Quaker Theology #11 -- Spring-Summer 2005
A Conservative Yearly Meeting is Born
Lloyd Lee Wilson
Adapted from Remarks at Representative Body,
North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), 10/30/2004
Several years ago, Wil Cooper gave a plenary address to our yearly meeting sessions. After his prepared remarks, a member of the audience (not a Friend) rose to ask a question. Friends, this man observed, in his experience talked about themselves more than any other group. Why was that? Wil answered that because Friends have no creed or declaration of faith, we lack the means of identifying ourselves as a people. We tell stories about our fellow Quakers because that is how we remember who we are, as a people of a particular faith tradition.
I want to tell a part of our story this afternoon, to help us remember who we are as a faith community, and how we got this way. This part of our story had its climax right here in this meeting house, in this room, 100 years ago today, as Friends gathered on 10/30/1904 for First Day meeting for worship in the middle of the first separate sessions of what we now call North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative).
Of course the story began much before that date, and continues unabated to this very afternoon and beyond. Those Friends who gathered in 1904 remembered and connected themselves to the story of Quakers in North Carolina: their first meeting for business including the reading aloud of the history of North Carolina Quakerism, from its beginnings in 1660 to their present day [NCYM(C) Men, 10/28/1904].
In 1827 and the years following, North American Quakerism was rocked by a series of schisms precipitated by the preaching of Elias Hicks. Most yearly meetings split into Hicksite and Orthodox factions, but North Carolina Yearly Meeting did not separate, remaining firmly Orthodox. A second split swept through the Orthodox yearly meetings a few decades later, dividing these Friends into Gurneyite and Wilburite groups, named after their most prominent leaders, J. J. Gurney and John Wilbur. Once again, North Carolina was spared. Nathan Hunt, the father of the current yearly meeting clerk Thomas Hunt, was a highly respected and weighty Friend in the yearly meeting and intervened at the crucial moment. When Thomas was about to read the epistle from the Wilburite New England Yearly Meeting, Nathan intervened, and the yearly meeting avoided separation once again. [Holden, p. 127]
So the stage was set at the end of the Civil War for the events and personalities that would lead to the separation in 1904. Friends were economically and spiritually battered: at the end of the war the circumstances of North Carolina Quakers were so bleak that a coalition of northern Friends, the Baltimore Association, sent workers to this state to help implement a recovery effort. These Friends brought much needed economic assistance but also new ideas and innovations about Quaker worship and belief. By this time the yearly meeting was by now the only North American yearly meeting that had never suffered a schism [Hickey, p. 69].
Among the prominent leaders of the Baltimore Association was Allen Jay, an Indiana Friend who had seen the encouraging results of the new revivalist innovations in Indiana during the 1860s. In 1870 Jay was serving in Springfield, when a nearby non-Quaker revival tent meeting attracted the interest of several of the young Friends in Springfield meeting. Jay attended one evening to see what was going on, and ended up sitting on the speakerís platform. Shortly thereafter he organized a non-denominational revival meeting with the cooperation of several of the townís Protestant pastors, and reported very successful results. [Hinshaw, pp. 196-197]
In 1870, North Carolina Yearly Meeting created a Committee on General Meetings, and appointed Allen Jay as the first member of the committee. [Holden, p. 129] General Meeting was the Quaker term then used for the revival tent meetings. Friends who were uneasy with this new activity on the part of the yearly meeting were in a bit of a bind: they were grateful for the economic assistance and general support offered by the Baltimore Association, and did not want to damage that relationship by criticizing the evangelical activities of the Baltimore Association staff.
Allen Jay left North Carolina in 1872, reporting himself satisfied with the leadership he left behind. [Holden, p. 129] The evangelical work increased in the next few years, as did the uneasiness of some Friends: Rich Square MMtg refused in 1874 to pay the portion of its YMtg assessment that went toward evangelistic activity [Hickey, p. 60]. There seems to have been an increased level of travel in the ministry from Rich Square over the rest of this decade and the next, as Benjamin P. Brown and others traveled among Friends who supported renewal, but not revival. Benjamin P. Brown, Henry Outland and the rest appear to have been building networks and solidifying support among the renewal group, and raising the alarm over what was happening in and to the yearly meeting [e.g., Rich Square Men, 5/16/1885].
In 1882 matters came to a crisis point, as the Committee on General Meetings was re-named the Evangelistic Committee, and the yearly meeting initiated the first-ever formal contact with North Carolina Baptists and Methodists. The Yearly Meeting was, as Damon Hickey put it, beginning to act like a denomination [Hickey, p. 60]. The following year Eastern Quarterly Meeting, which included Rich Square Monthly Meeting and Piney Woods MMtg, gave serious consideration to joining the orthodox Baltimore Yearly Meeting. [Hinshaw, p. 217] Friends concluded that the time for such a move had not yet arrived.
The years leading up to the turn of the century brought an increasing level of evangelistic activity within North Carolina Yearly Meeting and an increased acceptance of this work in most of the other Orthodox yearly meetings as well. National conferences of Friends produced documents like the Richmond Declaration of 1887, which seemed to give tacit acceptance to some of the evangelical innovations while ruling out some extremes like outward ordinances. North Carolina YMtg gave the Declaration strong approval and directed that it be printed in the minutes of the yearly meeting, calling it "a valuable restatement of some of the fundamental doctrines of our Society" [Hickey, p. 55].
Eastern Quarter was in regular disagreement in this period with the yearly meeting over whether Friends with scruples against paying for evangelistic work should be required to pay for it. The yearly meeting changed its policy on this matter several times; during some years the assessment of certain monthly meetings was reduced for this reason, and at other times the full assessment was demanded. [Holden, p. 127-128; Hickey, pp 63, 68]
The wording of a minute approved by Rich Square MMtg in 1892 on this subject is strikingly similar to minutes approved in recent times concerning nonpayment of war taxes:
The subject of Evangelistic work claiming the attention of this meeting and many of our members feeling conscientiously burdened with the taxes imposed upon us by our YMtg for the prosecution of the work and friends after a weighty consideration are united in appointing T. Copeland (?), Henry Outland, Benjamin P. Brown and William J. Brown with a similar committee of women friends to prepare a document setting forth our reasons for the nonpayment of the same and forward to our ensuing QMtg [Rich Square Men, 1892].
In 1891 and 1892 High Point and Greensboro, both new meetings, hired the first Quaker pastors in North Carolina [Hickey, p. 63].
Rich Square minuted its continuing concerns on this subject in 1892:
The friends continued last month to reconsider the subject of evangelistic work have produced the following document which this meeting accepts and directs the clerks to sign and forward to our ensuing Yearly Meeting.
Our meeting has been brought under deep religious exercise in this matter with desires that we may in no way wound the spirit of our God by doing any thing that may hinder his work upon the earth, and in viewing the general manner and spirit of this so called Evangelistic work, we do most fully believe that it is inconsistent with the teachings of our saviour, and with the spirit and practice of the Apostles, and of our predecessors in the truth. "Freely ye have received, freely give," said our Saviour to the twelve disciples Matthew 10:8. "I have coveted no manís silver or gold or apparel, yea ye your selves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, it is more blessed to give than to receive" said Paul to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus. Elders in that place no doubt meant ministers. (Acts 20-23 & 4:35).
He also said "What is my reward then, being that when I preach the Gospel of Christ without charge: that I abuse not my favor in the Gospel 1 Corinthians 9:18.
Robert Barclay showed that this abuse crept in with the apostacy [sic] 10th Proposition, Pages 315-319 inclusive.
In conclusion we are convinced that this system is but a step into a hireling ministry therefore we are conscientiously opposed to paying any part of said tax [Rich Square Men, 1892].
In 1893 the Yearly Meeting Discipline Committee recommended a new Discipline be published, incorporating the Richmond Declaration of 1887. [Holden, p. 130] Rich Square was already on record as follows:
The friends appointed to consider the subject of the revision of our discipline made the following report: "We have conferred together and have examined the proposed changes and are united in the belief that our YMtg had better make no changes at present." Which report this meeting accepts and directs the clerks to sign a copy of the above minute and forward to our ensuing YMtg. [Rich Square Men, 7/16/1892]
Eastern Quarter also recorded its objections, but new Disciplines were printed anyway [Holden, p. 130; NCYM(C). 1893 Discipline, pp. 16-ff].
In 1894 a Committee appointed by RS MMtg reported to Eastern Quarter that it recommended rejecting the Richmond Declaration "as a whole." This report was tabled on the technicality that although the committee was appointed by Rich Square, the report itself was not first approved by the MMtg [Hickey, p. 62].