Hello Friends and friends of Friends! I am your host, Pendle Hill. In this issue of Quaker Focus, we shall turn our gaze toward the hill country of northwestern England. There, in towns like Kendal, Sedbergh and Preston Patrick, dwelt a particular group of people who called themselves, Seekers.
The Seekers of this area (like other Seekers throughout England in the mid-1600's), were deeply disillusioned. For them, religious life had lost its vitality. The spirit had gone out of it. Only a dried and shriveled carcass of outward forms remained.
Consequently, the Seekers gave up on the churches of their day. They withdrew unto themselves, waiting for a better option to come along. To quote the Quaker historian, John Punshon, "They felt themselves to be in a period of dereliction so that the only constructive religious posture was to wait for the expected divine initiative and to prepare for the same."
Though disillusioned with the status quo, Seekers found hope in an attitude of expectancy. Though things were horribly muddled at the moment, they stood watch for the day when God would act. By watching and waiting, they kept their faith alive.
As modern people, we mostly have a negative opinion of waiting. To us, waiting is a plastic chair at the airport or an old magazine at a doctor's office. To us, waiting is wasted time.
But the Seekers waited with joyful expectancy. They waited as a child waits for Christmas. They felt themselves standing at the edge of history. They were certain that God would act decisively, breathing fresh life into the church. And because God was about to act, the Seekers were determined to be ready.
They prayed. They studied the Scriptures. They cared for the poor. Although they rejected the outward structure of any established church, they continued to occupy themselves with individual acts of piety.
Articulate leaders arose from within the ranks of the Seeker community. One spokesman for the Seekers, Thomas Taylor, debated three area ministers on the subject of infant baptism. His position was so well-defended that the audience ran into the streets shouting, "Mr. Taylor hath got the day!"
Clearly, this was a vibrant community! They were devoted to their own spiritual development. They produced capable leaders. They endeavored to represent their ideas to their neighbors.
And they waited for God to act.
In 1652, George Fox entered the hill country of northwestern England. He climbed to the top of Pendle Hill, and looked to the west.
Fox recorded in his Journal, "And there, atop of the hill, I was moved to sound the Day of the Lord: and the Lord did let me see atop of the hill in which places He had a great people to be gathered."
Within about two weeks, Fox stood in the village of Sedbergh. It was an important day for the town. Farm workers from the surrounding area were in town to hire themselves out for the coming year. The 'hiring fair' was a social occasion, too.
Taking advantage of the crowd, Fox began to preach in the marketplace. Someone yelled out, "Why don't you go into the church? That is the place to preach in." Fox explained that the true church was not made of wood or stone. A leader from the Seeker community called out, "This man speaks with authority and not as the scribes."
At the end of that day, Fox went home with one of the Seekers. The following Sunday, Fox ascended another hillside to address one thousand Seekers for three hours. Many were convinced.
The message of George Fox -- that outward religious forms held no power, that Christ had come to speak directly to the heart of every believer, that real transformation was possible -- ignited the Seekers. In this spiritual fire, the Quaker movement was born.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. Friends continue to place a great deal of faith in "waiting" for God's leadership to make itself clear. What is your experience of spiritual waiting?
2. Do you think it was luck or providence that brought Fox and the Seekers togther?
3. The Seekers' disillusionment did not keep them from acting on what faith they actually had. What insights can you draw from this?