Balancing Spirit and a Leadership of Experience

Cover photo by Vek labs on Unsplash

I must admit I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for stories of radical Spirit-led spontaneity. Some of these are set in worship, like the Friend who stands up to minister without knowing what to say, trusting the Holy Spirit will provide the words in real time. Then there’s the one of a Friend traveling down the road; suddenly she shouted out to stop the carriage because she sensed (accurately, it turns out!) that there was a spiritual crisis in a home she was passing.

A few weeks ago, in preparation for a post-worship program, the clerk of my meeting asked me to read aloud a passage from the 1966 memoir of a member of our meeting, Paul S. Lippincott Jr., recounting a circa-1905 experience from his youth. Lippincott had retired to bed and was reading, when suddenly he felt a prompt to get up, hitch up his horse, and ride to the next town. Once there, he got another prompt to purchase some groceries, then another to deliver them to an elderly neighbor he knew only by reputation:

In about ten minutes I pulled up at the little one-room cabin where there was a light through the window, and as I went to the door, I heard her voice praying for help and food. I was there under unusual circumstances to answer the fervent prayers of a believing soul.

I’m pretty sure my voice cracked when I got to that part of the story.

There were some early Friends who felt every decision should be left to this sort of radical spontaneity, to the point where we shouldn’t even schedule worship times and places. A Quaker leadership quickly developed to temper this sort of idea.

All human groups have conflicts over leadership, but Friends’ idealism sometimes makes ours particularly acute. Does our belief in that of God in everyone mean everyone gets equal say? Are we a radical democracy? A movement against authority? A religious community led by the steadying hand of appointed elders and recorded ministers? Each of these models has been held by a sizable number of Friends over our history, and it’s led to conflict. We’ve seen small groups claim more power than they should. We’ve also seen leadership we need blocked and eventually burned out by those distrustful of change.

In this issue, you’ll find many stories of Quaker leadership, both out in the world and within our own communities. I think many Friends today are striking a good balance between leadership of the Spirit and what you might call a leadership of experience in service to others.

Finally, some staff news: after three successful years behind QuakerSpeak’s camera, Rebecca Hamilton-Levi left Friends Publishing earlier this year to pursue graduate studies. We’re grateful for her time with us. Christopher Cuthrell has come onboard as our new video producer to lead the QuakerSpeak project. A product of Quaker primary education, he’s a graduate of New York City’s School of Visual Arts with a bachelor’s in fine arts and animation. Christopher’s passion for filmmaking began in his childhood and grew into a career in high school. Prior to joining us, Christopher journeyed through film festivals with his animated short The Boy and the Moon. You can contact him at A tenth season of QuakerSpeak will begin soon!

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