Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part II

Iowa Quaker Orthodoxy




The Iowa Orthodox Quaker Ministry


In his apology for the “Principles and Doctrines of the People called Quakers”, Robert Barclay enumerated the fundamental principles of the Quaker ministry as follows:


            As by the light or gift of God all true knowledge in things spiritual is conceived and revealed, so by the same, as it is manifested and received in the heart…every true minister of the gospel is ordained, prepared, and supplied in the work of the ministry; and by the leading, moving and drawing hereof ought every evangelist and Christian pastor to be led and ordered in his labour and work of the gospel; both as to the place where, as to the persons whom, and as to the time wherein he is to minister. Moreover, they who have this authority may and ought to preach the gospel, though without human commission or literature; as on the other hand, they who want the authority of this divine gift, however learned, or authorized by the commission of men and churches, are to be esteemed but as deceivers, and not true ministers of the gospel. Also they who have received this holy and unspotted gift, as they have freely received it, so are they freely to give it, without hire or bargaining, far less to use it as a Trade to get money by.(160)


            Such was the early Quaker conception of the ministry, and such it remained to a very large extent even among the Friends in Iowa until the pastoral system was ushered in with all of its attendant changes. Then came the gradual transition from a form of religious service in which all the members of the meeting had equal privileges and responsibilities, and where the only impelling force to vocal utterance either minister or people was the direct leadings of the Holy Spirit, to a form in which the pastor, as the remunerated servant of the congregation, was the chief spokesman and religious guide on all occasions. At the present time a strong tendency toward formality in the religious services prevails; when the given hour arrives the minister ascends the pulpit, a hymn is announced, the organ or piano begins to play, the choir sings, the scriptures are read, prayer is offered the sermon prepared for the occasion is delivered, another hymn is sung, the benediction service which is in strange contrast with the simple, silent meetings which universally prevailed among the Friends in former days.

            That it was not intended by the Yearly Meeting in Iowa that the introduction of the pastoral system should thus reduce its meetings for worship to a one-man ministry and a set routing is made clear by the statement which opened the explanation accompanying the adoption of the proposed system in 1886: “By a regular ministry is not meant that a single person should be placed at the head of a meeting and do all the preaching, nor that there should necessarily be preaching in every single instance”. But the very conditions which were thus guarded against now prevail almost universally among the Orthodox Friends in Iowa. The religious responsibility of the individual member in the congregation has largely been shifted to the shoulders of the pastor. Under ordinary circumstances he is expected to preach a sermon both religiously instructive and intellectually interesting. If the sermon approaches an hour in length, uneasiness and restlessness is frequently observed. Periods of “waiting silence”, once so precious to those who deemed reflection and deliberate thought the best medium for worship, are often periods of embarrassment for both the congregation and the minister.

            It is true that there are many meetings among the Orthodox Friends in this State where periods of silent worship are scrupulously observed and where every encouragement is offered for vocal prayer or testimony on the part of members of the congregation; but there is now a strong tendency throughout the Yearly Meeting to sacrifice this, an essential characteristic of the old-time Quaker meeting, to the growing idea that a religious meeting, to be successful, must be kept moving, with no long and embarrassing pauses. It has been pointed out that there is “in the comparatively aggressive attitude we have assumed of late years…a constant temptation to adopt methods less pure, less severely disinterested, than those to which we are pledged by all our traditions.”(161) This breaking away from time-honored tenets and customs is one of the greatest problems which now confronts the Quaker ministry not only in Iowa, but throughout the entire country.

            Since it is the set policy of the Society of Friends that “Whatever may be the talents or Scriptural knowledge of any, unless there be a distinct call to the ministry, our Society cannot acknowledge it; and except there be a sense of the renewed putting forth and quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, we believe it to be utterly unsafe to move in this office”,(162) it is of interest to note the manner in which the Friends single out those who have this divine gift, and who they are recognized as ministers. “When a member, man or woman, has spoken as a minister…so that the meeting is edified and spiritually helped thereby,” the ministers, elders, and overseers of the local Monthly Meeting are to “carefully consider whether he has received from the Head of the Church a gift in the ministry, which should be officially recognized.” Once this local body of officers is favorably disposed the matter is taken up by a committee purposely appointed by the Quarterly Meeting of which the party concerned is a member, which committee is charged with the duty of obtaining “information as to the evidence that the person has received spiritual gifts; as to his manner of life; his doctrinal views; his mental capacity; and his general qualifications for the ministry.” If the results of such inquiry prove satisfactory, the Quarterly Meeting returns the request with its consent to the Monthly Meeting from which it has come, with authority to “act in the case according to its judgment.”(163)

            Such in general has for many years been the plan of recognizing ministers in the Society of Friends; but as the result of long prevailing looseness in this important matter, the Orthodox Friends in Iowa have now proposed that the Yearly Meeting appoint five of its most responsible members to act as a “Board on Recording Ministers” to take into its care, in the manner heretofore described, the examination of all persons proposed for the ministry throughout the Yearly Meeting. Under this plan it is expected that more careful and thorough investigation will be made in each case, and thus a higher standard for the ministry will be maintained. The Yearly Meeting itself, in open session, becomes the final acting authority; while the persons concerned are to receive from the hand of the Clerk of the Yearly Meeting itself, in open session, becomes the final acting authority; while the persons concerned are to receive from the hand of the Clerk of the Yearly Meeting “a certificate stating the action of the meeting”.(164)

            A second set of problems which confront the Iowa Friends in this connection are those which center around the practice of employing a paid ministry. In the light of its traditions there is but one ground upon which the Society can justify this practice, namely, the ground of modern economic and social necessity. In former days the Friends repudiated the idea that men should be remunerated for preaching the truths of a gospel message which was intended to be as free as the air. If, however, in the adjustment of things religious to suit the conditions of present-day society it becomes necessary for a man to devote his entire time to ministerial duties, it is the modern view that society in turn should see that such a person be supported, and that without embarrassment, at his highest point of efficiency.

            Until a generation ago the Society of Friends at large was tenacious in its opposition to an “hireling ministry”. In the early days most of the Quaker ministers in Iowa were holders of land which they had acquired by settlement, and they stood on equal terms with all other members of the community, sharing with them all of the hardships common to pioneer life. They cleared their fields, harvested their crops, and gained their livelihood as did their neighbors; and then on Sunday morning they went to meeting to sit in silence or to speak in an impromptu manner as the Spirit gave them utterance. This done, the duties of their station were performed. But such is not the case with the pastoral body of to-day. With but few exceptions, the pastors among the Friends in Iowa are a landless class, dependent for their daily bread, at least in a large part, upon the salary received for their pastoral labors.

            That they have been placed in this condition by modern developments is readily apparent. The pastor of to-day is not only considered as the mouthpiece of the community on all religious occasions, but in times of trouble or misfortune he is also looked to as the natural comforter. When difficulties arise, he is expected to be the adviser. When nuptial ceremonies are to be performed he is a necessary guest. When death comes, he is called upon to perform the last rites in honor of the departed. In all matters of uplift in the community his is the part of a leader and guide. Under such conditions a minister’s time is entirely taken up with pastoral duties, leaving him little opportunity to gain a livelihood by engaging in other pursuits.

            In viewing the Iowa field in 1909 the Meeting on Ministry and Oversight of the Iowa Yearly Meeting drew up the following statement to the conditions then existing:


            Our ministers, especially our pastors as a whole, have good educational qualifications. They are thoughtful, industrious and helpful to those under their pastoral care. We have just grounds, however, of fear that some of our ministers are not as successful in soul winning, soul feeding, as possibly they might otherwise be. And what is said of ministers and pastors may in a subordinate sense be said of the members of our meetings on ministry and oversight.(165)


               This is a clear statement of the present situation; but for the real causes few people are sufficiently concerned to diligently seek. In the face of an expenditure of $20,546.69 for the maintenance of a pastoral system during the year 1910-1911, during that same year the membership of the Iowa Yearly Meeting decreased from 9029 to 8578; and while there were but forty-one members received from other denominations there were eighty-nine certificates of membership issued to persons wishing to enter other denominations. Of the seventy-one meetings reporting to the Iowa Yearly Meeting in 1912, sixty per cent had less than one hundred members, over eighty-eight per cent fell below tow hundred, while but one could boast a membership of five hundred persons. Moreover, about twenty-five per cent of the members of the Iowa Yearly Meeting reside outside of the State.

            A few reasons for this condition of affairs present themselves. In the first place, strong leadership is apparently lacking. Twenty-five years ago the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends was guided by such strong leaders as John Henry Douglas, Cyrus Beede, and Laurie Tatum. To-day, with the exception of one or two persons who are hampered by adverse conditions, men of this stamp are not forth-coming. In the second place, the starvation wage upon which the ministers among the Friends in Iowa are compelled to subsist makes it almost impossible for a man to enter this field of labor with the fair expectation of raising a family and maintaining a home in keeping with the average standard of living in the community.(166) In the third place, the system of constantly changing pastors is destructive of permanency along the line of church activity and prevents the carrying out of far-reaching policies by the ministry. (167) In the fourth place for the large and permanent investment of their energies. Finally, the almost universal scarcity of available church funds blocks at every turn the progress which might otherwise be made by the present ministry.

            These are some of the causes for the stagnant condition of the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends; and these are some of the problems which must be met and solved if in the years that are to come Quakerism is to hold its own in this state.


Notes and References


160- Barclay’s An Apology for the True Christian Divinity: Being An Explanation and Vindication of the Principles and Doctrines of the People Called Quakers (Providence, 1856), p. 271.


161- Stephen’s Quaker Strongholds, pp. 110, 111.


162- The Discipline of the Society of Friends of Iowa Yearly Meeting, Revision of 1865, p. 54.


163- The Constitution for the Society of Friends in America, with Supplementary Provisions and Rules of Discipline, adopted by the Iowa Yearly Meeting in 1902, pp. 57-59.


164- In 1910 the Honey Creek Quarterly Meeting proposed to the Iowa Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) the new scheme of a “Board on Recording Ministers”. The question was placed in the hands of the Permanent Board, which reported favorably in 1912. The Five Years Meeting held at Indianapolis in October, 1912. The Five Years Meeting held at Indianapolis in October, 1912, concurred in the proposed changes, and the matter of final adoption is now pending. See Minutes of Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1910, p. 10.


165- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1909, p. 52; 1911, p. 13.


166- The average salary received by forty pastors in regular service in the Iowa Yearly meeting of (Orthodox) Friends was about $465.00. Excluding the three pastorates of Des Moines, Oskaloosa, and Minneapolis (Minnesota), which in 1912 paid $1200, #1425, and $1800 respectively, the average salary of the other thirty-seven pastors was about $382. See Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1912, statistical table.


167- The average pastoral term in the Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends is about two years. In the other Yearly Meetings in this country the pastoral term ranges from one year, as in North Carolina, to three or four years, as in Kansas. For a good survey of pastoral conditions among the Friends in America see an account of the work of the “Commission on the Meeting and its Pastoral Care” in the Minutes of the Five Years Meeting, 1912, pp. 78-113.



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