On Quakers and Pastors

By Derek Brown. Barclay Press, 2019. 370 pages. $25/paperback.

Derek Brown is a professor of pastoral ministries at Barclay College in Haviland, Kans. Barclay is an evangelical Friends school dedicated to preparing its students, in a Bible-based environment, for work and service in the world. Beginning as a Friends academy (a secondary school) in the 1890s, it gradually added college-level instruction and about 50 years ago decided to discontinue its pre-college instruction.

Brown’s book speaks from and to the Evangelical Quaker tradition that nurtures Barclay College, and expresses Brown’s conviction that the challenges of our time require a renewal of the role of the Quaker pastor. His book is intended to lay some foundation in pastoral theology for that renewal, and in that spirit he explores key questions, bringing to bear biblical and Quaker materials at every step. One chapter, “Defining Terms,” explains Quaker ideas such as the structure of business meetings (monthly, quarterly, yearly), faith and practice, programmed and unprogrammed worship, and so on, as well as more general terms such as “management” and “leadership.”

Succeeding chapters treat the history of the pastoral movement in U.S. Quakerism and the need for Quaker pastoral theology. Chapter 5, “Current Pastoral Expectations,” provides a very helpful set of thumbnail sketches of the way the role of the pastor is understood in a number of Evangelical yearly meetings (many in Evangelical Friends Church International, some from Friends United Meeting). Subsequent chapters explore history, theology, leadership, gender, proclamation, leadership, and pastoral care.

Brown addresses questions that unprogrammed Friends might ask, about how the pastoral system relates to the traditional Quaker understandings of worship, the qualifications of ministers, “hireling ministers,” and the nature of worship. This could be of interest to many readers of Friends Journal, as it is to history that we look to understand how Quakerism has taken so many different forms over the years.

Brown’s strategy is to examine the conditions under which the Quaker testimonies about these matters arose, suggesting that the objections to professional clergy, for example, arose from abuses in the established church at the time. Since conditions have changed, these objections don’t pertain any longer, and in any case the evangelical movements of the 1800s in Quakerism, including the rise of the pastoral system, arose to effectively meet new challenges and opportunities. “New occasions teach new duties.”

I have heard this kind of argument used in many conversations over the years about why contemporary Friends are different from the first Friends: to explain, for example, why the majority of Friends no longer worship in silent meetings. (“They were led to do it, but they didn’t realize what they were rejecting.”) Or what was the reason George Fox and others were Christian, while many Liberal Friends today are not? (“Seventeenth-century Friends had no alternative.”) Such arguments are plausible enough at first, but closer examination raises questions. It is very hard not to project ourselves and our reasons backward onto our forebears.

Brown’s chapters on proclamation and theology, pastoral care, and leadership make a strong case for the importance of such activities in the lives of religious communities. How do we take care of each other? What is our understanding of the Quaker message, the gift it offers our times? How do we become equipped for service? Brown’s treatment of these questions focuses on the role of the pastor, of course, but he sees the pastor as one (necessary) ingredient in the life of a dynamic and healthy congregation. I myself would seek other answers to these questions, but the questions are challenging to unprogrammed meetings as well, and sometimes Friends prefer to avoid confronting them. Yet they led to many of the changes in the 1800s that produced the Quakerisms we inhabit today.

John Punshon, British Friend and recorded minister of Indiana Yearly Meeting, wrote Reasons for Hope 20 years ago to articulate a path of renewal for Christian programmed Friends, who are, after all, by far the majority of those who bear the name “Friend” or “Quaker.” Punshon’s book—still a good read—was a valuable contribution to Quaker ecumenism (or self-understanding, if you like). As a member of one of the “united yearly meetings,” which belong both to Friends General Conference and to Friends United Meeting, I found Punshon’s discussion a constructive help. It was perhaps as accessible as it was because Punshon was enriched by his experience of both programmed and unprogrammed Quakerism.

Derek Brown’s book takes for granted that the center of Quaker gravity is in the evangelical, programmed form, and he is not interested in ecumenism but in developing a clear, serviceable theological foundation for the work of Quaker pastors. With that said, this book could also serve the cause of Quaker ecumenism, if some Friends in unprogrammed meetings were to read it in an attempt to engage current issues of faith and practice found in one evangelical region of Quakerdom.

Brian Drayton worships with Souhegan Preparative Meeting in southern New Hampshire. He blogs at amorvincat.wordpress.com.

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