Quaker Service: A Report from Philadelphia

Edited by Gregory A. Barnes. Friends Press, 2022. 172 pages. $12/paperback; $8/eBook.

This “Report from Philadelphia” might also be entitled “A Snapshot of Quaker Activism and Concerns” in the first quarter of the twentieth-first century. This collection consists of 35 short pieces, all but one by Friends who are connected in some way with Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting, and all previously published in its newsletter as answers to the question of how they try to live their Quaker commitments.

Gregory A. Barnes divides the book into eight sections grouped around the following themes: antiracism, arts, caring professions, civic action, environmentalism, international outreach, meeting service, and volunteerism. Some of the authors, such as George Lakey, Vanessa Julye, and Esther Murer, are well-known in the larger Quaker world, but most will probably be new to Friends outside Philadelphia. The contributions take a variety of forms. Some are interviews, such as Graham Garner describing how he moved from being a bookseller to a gravedigger. Some are reflective pieces, such as Diana Yáñez on her experiences of colorism among Mexican Americans. Some discuss what Friends do, such as couples or addiction therapy. My favorite was Fred Koszewnik describing how he restored Percy Bigland’s oil painting The Quaker Wedding. Some deal with internal Quaker matters, such as essays on the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Library or “Pop-up Communities and the Future of Quakerism.” But most common are calls to action or descriptions of action already taken. Friends describe how they are combating global warming, trying to dismantle mass incarceration, exposing corruption in Puerto Rico, or confronting racism. As one might expect, acronyms abound as Friends form or join organizations to carry out these purposes, including POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild) and EQAT (Earth Quaker Action Team).

Because these pieces originated as newsletter articles, none is longer than a few pages; none treats its subject in depth. But taken together, they do provide an impressive portrait of how the Friends of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting have tried to live out their vision of what it means to be a Friend.

Thomas D. Hamm is professor of history and Quaker scholar in residence at Earlham College. He is a member of West Richmond (Ind.) Meeting in the New Association of Friends.

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