Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Is there a coherence to Western Independent Friends? Are we different from other Liberal Quakers?
I'm interested in views from those inside, as well as outside of the three Western Independent Yearly Meetings--Pacific, North Pacific and InterMountain. What have visitors and sojourners sensed among Beanites?
What's the historical perspective? Do the five sentences of the first discipline of the College Park Association of Friends offer anything distinctive?
The context here is that InterMountain yearly meeting is in process of affiliation with Friends General Conference and North Pacific is seasoning that move. I'm not sure where Pacific YM is on that. I was raised and matured within these yearly meetings and have long been skeptical of this idea, but want to see if my sense that there's something different about us is held widely or is just an isolated notion.
Please comment and refer others to the discussion.
Growing up in Pacific YM, I've only been aware of priding ourselves on being fiercely independent. I didn't hear people refer to us as "Beanites" until about the '90s, though I remember seeing the chart of branches of Quakerism, with the Western Yearly Meetings far out on the side.
IMYM joined FGC shortly after publishing their first Faith and Practice. (Two years ago?) Some monthly meetings in PYM have been affiliated with FGC for a long time, and there have been a few minutes in the past several years encouraging PYM to affiliate.
In visiting unprogrammed meetings elsewhere (mostly among liberal friends), I have rarely experienced noticeable differences in practice. Friends in Cleveland didn't stand to speak. Friends in Paris moved into discussion without closing meeting. Friends in London didn't ask visitors to introduce themselves.
The exceptions that I've experienced are a couple of practices borrowed (adapted?) from conservative friends, and introduced as such by the Christian Friends Conference in Northern California and sometimes scheduled at PYM sessions. One is called "waiting worship", and I'm not sure what distinguishes it from a regular meeting for worship except that it lasts about two hours. (The description of it emphasizes that we're waiting on God, which is my understanding of what we do anyway.) The other is a worship with Bibles, where Friends are invited to read brief passages from the Bible, stating chapter and verse, but not elaborating on the text or responding directly to what anyone else reads. Much less silence than a normal meeting for worship. There's a description of the latter at http://www.quakerquaker.org/video/bible-reading-in-the-manner-of
I do know that PYM includes many universalist Friends, many who consider themselves Christ-centered, many who don't see any contradiction, some non-theists, some who are very uncomfortable with "God language". I'm used to hearing PYM friends refer out loud to "the Spirit" or "the Divine", keeping the language open to make room for each other's varieties of experience. First Day School, in the meetings I've been part of, tends to focus more on social concerns than on theology.
I would be very curious to hear others' experience. I'm like a fish in the water when it comes to trying to describe what I've grown up with.
Thanks for your responses.
I hear that Beanites are fiercely independent. That's my experience (and attitude), too.
Lisa mentioned some practices borrowed (adapted?) from conservative friends that are sometimes scheduled at PYM sessions. I've noticed similar adaptations in NPYM, too. Some from Conservatives, such as minuting an answer to a query. Probably some are borrowed from Northwest YM, too. So we're eclectic. If I understand my history correctly, that's very much in line with our original principles, which included independence so that Friends of any affiliation could worship together.
Bill, you talked about the overall organization of American Quakerism. What's your experience with independent Friends? To you, how do we feel different from your current or former meetings? Or do we?
What else is different? or the same?
The "fierce independence" historically comes from the original group's disgust at the internal strife among Friends at the time, primarily as it reflected in Iowa Friends from which they came, where all the Friends came from the Orthodox side of the great Orthodox-Hicksite schism of 1827-28. They wanted to get away from the divisive issues and focus on a few essentials.
Since there has continued to be great divisiveness among Friends, it was relatively easy for that concern to persist over time. But it is also true that as "Beanite" Friends and FGC Friends evolved, they became similar in many respects.
I have never been in a "Beanite" meeting, but I have known numbers of people who have come from such meetings to the East and joined FGC meetings. Most of them have told me they saw very little difference in faith or practice between their old and new meetings. In our mobile era, as people move between the West, where the "Beanites" are pretty much the only non-pastoral Friends, and other parts of the country, more and more have moved between, and sometimes back and forth among, meetings from these two traditions. For these Friends, it generally feels like one stream of Quakerism and there is a natural tendency to want to reflect that through formal affiliation. And, of course, the annual Gathering is popular and has attracted increasing numbers of Friends from the West. So it can seem strange to not be a part of the grouping most known for sponsoring that Gathering if one finds that Gathering a very valuable experience.
Another way one could look at it, which I have not done, is to read books of Faith and Practice from yearly meetings from both traditions to see how similar or different they are.
.....I have never been in a "Beanite" meeting, .....jt: Let's fix that. Come visit! I'd be glad to host you.
......Another way one could look at it, which I have not done, is to read books of Faith and Practice from yearly meetings from both traditions to see how similar or different they are.......
jt: Good idea. Thanks!
My brief background: first attending Friends while C.O. serving in mental hospital near Philly 1967; sometimes lived many miles from a Friends meeting, but attended every few months such as when my wife and I drove 2 1/2 hours to Phoenix; love open worship not programmed worship but members of California Yearly Meeting when it was part of FUM back in the late 80's;
now a member of Pacific Yearly Meeting; and have attended other Friends meetings.
Historical background: I don't think the Beans were "fiercely independent." As I recall (from Quaker histories I've read) they were mostly driven out of Iowa Yearly meeting, after serving as missionaries because they were opposed to the move toward a creedal/doctrinal-focus in Iowa. What the Beans wanted to focus on was living in God's presence, not doctrinal fights and division.
If one reads the original message of the College Park Association, it comes across fairly open but Christ-centered:
"To promote the interest of Christianity and morality and to disseminate religious and moral principles." "To maintain a meeting for worship of the Society of Friends" in their meetinghouse.
"Friends believe in the continuing reality of the living Christ, available to all seeking souls."
My perspective: I don't think it is wise to call oneself a "Beanite" though I do myself on my own blog. I also call myself a "Foxite" and a "Hicksite," but as I say I don't think naming ourselves after good persons of the past is wise. Should we call ourselves the Society of Foxes or the Society of Hicks or the Society of Beans;-)?
Nor do I think it does much good to turn to the "Faith and Practice" of the Yearly Meetings. For better or worse, few if any yearly meetings live in the Spirit of their F&P, but at least two yearly meetings (of which I have been a member instead follow the jot and tittle of the rules).
It's rather strange that I agree with nearly every sentence in my own Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice--that of Pacific Yearly Meeting (with the exception of about 3 sentences),
but am now basically a Quaker at large (leaning again toward the Mennonites/Brethren) because
of the drift toward nontheism, etc. in Pacific Yearly Meeting. As I even have asked a number of Friends, "What's the point of meeting for worship, if there is no One to worship?"
By my question, I don't mean to exclude anyone from meeting. I am an inclusivist. I certainly want all nontheists to come. Want them to find the Light which shines within everyone of us:-)
I am not doctrinal in the sense Iowa was, but in the sense that Joel and Hanna Bean meant:
From Joel Bean:"We have need ever to guard alike against that refined and emasculated spirituality, which undervalues the Bible and the outward means of grace, and even the incarnation and sacrifices of the Son of God, and that no less fatal outwardness and superficiality which would substitute profession, and prescription, and ritual, for saving faith and all the soul-renewing and life-transforming verities of Christian experience, realized through the imparted energy of the Spirit of Christ within.
In that powerful paragraph Joel cautions all from the evangelical and the universalist wings
of Quakerism to focus back to the Light of Christ.
Just a quick point of order: Intermountain Yearly Meeting affiliated with Friends General Conference in 2009?2010? You can probably do a quick search on westernfriend.org and find the blog entry about it, if you're curious about the exact year. What many had anticipated to be a lengthy and contentious discussion turned out to be over in fifteen minutes flat. No concerns were raised; Friends had done their work around the issue and came prepared.
It would be interesting to hear IMYM Friends weigh in on this; my sense is that the Beanite identity is perhaps less common or weighty there, but it could simply be that I've missed that thread of conversation.