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Summing up

summing up

We’ve covered a lot of ground this week, looking at Fox’s arrival in Ulverston, the importance of Margaret Fell becoming a Quaker, and the subsequent history of the Quaker faith. It would be good to hear your summary of the week and how you felt it went. Tell us about something that you have learned or found interesting this week.

As we come to the end of week 3 and the end of our course, I want to thank you all again for the level and quality of engagement. It has been a really rich week and we have covered a lot of ground . We have travelled to Swarthmoor Hall, explored the words and ideas of Margaret Fell, heard about what happened after 1652 and have had a brief look at the various ways in which Quakerism has developed since the seventeenth century. Thanks for all your enthusiastic feedback.

So, as usual, I’d like to pick up on some of the themes that have emerged this week. Again, we included the map of Fox’s route through the south Lakes. Some of you have commented about retracing his steps. I thoroughly recommend visiting all of the key sites in order to get a deeper appreciation of the kind of countryside he was travelling through, but walking the route adds a further dimension. Three years ago, I co-organised a walking tour from Pendle Hill to Swarthmoor Hall, and those who took part, familiar as many were with the destinations, talked about how walking into those hamlets and villages gave them a new perspective on Fox’s journal account.

Again, I want to reiterate, as some of you have, how the journal is a problematic historical source, but we have very little else to go on, prior to the publishing that Quakers began after the events we have described here. Yes, these later accounts were edited, and indeed written in different times when the self-presentation of Quakerism had changed.

Once we get into 1653, we can use contemporaneous publications like tracts to get a better sense of what was on the Quaker mind and heart at the time. We can also then use the numerous anti-Quaker tracts to get a better sense of how they were perceived. I recommend Rosemary Moore’s book A Light in their Consciences as listed in the resources at the end of this week. There are lots of other suggestions there too.

As some of you have suggested, Fox is not antagonistic towards everyone but mainly those in charge. People understood what he was on about, were open to it, or opposed it. Fox particularly attacked those he felt were opponents. He seems to have particularly disliked William Lampitt and again, retrospect may have hardened his prose further.

At the same time, by the time he is writing his journal in the 1660s and 1670s, many puritan ministers like Lampitt have themselves been displaced from their livings as the Church of England restored itself alongside the monarchy. Maybe it was strategic to say how much he found Lampitt objectionable.

For those who asked, James Nayler was one of the Yorkshire Seekers and Fox would have met him when he came north after his release from Derby jail in 1651. Like many Quakers, Nayler, convinced of the truth of the Quaker message, followed the needs of the movement and travelled westward. He had reached Swarthmoor Hall by the time that Thomas Fell returned from his Judge’s circuit and was perhaps the first to talk with Judge Fell.

I have talked before about how convincement is equivalent to conviction, being convicted, in seventeenth century English, but the sharp-eared amongst you will also have heard me talking about convincement as if it was the same as conversion. It does get used in both ways but for these early Friends, being convicted by the Light was only one of six stages in a broader conversion process.

First, God would break into your life. For Fox, it was when his hopes in all men were gone, for Fell in the pew in Ulverston church.

Second, the inward Light (not ‘inner Light’, that is a later phrase) or Light of Christ would illuminate your life as it really was. This was an extremely uncomfortable experience – note Fell’s tears – and the sense of having fallen short would be extreme. You would feel convicted. Third, those we know about decide to repent of their former life, and fourth, they are given the ability to inhabit a new spiritual space, a new kind of intimate relationship with God, saved and perfected.

Fifth, those of like experience are drawn together as in Howgill’s phrase ‘gathered as in a net’. People don’t go home to the farm to live out good lives but are often drawn away from their homes, as Nayler was, to help lead the movement. Sixth, a life of public witness, including mission, ensued.

Children were very much part of the Quaker sense of equality and still are. Young people in Meetings I know regularly bring things to the rest of the group and have initiated social justice campaigns or changes around how the Meeting operates. What is important for Quakers is that everyone is listened to with equal respect. Even with all the varieties of Quakerism in the world today, this would be a common ideal.

In terms of those varieties, I can say again that George Fox would not fit easily into any branch of the world family of Friends and his clarity and certainty that he had all the answers would only suit some branches of Quakerism. Quakers tend to be more inclusive of different opinions today.

Finally, the music in some of the films has brought mixed responses. For those of you who like it, it is ‘In the Cathedral’ by Marc C. Nicols and is based on Gregorian chant, available on

Thank you again for all you have given. This has been a rich experience.

Every good wish

Ben Pink Dandelion Lead Educator

© Lancaster University
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Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers

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