Drive an hour southwest of Knoxville, Tenn., and you come to a community with an interesting name: Friendsville.
The name is not intended as a description of the people. Rather it connects them with an international network of Christians called the Society of Friends who settled this village almost 200 years ago.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Most of us know them as Quakers but few know they are celebrating their founding three hundred and fifty years ago. They trace their heritage to George Fox, an Englishman of uncommon vision and courage.
One historian described Fox as a man who “renounced oaths, insisted on honesty and truth-speaking, practiced simplicity in dress, food, and speech, opposed any participation in war, protested against all shams and formalism in religion and worship, pioneered in the care of the insane, demanded just treatment for the American Indians, held that governments existed for the benefit of the people as a whole, put men and women on an equality, permitted women to preach, refused to doff his hat to any man, came out for universal religious toleration, and wished to bring the gospel to all.”
Famous social reformers John Woolman and Susan B. Anthony were both Quakers. They helped develop their tradition of compassion and relief into an international organization called the Friends Relief Committee. It won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for its humanitarian work during and after the wars.
William Penn, a Quaker, founded an American colony devoted to religious toleration and named it <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Pennsylvania. Thus the University of Pennsylvania athletes are called Quakers; oil produced in the region goes by the name Quaker State; and a popular food known for goodness and simplicity is called Quaker Oats. Let all who love Cadbury chocolate bars thank one famous (and now wealthy) family of Friends in England.
Elton Trueblood was a world-renowned Quaker author who taught at Earlham College and School of Religion. In 1972, he wrote a book entitled “The Validity of the Christian Mission.” I was a poor college student on a spiritual retreat when first I saw it; having no money to buy, I read it while standing beside the book table. Its intellectual and emotional impact on me far exceeded that of many books I have purchased.
I have another personal connection to this interesting and influential stream of Christianity: my father-in-law grew up a Quaker in Friendsville, Tennessee. He and his twin brother died several years ago and last week their sister passed away.
My wife and I drove the one hour past Knoxville and, on the edge of the village where her parents met, studied, worshipped and courted, we found the Quaker gathering place. In the churchyard was a sign: “Friends Meetinghouse.” I was told later “Meetinghouse” was used because they did not have the right lettering for “Church.”
Meetinghouse is an old word and Quakers were not the first to use it to designate their gathering place. In New England, Puritans and Congregationalists took the word to name their picturesque places of worship situated on village greens. It conveys the starkness and simplicity these groups sought to embrace.
On the old frontier of Kentucky and Tennessee, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians invoked the name for their churches. In our state there are famous meetinghouses at Cane Ridge, near Paris and at Mulkey, on the Tennessee border. At Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg, a very different religious group with a similar name built a magnificent meetinghouse; it is known as the Shaker Meetinghouse.
As the family gathered in Friendsville for the Sunday afternoon funeral, we walked through the cemetery at the back of the meetinghouse. We located family names like Hackney, Sexton and Gregg. Later we watched silently as seven men with ropes lowered Anna Marie into an open grave. The experience, so full of sunshine and simplicity, made a strong impression on me.
The Society of Friends has had a significant influence in both the Christian family and my own. To them I say, “Happy Birthday,” and to God I give thanks.
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. He has a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown and the master’s of divinity and a doctorate (in systematic theology) from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He teaches courses in New Testament and preaching and conducts student tours to Israel and elsewhere. He also hosts the public radio program, “The Meetinghouse: Conversations on Religion in American Life.”