Monday, December 24, 2007

The Vital Cell

The William Penn Lectures addressed the youth of a Quaker Philadelphia, and it is to this audience that Rufus Jones particularly appeals in 1941: "The really important thing is the quality of freshness and elasticity in our spirits. There is no use talking to minds that have congealed and set, and whose windows are not open for new light to dawn, and expectant of it."
There is no use saying anything about the local Meeting as a vital cell unless the youth are to be in it and are to feel their share of responsibility for its life and its development. Much that I am saying today will call for courage and faith and adventure and newness of vision, which characteristically belong to youth.

As usual Rufus Jones does not skirt the issues: "What is it we were born to do; for what mission came we into the world as the bearers and exponents? As I see our mission, across the years behind us and in front of us, it is to demonstrate and exhibit a type of religion which reveals the life of God in the lives of men."
Our deepest significance as a people, and our major importance as a religious movement, lie in a sphere which eludes public appraisal and can hardly be taught and tabulated. In fact this central mission of ours – this heart and pulse of Quakerism – has not always been brought to consciousness even to Friends themselves, and is always in need of fresh interpretation at the home base where if at all the scoring is done.

Rufus Jones, philosopher, theologian, historian, and most of all, educator, is most concerned with the loss of vitality in Quaker meetings of the time. How, he asks, are we to restore the vitality at the center of Quakerism: our local meetings? And Dr. Jones is not without answers. Community vitality must be supported with "constructive and creative ministry," with "carefully planned intervisitation," and especially with "an alert group of Friends who feel a profound concern for the spiritual life of the meeting."

The community of the local meeting cannot however exist independent of the community in which it finds itself.
"These little Quaker islands of ours, which dot the length and breadth of our country, would stir with new life if they suddenly found themselves awake to the tasks of life which lie ready to hand just there where they live. This deeper responsibility to the community would bring new life and deepened interest to the monthly meetings which in many places have become dull and thin."

But the most important element Jones found lacking in some meetings was their focus on education: "One of the most important concerns of this vital cell ought to be for the spiritual nurture of the children and youth of the meeting." Read how important this role has been during the confusing times of war, and how important it is today.


View the complete William Penn Lecture of 1941:
The Vital Cell



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