|Beautiful Belmont, Part 30 -- The Society of Friends.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 29 -- The Methodists.
True to my promise, I drove to the home of Minerva's sister early on the appointed autumn Sabbath. The morning was beautiful; a light rain, just sufficient to lay the dust, had fallen during the night, and added a freshness to the surroundings. The birds seemed to enjoy it, for they sang their sweetest songs. The green grass in the meadow and pasture lands appeared revived, though the denuded cornfields were a little brown. The woods had taken on that mellow, russet, autumn hue, brought out in splendid contrast by the bright red leaves of the sugar maples. The poplar leaves had mostly fallen and lay scattered in tints and shades of mingled beauty upon the ground. The breeze and atmosphere could not have been more bracing, tempered as they were by that dreamy, softening qualities of autumn. The drive along the road to Jobetown, and indeed for miles further on, was one of engaging loveliness.
Minerva greeted me with bright smiling face, and we were soon on our way to Mt. Pleasant. We exchanged pleasantries about the week we had pent apart, and how we had missed each other. I then asked Minerva for some information about the Society of Friends (or Quakers, as they were commonly called), their history and religious beliefs. She indicated that she was not the most informed source, but would tell me what she knew. She said that the idea for the Society of Friends was first proposed by a man named George Fox in England in 1647, and was a result of the Protestant Reformation. Their belief system stated that salvation is a personal matter between each individual and God, and does not depend upon the church, its officers, rites, ordinances, or ceremony, or membership in it. They teach that the Holy Spirit moves upon and enlightens every soul, revealing its true condition and teaching each soul the need of a personal Savior.
As to the role of Jesus, they believed that Christ's promise to plant a new life in the soul to lead it in righteousness was a practical reality, about which every true believer would sooner or later become aware. Baptism in the name of Christ allowed the Holy Spirit to enter into the soul, and the degree of its presence was then revealed by the works and actions of the individual. True communion with the Almighty involved a spiritual involvement with the body and blood of Jesus Christ by faith; no form of priesthood or church hierarchy was necessary in the true apostolic Christian Church, of which Friends were representative.
Their beliefs included a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Also, they affirmed resurrection from death, a future state of existence, and a future knowledge of each other. Some believed in the actual physical resurrection of the body, and some did not. Much leeway in individual beliefs was permitted in the Society of Friends, whose desire was to imitate Christ. They held that the "true church" of Jesus Christ was composed of those who, through repentance of their sins and faith in Christ as their Savior, had been born into his Kingdom by the Holy Spirit. Such a revelation led to acceptance of Christ as their prophet, priest, and king and, by spiritual baptism and empowerment, enabled them to resist temptation and to live in obedience to God's will.
To Friends, a Christian denomination was simply an organization of those who held similar views of the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. Among these were: that the Scriptures are inspired; that Christ is the Head of the church and dwells in the hearts of believers (who look to Him for guidance); and that by their faith, which enlightened their spirits, they were thereby enabled to do His will. Salvation is the deliverance from sin, and the possession of spiritual life arising from a personal faith in Jesus Christ. The consciousness of sin is awakened by the operation of the Holy Spirit causing the soul to feel its need of reconciliation with God. When Christ is seen as the only hope of salvation and man yields to Him, then man is brought into newness of life, and realizes that his sonship to God has become an actual reality. All of this is achieved without the necessity of any human priest, ordinance, or ceremony whatever; a changed nature and life is enough to bear witness to a new relation to God.
Within any given congregation, members of the Society of Friends have equal rights and privileges, differing only in the gifts they have received from God and their works. Each denominational body has its own system of government, rules of observance, and business. There are no distinctions in the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of members because of sex, and business of the organization is transacted in meetings in which every member has a right to participate. Worship is not practiced according to certain forms, nor is the disuse of ceremony forbidden. It may be without words as well as with them. Both silent and vocal worship is recognized. The name of the members -- "Friends" -- was based upon Christ's words: "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you."
Friends have monthly, quarterly. and yearly meetings, the latter being the governing power. All who make profession of faith in Jesus Christ, whose lives testify to a union with Him, and who accept the doctrine of the Friends, may become members after examination and approval by an appointed committee. Children of members are enrolled as associate members until twenty-one years old, when, if they give no evidence of being a true Christians, they are dropped. Members are required to marry in Society meetings. Parties desiring to marry must inform the monthly meeting of which one or both are members; their intentions are entered in the minutes, and if either is a minor, the consent of the parent must be obtained. A decision on this notice of marriage is held over until the next monthly meeting, and if objections have been raised, a committee is appointed to investigate. If no objection appeares, the parties are allowed to marry after ten more days, according to the rules of discipline. A committee of two male and two female Friends are appointed to be present and see that the ceremony is properly performed, and subsequently make a report to the monthly meeting. No marriages are allowed contrary to state laws.
The marriage ceremony is very simple. At a suitable time in the course of a meeting, the parties stand up and, taking each other by the right hand, make a declaration. The man speaks first: "In the presence of the Lord and before these witnesses, I take thee, [name of the woman], to be my wife, promising, with Divine assistance, to be unto thee a loving and faithful husband, as long as we shall live." The same promise is made by the bride, and they then sign a certificate -- the man first, then the woman, adopting and signing with the name of her husband -- which is then read aloud. At the conclusion of the meeting, the certificate is signed by others present as witnesses. If a member desires to marry someone outside of the congregation, the other contracting party must first become a member; otherwise the existing member is dropped. No divorces are permitted except for the causes set forth in the Holy Scriptures.
All members are warned against use of tobacco, opium, and liquors. Parents are strictly instructed to be careful to educate their children in plainness of speech, behavior, and dress (indeed, their plainness of dress is a striking characteristic of their appearance), to guard them from reading the wrong books, to keep them from engaging in conversations about corrupt, worldly topics, and to encourage them in the daily reading of the Holy Scriptures.
"The first Friends' meeting in this area was held in 1803 by Jonathan Taylor, in the woods near the site of the Concord, or Colerain meeting house," Minerva continued. She described how the first meetinghouse was constructed on Short Creek at a cost of two thousand dollars in 1806, and the one at Mt. Pleasant in 1813, the first yearly meeting being held in it in 1814. It was at the Short Creek meeting house that Dr. J.E. Bailey, editor of the Philanthropist, published in Cincinnati, Ohio, organized the first Antislavery Society in April 1837. A portion branched off from the local society in 1827, under the leadership of Elias Hicks, who denied the divinity of Christ. They became known as Hicksites. Another division took place in 1847 under the leaderships of Jno. Wilbur and Joseph John Gurney, respectively, one faction being now called the Wilberites and the other the Gurneyites, with Gurney's followers being regarded as the more orthodox society.
Friends emigrated to the Massachusetts colony as early as 1656, where they were imprisoned, banished, and, in four cases in which they returned, hanged -- all examples of ignorant, intolerant persecution. Stuart King Charles II put a stop to this persecution, however. Friends have always been an intellectual, honest, sturdy people, and wherever you find a settlement of Friends, you will find a marked educational and intellectual climate prevailing. They oppose war as a violation of the teachings of Christ and a crime against humanity. They are, and ever have been, firm opponents of slavery. They have been the friend of the Indians, have inaugurated many reforms, such as those in prisons and the institutions for the insane, and been responsible for many other philanthropic movements. Believing that oaths were forbidden by Christ, they refuse to be sworn, as in a courtroom, but instead have obtained the right to affirm solemnly the truth of their statements based on their word as a member of the Society of Friends.
Minerva added that despite their plain dress, she had noticed that the material used by Friends for their clothing was always of the best kind, and that, because of this concession to finery in apparel, she could not understand why the women did not adopt some other more presentable style of dress, especially in their bonnets.
Minerva went on to describe her admiration for William Penn, whom she regarded as the greatest practical example of man's duty toward man, as well as the teachings of Christianity, since the days of Christ. I noted that, from what I knew about Penn, even he had fallen short of living up to the full measure of the Society's beliefs, for true Friends were devoted believers in all the practical, everyday aspects of their lives, being dedicated examples of the brotherly love of Jesus Christ.
Minerva then briefly discussed the teachings of John Woolman. He was one of the greatest teachers of the Society's beliefs, who called universal love the very business of life, and identified the common interest as inseparable from that of the individual. Woolman felt that God had entrusted the earth to his children, transferring His rights to his creation only so long as mankind cared for it in a way that did not exalt some by oppressing others.
Minerva then asked me whether I thought such sweeping religious, economic, and social changes would ever happen. I said that I thought they would, and perhaps more quickly than we could imagine. I felt that there would be no peace as long as the existing system allowed the strong and wealthy to oppress the weak and poor.
I concluded by saying that there was just too much vast wealth existing alongside too much abject poverty, and that a great political revolution was surely about to occur, probably beginning with the emancipation of the black race. I only hoped that this inevitable change would be bloodless.
The Quaker Meeting in Mt. Pleasant
The Friends' meeting house at Mt. Pleasant is quite roomy and contains a large balcony; it is said to have enough capacity for two thousand people. On this occasion it was filled and many could not get in. Minerva and I were fortunate in arriving early and secured comfortable seats. The services began about ten o'clock and lasted until noon. The female members were seated on one side of the room and the males on the other. For some time after the hour for opening, a stillness prevailed over the whole assembly. So pronounced did this become, that a pin-drop might have been heard. It is worth noting how deeply impressive these moments of silent communion can be. A quiet, thoughtful, meditative communion with one's soul always produces a peculiar sensation, but when surrounded by a congregation of many hundreds of human beings, all holding silent conversations with their inner consciences, the spiritual element brings each person so close to God that it becomes an awesome and overwhelming experience.
There is certainly a great power of some kind in these silent, self-inquisitions. Minerva and I were deeply impressed by its power on this occasion. This silence was ultimately broken by words spoken by several female and male members, which were continued for over two hours. Many of them were quite interesting, but the most powerfully eloquent, convincing and soul-inspiring were those delivered by Mrs. Sarah Jenkens and Caroline Talbott. I think as an eloquent evangelist, Mrs. Jenkins had few, if any, equals. She was the daughter of David Updegraff and sister to Hon. Jonathan and Rev. David Updegraff, the eloquent and celebrated evangelist. Her mother was Rebecca Taylor, daughter of Jonathan Taylor, the pioneer Friend preacher of Belmont County. Miss Grace Updegraff, daughter of Rev. David Updegraff, was known as a fine singer, and married a minister.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 31 -- The Trip Home.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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