Memoir of the Life and Religious Labors of Lloyd Lee Wilson

By Lloyd Lee Wilson. Inner Light Books, 2021. 598 pages. $55/hardcover; $40/paperback; $12.50/eBook.

Written in the tradition of older journals of Friends ministers that were intended to help others along the way, the lengthy subtitle defines the contents:

A Minister of the Gospel of the Religious Society of Friends, Particularly of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), to describe the workings of the Lord in the various stages of my life, showing how God is at work in all things for good, whether we perceive it so or not, and how our surrender to divine providence allows God’s work to be done in and through us for the advancement of the Realm of God.

“Memoir” describes the author’s own spiritual experience with its hard-won wisdom, noting outward secular details only as they impact the spiritual. The missteps are recounted as well as the successes that make up the learnings accumulated and embodied over a lifetime. It is drawn from the journals Wilson has kept since childhood, notes for talks and workshops, and articles. It is intensely personal in his relationship with God, and in time, with Jesus Christ. Wilson’s memoir uses traditional Quaker and Christian language. But the significance and meaning of words, phrases, and theological constructs grew, enlarged, and shifted over time in response to his lived experience.

Wilson’s two previous books, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order and Wrestling with Our Faith Tradition, articulate what Wilson calls “classic,” or John Punshon’s “normative” Quakerism. Members don’t need to accept it all themselves, but they do need to agree that this is what defines Quakerism. It is the living tradition that while honoring its roots in seventeenth-century England has opened itself to change by those who, with integrity, struggle when confronting new conditions. Wilson’s third book, Memoir, takes the themes of the first two and shows us how he has labored to incorporate them in his own life.

Individuals whose comments and actions indicate they do not understand the Quaker gestalt are not mentioned by name but are used to illustrate the somewhat fallen-away state of many meetings (as institutions). Yet many more meetings (in individual sessions for worship, discussion, and teaching/learning) are rich, deep, and blessed by the felt Presence.

The book describes the development of Wilson’s understanding of his relationship with God, of a spiritual gift of ministry, and of the meaning of Jesus Christ in his life. He was led to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) where his gospel ministry was understood and recorded in three successive monthly meetings, each of which held him accountable. Over the years his vocal ministry, both prophetic and teaching, within meeting for worship and in workshops and lectures, has grown to include writing and also one-to-one companioning and mentoring. Themes of earning a living through doing good, the right use of his ministry, identifying his true vocation, and accountability to a faith community or small group weave through Memoir. Interspersed throughout are wise and helpful observations for Friends on the work of ministers and elders, ministry and counsel committees, accountability, ministry, participating in a faith community, being a pacifist, ethics, the current state of (mostly unprogrammed) meetings, and the importance of a “normative” Quakerism.

The book includes an epilogue, nine short papers written at Earlham School of Religion, a list of publications, and a glossary.

Without a creed, Friends are helped to learn how to be better Quakers by sharing our stories and learning from those who are further along on the way. What a gift Wilson has given to Friends!

Marty Grundy is now a member of Wellesley (Mass.) Meeting, New England Yearly Meeting.

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