A Gathering of Spirits: The Friends General Conferences 1896-1950
This sweeping book tells about the development of Friends General Conference up to 1950, primarily through the lens of the Conferences. It is the story of resurgence among liberal Hicksite yearly meetings, which had been in steady numerical decline over the nineteenth century. It shows that a proto-liberal, progressive element was part of the Seeker scene that became Friends in the 1650s, and that the Great Separation among American Friends in the 1820s freed that element to chart its own course, with great fruitfulness.
One central motif is that the biennial Conferences renewed the courage and resolve of Friends to face the daunting disappointments of the first half of the 20th century. Modernity promised such great advances in human society, and no one was more confident of progress than FGC Friends at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. But the melancholy of two world wars, the capitalist debacle of the Great Depression, and the stubborn blights of American racism were turned into the spleen of renewed hope and activism, as Friends gathered together to learn, network, and find new reasons for hope.
Gwyn characterizes the first fifty years of the conferences as FGC’s “heroic era” – hence the cover of this book adapted from the 1946 conference post featuring a heroic family looking forward and upward to a bold new world.
A Gathering of Spirits will be of interest to historians and the general Quaker reader alike. Historians will appreciate its careful citing of sources and index. Friends, especially from FGC, will enjoy learning about an important era in Quaker history, faith, and life. This book will help FGC Friends discover the deeper roots of a tradition they continue to this day and to will draw renewed courage and direction from it.
Praise for A Gathering of Spirits
“Doug Gwyn, a master of deep research and weaving multiple ideas and themes into a coherent whole, sharpens his focus to examine how today’s ‘liberal’ Friends evolved. From nineteenth century Hicksites, through the lens of biennial Friends General Conferences, to mid-twentieth century, we see FGC Friends and how they got here. – Martha Paxon Grundy, author of Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting
“A Gathering of Spirits is an important contribution to understanding recent Quaker history” -- Thomas Hamm, Professor of History and Director of Special Collections, Earlham College
“Doug's narrative is gentle but searching, and he deftly puts FGC into a wider historical and religious context. Those who want to understand this major stream of Quakerism… can do no better than to start here.” Chuck Fager, author of Remaking Friends: How Progressive Friends Changed Quakerism & Helped Save America
Author: Douglas Gwyn has served among Friends variously as a peace educator for the American Friends Service Committee, as a Friends pastoral minister, as a teacher at the Pendle Hill and Woodbrooke Quaker study centers, and as a writer. A student of Quaker history and thought for over forty years, he is drawn to the various streams of Friends and has sought to exercise a ministry of reconciliation among them.
Publisher: Quaker Press of FGC
Publication Date: 2018