The Making of A Western Quaker Reader: An Interview with Anthony Manousos

In 2000, A Western Quaker Reader: Writings by and about Independent Quakers in the Western United States, 1929-1999 was published by Friends Bulletin, the official publication of Pacific, North Pacific, and Intermountain Yearly Meetings. This anthology contains articles, interviews, memoirs, and commentary by and about Western Quakers.

We interviewed the editor of this book, Anthony Manousos, who is also the editor of Friends Bulletin. Anthony became a Friend in 1984 when he joined Princeton (N.J.) Meeting. In 1989 he moved to California to marry Kathleen Ross, a Methodist pastor whom he met while sojourning at Pendle Hill. He is currently a dual member of both Whitleaf and Whittier First Friends Meetings. In 1992 he authored a Pendle Hill pamphlet, Spiritual Linkage with Russians: The Story of a Leading. In 1993 he helped to start a youth service program jointly sponsored by American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Southern California Quarterly Meeting. He is a frequent contributor to Friends Journal and Quaker Life.

What led you to work on this book?
The immediate reason was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Friends Bulletin, which was founded in 1929 by Anna and Howard Brinton as the official publication of the College Park and Pacific Coast Association. As I became more involved with this project, however, I began to realize that there was a practical as well as spiritual need for this book. The two major studies about Quakerism in the Western United States—David Le Shana’s Quakers in California (1969) and Errol Elliott’s Quakers on the American Frontier (1969)—were written from a pastoral Friends’ perspective. What was missing, and sorely needed, was a book conveying the adventuresome spirit of independent Quakerism.

So you distinguish the two kinds of Western Friends as "pastoral" and "independent"?
Yes, I do. I generally use the term "pastoral" to refer to Friends United Meeting (FUM) and Evangelical Friends International (EFI). Others prefer the term "programmed" to designate these Friends. "Independent" refers to those meetings that eventually became associated with College Park/Pacific Coast Association, whose original founder was Joel Bean. Some of these unprogrammed meetings were started by Friends churches, one (Orange Grove) was founded by Hicksite Philadelphians, but most of these early meetings sprang up more or less spontaneously. This is in sharp distinction to the vast majority of meetings/churches that were founded by pastoral Friends from Iowa and the Midwest and formed California, Oregon, and Rocky Mountain Yearly Meetings. These meetings/churches were generally started under the care of an established yearly or quarterly meeting.

Another reason for my undertaking this project at this time was that many of those who were involved in the events described in this book are now quite elderly. In order to draw from the memory banks of these elders, we needed to consult them while they are still with us.

Finally, our book has a spiritual purpose: "building the (independent) Western Quaker community." The three Western independent yearly meetings are a widely dispersed group of Friends who range from Montana to Hawaii and from Washington State to Mexico City and Guatemala. Many meetings and Friends in the West are quite isolated. This book—and just about everything I do as editor of Friends Bulletin—is intended to help foster a sense of community among these widely scattered Western Friends and also to share our work with "Friends everywhere."

How did you go about putting this book together?
We used Quaker process as much as possible so that the book would reflect the concerns of a broad cross section of Western independent Quakers. This meant assembling an editorial board consisting of half a dozen seasoned Friends from each of the three independent Western yearly meetings to peruse and select material. The final selection committee consisted of a representative from each yearly meeting: Vickie Aldrich (Intermountain), Nancy Andreasen (Pacific), and Rose Lewis (North Pacific), with additional help from Ann Stever. In keeping with Friends practice, editorial meetings were preceded with a time of silent reflection, and the selection process was carried out in the spirit of Quaker worship. During the final stages of our work, however, there were some moments of heat as well as Light as we struggled with what (and whom) to include and exclude.

As you gathered the material, what were your most unexpected "finds"?
What fascinated me most were the individual life stories of Friends who have put their Quaker faith into practice. I came to know and appreciate more deeply some of the significant personalities who helped to shape the history of Western Friends—people like Josephine Duveneck, Floyd Schmoe, Gordon Hirabayashi, Franklin Zahn, Emmett Gulley, Juan Pascoe, Steve Thiermann, Bill Durland, Leanore Goodenow, Earle Reynolds, Elise Boulding, Bob Vogel, Ann Stever, Marshall Massey, Gene Hoffman, Jim Corbett, and many more. Reading their stories told in their own words was often an eye-opening experience.

Friends who migrated West tended to be adventuresome. The word "adventure" was used by Howard Brinton in an article that appeared in Friends Journal in 1961. He was giving his impression of Pacific Yearly Meeting at that time and described it as "different from the older, more conventional yearly meetings. It is, perhaps, closer to the spirit of the early Friends in its enthusiasm, its spirit of adventure and exploration, and the predominance of strongly convinced Friends." So the spirit of adventure was something that Brinton perceived among Western Friends in the 1960s. I still perceive it today.

And Friends who migrated West often tended to be somewhat quirky, in ways that I find very appealing. They were constantly reinventing themselves and Quakerism, taking risks and challenging institutional structures. Elise Boulding describes them as "activist mystics."

I had originally wanted to call this book "Quaker mavericks" (mavericks are cattle without a brand), but my committee found this title a bit too colorful. We settled for a title (A Western Quaker Reader) that evokes a similar work by a Western Quaker, Jessamyn West.

How do the origins of the three independent Western yearly meetings (Pacific, North Pacific, and Intermountain) fit into the long history of separation and reunification of Friends in North America?
Quakerism changed radically as Friends moved westward. One of the major changes was brought about by the evangelical revival that swept across the West after the Civil War. Revivalism dramatically changed the way that Quakerism was practiced, eventually leading to the pastoral system among Friends. Iowa Yearly Meeting, set off from Indiana Yearly Meeting in 1863, was one of many meetings that split because of this evangelical movement. Joel Bean, a highly respected and internationally known Friend, who had been recorded as a minister in 1858 by West Branch (Iowa) Meeting, was presiding clerk when Iowa Yearly Meeting split in 1877. For five years, Joel tried to reconcile Friends, but in 1882 he "retired from the conflict" and moved with his wife, Hannah, to San Jose, California. There he started an unprogrammed worship group.

When Honey Creek Quarterly Meeting refused the group recognition as a monthly meeting, they built a meetinghouse and became incorporated, in 1889, as College Park Association of Friends, independent of any quarterly or yearly meeting. The Discipline of that group was intentionally brief, inclusive, and vague, characteristics of independent Friends today, who wish to stay out of the divisions of Friends.

As this independent Quaker movement slowly grew, pastoral Friends formed yearly meetings in California, Oregon, and the Rocky Mountain region that were at first part of Five Years Meeting (the predecessor of FUM). These Western yearly meetings eventually broke away from FUM to form Evangelical Friends International. Today there are approximately 12,000 Evangelical Friends and 3,200 independent Friends in the Western United States.

What is the relationship of the three independent yearly meetings to the three Evangelical yearly meetings in the West (Rocky Mountain, Northwest, and Southwest)?
There have been a lot of ups and downs in the relationship between independent and Evangelical Friends. Although they have always had profound theological differences, independent Friends often worked with pastoral Friends on common projects relating to Quaker testimonies on peace and justice. For example, Orange Grove Meeting in Pasadena worked with First Friends Church in Whittier to found the Southern California office of AFSC and Friends Committee on Legislation of California (FCL). Individual Evangelical Friends have also worked on AFSC committees in the Pacific Northwest since the beginning of their regional offices. Unprogrammed and pastoral Friends often worked side by side in workcamps or Civilian Public Service Camps and formed deep and lasting friendships despite theological disagreements.

Since the 1960s these common projects have mostly disappeared, and independent and Evangelical Friends in the West have drifted further and further apart. Independent Friends have become less focused on Christianity and more universalist in outlook. Another issue separating independent and Evangelical Friends has been the question of same-sex marriage. Not only did two Western yearly meetings approve minutes of support of same-sex marriage in the 1990s, North Pacific Yearly Meeting also appointed two clerks who had same-sex marriages. This would have been unthinkable among Evangelical Friends.

On the other hand, there have been efforts to build bridges between these two branches of Quakerism. One such effort was the Western Gathering of Friends, which convened at Lewis and Clark College in Portland in 1992. Though over 250 showed up for this gathering of Evangelical and independent Friends, many felt that it was a mixed success. The vast majority of participants were unprogrammed Friends. There were many expressions of goodwill and good feeling, but little or no follow-up.

A much more sustained effort at bridge-building was undertaken by women in the Pacific Northwest. Annis Bleeke (a former member of the board of Friends Bulletin and now assistant executive secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation [FWCC] in London) and Cilde Glover (currently executive secretary of FWCC, Section of the Americas) started the "Multwood Group," an informal gathering of women from the local Friends church and unprogrammed meeting. Despite theological differences, these women found they had a great deal in common spiritually. Eventually this group led to the formation of the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theological Conference. These conferences have had a profound impact, bringing together small groups of women from the liberal and evangelical traditions for a weekend of spiritual sharing. These gatherings have helped liberal Friends understand more deeply the Christian foundations of Quakerism, and they have helped Evangelical Friends appreciate the spiritual basis of liberal Quakerism. An Oregon Friend named Marge Abbott was deeply involved. After a profound midlife spiritual experience resulting from these discussions, she was led to write a Pendle Hill pamphlet called An Experiment in Faith: Quaker Women Transcending Differences (1995) as well as an anthology of liberal and evangelical writings called A Certain Kind of Perfection (1997). These works are, in my view, two of the most important contributions to Quaker spirituality by Western Quakers to appear in the last decade.

What are the most important things that Eastern Friends in North America don’t know about Western Friends?
My experience is probably typical of Eastern Friends—I knew absolutely nothing about the Beans and the spiritual pioneers of Western Quakerism when I first came from Philadelphia to California. I also knew nothing about Evangelical Friends and their role in the development of Quakerism.

And what don’t Western Friends know about Eastern Friends?
As you know, it is unwise to generalize about any group of Friends. However, I hope that this book will encourage better-informed intervisitation.

How do the interests and concerns of Western Friends contrast with those of the Midwest?
The main connection that Western Friends had with Midwestern Friends was through Friends Church Southwest (formerly California Yearly Meeting) and FUM, but this tie was severed a few years ago when Friends Church Southwest decided to become part of EFI.

First Friends Church of Whittier was one of the few Western Friends churches to stick with FUM. In order to do so, First Friends had to start its own mini-yearly meeting called the Western Association of Friends. Some Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends joined this group since Whittier First Friends has always had cordial ties with unprogrammed Friends, and it was taking a risk by aligning with FUM rather than EFI (thereby expressing its support for AFSC, Friends Committee on National Legislation, FCL of California, etc.). When I moved to Whittier, I decided to follow the example of Helen O’Brien, the clerk of my unprogrammed meeting, and become a dual member of both Whitleaf and Whittier First Friends. I therefore have the distinction of being the first editor of Friends Bulletin to belong to both Pacific Yearly Meeting and FUM. I think that Joel Bean would have been very pleased!

The efforts by Earlham School of Religion (ESR) to reach to Friends across the theological and geographical spectrum have had a significant impact among Western Friends, especially over the past 10 to 15 years. Western Friends from both unprogrammed and programmed meetings have enrolled in ESR and are excited by the opportunity to be exposed to its theological diversity. ESR is planning to conduct an extension program in Southern California. If this program is successful—and I hope it will be—it could open up a very important channel of communication between Western and Midwestern Friends involved with ESR and FUM. Hopefully, it will also attract pastoral Friends.

How do you see Western Friends influencing Quakerism as it evolves into the future?
This is a big topic and could be the subject of another book! I see Western Friends as a kind of spiritual laboratory for experimenting with new ideas and new developments in Quakerism. Our book deals with some of the growing-edge trends of the 1990s—same-sex marriage, dialogue among different branches of Quakerism, renewed interest in mysticism and Quaker service—but where Western Friends will be led next, only the Spirit knows.