Library: J.W. Rowntree “A study in ecclesiastical polity”
01/03/2019 § 2 Comments
I am starting to add new things to Amor Vincat‘s Library page, and I hope (once again!) that this will become a more regular feature of this blog. The next several additions will draw from the Victorian Quaker authors that were formative for me, and that I think still offer important food for thought. Here’s one from John Wilhelm Rowntree.
Leading British Friends in the 19th and early 20th centuries took a keen interest in the developments in American Quakerism – the separations of 1827, 1845, and after; the various efforts at re-unification or association such as the Richmond Declaration, the Five Years Meeting, and Friends General Conference; and the evolution of practice going on in most groups.
The new, liberal leaders were aided, and perhaps inspired, by the advent of Rufus Jones, who found a deep kinship with these contemporaries (some of them younger than he). Jones brought to his British contacts a kindred desire to renew the Quaker voice, and the ministry, for the times (post-Darwin, globalizing, Social Gospel, and so on), fed by his experience in Quaker ecumenism, and his growing study of Christian mysticism and modern psychology (think William James, not Sigmund Freud). Some of the British Friends of that generation spent considerable time among American Friends, trying (to use John Woolman’s words) to understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them.
John WIlhelm Rowntree (1868-1905) was one of these. His studies of the American scene were shaped by his belief that one of the causes of Quakerism’s decline was the decline of the ministry. In this, he was joined by most of his contemporaries, and some of their elders (such as Rowntree’s uncle, John Stephenson R., from whom we shall hear in future). He was therefore fascinated by the American experiments with leadership, and the rise of the pastoral system with all its complexities. In parallel with those experiments, and in part stimulated by them, British Friends were doing their own experiments. Some of these sound rather like things some modern Friends (for example in New England) are doing for outreach. (See here and here for example.)
Rowntree in this essay reflects on American developments (around the turn of the last century), on their potential value, and their congruence with his own understand of the Quaker message. His tone is respectful, sympathetic, open-minded, but judicious. I encourage you to read it and discuss it — here on the comments, or amongst your friends.
NOTE: In past Library posts, I have not succeed in inserting a link from this page to the item in question, so please go to my Library, and look for the piece there.