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Consolidation, mission and expansion

Consolidation, mission, and expansion – BPD film looking out over the sands from Sunbreck
So what happened next? By the end of 1652, Quakerism had what it needed to be secure– a set of very able leaders, a significant numerical base, and headquarters. Fox’s travels meant that people throughout the northwest of England had heard of him. And this lent a reputational authority to the movement as well. But Fox and Fell both knew that to really bring England to God meant travelling back from Ulverston to Lancaster, across the sands of Morecambe Bay, to bring the Quaker message to the rest of the nation. In 1654, more than 30 pairs of Quaker ministers and elders set out across England and Wales. Ministers preached, and elders ensured that they were faithful in their words and actions.
1654 was a tumultuous year in national politics. There was no parliament for the first six months of the year. Oliver Cromwell ruled alone. But elections were called by Cromwell for July. Perhaps Quakers were seizing a strategic moment to bring an alternative message south. Those in power in London were anxiously watching what was happening across the Channel, wondering if Charles II would land with an army with the support of France or Spain. Would there be a Catholic invasion? However, it’s been said that they were looking the wrong way. When the religious revolution came to London, it came from the north with the Quakers. By 1656, London was the centre of Quaker activity.
Westmorland Quakers, Edward Burrough and Francis Howgill, had had phenomenal preaching success there. And James Nayler had joined them to secure the Quaker presence in the capital. However, in the same year, James Nayler was charged with blasphemy and nearly lost his life. Quakerism was placed on the back foot for a time. Thomas Fell died in 1658. The political uncertainty of 1659 following Oliver Cromwell’s death also plunged Fox into despair. But his optimism returned prior to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Margaret Fell rode from Westmorland to Kent to meet Charles II as he landed in England. And he seemed favourable to the Quaker cause. However, Parliament was not going to allow a monarch to have absolute power again.
And now comprised of those displaced by Cromwell, felt no such sympathy for the rude and arrogant Quakers who so subverted their faith. Life became very difficult for the Quakers throughout the 1660s and 1670s. And Quakerism was outlawed in 1662. Thousands, including many of its leaders, would be imprisoned. Margaret Fell had all her property removed from her for a time. And Fox, weakened by a prolonged imprisonment for refusing to hide his Quaker faith, twice feared for his life. Many other leaders, like Nayler, Burrough, and Howgill, were dead by 1668. In the mid 1660s, Quakerism began to reorganise for the longer haul. Quakers were not winning the nation for God as quickly as they’d hoped.
The Quakers developed a clear national structure, and ideas of the Second Coming of Christ were less explicit. Quakerism became more pragmatic and started negotiating with Parliament for religious rights necessary for its survival. Second generation converts like Robert Barclay from Aberdeen and William Penn from London were key in shaping the movement. And Penn founded Pennsylvania in 1681, named after his father, as a holy experiment in Quaker government and in religious freedom. In certain parts of England, Quakerism continued under the protection of the local magistrates. But Quakers were only allowed to worship as they wish nationally with the Act of Toleration in 1689. It had taken nearly 40 years for Quakers to become an acceptable part of the British religious landscape.
George Fox and Margaret Fell married in 1669 but spent little time together. Such were the demands of the movement. Fox died in 1690 and was buried at Bunhill Fields in London. Margaret Fell died in 1702 and was buried here in Sunbreck. Quakers were not allowed to be buried in church yards, so they bought their own land. And Quaker burial grounds, like the one here, abound. Like meeting houses, these places are often unadorned, as early Quakers didn’t use gravestones, believing the practice was rooted in vanity. Here, a plaque has recently been put up simply to note the resting place of one of Quakerism’s original and greatest architects. [MONKS CHANTING]

In this video, we hear about what happened next, how the Quaker movement grew through the years of the British Republic in the 1650s and expanded through mission work, but then faced the challenges of persecution after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Quakerism needed to negotiate in order to survive, many died in prison, and migration also reduced numbers. ‘Toleration’ only came in 1689.

How did Quakerism survive thirty years of persecution? What do you think helped and hindered its path to acceptance? Please post your comments.

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Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers

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