When we ask ourselves why a Quaker meeting or church might make a good spiritual home, Steve Angell observes, we can turn to history for answers, and “that leads you into looking at the lives of a lot of very faithful Friends, and there’s just a lot there.”
As much as he loves the robust tradition of Quaker faith, however, he also recognizes that “what Quakerism has been for previous generations, or for my generation, may not be exactly what it looks like for the next generation.”
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For me, my favorite aspect of Quaker faith is the balance between a very robust and rich Quaker tradition and a sense of the importance of unity among Friends – not just in one’s local meeting community but even worldwide. And thirdly, a sense of continuing revelation: you know, that what Quakerism has been for previous generations or for my generation may not be the same as exactly what it looks like for the next generation.
How History Informs Continuing Revelation
I’m Steve Angell, I live in Richmond, Indiana. I teach Quaker studies at Earlham School of Religion, and my meeting is Oxford Monthly Meeting in Oxford, Ohio, part of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting.
I had a very warm Quaker childhood with Quaker playmates and Quaker aunts and uncles and a Quaker grandfather, who I remember very fondly, and you know, I grew up in the 1960s so I was very much part of a rebellious generation. You know, one thing that I felt was very important was the social justice angle so I was at a lot of demonstrations against the Vietnam war and other kinds of social issues. So, it wasn’t all peace and harmony among Quakers at that time. The younger generation, which was myself (among others), were pushing our elders to really be more forceful in seeking the change that needed to happen.
Three Questions to Ask About Quaker History
You can learn a lot from Quaker history. It yields different answers according to the questions that you bring to it. One question is: how did we get here? Why are there so many varieties of Quakers today? It can certainly answer that. Another question is: why should I care about Quakers? What’s inspiring? What have Quakers done in the past that would make me think that the Quaker meeting or Quaker church is a good spiritual home for me? So, that leads you into looking at Quaker spirituality and the lives of a lot of very faithful Friends, and there’s just a lot there. A third question is: what mistakes did Quakers make? How can I maybe avoid those in the future? And that’s very important, too, because as historians have said in the past, those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. So, we don’t necessarily want to repeat all our Quaker history; we want to learn from it and find a good way forward.
A Quaker scholar by the name of Canby Jones originated a new word: youngering. So just as there’s wisdoms that can be imparted from elders, and I’ve been the benefit of that a lot, there is also wisdom that can be imparted by those are younger than us; who maybe see something more clearly than those of us who have been around for a long time have. So, you know, at the time I felt I was participating in youngering and probably I’m looking forward to others doing that vital task now.
- 1) Do you use history to inform your present-day thoughts and actions? If so, how? How does that relate to your religious and spiritual practices?
- 2) Which do you believe is a more respected practice: eldering or youngering? Why? What can be learned from either of these practices?
- 3) Can you think of a time you were “youngered” or when you yourself “youngered” someone else? What did you learn from that experience?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.