Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 34 - Q for QUIP

In any Quaker Alphabet blog for Q there is a plethora of choice when it comes to acronyms, of which Friends are perhaps too fond. When it came down to it, however, there was really only one I could choose. QUIP - Quakers Uniting in Publications - is a group that I am proud and happy to belong to and work with. Both the principles behind it and the people I have got to know through it have influenced and helped my personal spiritual development in a major way and I would like to make it better known among Friends.

QUIP is an organisation set up in 1983 to allow publishers and booksellers to meet, talk and exchange ideas and expertise. When I first encountered it in the 1990s Chris Skidmore and I had just set up a small desk-top publishing business, the Sowle Press, to publish books about Quaker history, spiritual autobiography and editions of neglected Quaker works from the past. We started going to QUIP's annual conferences and this took me to the USA for the first time.

A 'Quaker Tapestry' panel for QUIP
QUIP is an international body with members in the Americas, the UK and Europe. It also covers all the varied approaches to Quakerism, both evangelical and liberal. This might have led to awkwardness between people from different religious backgrounds, but given a common purpose - as Quakers put it, publishing the truth - in my experience that has never been the case. In fact QUIP meetings were where I learned in more depth about the range of Quakers in the world family of Friends and got to know some of them as individuals. I hope that QUIP has made me less insular in my attitudes and I do try to communicate that as much as I can.

As well as being an organisation for publishers QUIP, in partnership with Friends General Conference, has also produced some books itself. Perhaps the most influential of these have been the two 'youth' books, Whispers of Faith in 2005 and Spirit Rising in 2010. These anthologies allow all Friends and others (not just the young) to hear the voices of a wide range of young people from many countries and a great diversity of traditions expressing their spiritual experience in their own words.

The process of producing these two books has helped QUIP to embrace a new direction, including writers as well as publishers and investigating how best to use new ways of publishing and communicating. Several of the recent conferences have been following aspects of this new way of doing things.

Whenever I talk about QUIP I usually find that very few Quakers in the UK have heard of them, but if you want to know more I recommend  you to visit their website or read the inspiring report of the last conference written by Sarah Katreen Hoggatt, one of the editorial board for Spirit Rising, and find out!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 33 - Q for The Quaker Bishop, Joseph Bevan Braithwaite

Painting of J B Braithwaite
Joseph Bevan Braithwaite was born in Kendal, Westmoreland on 21st June 1818, the youngest, together with his twin sister Caroline, of the nine children of Isaac Braithwaite (1781-1861) and Anna Lloyd (1788-1859). Anna's sister Mary had married Isaac's brother George and her brother Charles and his wife settled in Ambleside.  Bevan therefore grew up in a close knit community of family and fellow Quakers, went to a Quaker school in Kendal and was apprenticed to a Kendal solicitor. His parents both travelled frequently and for long periods in the ministry but there were always sisters, cousins and aunts to take care of the children.

Isaac Braithwaite
Isaac and Anna were uncompromisingly evangelical in their theology, looking to the Bible for authority rather than the Inward Light, and when they visited America in the 1820s sided with Elisha Bates in vigorously and outspokenly opposing what they saw as the 'unsound' teaching of the more mystical Elias Hicks. Hicks considered the attitudes of the Braithwaites and other English visitors to be a major cause of the separations of 1827-8 which split American Quakerism for more than a century.

At home the Braithwaite family came under the influence of their cousin Isaac Crewdson, who took an extreme position, resigned from the Society of Friends and underwent a rite of baptism.  Most of  Bevan's brothers and sisters agreed with Crewdson and, when Bevan himself went to London to complete his legal training, they encouraged him to join them. He wavered and got as far as booking an appointment for a baptism but then, urged by a letter from his father, he attended the Yearly Meeting of 1840 and changed his mind. As he wrote to his cousin, George Gillett, 'I went to the Yearly Meeting expecting it to be the last I should ever attend; but as it proceeded, one sitting after another convinced me that I had not duly appreciated the views of the great body of Friends, that there was much that was excellent and much that was sound among them.' He believed it his duty to remain and could not see where else he would go, but the rift in his family and among his friends was intensely painful to him. In the end only Bevan and his brother Charles Lloyd Braithwaite remained Quakers. Having made up his mind Bevan in time became a pillar of the Society of Friends, firm and decided in his views and wary of innovation.

Martha Gillett with her father
Bevan was call to the bar in 1843. Because he had a stammer he did not practise in court but set up a conveyancing practice. From 1840 until his death Bevan belonged to Westminster Friends' meeting in which he soon started to speak (without an impediment) and who acknowledged his gift in the ministry in 1844. In 1851 he married Martha Gillett (1823-1895), the daughter of a Quaker banker of Banbury, Oxfordshire and a recognised minister herself. They made their home in Camden in North London and raised a family of nine children. In many ways Joseph Bevan Braithwaite repeated his parents' model of parenthood - a large sheltered Quaker family with both parents travelling in the ministry. Bevan travelled extensively in England, Ireland, Europe and the Near East in the service of the Society of Friends and as a representative of the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1865, 1876 and 1878 he visited eight Yearly Meetings in America, although following his parents' example he always stayed aloof from the Hicksites.

J B Braithwaite with cravat
Bevan worked very hard as a lawyer in order to support his growing family, but he also read widely, particularly the Church Fathers whom he could, and did, quote at great length. He wore Quaker plain dress with the addition of a distinctive stiff wide white cravat which together with his natural air of authority led some, including John Bright, to call him the Quaker Bishop. No Yearly Meeting was complete without him and for forty years he was the chief author of the Yearly Meeting Epistle.

In 1887 Bevan attended the Richmond Conference in America and played a major role in composing the Richmond Declaration, a statement of Evangelical Quaker doctrine which the delegates hoped would be acceptable to 'all the Yearly Meetings in the world.' This was not to be the case and London Yearly Meeting refused to ratify it in 1888. Younger Friends saw it as the statement of a 'creed' which they felt had no place in Quakerism.

Bevan was disappointed and hurt by this rejection. Even though in 1898 London Yearly Meeting agreed to uphold their refusal to recognise Hicksite Quakers, a decision which Bevan called in his journal 'a very great relief to me', the tide was turning. Bevan viewed with dismay developments such as the Manchester Conference in 1895 which marked the beginning of Liberal Quakerism. He battled on but privately revealed, 'I often feel my solitariness.'

William Charles Braithwaite
After the death of his wife in 1895 he was looked after devotedly by his two youngest unmarried daughters, Rachel and Catherine. When his youngest son William Charles, who had worked with him for ten years, married and moved away in 1896 Bevan felt the loss keenly and gave up his legal practice. He said 'We are so bound up in our pursuits and in each other. It is almost like cutting off the right hand.'

Joseph Bevan Braithwaite continued to engage in Quaker work and to enjoy his extensive family. He wrote many letters and kept up the journal that he had written throughout his life. Old age crept upon him gradually but he retained his clarity of mind and gentleness of disposition to the last. He died on 15th November 1905 aged eighty seven, having remained unquestioning in his devotion to the vision of Quakerism he had loved and defended since his decision at Yearly Meeting 1840, sixty five years before.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 32 - P for Piety Promoted

In 1701 John Tomkins published the first part of a book usually known as Piety Promoted, the full title of which was Piety promoted in a collection of dying sayings of many of the people called Quakers. His intention was to inspire his readers for, as he says in his preface,
 'Having, in the course of my reading, met with many excellent sayings of our dying Friends, that afforded me much satisfaction of mind, I have collected some of them together for the benefit of others: knowing that usually the words of dying persons make deeper impression on the minds of men, than words spoken at other times.'

Tomkins acknowledges that he is bound to give some account of his subjects' lives as well as of their deaths but stresses that his purpose in this is not to 'exalt men but to exalt the great God, and his grace in Christ Jesus, by which they were what they were.' He was building on a tradition of collections of dying sayings which were popular in the 17th century and later, especially those relating to children and young people. Piety Promoted found a wide audience and eventually appeared in eleven parts, each of which was reprinted several times.

Title page of revised edition by John Kendal
The work was carried on by several editors over the years. Tomkins published three parts from 1701 to 1706 and his successor John Field another three from 1711 to 1728, followed by John Bell who published the seventh part in 1740. Thomas Wagstaffe brought out two more parts in 1774 and 1796 then Joseph Gurney Bevan put together the tenth part in 1810 which includes a helpful 'historical account of the preceding parts or volumes and of their several compilers and editors.' Finally in 1829 the eleventh part of Piety Promoted appeared compiled by Josiah Forster. 

Not only were these books popular, they were approved by the Quaker establishment and printed by official Quaker printers such as Tace Sowle, Luke Hinde and James and William Phillips. As time went on however the emphasis on a 'good death' became less important than the example of a good life. Testimonies to the grace of God in the life of deceased Friends had been written from the beginning of Quakerism by the local meetings of the deceased and in time the practice arose of sending these to Yearly Meeting for collection and publication. At first only recorded ministers were memorialised in this way but that distinction fell away in the 20th century together with the custom of specially recording those with a gift for vocal ministry.

There was another source for information about the lives and deaths of Friends in Britain and Ireland. This was the Annual Monitor, a mainly statistical volume which recorded all deaths of Quakers in these Yearly Meetings each year from 1812 to 1920. Some entries give the bare facts of name, meeting, age and date of death but others add memoirs of the Friends' lives, sometimes in considerable detail. These memoirs often concentrate on the end of life but include many other details of their lives and service. As with Piety Promoted the intention is to inspire the reader.

In our own times 'dying sayings' are no longer considered edifying reading and indeed the practice of writing and publishing testimonies is not as prevalent as it once was. There seems to be a fear that in writing testimonies for some and not for others we are failing in our testimony to equality, but is this in fact the case? As John Tomkins said, the aim is not to exalt individuals but to point out examples of the grace of God as seen in individual lives. We have good advice available about the writing of testimonies and I hope that we will follow it and so produce more inspiration for succeeding generations.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 31 - P for Mary Penington

Portrait of Mary Springett now in Pennsbury Manor PA
Mary was born in 1625, the only child of Sir John Proud and Anne Fagge of Ewell in Kent. Her father was killed while serving under the Prince of Orange in Holland when she was three and her mother died soon afterwards, leaving her an orphan. Until she was eight or nine she was taken care of by a family she describes as a 'kind of loose Protesttants' but then she joined the household of Sir Edward Partridge in Kent. Here also lived Sir Edward's widowed sister Katherine Springett and her three children, William, Herbert and Catherine.

Mary's religious quest, which she wrote about later in her spiritual autobiography, was for the nature of true prayer. This led her to absent herself from Church services and then from family prayers and brought her into conflict with her guardian. He warned her that her behaviour was putting her chances of a respectable marriage at risk as 'no gentleman was of this way.' But his threats proved groundless when William Springett returned from his studies in Cambridge with many of the same convictions as Mary.

Mary and William were married, without the use of a ring, in 1642, when she was about 18 and he was 20. Together they espoused a kind of Puritanism which put a premium on spontaneity and on using one's own words in prayer 'from the heart'. They therefore stood firm against premeditated prayers which had been written down by others and were then repeated by rote. They went to extreme lengths, tearing from their Bible those passages, such as the ;singing psalms' and the Lord's Prayer, which offended them.

Memorial to William Springett in Ringmer church
By Mary's account it was a marriage of true minds, but they had only just over two years together before William became ill with a fever contracted while besieging Arundel for Parliament. Heavily pregnant and accompanied by her small son Mary made an arduous journey to be with him but in spite of her desperate ministrations he died soon after she arrived. When his will was read it became evident that William had committed most of his money and lands to the Parliamentary cause and Mary was left in straightened circumstances. When their daughter was born she was named Gulielma after her father and Mary stood out against her family and friends enough to refuse to have her baptised, thus becoming, as she says, 'a by-word and hissing among the people of my own rank in the world.'

Mary was helped by her mother-in-law Katherine Springett and the two women lived together until 1647 when Katherine also died. Her son John had died in infancy so Mary and her daughter were left more isolated than ever. Although their worldly needs were taken care of Mary's account of the next seven years is one of drifting in spiritual despair, trying to distract herself with her old pastimes but failing to find any satisfaction.
Gulielma Springett Penn

In 1654, on a visit to London, Mary met Isaac Penington, the son of the Lord Mayor. He was also searching for a spiritual home and understood something of what she had been going through. They were married in the same year when she was twenty nine and he was thirty eight and continued their spiritual quest together. They encountered Quakers and were reluctantly drawn to them, in spite of misgivings about a movement led by mainly lower class and ill-educated people. Mary had deep misgivings about the Quaker testimony to equality which would require her to 'take up the cross to the language, fashions, customs, titles, honour, and esteem in the world' and struggled for some time to fully leave the security of her upper-class position and regard everyone as her equal. In the end, however, she acknowledged that the Quakers had what she was looking for and in 1658 Mary and Isaac were convinced.

Bury Farm, Amersham
They knew that this decision would result in hardship and indeed it did. Isaac was imprisoned six times altogether and lost all his estates through his refusal to take an oath in a court of law. Mary and Isaac had five children and it fell to Mary to support her a growing family. With no home of their own the family rented Bury Farm in Amersham for some time but then Mary bought a very delapidated house called Woodside nearby and gained much pleasure from renovating and extending it over a period of four years from about 1669. While Isaac, the wise and gentle scholar, wrote his many important books on Quakerism and letters to a wide acquaintance, Mary made a comfortable home for him and the rest of her family.
William Penn as a young man

In 1672 Mary's daughter Gulielma married William Penn and in 1679 when Isaac died Mary moved in with her daughter and son in law at Worminghurst in Sussex. She was not in good health so she drew up her will, put together the writings which make up her spiritual autobiography and died in 1682 at the age of fifty-seven. Her spiritual autobiography was passed down in her family but was not published until 1911 [reprinted by Friends Historical Society 1992]. Although this was probably done more because of her famous husband and son in law than for her own sake, these remain Mary's words and Mary's life.