Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 19 - J for Journeys

The report on my fellowship
When telling others about the path they have taken to Quakerism Friends often refer to their spiritual journey. This metaphor goes back many centuries and encompasses a great variety of stories. I have the same kind of narrative to share and this blog has been and continues to be one of the ways in which I have done and am doing that. In Quaker terms journeys have always been physical as well as metaphorical and when I travelled around the UK in 1994 as a Joseph Rowntree Quaker Fellow encouraging Friends to write and then share their spiritual autobiographies I felt that my journey continued both sides of the tradition.

In the 17th century one of the ways in which Quakerism was spread through the country was by pairs of travelling Friends, known as ‘the Valiant Sixty’ by Quakers and as ‘Morris-dancers from the North’ by their opponents. They were supported, financially and spiritually, by the organisation based in Swarthmoor Hall under the leadership of George Fox and Margaret Fell. On their journeys they were often welcomed and set up a network of meetings throughout England. Sometimes they were attacked and imprisoned but this often spoke for them even louder than their words and brought more to the Quaker way. Some also went further afield to Ireland, America and Europe.
Swarthmoor Hall

As Quaker practices became more established a need was felt for more regulation of Friends’ journeys. In the early 18th century a formal system of elders and overseers was set up and it became unacceptable for Friends to go on religious journeys without the approval of their meetings. A local meeting would ‘recognise’ those who it believed to have a particular gift for vocal ministry and would support them if they had a concern to travel either locally or further afield. Each minister would apply for, and usually be given, a certificate which approved a particular journey. This was to be presented to and endorsed by local Friends at each stage who would be expected to aid the traveller with hospitality and whatever other assistance was required. If a concern arose for the minister to travel further then another certificate from their home meeting was required. On their return to their own meeting  the minister would return their certificate and give an account of their journey.

As more ‘recognised’ Friends began to travel further their names were ‘recorded’ centrally in London and this practice was formalised in 1773. Recorded Ministers were also known as ‘Public Friends’ and many of them did indeed gain a national reputation, helped by the widespread publication of their journals and records of their journeys. Many of the Friends whose lives I am trying to make more widely known through my part in the Quaker Alphabet blog were Recorded Ministers and Public Friends.

During my year as a Joseph Rowntree Quaker Fellow I visited 58 groups in half the Monthly Meetings  in Britain Yearly Meeting and spoke to more than 750 people. I travelled over 9,500 miles, mostly by rail and far more comfortably than Public Friends in earlier times. They often travelled hundreds of miles by foot or on horseback on appalling roads and in dreadful weather. They crossed the Atlantic in both directions and often found themselves in uncharted territory. They suffered accidents and ill-health but were not deflected from their task. Given the conditions under which journeys were undertaken in the 17th and 18th centuries it is not surprising that the words ‘travel’ and ‘travail’ were used interchangeably!

Susanna Morris's account
There are so many examples of the rigours encountered by travelling ministers on their journeys recorded in their journals that it is hard to choose between them  but here are just three. 
Susanna Morris from America having problems in the West Country in 1752, 'My companion and I visited all down the south parts of the west of England from Portsmouth to Land's End, though a very hilly country and bad roads, I thought it was very hard for me to get up and down the hills, for some of them were more like to stairs in an house than any other thing, and so stony that my creature threw me off many times, but (forever blessed be my great Master and preserver) I was never much hurt and sometimes not hurt at all; for the creature bowed herself so low with me that it was like laying me down and the last time it was in the soft mud.'
Catherine Payton Phillips
Catherine Payton Phillips, travelling from Cornwall to Bristol in 1776, ‘The weather was extremely cold and the snow so deep that the roads in Devonshire, and thence to Bristol, had been impassable, and were then dangerous; but through Divine favour we got along safe, although the cold was so extreme that it was hard to bear. The road in some places was cut through the snow, so that it looked like passing through a deep hollow way, which had a very striking appearance.’
and lastly Joseph Wood of Yorkshire walking to a meeting at Dewsbury in 1804, 'I set out from home ye 15th. of ye. 1st. Mo. 1804 and 1st. day of the week, about 10 o clock in the forenoon being accompanied this journey by Frances Field my housekeeper. We went by Shelley, Roydhouse and Briestfield, to Dewsbury were we got betwixt 3 and 4 o.clock in the afternoon, having called to rest us twice by the way and got some refreshment we brought with us from home The roads were extremely bad and difficult owing to the very heavy rains which had lately fallen, and when we got near Dewsbury the river was much out so that in one place we should have had to have waded up to the knee had not a man kindly let us through his mill, and in another place the water was upwards of a yard deep in the road for a considerable way so that we were obliged to go through the fields on higher ground.'

Joseph Wood
Journeys of different kinds have always been an integral part of Quakerism and physical journeys can still help to develop our own and others’ spiritual journeys. We do not necessarily have to feel a concern to travel in the ministry or ask or a minute from our meeting.  Visiting Friends and attending meeting for worship when away from home for our work or when on holiday can also lead to a greater understanding of both the  variety among the wider Quaker family and also the similarity of many of our concerns.  Sharing our experiences when we return to our own meeting can also strengthen our home community.

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