Saturday, January 12, 2008

J.S. Rowntree on Gospel Ministry

I was reading a book about Lewis Benson recently, and in a chapter written by Joseph Pickvance, he mentioned two chapters from John Rowntree's works that Lewis had recommended to him These two chapters had to do with the work of gospel ministry in the Society of Friends. It was written around 1908 and contains some great insights about how things were then, as well as in George Fox's time.

One of the interesting things to me was that early in Friends' history, ministers would meet together each week and plan what meetings they would attend on the following First-day. This was to ensure that the work of the ministry was spread out amongst the various meetings.

One thing I often hear about is how, from the beginning, men & women had essentially an equal role in ministry, yet I find signs in Rowntree's writings that it wasn't quite as rosy as I had pictured. In looking at some of the schedules for what ministers would visit where, it is mostly men - Rowntree includes a replica of one such schedule that shows only one woman on the list. Another chart showing the decline of ministers (based on how many have died) does show that about 3/5 were men, which isn't that bad a ratio. One of the most disappointing items with respect to women that Rowntree presents came from the minutes of the Second Day Morning Meeting on 1st Month 10, 1700:

This meeting finding that it is a hurt to Truth for women Friends to take up too much time as some do in our public meetings, when several public and serviceable men Friends are present, and are by them prevented in their services. It's therefore advised that the women Friends should be tenderly cautioned against taking up so much time in our mixed public meetings. Benjamin Bealing to give a copy of this minute to Sarah Plumley and Margt. Munro, for them to communicate to other women Friends, and that it may be prevented for the future.

You can read Rowntree's works on Google Books, or if you just want the two chapters Lewis Benson mentioned, I have reformatted them with LaTEX and created a PDF, which is here. You are welcome to use the PDF in any way you like. If you want the LaTEX source, just ask.

Oh, don't be frightened by the first paragraph of the chapter on "Gospel Ministry In The Society", the rest of the chapter is not nearly that obtuse.