The Sound of Silence
From charities and hospitals to colleges, private schools and places of worship, Quakerism’s mark on the Main Line is as unmistakable as it is immeasurable. Why, then, is it so often misunderstood?
Photos by Jared Castaldi
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Of late, Quakerism has attracted young liberals and fallout Catholics, among others. Its model has always been reform. In some ways, Quakers remain radicals. They expect change, but admit they don’t have all the answers. Instead, they believe they’re on a path to an answer—a very different approach from most groups that purport to have them all.
Quakerism has three main branches. In this region, it’s mainly the unprogrammed branch affiliated with the Friends General Conference. In the Midwest and New England, there’s the semi-programmed Friends United Meeting. A third branch, Evangelical Friends Church International, began in Ohio and spread west. Its services are more like those in a church, with pastors and the controversial inclusion of sacraments. Keystone Fellowship Friends Meeting, a fourth offshoot in Chester and Lancaster counties, is seen as a conservative branch.
But the basics are the same for all branches. “We have the same roots in Fox; we’re all peacemakers and follow SPICES. The way we all practice is the most practical,” says Douty-Snipes. “We just have different ways of organizing.”
And still, Douty-Snipes says, there are the ever-present questions: Are you Christians? How are you governed if there isn’t a hierarchy? Do you follow the Bible?
The Quaker “bible” is Faith and Practice, a guide for how to organize, but the Bible is on the benches in meetinghouses.
Douty-Snipes is used to dispelling myths. “No, we do not dress like pilgrims,” she says. A Friend may have a beard, she adds, but he might also be wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt.
Once, Quakers really did “quake” in their seats when they became full of the spirit. Today, they occasionally stand up and share some exuberant conviction. “If you don’t [stand up], sometimes you later regret it, but you do need courage,” admits Douty-Snipes. “Involuntary, spontaneous message is meant for everyone.”
But Quakerism remains a plain religion—so plain that there might be only a single vase of flowers at a meeting. No cross, nor icons of any sort. The window glass is clear, not stained—so members can connect with God and be inspired by the day.
“If the cross is that powerful, then you can hold it in your mind,” says Douty-Snipes. “There’s no separation between us and creation.”
Influential Main Line Quakers You Might Not Know
A war tax resistor and American Friends Service Committee leader in the 1960s and ’70s.
She fought for racial integration on the Main Line through her advocacy for fair housing.
A beloved sociology professor at Bryn Mawr College, which was founded by Quakers (though it doesn’t seem to have been intended as a Quaker school).
A descendant of William Brinton, founder of Birmingham Township. He established Pendle Hill at Wallingford, a Quaker retreat in Delaware County.