Think about the image the public holds of Quakers these days, and you may have to admit most folks have no idea we still exist. Quakers? Puritans? Amish? Even the oatmeal box man has largely lost any context. Even in the seacoast region, where we were once numerous, we’re largely invisible.
Part of it is our own fault, a consequence of dropping Plain dress and speech (not that we’d return to living under the strictures of old Quaker discipline). Another part of it was a consequence of the Hicksite and Gurneyite separations, which blunted the Quaker mission and message. For the record, the oatmeal company’s founders were so impressed by the reputation of Quakers that they appropriated our name; no Friends were involved. But all that was a long time ago.
Those who do have an image of us are likely to identify Quakers as either protesters, for obvious reasons, or as do-gooder philanthropists (probably in part through the Hicksite legacy and in part from the era when Friends produced a number of wealthy industrialists and financiers). Our most visible witness, the American Friends Service Committee, has contributed to both the demonstrator and charitable impressions.
Noble as that work is, the ultimate challenge we face in restoring public awareness of the Society of Friends is in voicing the spiritual foundation for our actions – the unique faith and practice we treasure. At its core, this means extending an invitation to join us in our remarkable worship. So how do we project a semblance of radiant silence? Makes for a more interesting challenge, doesn’t it?
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