The Quaker Meeting:


The Quakers of Iowa by D.C. Mott, 1898

Annals of Iowa, Vol. 4, p263-276




“There lives in Iowa the remnant of a people perhaps the most peculiar, retiring, unique, and, in some ways, interesting, of any sect or society known to our country and time.

We mean the branch of the Quaker church sometimes called the Old-fashioned Quakers,…


“No paid ministry, a rejection of baptism and the ‘outward ordinances’, and their great reliance on the “inward light” or guiding spirit, are the society’s most distinguishing doctrinal points.  “Freely ye have received, freely give,” is their authority for not paying the ministry.  A desire to break away from “the tyranny of the clergy” of England was perhaps one great reason for their adoption of this principle.  They hold that baptism is spiritual, and that acceptable worship can only be given in spirit, hence their many silent meetings.  These are the foundation stones upon which has been built that peculiar superstructure called Quakerism….


“…about this time the Society was rent by separation.  Away back in 1827 the parent body in the Eastern States was divided by what is known as the Hicksite separation.  Elias Hicks openly denied Christs’s divinity, depreciated the value of the Scriptures and placed a greater dependence upon “the inward light”.  The tendency in the society toward the unitarianism of Hicks had its opposite in the more evangelical doctrines of Joseph John Gurney,…  Thus it happens that there are two distinct branches of Quakers in Iowa, the one known as the Gurneyites, or Progressive Friends, and the other as the Wilburites, or sometimes called the orthodox, or old fashioned Friends. …


  “On entering a Friends’ meeting for the first time the stranger is seated about midway in the audience part of the room.  Care is taken not to seat him too far forward,…  The men enter with their hats on and many keep them on throughout the entire meeting.  All take their seats in silence.  As the meetings are mostly in the country, they gather irregularly, and sometime considerable time elapses before all are in.  Then perfect quiet settles over all.  There is no opening hymn, no announcement, no reading of the scripture, no prayer, no collection, no text, no regular sermon.  Every head is bowed and every member is supposed to be communing with the Spirit of the living God.   A large congregation waiting in absolute silence for the teaching of the “still small voice that teacheth as never man taught,” is surely a sublime spectacle.


“No one dares break that solemn stillness until he is sure that he is called by the Divine Spirit to speak to the people.  Then he rises, slowly removes his hat, and in peculiar, half sing-song voice, discourses on the beauty of holy living and exhorts to faithfulness.  These sermons are mostly short and unstudied.  They are apparently what is presented to the mind of the speaker when under deep religious thought.  As the society does not believe in educating its ministry, the sermons seldom display much learning, but they do sometimes show wonderful spirituality.  They never elaborate a subject, but they powerfully condense and put the main truths of the Christian religion in a few short sentences which sometimes are both strong and eloquent.


          “A member anywhere in the house may kneel to pray, whereupon all rise to their feet, the men removing their hats.  All remain standing until the sometimes eloquent and usually highly figurative prayer ascends to the throne of grace.  When the amen is said all are again seated. 


“It frequently happens that there is no word spoken through the whole service, the meeting being an entirely silent one.  But these are not considered at all profitless by Friends, as they contend that acceptable worship may be rendered in this way, and often remark that such meetings are to them most favored season of divine blessings.  When the time for ending the meeting has come, the man sitting at the “head of the meetings,” on the gallery and next to the partition, simply shakes hands with the one next to him, which is the signal for general greeting and handshaking among the members and the meeting is adjourned.


“The formation of the society in England was, on the part of those joining, a protest against worldliness and was a movement in favor of simplicity and plainness in living, and of spirituality against formality in worship.


“The unbounded faith which Quakers have in their own principles, and the way they regard the principles and practices of other churches, approach intolerance on their part.  They believe they are guided to their convictions by the Spirit of Truth, and they really think they have arrived at absolutely correct conclusions, and that any other opinions are wrong.  They think that all who differ from them would agree with them if they had sufficient light….


“Behind them they behold the history of their society made glorious to them by the suffering of its founders.  It has become endeared to them by every tie of sentiment and conscience, and they regard it as their highest duty to maintain its existence and preserve its purity against the encroachments of time.   Audubon, Iowa, 1898