Discussion Guide for Session 5 on Brinton’s Friends for 350 Years

Friends for 300 Years

Howard H. Brinton, 1952 (republished in 2002 as Friends for 350 Years, available from Quakerbooks.org)

We are having a multi-part discussion series on Quaker History, using Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years as the starting point for discussion. The next session is Sunday, 10/28, at noon.  (On 9/30, we will be showing the film “Friendly Persuasion” at the library.) For the schedule for future sessions, see our calendar. Reading the book is not necessary, but you may enjoy it. Below is the content of the handout for the fourth session on 8/26/2012. It provides paraphrases and notable excerpts along with queries for discussion.

Discussion of Chapter 5: Vocal Ministry

Facilitated by Linda Pardoe, 8/26/2012

Vocal Ministry

p. 84

The theory of Quaker ministry is simple.  As the worshipers sit together in silence to wait upon the Lord, anyone among them may find rising in his consciousness a message which he feels is intended for more than himself alone. It is then his obligation to deliver that message…

If a thought comes to him with a peculiar life and power, he may be justified in assuming that this is a sign from God to speak.  There is no sure test of divine guidance in this or any other undertaking.  If however, through prayer and humble waiting  he has become sensitive to the “still, small voice” he will be increasingly enabled to recognize a call when it comes…

Often a suggestion is provided from the True Source which is intended, not for the meeting as a whole,  but to be kept by the recipient as Isaac Pennington cautions “for bread at home.”

p. 87

Since the vocal message is followed by silence, opportunity is given for hearers to carry it further for themselves.  The spoken word in a Friends meeting ought to be suggestive of more that might have been said, rather than being in itself exhaustive.  It may even be to some extent shadowy…

So inarticulate sometimes is the voice of the Spirit that it can be expressed only by a sigh, or even by complete silence.


  1. How do I discern when to speak and when not to speak, both in Meeting and elsewhere?
  2. How do we encourage Friends to allow ample time to absorb the previous message before speaking?
  3. How do I practice listening to the Truth which may be revealed by others?


p. 92

From the beginning of the Society of Friends until recent times, the Friends who were accustomed to speak in meeting met together at regular intervals to advise and help one another.  Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly meetings of these Friends who had a special concern for the vocal ministry did much to strengthen the spiritual life of the meeting.  These were genuine “schools of the prophets.”  In the course of time, Friends came to feel that those who were often engaged in the work of the ministry needed criticism from their hearers as well as from themselves.  The following minute of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, dated 1714, marks the beginning in America of an important change in these gatherings:

This meeting agrees that each Monthly Meeting where meetings of ministers are or may be held, shall appoint 2 or more Friends to sit with the ministers in their meetings; taking care that the Friends chosen be prudent, solid Friends.

These came to be called “elders.”

p. 93

“Eldering “ is an essential element in a meeting based on the principle of freedom.  Its aim is to lay as much limitation on the freedom of the individual as will enlarge the freedom of the group as a whole.  Among the many kinds of equilibrium required in a Friends meeting, there must be a delicate adjustment between the freedom of each and the freedom of all.  If the individual is too much dominated by the group, the group may never have the benefit of new and perhaps unpleasant truth…

Nor must the group be at the mercy of the caprices of individuals…

Only as both the group and the individual submit humbly to the divine Light of Truth will they fulfill their proper functions and live in unity.

p. 94

An elder must be able to improve the instruments which God uses to convey his truth.
Fox advises:

“Friends, be careful how ye set your feet among the tender plants that are springing up out of God’s earth, lest ye tread upon them, hurt, bruise, or crush them in God’s vineyard.”


  1. How does our Meeting respond when the vocal ministry seems inappropriate, or when the meeting for worship is consistently not gathered?
  2. How do we allow our leaders to lead without forgetting that everyone is called to lead as Spirit directs?
  3. What is the role of Elders in our meeting?

From the web, poodledoc:

I used to think that to “elder” in the Quaker sense, meant you had to be old, an elder. Often, that’s true. But to think in that way, can cut us off from the wisdom of the young, who elder us as well.

It can mean admonishment, maybe, but not usually. Admonishment can be given with love, with guidance from the Spirit. Or it can be given in a hurtful way.

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