowds, on much the same scale as John Wesley, from all social classes. She was even granted an audience by Queen Caroline, which increased her fame. She was particularly appealing to young women, for whom she held special, often very emotional, meetings. A poem by ‘a young lady’ published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1735 gives some idea of her impact:-

          “No more O Spain! thy saint Teresa boast, 
           There's one out shines her on the British coast...                                                     
           Too long indeed, our sex has been deny’d,
           And ridiculed by mens’ malignant pride...
           That woman had no soul was their pretence,
           And woman’s spelling past for woman’s sense
           ’Til you, most generous heroine, stood forth,
           And shew’d your sex’s aptitude and worth...”

May travelled widely in England and visited Ireland in 1738 and again in 1753. Some Friends, however, distrusted her eloquence and popularity, fearing that she was in danger of acting for her own glory rather than God’s.

May Drummond
William Cookworthy (1705-1780) of Plymouth met her in 1744 and was kinder in his estimation of her. Writing to a friend he said that she was “one of a surprising genius, her apprehension being quick, lively, penetrating...a great connoisseur of the human heart in all its emotions, passions and foibles, her own open, generous, tender and humane..’Tis a strange phenomenon our young folks take a particular liking to her....I had forgotten her person which seems contrived to enforce and embellish truth, not excite desire. Her face and gesture are aimed at the mind.” He approved the religious content of her speech but was critical of her style, “rather too learned; her epithets rather swell too much. There is something too in the management and tone of her voice when she exerts it, a little too theatrical.” “But”, he adds, “I really believe all this to be owing to her education and not to any affectation or want of simplicity.”

May continued to travel but gradually more doubts were raised about her ministry. Her habit of often mentioning her noble relations and acquaintances made Friends uneasy and there was a feeling that she demanded too much attention for herself. In the late 1750s May Drummond returned to Scotland, but she was not welcomed in her own country. Edinburgh Quakers felt that she spoke in Meeting too often and refused to accept their discipline. Rumours circulated that May, having fallen upon hard times financially, had stooped to pilfering food from the houses of Friends she visited. It was also insinuated that she had become a drunkard. Eventually, in 1764, she was officially requested not to preach and her certificate as a minister was withdrawn.

May Drummond returned to England and continued to travel, becoming a shadow of her former self. Friends treated her kindly but could not acknowledge her ministry. In May 1772 she was in London, but later that year she made her way back to Edinburgh where she died aged 62. Her family forgave her sufficiently to allow her to be buried in the family vault. Her story was seen among Quakers as a fall from grace and a dreadful warning about the perils of popularity and spiritual pride, but only the impressions of others, some of them very partial and prejudiced, remain for history to assess.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 6 C for Convincement

What really appeals to me about the process of becoming a Quaker - convincement - is that it is usually a gradual process rather than the once-for-all 'lightbulb moment' of conversion.

Descriptions of the way in which early Friends came to Quakerism identify several stages. First of all the individual is 'reached' by the message of Quakerism or by the behaviour and example of  particular Quakers. Next comes the first part of convincement in which she or he is, to use an equivalent term, convicted - in the sense of a criminal conviction - that there is a darkness within, a failing that must be changed before convincement can proceed. This failing is different for everyone. Examples given in Friends' spiritual autobiographies include dancing, reading novels, drinking, putting too great an emphasis on one's own status and 'lightness' or insufficient seriousness. I think that my own failing, from which many others sprang, was a refusal to allow for the possibility of change.

Badge for UK Quaker Week 2012
Once a change in behaviour or attitude has been begun then convincement can proceed to the stage where the individual is willing to identify with Quakers and Quakerism and be seen as part of the group both by Friends and by the world in general. This involves taking the Quaker testimonies to peace, equality, simplicity and truth into one's life. In the past it also entailed changes in dress and speech that acted as clear signs of Quaker membership. Now that plain speech and plain dress are much rarer we need to think more about how, when or even if we identify ourselves to others as Quakers. Should we wear badges? Should we speak or write more consciously? This is a question I am still struggling with.

In the past and sometimes even today a distinction has been made between 'birthright' Friends who have been born into Quaker families and 'convinced' Friends who have come to Quakers from outside, with convinced Friends often seen as somehow inferior. This is a false dichotomy as Friends have always recognised that even those brought up in Quaker families are still in need of convincement. Samuel Bownas was a case in point, carefully brought up to behave, dress and speak like a Quaker but unable to understand the heart of his faith until he too was convinced.

I am glad that convincement and becoming a Quaker is a continuing process. I am always heartened by the idea of 'measure' - that Light is given to each according to their capacity, or measure, and that if we live up to what is given then it is possible for that measure to increase.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 5 C for William Cookworthy

Silhouette of William Cookworthy
William Cookworthy was born into a Quaker family in Kingsbridge, Devon in 1705. His father was a prosperous weaver but died when William was fourteen and his mother then had to depend on charity to support him and his six younger siblings.

At this point Quaker networks came to William's rescue. Silvanus Bevan, a Quaker apothecary who was visiting Devon, heard of his predicament and took him back to London as his apprentice. William made the best use of his opportunity and in the next six years became a skilled pharmaceutical and mineralogical chemist. By voracious reading and self-education he also gained considerable knowledge of classical and English literature and enough Greek, Latin and French to allow him to converse in and later translate from these languages.

In 1726 Silvanus Bevan decided to start a wholesale pharmacy business in Notte Street, Plymouth and William came back to Devon to work there. By 1735 William had become a partner in the firm of Bevan & Cookworthy and in the same year he married Sarah Berry. They were very happy together and had a family of five daughters including twins when Sarah died of a stroke in 1745. William was overwhelmed with grief and suffered a breakdown, going off alone for several months and neglecting his family and business. His mother held things together and his brother Philip returned from sea and offered to work with him. Sylvanus Bevan signed over the business and the firm of Messrs William Cookworthy and Company was formed.

Smeaton's Eddystone lighthouse 1759
Eventually William and Philip bought a substantial house in the centre of Plymouth where they both lived, in separate establishments, and carried on their business. William's family was very important to him and he was an indulgent parent. He also entertained a great variety of visitors, including it is said Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks before they sailed in Endeavour to the South Seas in 1769, and was interested in a wide variety of subjects.William gave helpful advice to John Smeaton in planning and overseeing the building of the Eddystone lighthouse, took out a patent on a process to distill drinking water from sea-water and was also interested in astronomy and in the possibilities of finding water through dowsing.

Perhaps William's most influential visitors however were the businessmen from Virginia who brought him samples of Virginian clay and porcelain in 1745. They wanted him to import Virginian clay and make porcelain in England but William decided that it would make better business sense if he could find comparable minerals nearer home. At this time English potters were only able to produce what was known as earthenware. The finer quality porcelain had to be imported from China, where the clay used was known as kaolin or china clay. In 1746 William discovered kaolin at Tregonning Hill in Germo Parish, Cornwall where it was known as moorstone or growan. He leased some clay pits and shipped the clay from Porthleven to Plymouth where he began experimenting on it.

He found that the clay from Tregonning Hill contained dark specs of mica, which detracted from a top quality finished product. Better quality clay was found on land owned by Thomas Pitt near St Austell and William went into partnership with him to set up the Plymouth China Works. William took out a patent on the process in 1768 and the factory began to produce decorated tea services, jugs, vases and figurines. The earliest known extant piece of Cookworthy's hard-paste porcelain is now in the British Museum, a blue decorated mug bearing the arms of Plymouth and the inscription 14 March 1768 C.F. The initials probably stand for 'Cookworthy fecit (made it)'.

Early mug with arms of Plymouth and mark

In spite of all William's innovations the Plymouth factory failed to make a profit and amalgamated with a pottery in Bristol. William made his cousin, Richard Champion, the manager of William Cookworthy and Company and in 1774 sold the business and his patent to him. Champion continued to buy ingredients for the porcelain from Pitt and paid a royalty to William. When Richard Champion tried to renew Cookworthy’s patent in 1777, Josiah Wedgwood and other potters in Staffordshire raised objections. The patent formula was upheld, but the actual use of the china clay was released so that ceramic products could be made from it provided that the formula was not infringed. The cost of the legal battle crippled the Company and Richard sold the formula in 1782 to the New Hall Porcelain Company, which had been formed by the Staffordshire potters. They continued to produce porcelain until around 1810, when bone china became available.

Figures of the four continents produced at Cookworthy's Plymouth factory

William Cookworthy's Quakerism was part of his life and important to him, but not a matter for solemnity. As one young contemporary put it "His manner of conveying the most important truths was so lively and interesting that young people, fond of hearing him talk, were often captivated by it; they were taught that religion was no gloomy uncomfortable thing, but that...every enjoyment of the present moment was heightened by it," He was also more open to other influences than many contemporary Friends, notably the thinking of the Swedish philosopher Swedenborg, some of whose books William translated from the Latin and had published.

Although famed for his absentmindedness, William was also capable of great concentration and indeed one may have been the product of the other. It was said of him that "He could carry on a lively conversation on his way to Meeting up to the very door and resume it on his way home, yet not allow a thought of it to pass through his mind while in Meeting."

 William Cookworthy died in his family home in Plymouth in 1780 at the age of 75. At the last he was comforted by a dream in which he saw his long-lost and much lamented wife, his Sally, beckoning him to join her.

Portrait of William Cookworthy, c1780, by John Opie
 Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery