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Firbank Fell

Firbank Fell – main film
Each of the three places we’re visiting on this course can claim to be the real starting point for Quakerism. It was the experience on Pendle Hill that propelled George Fox to enlarge his vision of what he was to achieve. At Swarthmoor Hall, the movement gained support from the gentry and a headquarters for their activities. But here at Firbank Fell, on Sunday, June 13, 1652, George Fox had the preaching success which gave Quakerism the numerical base it really needed to take off. [CHANTING]
We’ve heard how George Fox had arrived in nearby Brigflatts and Sedbergh a few days before. It moved from house to house for a near cautious rather than wholehearted welcome. However, a local Seeker preacher, Francis Howgill, had defended Fox’s decision to preach up a tree in a Sedbergh churchyard rather than in the church. And had quietened the crowd. It was Howgill who was preaching in the chapel here on Firbank Fell the following Sunday morning. And Fox made his way up here, as it seems did hundreds of others. [CHANTING]
Only the wall remains today, but Fox reports in his journal that people were crowding into the chapel. Not all who wanted to could get in, and that over 1,000 were present as the day wore on. We can imagine in the afternoon then a great gathering on the fellside by the side of the chapel, with people coming up the fell for the day, excited to hear a number of preachers arguing their theologies with each other. It was a spiritual grand day out. It had been an unusually hot spring and summer, and the weather was again very good that day. On March 29th that year, there had been an eclipse, and this had frightened people.
There was an atmosphere of anticipation and expectation. Fox says that he preached for about three hours and that all the Separate preachers were won over that day, convinced of God’s everlasting truth. When some in the chapel queried why he was outside it, rather than inside, Fox explained that the chapel was no holier than the hillside, that Christ had come to end the temple’s priests and tithes. Now Fox had also been sent by God to do the same, for all Christianity had lost its way over time. Christ was to be experienced inwardly, not through outward forms. Fox had been sent to help people turn from the darkness to God and become the children of the light.
This is typical Fox claiming his co-agency with God, a parallel ministry to Christ, and having the clarity that all other Christians had lost their way, and that the Church, in all its outward forms, had fallen from the faith through the fault of priests and teachers. People were looking for God in the wrong place, listening to wrongheaded sermons from paid hireling ministers in steeplehouses, churches, instead of opening themselves to the inward Christ. Fox goes as far as to say they were under the power of Satan, believing everyone other than the Quakers was wrong. The good news was that everyone could and, of course, should become a Quaker. By the end of the day, many were converted to Fox’s message.
His Pendle Hill vision of a great people to be gathered in a place where a river divides two counties had become a reality. He could travel further westwards, secure in the knowledge that he’d left behind groups of Quakers, as well as very able people like Howgill to nurture them. Many would leave their homes and follow Fox literally and become missionary preachers. But the simplicity of the Quaker form of worship, underpinned with the sense of direct relationship with God, meant that Quaker leaders could continually move on. Once people had experienced the transformational sense of intimacy with God, they could set up their own meetings without the need for anyone but God to take charge.
Fox travelled on, and in a few weeks, would be in Ulverston and at Swarthmoor Hall. [CHANTING]

This video takes us to Firbank Fell and explains the key points of what Fox said there.

We hear how there were probably a number of preachers present that day, but how Fox’s arguments seemed to win out.

It was the second critical piece of the sense that Quakerism was to become the true church in England.

Can you imagine what this kind of ‘spiritual day out’ would be like today? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers

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