Friday, 14 November 2014

Skill


In this year's Swarthmore Lecture, Transformation', Ben Pink Dandelion says we are a DIT religion – Do It Together, not Do It Yourself – DIY. The allusion to DIY though makes it abundantly clear that if we are to Do It Ourselves, then we need skills. If you are going to be a DIY handyperson you need to acquire proficiency in a range of skills – not for you paying the tradesperson to do your home improvements while you put your feet up – or rather perhaps tend to neglect your family and community while you scurry about earning the money to pay the tradespeople. We Quakers do not employ priests or ministers, so likewise we need to become proficient in religious and spiritual skills. Not for us sitting passively in the pews whilst being lectured by the man at the front in a frock.

Also, if we are to 'Do It Together' than not for us either spiritual advisers, teachers, gurus and all the paraphernalia of the spiritual self-help bandwagon that perhaps some Quakers are leaping on along with so many others in our society. If we really do believe that the light is equally accessible to all, irrespective of status, then we should be seeking our spiritual help and guidance from one another.

But it is one thing to believe that the light is accessible to all, and quite another to use that light to acquire the skills to be able to help one another. Quakers are not about belief, even belief in the light within, or 'that of God' in everyone, for we are about practising our religion or spirituality. But acquiring skill is not easy, and is certainly not acquired just sitting in silence on a Sunday morning.

Acquiring skill requires application over an extended period of time. It is generally asserted that it takes 10,000 hours to bbecome proficient in any one skill, whether it be playing a musical instrument, carpentry, wind surfing, tennis or whatever. 10,000 hours is five years at 40 hours per week – the length of many traditional craft apprenticeships, though some are even longer, such as in medicine. Acquiring and utilizing a skill takes place over three stages, recognised in the traditional craft guild terms of 'Apprentice', 'Journeyman' and 'Master'. This not just a Western categorisation – in Japanese Martial Arts, it is called 'Shu-Ha-Ri' (守破離). Shuhari roughly translates to "first learn, then detach, and finally transcend."

The Apprentice works under a master in their workshop. There they learn technique, mainly by showing – the master will give verbal instruction where necessary, but knows that the best way to learn is by example. 'Not like that, but like this'. It is essential to make mistakes, to learn through failure. John Ruskin describes the transition from mere external rote learning of rules and procedures to beginning to acquire personal understanding:

“Understand this clearly: you can teach a man to draw a straight line, and to carve it; and to copy and carve any number of given lines or forms, with admirable speed and perfect precision; and you find his work perfect of its kind: but if you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his own head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool.” (The Stones of Venice, 1851)

This is where all of us were when we first came to a meeting for worship, or first attended the meeting for worship for church affairs. We were given the introductory leaflet and learnt the rules about silence and ministry and waiting and not debating and so on. How far have we moved on? How many of us are afraid to offer ministry for fear of getting it wrong? How many of us do not realise we have got it wrong because no one told us: 'Not like that but like this'? - because they too were afraid. This is the state of affairs in religious practice with a minister or priest. The priest tells us when we get it wrong on those few opportunities we are permitted to practice for ourselves rather than just learn the catechism. But because they have the priest to tell them, perhaps they are more spiritually skilled than many of us Quakers?

The Journeyman has left the master and is recognised as a skilled person in their own right. 'Journeyman' can mean both the right to claim their own wages for a days work (from the French journée – day') or the right to travel away from the master's workshop and set up on their own. But how do you know when the apprenticeship is over? Because the master tells you, and in many crafts you make an 'Apprentice Piece' to show your skill. These are often miniature works so that the journeyman can take them with themselves and show potential clients that they deserve a days pay for their work.

So in our spiritual journey, who tells us we are fit for the road? What do we have to show for it? All too often it seems to me we make the decision for ourselves, taken up in the individualistic spirit of the age. We think we can strike out on our own because of some little thing, and no one tells us otherwise. The apprentice is told by the master 'I have shown you all I know' – or possibly just – 'I have shown you all you can take in' for we are not all equally skilled. The client looks at your work-piece and declares 'Yes I will pay you'. The recognition comes from without and is given to us by grace.

And so the journeyman sets up shop and makes a living in the community. But the journeyman is not a master, and all self-respecting craftspeople know this. When and how do they become a master? Again the recognition comes from without, from the community the journeyman has settled in. When the parents or guardians of a young person approaches them and asks the journeyman to take them on as an apprentice. And the cycle of life turns and starts around again.

The discipline of practical apprenticeship and mastery of skills has much to teach us spiritually, especially us Quakers, for we 'Do It Together'.

Furthermore the discipline of application of  practical skill teaches us about our spiritual lives directly. The mastery of practical skills in the world directly translates into enabling our relationships with one-another. The need to work out how to turn a material object into something useful and beautiful – including getting the best sound out of your musical instrument – teaches us to stay with the problem and discover the solution from within the material, which in turn teaches us to engage in dialogue with others, and not to force ourselves on others. The need to find the best and easiest way to get the result we are looking for without laborious working and reworking teaches us to be tentative with the material and so to be tentative in our dealings with other people, to listen and consider ourselves perhaps mistaken. And above all, the need to deal objectively with the world, to confront the material objectivity of the other teaches us empathy with both the materials we work with and with other people. Hear Richard Sennet on this.

The master truly knows the meaning of 'For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.' (Matthew 16.25). The master transcends the self and becomes one with the work, and then in the work discovers themselves.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Sacrament

There are events and activities in our lives when the divine intrudes more strongly and fully into our experience; when our sense of relatedness to the whole of live, or God as some call it, is more acute.  It is the purpose of religious ritual and spiritual practice to make us more aware of the divine presences at these times. These are called sacraments – 'an outward sign of an inward grace', and in the fullest Christian tradition, seven are recognised. These events and activities are (with the common sacrament name in brackets): birth (baptism), coming of age (confirmation), marriage (matrimony), death (last rites or anointing of the sick), giving and receiving forgiveness (penance or confession), sharing food (communion) and ministry (holy orders).

Quakers are right to say that the whole of live is sacramental, and to recognise that separate religious rituals can detach us from the reality of our experience. This is especially problematical when society and culture change rapidly and the naturally conservative forces of religion make the rituals less and less relevant to the way we live now. Furthermore the patriarchal hierarchical church often usurps these rituals to force conformity on us.

Baptism is used to tie us to the church, with the sanction of hell for those who are not baptised in time, coupled with the subordination of the women who gives birth through rituals like 'churching'.

Confirmation replaces the full expression of adulthood and the exploration of identity with conformity to the catechism.

Marriage is denied those who seek long term committed relationships but are not heterosexual, and then linked to having children imposed almost as a necessity, whilst denying sexual expression to those outside marriage.

Death is used to make us conform through the fear of eternal damnation. As Thomas Paine put it: 'Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind (sic), tyranny in religion is the worst; every other tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity'(Age of Reason).

The personal interaction of giving and receiving forgiveness is replaced by confession before the priest with yet more fear of sin and damnation.

The everyday sharing of food is completely detached from reality with administration of barely edible wafer and the tiniest sip.

And finally ministry is only to be given by those sanctioned by the hierarchy to be priests over us.

In the protestant tradition, only communion and baptism are recognised, with the result that what should be celebrations of our lives together in community become privatised and individualised. We come to the front before the minister to receive communion instead of sitting round the table sharing a meal. In the  baptist tradition, baptism is decoupled entirely from birth and even coming of age to be turned into an almost cultish initiation rite into the externally imposed church. Forgiveness is reduced to the working out of contractual obligations between determined individualists.

However, we still need these sacraments. The divine always intrudes, but we do no necessarily pay attention. We easily succumb to the spirit of the age where these events and activities are seen through the lenses of Darwinian evolution and biological determinism. All seven occur everywhere, to varying degrees, throughout the animal world, and we too are animals. But we are also self aware – we are persons – we have been given the gift of being able to perceive the divine, of knowing that we are related to all of life and can participate knowingly in life to an infinitely greater degree than any other animal.

The Quaker philosopher John Macmurray wrote: 'when an animal is hungry it goes in search of food; but when a man (sic) is hungry he looks at his watch to see how long it will be before his next meal' (Persons in Relation, 1961, p44). When he will join with his family and friends to share food together, round the table, passing the bread and wine to each other, in communion.

As Quakers, we are required to see the whole world as sacramental, but this is not an idea in our heads. It is incumbent upon us to devise religious rituals and spiritual practices that heighten that sense of divine awareness - that recognition of inward grace - as we go through the major events of life, and often seemingly mundane day to day activities; rituals and practices that make sense in today's culture, that work in a post-modern industrialised and urbanised environment, that will be a witness not just to ourselves but to all around us as they see how much we love one another.

The judgement that awaits us is not that we have sinned, for our sins are forgiven, but that God spoke to us and we were not listening.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Listen-Trust-Act

This post is from the new Facebook group Quaker Renewal UK, and is published here with permission.

I have been reflecting on Craig Barnett’s blog Quaker Space or Quaker Way and in Meeting for Worship last night I realised how unifying this is compared to the disparate beliefs we hold. Our challenge for Quaker Renewal is to explain very clearly and very simply the key aspects of the Quaker Way and then to support people in following this path. We need to remember the clarity of the Quaker Way as a spiritual practice.

Advice and Queries 1: Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.
This advice is first for a reason. It is the core of the Quaker Way. Meditating on this message, we can notice that this is not about ideology it is a call to action.

The Quaker Way is to LISTEN to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts. The only thing that matters in Quakerism is whether we live a spirit-led life. We want everyone to pay attention to these promptings and for our Meetings to be places where this is encouraged and nurtured. We will show you how you can be more and more open to these leadings.

The Quaker Way is to TRUST these as the leadings of God as we become increasingly aware of our own darkness and limitations. We recognise that learning to trust the promptings of our hearts can be challenging. They may be urging us to make radical changes to our life and priorities and we need to be able to discern whether they are of love and truth. We don’t want people to be isolated in this experience and have established Quaker ways of helping people discern what is based in love and truth. We can help you test your own leadings within the security of a loving spiritual community.

The Quaker Way is to ACT in response to the possibilities for new life that are shown to us. Our spiritual experience results in action: we begin to change the way we see the world. Over the years, from this spiritual experience, Quakers have developed testimonies to peace, simplicity, equality and truth. We want to develop spiritual communities where everyone feels they have support from kindred spirits in responding to this life-changing experience. Within any Quaker meeting, there will be variety of types of action already happening and we can help you discern the path that you feel called to and support you as you make your way.

Notice the structure that is offered. Notice that we already speak very clearly about what the way involves and that we have elders and long-standing friends with plenty of experience to share. I suggest that new attenders will be pleased and reassured to hear us speak in this way compared to simply stating that Quaker believe different things. Of course, new attenders themselves will also bring their insights and spiritual experiences which will, in turn, deepen our practice. Let’s energise a Quaker Renewal by being more confident about what we can offer people seeking a different spiritual path. Starting from a common love of A&Q 1, let’s deliver a unified expression of the Quaker Way.

Emma Roberts

Friday, 22 August 2014

Swarthmore Lecture Video

This is the video of Ben Pink Dandelion's Swarthmore Lecture, delivered at Yearly Meeting Gathering recently. There is a brief discussion of some of the issues raised in the lecture over at Transition Quaker. The book of the lecture is called 'Open for Transformation: Being Quaker', and a couple of copies are available in the Sheffield Central Quaker Meeting library.
It would be great to know what Friends think of the lecture, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Do It Yourself
We all know we are going to die. Well, technically. There’s a strong rumour going around that everyone dies. Most of us have no intention of actually doing so. (Most people don’t make a will. A will is something which you can’t do after you’re gone. It’s a sort of letter from the person who is now dead to those who are not yet dead, saying what he wants done with his body and other earthly stuff. Most people never write that letter, so most people don’t think it will ever happen to them.)
Many people believe that there is somewhere else you go to after you die on this Earth. (Many people do not.) They say, “You can’t take it with you.” Assuming just for a minute that there is somewhere or some dimension you go to when you die, is there anything that you can take with you? The ancient Egyptians seemed to think so, because they put a lot of good stuff (including food and beer) into the graves of the dead. We now realise that you can’t take your body and all the other earthly stuff you have accumulated. Money, house, garden, car, clothes? No. All those stamps or china souvenirs or Man Utd programmes you assiduously collected over the years? No.
Anything? Well, if you can take anything with you, it won’t be anything physical, which doubtless won’t make the cut. Possibly your memories, experience, wisdom. Possibly those. Many cultures (again, at least from the ancient Egyptians on) have believed that you take with you a sort of personal CV, a record of all the good deeds and bad deeds you did – as well as the good deeds you could have done but didn’t. Before you die, or even as soon as you are born, some cultures get you working for a Lifetime Achievement Award – salvation, sainthood, martyrdom. Other cultures say, “Live now. Now is all we get.”
I can not prove any of this stuff, but I suspect that Now is not all we get, but that we also get And Now for This Bit (even And Now for Something Completely Different). I have no idea what it will be like for me (who am still alive) or is being like for those who have already died. They know (or they don’t, if there isn’t) but I have yet to find out (or not, as the case may be).
On the other hand, I don’t agree with not living Now but saving up all the expectation of the good bits for the World to Come. If I was one of Them Up There (however you define them, up and there) would I be eager to greet someone who has been waiting all his life to get Up There with Us, and so hasn’t really lived Down There? I don’t think so. I might have to meet a lot of people who will be wandering around saying, “Blimy! I didn’t know all this. I mean, I’d heard people talking, but . . .” But I think I would rather greet someone to whom I could say, “You have lived x days or years on the Earth – tell us about it. What can you say?”
There was a time when, if you wanted something, you just plucked it off the tree or picked it up off the ground. Many of our nearest relatives in the animal kingdom still do that. Then we (and some of our relatives) learned a new trick: If you want some-thing, make it – you can make it yourself. We already stood and walked on only two of our four limbs, leaving the two handy ones to carry stuff. Then we got to the point where someone invented bags, so that we could carry a great deal more than just what we could hold in our two hands. That was extremely useful, because (since they could hardly walk for themselves) we had to carry our little ones.
But then we got to where the things we wanted to own became so complex that no one person could make all they needed for themselves. This is where the division of labour came in: “You’re good at knapping flints, so you knap the flints. I’m good at hunting – I’ll hunt. She’s good at cooking, so maybe she’ll cook for us.” This was rapidly followed by barter, coin of the realm, paper money, mortgage rates and the rest.
We now have an economy, in the developed countries, where most people don’t make anything, but do a lot of buying and selling of what some other people make. That may be OK when it comes to farmers growing food, builders building, or factories making clothes. It may also be OK to let other people write stories for you, furnish your house, write the messages in your greetings cards, make you laugh, and so on. But are you really going to rely on others for your memories, experience and wisdom?
Are you really intending, when you get Up There (if there is an Up There) and when They say (if there are They), “You have lived on the Earth – tell us about it,” to say, “Well. . . I did a lot of shopping”?

Monday, 28 July 2014

God the Supporter
Let us say, Brazil is playing Argentina. A Brazilian player kicks a goal. He makes the sign of the cross, and he points to the sky, signifying, “I did this with God’s help.” OK. We can believe that he felt helped by God, or that he was helped by his belief in God.
Then an Argentinian player scores a goal. He too may cross himself and point to the heavens. Same God. No favouritism. God supports Argentina. God also supports Brazil.
In 2007, there was a debate over whether Prince Harry should serve in Iraq. The Army thought that it would be too risky to let him go. It was a very neat example of how you get very different answers according to the level on which you approach the question.
Mr Reg Keys, whose son Tom was killed in Basra in 2003, was quoted as saying, “It would appear that Harry’s life is more valuable than my son or the other nearly one hundred and fifty service personnel who’ve given their lives.” At one level, you could say, “Reg is absolutely right. That’s outrageous, and any parent would feel the same.”
At another level, Her Majesty’s Government or the Ministry of Defence would doubtless retort, “For goodness’ sake! Can you not see the Bigger Picture? Terrorists and insurgents would immediately target Prince Harry, putting in danger both his life and the lives of those around him, as well as gaining a huge propaganda victory if they were able to kill or capture him. That would be totally unacceptable to HMG.”
Yet perhaps it is Mr Keys who is aware of the really big picture. God would surely say, “Reg, Charles, I love both your boys.”

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Quaker Origins

Zillah Scott gave a presentation on Quaker Origins recently as part of our 'Quaker Basics' series. This is her written version of the talk:

My first real encounter with Quakerism came through its history. I was an undergraduate studying history, I'd been brought up as an atheist and had never (knowingly!) met a Quaker. I had some stereotypical ideas about what a Quaker was - quiet, rather well-behaved, a bit straight-laced. I knew they didn't wear bonnets and say 'thee' and 'thou' any more, but I knew that they were the people who had done those things. When I came to study the Civil War and Interregnum I was bowled over by the contrast between my image of the Quakers and their radical, proselytising, fervent origins. I have been fascinated by Quaker history ever since. Many Quakers today, and the Society of Friends as a body, have a strong relationship with their historical antecedents. Quaker Faith and Practice is full of writings from Quakers of the last four hundred years, and they are a source of inspiration, contemplation and affection.

English society in the seventeenth century, from which Quakerism emerged, was a mostly rural one - around ninety percent of people lived in the countryside. That rural society was slowly changing, for example, there were developments in the market economy and the spread of enclosures, in ways that were making the poor more vulnerable. They were less able to weather bad harvests or economic crises, leading to more poverty, unemployment and vagrancy. There was also a growing and visible gap between rich and poor; a few people were making a great deal of money out of these changes. Why are these changes important when we are thinking about the birth of a religious group? Most people in the seventeenth century saw religion as bound together with economic, social and political life in a way that we do not today. Many people, such as Gerrard Winstanley, whose primary focus during the years surrounding Civil War is seen as political or economic, joined the Quakers, attracted by their message of equality and bringing their own ideas and influences to the growing church.

English religious observance before the Civil War was dominated by the Church of England. The Established Church, which was the only legal expression of religious life, reflected the social norms of the time. Only a very few held power, women had almost no voice in the church and many areas - especially in the north - were ill-served by inadequate parishes. Yet the tithe system meant that funding the Church was compulsory, even by those who did not wish to be part of it or who felt abandoned by it.

There was opposition to the Established Church. Since Wycliffe translated the Bible into English so that all could read the Gospel for themselves and sent out his Lollard priests to minister to the poor, there had been periodically resurfacing opposition to the monolith of the Established Church, its wealth and privilege. During the seventeenth century many of those who dissented were Puritans, that is, they believed that the basis of the church should be the Bible. They opposed the English style of state church, as the king and parliament could influence what happened in worship. Puritans believed that worship should be only apostolic - things that were not mentioned in the New Testament should be rejected. However, most Puritans believed in a reformed national church; they felt that the state had a duty to ensure that all were ministered to. Many believed that the Church of England could be reformed from within. A good example of this form of dissent was found at Fenny Drayton, birthplace of George Fox, where a Puritan lord of the manor was able to appoint a Puritan minister and try to protect his parishioners from the legal system.

However, some Puritans believed that a true national church was not possible. They felt that a church should be built of individually convinced members in a gathering of believers. These Separatists felt that the national church must be abolished in order for true churches to exist. The most well known Separatist congregation is that which was based at Scrooby and eventually travelled to America in the Mayflower, known today as the Pilgrim Fathers. They would rather face prosecution or emigration than attend their parish church. The Seekers are a more elusive group of dissenters from the Established Church. Existing mainly as isolated individuals, small groups or loose networks which have left little evidence, they believed in the primacy of the spirit within and found it absent in most existing churches, Established or Separatist. These people were to find a natural home in Quaker Meetings. Many were influenced by radical religious ideas from northern Europe and brought those ideas to the nascent church. Although Seekers are the clearest antecedents to the Quaker movement, Separatism and Puritanism also provided many early adherents.

The Civil War, which broke out in England in 1642, cannot be seen as a class war - there were people from all strata of society in both the Royalist and the Parliamentary armies. However, in the Parliamentary armies a gathering of individuals with radical ideas led to a general atmosphere of radicalism - social, economic and religious. Many in the country felt shock and fear at these ideas and believed, in the words of a ballad from the time, that it was 'The World Turned Upside Down'.

Quakerism emerged during the last years of the Civil War and the early part of the Interregnum. I want to tell you about that through the lives of three early Quakers. The first is George Fox, considered by many to be the founder of Quakerism. He was born in 1624 in Fenny Drayton, that Puritan parish in Leicestershire. His father was a weaver. He was an educated man, reasonably wealthy and independent, and a churchwarden in the Puritan parish church. His mother came from a family which had seen martyrdoms for Protestantism during the previous century. Young George Fox was apprenticed to a shoe maker. However, in 1643, at the age of nineteen, he broke off his apprenticeship and began a period of physical and spiritual wandering and searching. Seeking answers to religious questions, he travelled to London, through towns where the Parliamentary army was garrisoned, and returned home, unsatisfied with what he had learnt. After a period of despair he heard a message from God that 'there is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to your condition.' For Fox this was the answer to his spiritual search - he needed no preachers, teachers or ministers, the Spirit within him was all that was necessary.

He began at once to preach in the counties surrounding his home, but with limited success. He did make some important convincements, and even experienced the first of many Quaker schisms, but there was no mass-conversion at this stage. He then travelled north and, in 1652 after a vision on Pendle Hill, he began to preach to, and convince, thousands. This period saw the birth of the Quaker church. Fox saw that whilst his vision of the spirit within was all that was needed for the individual spiritual journey, to be a church which would endure these individuals must be organised into a community, a family of believers. He began to put in place the organisational structures which we still see the echoes of in Quaker Meetings today. Convinced Quakers also began the work of spreading the message across the country, going out in pairs to preach across England and beyond. For Fox evangelism and the creation of settled Meetings were of prime importance, but they also contained the seed of a conflict at the heart of Quakerism, that between the needs of the group and the individual. In the life of James Naylor we encounter the problem of what happens when the message of God heard by one individual puts him in conflict with the needs of the group.

James Naylor was the son of an independent farmer. He fought in the Parliamentary army and was a preacher there. Following a visionary encounter with God whilst ploughing, he left his family and became an itinerant preacher. In 1652 he met George Fox, and recongnised in Fox's message similarities to his own ideas. He became a Quaker, a friend of Fox and a pivotal figure in the early church. He was a charismatic and appealing speaker, and in 1655 went to London to spread the message of Quakerism there. He met with considerable success. At that point, if you had asked a Londoner 'who is the leader of the Quakers?', they would probably have answered 'James Naylor'. However, there began to be serious disputes within the London Meetings, with Naylor's supporters disrupting Meetings. It is from this point that there began to be hostility from George Fox towards James Naylor. Naylor travelled to the west country to visit Fox, who has imprisoned there, but was himself arrested at Exeter. He was then released and was moved to enact a sign. Many early Quakers enacted signs from God. George Fox himself had walked barefoot through the mud into Litchfield crying out to condemn the people there for failing to support the Parliamentary army. Other Quakers gave signs of the Second Coming - going naked, putting burning coals on their heads. Naylor was inspired to re-enact the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. He rode on a donkey into Bristol, accompanied by his supporters. He was arrested at once, tried for blasphemy, convicted, tortured and put into solitary confinement. George Fox and the other Quaker leaders distanced themselves from him. The Parliament was hostile to Quakers and a conviction for blasphemy put the entire early church in serious jeopardy. In 1659 the more sympathetic Rump Parliament set all Quaker prisoners, including Naylor, free. He was reconciled with Fox, but never fully recovered from his ordeals and died a year later.

James Naylor died in 1660, in the same year Charles II was restored to the throne and the hopes of many Quakers that there would be a world-wide movement of Quakerism, beginning with a general conversion of Britain, were dashed. Although Charles II was personally sympathetic to the Quakers, his parliament was not, and series of harsh laws were passed against them. In spite of this, alone of all the radical groupings of the previous twenty years, the Quakers survived. What was it about Quakerism that enabled it to survive the difficult years after the Restoration? First, was the very great depth of spiritual need which was met by the radical religious message of Quakerism. Secondly, the strength of church organisation enabled it to survive. Central to this organisation was Margaret Fell. She was born in 1614, daughter of a wealthy landowner. She was married at seventeen to Thomas Fell, a judge and politician. In 1652 she and her household, apart from Thomas, were convinced by George Fox, and from that moment she put her considerable personal, financial and social resources to the use of the Quaker movement. Although Thomas Fell never became a Quaker, he helped those Quakers who he encountered in the legal system. Margaret Fell was a formidable organiser. For example, from 1653 she established a fund to assist imprisoned Quakers and their families; her home was the center of a postal network keeping Quaker missinaries in touch with the leaders; and she ensured that missionaries who passed through her home went on their way well clothed and shod. However, it was not only as a organiser that Fell served Quakerism. In 1660, whilst she was in prison, she published Women's Speaking Justified in which she argued that women should have an equal role in the church. Her considerable stature within the Quaker movement greatly aided those who were arguing for an active place for women within Quakerism.

With the Toleration Act of 1689 the legal position of the Quakers was considerably eased, and the burden of persecution was for the most part lifted. However, the things which had enabled the movement to survive had transformed it. By the last decades of the seventeenth century the fervour, passion and fire which had characterised the early decades had been replaced by Quietism. For more than half a century the Quakers became a separated sect. The deliberately hedged themselves off; their dress, language, manners and behaviour marking them as a people not of the world. There was a dominance of discipline, the subsummation of the individual to the group. Marriage out of the Society was forbidden and transgression of moral codes could lead to expulsion. The close community, discipline, group loyalty and communication which had enabled the Quaker church to survive persecution meant that it spent decades in relative isolation. From the middle of the eighteenth century Quakerism began to emerge from this separation. The bridges to the world were built by Quaker scientists and engineers, whose professional interests took them into close contact with non-Quaker organisations and individuals; by those campaigning on issues such as the abolition of slavery, who began to work among broad-based campaigning groups; and eventually by the return of an interest in evangelism amongst British Friends.

A few book recommendations.

John Punshon Portrait in Grey. A short history of the Quakers (2006). John Punshon's history is a excellent starting point for those interested in the history of Quakerism. Fascinating, well researched and affectionate.

Pink Dandelion An Introduction to Quakerism (2007). Woodbrook Programme Leader Pink Dandelion's take on Quaker history is a more academically, theoretically focused one than Punshon's. His examination of present day Quakerism in its varying, world-wide manifestations forms the second half of the book.

Christopher Hill The World Turned Upside Down (1991). First published in the 1970s, Christopher Hill's seminal study of radical ideas during the English Revolution is still compelling today. A fascinating view from a non-Quaker historian of the world from which Quakerism emerged.

Christine Trevett Women and Quakerism in the 17th Century (1991). Christine Trevett tells the story of early Quaker women - the appeal of Quakerism, the impact they had upon it, the challenges they faced, their lives and the unique opportunities they had as Quakers.

Rex Ambler Truth of the Heart. An anthology of George Fox (2007). This book came out of Rex Ambler's undertaking to study all the available writings of George Fox. He found strong themes emerging, which are perhaps hard to appreciate from Fox's readily available works. This book presents an annotated selection of Fox's writings, organised by theme, in both Fox's original words and Ambler's sensitive 'translation' into modern English.

Gerald Hewitson Journey into life. Inheriting the story of early Friends (2013). Gerald Hewitson delivered the 2013 Swarthmore Lecture at Britain Yearly Meeting, and this is the pamphlet version. An account of the transformative effect of the writing of early Quakers on Hewitson's life and faith.