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Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One plain Quaker woman...

And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams: Acts2:17

Since their inception Quakers have held to gender equality in ministry ~ as did the early Methodists.  Something of a surprise that.  I hadn't realised Quakers weren't the only ones to be given that insight though over time the Methodists bowed to prevailing cultural tradition.  What is interesting is that the practise has given rise to a long string of women who have had very public ministries even in times & ages that considered women to be quite illogical & incapable of reasoned thought.  One of the more prominent of these is a lady called Elizabeth Fry.

Now Elizabeth is interesting less for her ministry, which was phenomenal because almost single~handedly she reformed not only the British prison system but also the French & the American, but because her spiritual journey is so very modern.  Quakers tend to be rather *elastic* in their Meetings so you are likely to find everything from a downright aethiest [I have no idea how that works ~ & I've asked!] to the plain dressing, plain speaking,  fundamentalist Christian Quaker.  Elizabeth, a birthright Quaker, belonged to a very middle of the road, moderation in everything, Quaker family & there was nothing in her life that she should ever be anything but a giddy lightweight Christian with a nominal devotion to Christ. That is until the Holy Spirit began leaning on her.  And He leant HARD!

One of the first things, & all my plain friends will be fascinated to study this! is that the Lord dealt with her frivolity.  Yep, the pretty dresses, the frippery, the theatres & shows & love of the world went out the window & in came the plain Quaker dresses, the caps & bonnets.  It was an outward sign of an inner conviction.

When you read her biography you get an inkling of the sort of conflict this  ministry created in her life & in her spirit.  Here she was, a married woman with children at a time when a woman's sphere was very much hearth & home & the Holy Spirit is telling her He wants someone who is listening to do something that needs doing.

I guess most of us understand something of the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Quakers, who sit in silence & actually listen with the expectation that they will hear from God often hear very clearly & unmistakably ~ but not necessarily.  Like everyone else they are assailed by doubts & influenced by the culture that surrounds them & to her dying day Elizabeth was never 100% sure that she was right in how she went about what she did, only that it was right that she should go about it. 

What's more Elizabeth went about her ministry with the blessing of her Meeting.  This is no small thing in Quaker circles.  A call to ministry is always tested.  It is put before the meeting & weighed in the silence.  Often, as in Elizabeth's case, a *concerne* is put in the care of more mature Christians who ponder, test & pray about a person's leading ~ & this is often a slow & tedious process.  This *instant porridge Christianity*  of our present day is fundamentally flawed & reeks of Satan's misleading.  God has all eternity with which to work & He is in no hurry.

The other thing that I found in Elizabeth's journey, & it is such a modern thing, is that her ministry came with a cost.  Sadly her husband was not as spiritually mature, nor as wise as he could have been in temporal matters, & his flaws created havoc in their marriage & major disruptions in her ministry.  It also created terrible stress.  His words affirmed her ministry; his actions distracted her from God's purpose.  Into this unhappy mix add a gaggle of children, I think they has something like 8. 

For someone who had so profoundly tasted of the goodness of God & who had grown into a deep & abiding love for the way her faith was exercised in Meeting, Elizabeth had no greater desire than that her children should walk in the faith of their father's.  Inevitably the disruptions to their home life that Elizabeth's ministry caused meant that many of them chose an easier path & were baptised into the Anglican faith. 

And here's the sting: All the great reformers of the time, including William Wilburforce, were profoundly & deeply affected by the quiet but determined ministry of this softly spoken little Quaker woman with her thees & her thous & her silent prayer.  Without her much of the humanitarian work that effected great social change would never have been accomplished.  She just quietly got on with the work she felt the Lord had called her to & let the rest take care of itself. Given the times she lived in she faced plenty of persecution ~ even from other Quakers who felt she was glorying in her calling more than in God.  And the interesting thing too is she started with the gospel  Everything else she did arose out of sharing the gospel first.

We in Australia owe her an unimaginable debt.  As part of her prison ministry she outreached to the transport ships sitting in the Thames for months at a time before setting out on the perilous journey to Terra Australias at the end of the world.  To each woman on board she gave a new dress, a bar of soap, a little sewing kit ~ & a bible.  She organised bible study groups with a literate woman leading the illiterate in the learning & study of the scriptures & when the ships set sail for the unimaginable terrors of a new land her prayers followed them.

Interesting woman.  Interesting impact.  Fascinating to see how God worked His wonders through her frail hands & feet.  Hard to believe she died in 1845.


Bonnie said...

Thank you for sharing this! What an interesting post and what an amazing woman. I had to preach on Sunday and I thought of you.

Jane said...

She must have been a great woman,with an equally great faith for gods work.Blessings jane

Turtleheart said...

What an incredible woman! You know I'm gonna be Wikipedia-ing her up now :)

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Outward signs of inner conviction... isn't that a testimony we all want spoken of ourselves? Bless you and the family as you prepare for some big changes. :)

Ganeida said...

Bonnie:I knew about her from school; she is up there with Wilberforce at the primary level but have since read her biography & while her prison work was outstanding it is her spiritual journey that fascinated me. So much took place internally that was worked out in her life.

Jane: when you read her own words you hear
her deep insecurites & her great desire to be pleasing to God. Like so many who were great for God it was never in her own strenght. ☺

Turtleheart: See if you can get her biography. There are several to choose from & she did so much: schools in prisons for the children; getting female guards in the women's prisons to stop the sexual exploitation of the women; teaching literacy & bringing the light of the scriptures into the hellhole of the British legal system. Truly an astounding woman.

HEM: Thank you, m'dear. I am not keeping up at present ~ as you will have realised. So much stuff happening here & Star's circus is still a'dancin' away!

Finding Joy said...

I have read another book about Elizabeth Fly and found her life fascinating, in particular her work in the prisons. Quite amazing for a woman of her times.

Deborah said...

That was an interesting post. :o)

How much teaching did she do in the way of solid doctrine? Or was her work really about humanitarian efforts with a sprinkle of Jesus in there?

Deborah said...

I'm still working through the other day. :o)

Ganeida said...

Yes, indeed, Jo! ☺

Mrs Adept: lol I have no idea! She was dealing with a lot of illiterates. Taught them to read using the scriptures. Doctrinely, as a Quaker, she would have encouraged listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit & heeding Him. Quakers have no creeds, no tenents, only *testimonies* such as the peace testimony. What I suspect you mean by doctrine would have been a complete non~issue. She was, however, eventually an ordained Quaker minister ~ which is not the same as it would be in a Baptist church or an Anglican, Methodist or Catholic ~ though perhaps similar to how some charismatic churches work. The Quakers really do do things very differently so many of the things that would be a stumbling block in a regular church of the time simply didn't apply though her work had her dealing with Kings & Queens & Prime Ministers & the leading male humanitarians of her time ~ all of whom apparently adored her & held her in the highest esteem. Truly fascinating how God used her.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank God for Elizabeth Fry. And thanks to thee for this uplifting post x

Ganeida said...

I thank God for His spirit that leads such souls to outreach such love to their brethren.