"I have to say there's a disclaimer here because if you went to Ohio Yearly Meeting [Conservative] and told them you wanted to have a meeting for worship where you also included "Bible Reading in the Manner of Conservative Friends" they'd wonder what you were talking about."

This statement is strange to me because it was at Barnesville at a Conservative Friends Gathering that I first experienced the practice of sitting in silence and having worshippers (as they felt led) rise and read from the Bible, then subsiding back into silence. They called it "Collections" and I was under the impression it had been practiced for years at both Conservative Gatherings and at Yearly Meeting. It seems to me they would know exactly what someone meant by that phrase.

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Good topic! I'd love to know more about how the "Bible Reading in the Manner of Conservative Friends" (which I'll shorten to BRMCF below) connects with the Ohio Conservative experience.

The quote is from this video interview with Charles Martin. I think he's in close correspondence and friendship with Ohio Friends so there must be some reason he made the disclaimer. Ohio has its own diversities so it might only be some particular Friends who would make a distinction that would be lost on most of us (e.g., BRMCF is arguably programmed in that there are explicit rules and expectations). Do keep in mind that I essentially cornered Charles at the rise of worship at Ben Lomond and begged him to give me an off-the-cuff interview. He doubtlessly say things a bit differently if he were to sit down and write something more comprehensive.

My impression is that BRMCF echos the standard practice at Ohio Conservative but that as a defined worship technique it is specifically tailored for a liberal Quaker setting. It gets Friends reading the Bible without getting distracted by intellectual discussions over authorship, First Century politics, etc. I've regularly attended Bible reading sessions at a strongly Wilburite-leaning Philadelphia-area Meeting a few years ago and felt that the extra commentary sometimes kept us from really absorbing the Gospel news we were reading.

I'm still hoping to make it to the Conservative Gathering in Lancaster PA next month. It's becoming my practice to ignore most of the proceedings of any gathering I attend and just corner people for interviews so maybe I'll show Friends the Charles Martin interview and ask for commentary! In the meantime, those wanting to know more might be interested in "The Scriptures as Understood and Used by Conservative Friends."
I think most Ohio Conservative Friends would distinguish between meeting for worship and Bible readings. Since many of our ministers use multiple scripture references in ministry, including some who quote long passages of the scripture, there is more blurring of the lines than we usually think about. Also some ministers will read a passage at the beginning of a message.
I found my 2006 Conservative Friends Gathering program of Events and it has, each morning, Bible Reading in the Collection Room as an item--I suspect calling it "Collections" was an Olney-ism. My memory is not what it used to be, but I thought I also attended these at Ohio Yearly Meeting, not just the Conservative Gathering. When I have attended these Bible readings it has been identical to silent worship except that everyone who rose and spoke read from the Bible. While they certainly did not and would not call it "worship" (thanks for highlighting that distinction Chronicler--it didn't really occur to me that anyone might mean worship when they said BRMCF, but I see that language used in the interview now!) there was no commentary that took place and it did not seem to me that it would be welcome. The only time a Friend spoke that was not from the Bible was to implore Friends to allow more time between readings . . . a familiar Quaker refrain :)
This has not been a practice in the North Carolina conservative YM. In my experience Friends rarely open an Bible and read from it in public. It is more common to paraphrase biblical passages in the course of vocal ministry. The idea is that Friends should be doing a lot of Bible reading privately and then a free and unprogrammed vocal ministry arises that is influenced by these private devotions but avoids the kind of proof-texting you see in other Christian groups that rely heavily on the Bible.
Not being entirely satisfied with the answers I received, I searched further and got the following information from Susan Smith, OYM:

"As for Bible reading (aka Bible reading in the manner of Conservative Friends), its "reactivation" can be traced to a meeting of Stillwater QM held here in the summer about 25 years ago. Kenneth Doudna, a dear Friend from Ridge Meeting then perhaps in his late 60's, was in attendance. On 7th Day evening after supper, he said to Jack [Smith], "We should have some Bible reading." Jack was busy tending to the details of hosting and did not immediately react. Twice more Kenneth gently made his request, getting Jack's attention. The "old-timers" knew what to do, and Kenneth instructed us newcomers. We sat in a circle in our living room, with extra chairs wedged in, and entered into a deep time of spiritual waiting and reading scripture passages as led, the way we do at gatherings now.

"Kenneth told us that such was the custom in his youth when traveling ministers stayed overnight in someone's home. The whole family assembled with the traveling Friends for gathered scripture reading, which often ended with vocal ministry or prayer. When quarterly meeting again was at Rockingham Meeting the next summer, we continued the practice, and for about 10 years, this was the only place where I was aware of it happening. After that it was added to the events at the biannual Conservative Friends' gatherings, and then to the after-breakfast slot at yearly meeting. Faye introduced it at the FWCC of the Americas annual meeting this past spring, and we have included it at QuakerSpring (previously Quaker Camp), an outreach to (mostly) FGC Friends seeking a deeper walk with Christ I believe it was also on the program at a Convergent Friends gathering in California early this spring. I'm not sure who brought it there, or how aware they were of the roots of the practice."
At the Quaker Women's Conference held in early November 2009 near Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the activities available to the 45 attenders (from all branches of the Quaker faith) was "Collections," also called "Bible Reading in the Manner of Conservative Friends". The sense of the attenders was that Bible reading this way was meaningful and deep for all involved. I am happy this spiritual practice is being resurrected.

mark jacobson wrote:

i don't know much about the ways of Conservative Friends, but bible reading has become part of my worship over the years. I normally read three passages each meeting, picked blind. I really don't see anything "liberal" or "conservative" about this. i don't think liberal Friends reject bible reading, do they?

Depends, Mark. Liberal Friends are very diverse. Some follow Christian paths, and consider Christian Scripture very important. Some follow other paths, consider it useful, but not very important. Some consider it primitive savagery, and take angry public stands repudiating it. I've listened to Liberal Friends express all these views as messages during meetings with them at various times.

I am afraid thee has a very romantic view of Liberal Friends. Some of what I have experienced in a liberal meeting:

(1a) someone reading from the Bible, (2a) someone standing immediately and denouncing the Bible and how "we" don't hold with that stuff.

(1b) I rose in meeting and spoke of obedience to God (didn't actually use any particularly Christian language, but I do wear a bonnet and plain dress and my Christianity is well known in this meeting), (2b) someone standing shortly thereafter to denounce that as abdicating personal responsibility and extolling the virtues of Hinduism as a great example of a religion that allows people to reach their own personal full potential, as opposed to Christianity.

(1c) Someone speaking (for the first time) during meeting using language including "Lord" and "Father" and talking about finding peace, (2c) someone immediately standing and saying that if a message is not given by the Spirit it should not be spoken.

(1d) The clerk of the meeting (who has identified himself as a Christian Friend) publishing in the newsletter why he doesn't "celebrate" Christmas and including the language that belief that Jesus died on the cross for our sins is an "abomination" (2d) the meeting having standards for its newsletter that what is included should not be "offensive" I informed the committee that I found that statement offensive, (3d) they informed me they didn't see anything offensive about it. They did offer that I could put something into the newsletter in response, but I did not feel led to do so.

(1e) Someone asking me why I can't just go to some church and stay away from meeting, since as a Christian I have so very many places to worship and as a "universalist" she has (as she sees it) only Liberal Friends. (She had tears in her eyes as she said this.)

Rather than "ranters" being a challenge to the meeting, in my experience, Christians and Conservative Friends are a huge challenge for a Liberal Meeting. Truly, in all empathy, a great many of them are there because they have felt particularly wounded by Christianity elsewhere and see a Liberal Meeting as a place to escape all that stuff and still find community and a place to worship.

quote "Some consider it primitive savagery, and take angry public stands repudiating it. "


I thinks this group is more accurately called "Ranters," rather than be included among "Liberal" Friends. (See Quaker history on this.) The way i see it, Liberal Friends Meetings admit ranters in part because we hope they will challenge staid thinking among us, (and they often do) while exposing themselves to others who persist in the greater Truths they refuse to acknowledge.

Dunno, Mark. I was referring to an incident in my own meeting a year or two ago, when an older visitor attending a conference we hosted joined some of us for pre-meeting Bible reading. We happened to be reading the book of Joshua, which contains the accounts of the conquest of Canaan. Even among Friends, the interpretation of this book has been controversial for well over one hundred years.

After a number of passages had been read regarding the mistreatment of women, the visitor stood, raised her borrowed Bible over her head and said, "I stand against what is written in this book!" She continued to point out that what was just read was primitive savagery, and that she repudiated it.

I don't know whether she or anyone else considered her to be a Ranter (that's a very specific term), but I have heard many, many similar repudiations of unpopular aspects of Christian Scripture for many years, from many self-described Liberal Friends. Generally the non-Christian or recovering Christians.

Judeo/Christian Scripture can be quite challenging to try to understand, because much of it is critical history of good people going bad, or bad people getting worse. Not everything one reads in it is intended to be a guide for Christian behavior, and much of Christianity is a rejection of older Jewish interpretations of the will of God.

I don't try to understand the dynamics among Liberal meetings, Mark. I came to Quakerism among the ultra-Liberal Santa Cruz Beanites, and while I have clearly experienced the visit of the Holy Spirit among them, for me they were just a stepping stone to introduce the Conservatives.


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