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.


  1. Hey Mark--
    The old saw about how Fox set up separate men and women's business meetings to proptect the women from the overbearing men is frankly a fairly true comment on the Society at that time.

    We continue to record ministers in my Yearly Meeting, and recently someone asked me what percentage of our ministers were women versus what percentage were men.

    I didn't have any idea. I thought and thought, and finally realized that in my Yearly Meeting, anyway, gender has absolutely nothing to do with being appointed Elder, Overseer, or being recognized as a Minister. Most of our Ministers are currently women, I think. I still haven't bothered to look it up.

    I consider this progress, and an indicator that the Early Friends have been improved upon somewhat.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    I don't think I ever heard that "old saw". Since I spend a lot of time among liberal Friends, maybe that's something they don't talk about. The only recorded minister I have met from your YM is Nancy Hawkins, which was very pleasant. Out of curiosity, I checked the NCYM-C list of Ministers and Elders and I see that there are 4 women and 3 men recorded as ministers (not all were recorded by NCYM-C, though). Also, at the consultation I went to on Gospel Ministry last year, I think there were 3 men and 5 women in the panel of "resources", which were recorded ministers and others active in ministry. I think what is more important than the numbers is that from what I can tell, it doesn't look like there are still areas where men try to dominate, as with the Second-day meeting, or in expecting women to yield to men in ministry.

    It looks like you have a lot of good stuff on your blog, I look forward to delving into it!

    With love,