Joel Bean

The British Friend, Vol. XLVII, No. 1(1st Month 1st, 1889.)

This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.

The gravest question with which the Society of Friends has at present to deal is undoubtedly involved m the pastoral movement, wherein Iowa Yearly Meeting takes the lead.

It is now so fully developed, and so far an accomplished fact, that it may be seen-in its full proportions, and defined as it is publically announced and urged.

It is claimed that this Yearly Meeting is united in the movement. If in its late sessions little or no dissent was expressed, the fact is not difficult to account for. In the first place, without reflection upon the motives or sincere devotion of those engaged in it, let it be considered whet an influence is exerted by such a leadership as is shown upon the face of the report, this year, of the superintendent of the evangelical work. Thousands of miles of travel, attendance of most of the Quarterly Meetings, and some of them two or three times, the writing of a thousand letters, and all with the express purpose of introducing pastors to the Meetings generally, and of arranging and directing the ministerial forces. "Last year," the report says, "three pastors were devoting their whole time to the work, and were supported. This year we report 16, besides 20 others who are accepted as pastors, several of whom part support!"

And what is the pastoral system thus pressed upon the Society? Many may suppose it to be a missionary adjustment for the teaching principally of a new membership. Instead of this being the case, the leading pastors are in the largest meetings, in the centres of influence, and where there are the most resident ministers. One of the largest Meetings for Worship, having very .few new, members, has at least nine recorded ministers, not one of whom is expected to speak in the First-day Morning Meeting, except the supported pastor; or could do so, without invitation or intrusion. The subject of the discourse is sometimes (I know not whether usually) announced beforehand in the daily paper. Another of the largest and most influential Meetings, with several prominent ministers, has for some years been conducted similarly, and often referred to as a model.

With this practical working of the system in view another reason for the silence of dissent may be appreciated. 0ur ideal of worship has been so little held up, and is now so lost, that the people come to hear preacher, not for individual waiting upon the Lord; and so they know not what to do with silence. There must, therefore, be the regular sermon (and order of exercises), and of course the best preacher is sought. Ministers set aside, and made to feel that others are preferred, have little strength or place to. speak. The feelings of these do not appear on the Church's written records.

I may not pause here to do more than ask -- "How long the pastors of Iowa Yearly Meeting can be expected to maintain successful competition with the cultured clergy of other denominations, when the Quaker idea of worship has so far died out that to hear the discourse is the chief object in going to meetings?"

The power and aim of personal leadership as exhibited, especially in Ohio and Iowa Yearly Meetings, is an unprecedented factor in the church government of the Society of Friends. In the one Yearly Meeting it seems to be successfully suppressing opposition within its borders to the demands, not merely for toleration of outward ordinances, but for the endorsement of those who practice and preach them; in the other it is pressing with equal insistence the establishment of an order of clergy.

I think Friends at a distance are very liable to be misled by the reported results of the new movements. In the last ten years Iowa Yearly Meeting has greatly extended its borders to states and territories further west, and to the Pacific coast. Four new Quarterly Meetings have been set up, and another asked for this year. The greatest gain of numbers is said to have been where pastors are settled. And yet the total gain in the last ten years is 281 less than during the previous ten years.

Another criterion considered of value, as showing the degree of Christian life, is the number of families who have daily Scripture reading and worship. The gain under this head in the last decade is 57, in the previous decade 344.

Year        Members.   Families who had reading and family worship:

1868       7639           677  

1878       9077           1021

1888       10,234        1078

No comment on these statistics is needed except to say that so far as they are affected by removals to and from the Yearly Meetings, the emigration of the former ten years was largely t0 Kansas Yearly Meeting; of the latter time it has been almost wholly within its own territory.

This communication is rather for information than argument, in order that our English Friends may better understand the subject as it is developed here.

May wisdom be given them so to deal with it that they may help us to turn back from an impending ecclesiastical bondage to the liberty wherewith Christ makes free, and from an outward-bearing current to those spiritual realities which can alone give us as a church the strength of deep conviction, and the compactness of a uniting faith.

J.B.San Jose, California.