Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part II

Iowa Quaker Orthodoxy




The Pastoral System Among the Iowa Friends


            The chief distinguishing feature between modern and early Quakerism is the pastoral system. So marked is this distinction that to-day among the English Quakers, where the original order of things so largely obtains, their more progressive brethren on this side of the sea are commonly known as the “Pastoral Friends”.

            This system, now so prevalent in American Quakerism, is generally considered as having had its rise contemporaneously with the great awakening throughout the order which was touched upon the in the previous chapter.(150) In so far as the Iowa field is concerned, however, the groundwork upon which the pastoral system was to be built was well laid year before the modern tendencies became at all apparent. As early as 1845 the Monthly Meeting at Salem appointed a committee with the assigned duty of keeping in touch with its members who lived “remote from this Meeting”, either by “writing to them or by visiting them”.(151) Then came an extension of the duties of the committee to the care of the local resident membership; and so successful was the experiment that the plan was speedily adopted by other meetings, and by 1875 a new amendment was attached to the discipline of the Iowa Yearly Meeting directing that each Monthly Meeting have “a committee on pastoral care over the entire membership…who will be expected to extend pastoral care towards all the flock, by visiting each family by tow or more of their number from time to time as they shall think proper,… to encourage an establishment and growth in the divine life.”(152) Thus the pastoral idea had been adopted among the Friends in Iowa even before the Separation of 1877.

            As a new medium of self-preservation this plan was at once seized upon, and at the annual gathering in 1876 nine out of the ten constituent Quarterly Meetings were able to report that they had complied with the above direction to good effect. But this system soon proved impracticable. The pressure of work on the farms made it increasingly difficult for the members of the committees to perform the church duties laid upon them, and a demand was made for some one who could devote his entire time to the work. Thus was the way opened for the shifting of the burden from the committee on pastoral care to the shoulders of a single individual: the “hired” pastor and preached.

            By 1871, before the revival movement had gained headway in  Iowa, two Iowa Quarterly Meetings were unable to report to the annual gathering that their testimony concerning a “hireling ministry” was clear.(153) Three years later (1874) a similar breach was made in the ancient Quaker principle of a free gospel ministry; and from that time on, reference to this time-honored testimony completely disappears from the answers to queries as recorded in the minutes of the Yearly Meeting.

            In 1880 the first open step was taken towards a complete breaking with the past. The Yearly Meeting of that year was forced by the more enthusiastic leaders to consider in joint session (men and women sitting together) the proposition that “this meeting cordially recognizes the right of meetings,…to invite ministers or other Friends whom the Lord has qualified for that service to reside and labor among them,…suitable provisions being made for their partial, or entire support.” It soon became clear that the project had been thrust forward prematurely, and in the minutes of the meeting it was recorded that “way did not open for its adoption”.(154)

            Owing, however, to the pressure of the large number of converts from the evangelistic meetings held in every Quarter, the opposition to the new order of things soon began to yield. Confronted by the demands of a young and vigorous membership which was not in sympathy with the maintenance of the original customs and precepts of the Society, the older members found it more convenient to suffer the necessary changes to take place than to undertake the long and laborious process of education that would be necessary if the old order  were to be maintained. As a result, though not directly chargeable to the pastoral system, the present generation of Orthodox Friends in Iowa is surprisingly ignorant of the ancient and fundamental religious tenets and teachings of the Society.

            The committees on pastoral care and evangelistic labor now united and worked hand in hand for a given end. By 1886 the Yearly Meeting was brought to reconsider its action on the pastoral system. On the 8th day of September the Ackworth Quarterly Meeting introduced two carefully worded propositions on the subject which were at once referred to a committee composed of twenty-four men and twenty-four women, all prominent members.(155) Three day later the propositions were favorably reported and on September 11, 1886, the pastoral system was recognized by the Yearly Meeting in the following terms:


1.     That it is advisable for each particular meeting to have a regular ministry; and that meetings be encouraged to call and support ministers in laboring among them as pastors, as far as in their judgment may seem wise and practicable.

2.     That the Evangelistic Committee of Iowa Yearly Meeting be authorized to provide as far as possible for the supply of ministers and workers in meetings desiring such help, and that they be instructed to give such pastoral advice and aid to any needy places within their knowledge as the Lord may lead them to see advisable.(156)


Having thus committed itself to the new policy, the Yearly Meeting entered upon its minutes a lengthy “Explanation”, stating its reasons for so doing. “One of the chief reasons for this action”, reads this statement, “is the deplorable fact that many individuals brought to Christ through the labors of our evangelists have been left almost immediately to themselves, and in many instances have fallen away from lack of care and instruction….. Our pastoral oversight has not kept pace with our evangelistic ingathering.” Following this explanation the Yearly Meeting proceeded to define as follows the intended bounds of its action—bounds which as will be seen, have since been largely disregarded:


            The action of the Yearly Meeting is not to be construed as giving its Evangelistic Committee general jurisdiction over all individual meetings so as to interfere with their independent self-direction. It is simply to assist as far as possible those meetings desiring help, to give advice and assistance to small needy meetings and little remote companies of believers that they find to be in need of the larger wisdom o f the superior body.(157)


            The rapidity with which this new system spread throughout the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends is to be seen by the fact that one year after its adoption it was reported that on e year after its adoption it was reported that three meetings were supplied with pastors who were fully supported, six with pastors who were fully supported, six with pastors who had two or more appointments each, and fourteen with pastors having one appointment each. By 1889 the number of acknowledged pastors had increased to fifty-one, fifteen of whom were receiving full support from the meetings which they served, while thirty-two received partial support. In 1889 the fifty-one ministers received the total sum of $6,411.69; in 1900 the amount paid throughout the Yearly Meeting for pastoral support was $13,305.96; while in 1912, with sixty pastors in service, the amount paid for their support stood at $23,677.07.

            Although the pastoral system has become firmly established in the Iowa Yearly Meeting, it still presents many intricate and perplexing problems, and may safely be said still to be in the early states of evolutionary development.(158) Throughout the Yearly Meeting there is apparently a groping after the right course for the future, based on the unsatisfactory conditions of the present. In the homes, on the farms, in places of business, on the trains, and everywhere among the Friends of Iowa the problems of the church are being discussed. The advantages of system and centralization are almost universally acknowledged. But with the growing professional tone and formality of the modern ministry, the manifest decline of congregational interest and responsibility in the meetings for business and worship, the marked disappearance of Quaker simplicity in manner of dress and personal conduct, and the ever-tightening grasp of a system of church government which threatens to stamp out the independence of the various local meetings, many Friends are filled with forebodings for the future. Nevertheless, as has been said of the pastoral system in general, “it is not clear that equal progress could have been made under any other form of procedure, or that without it we would not have lost, e’er this, most of what was gained through the revival.”(159)


Notes and References


150- See Thomas’s A History of the Friends in America, p. 200.


151- Minutes of Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends, 7 mo., 19th, 1845, p. 258.


152- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1875, p. 30.


153- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1871, p. 6.


154- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1880, p. 13.


155- The members of the committee to which was assigned the important subject of the pastoral system, were the following: John Henry Douglas, Isom P. Wooten, David O. Michener, John Pearson, Josiah Dillon, Erwin G. Tabor, John F. Hanson, David Hunt, Milton J. Hampton, Gilbert L. Farr, Trueman Cooper, Hiram Hammond, Caleb Johnson, A. W. Naylor, Benjamin Trueblood, Cyrus Beede, A. H. Lindley, Elias Jessup, John H. Pickering, C. R. Dixon, William P. Smith, David Thatcher, John C. Hiatt, and Wm. Pettit. See Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox ) Friends, 1886, p. 6.


156- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1886, p. 13.


157- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1886, p. 14; 1887, p. 14; 1889, p. 18; 1900, p. 11; 1912, see statistical table.


158- In the issue of The American Friend for tenth month (October), 26, 1911, D. B. Cook of Earlham, Iowa, has an excellent article entitled The Pastoral System on Trial.


159- The American Friend, Vol. XIX, p. 283.



Back to Table of Contents


Home to Iowa History Project