What are we about? Part 1

Any organization has the task of defining what it is about, its mission, its goals, its reason for existence. Part of what I’m doing as I’m reading through old minutes and history stuff is collecting the actual words that Newberg Friends has used over its 128 years to define itself.

On May 2, 1885, Newberg Friends filed incorporation papers. These obviously are not the sorts of things an organization uses as a marketing tool or a slogan, but it does give an idea of how this meeting defined itself only 7 years after being organized. Here’s how they described their purpose:

The business, object, and pursuit of this Corporation is to improve the mental and moral condition of the members of this Society and mankind generally by teaching, practicing, and disseminating the great religious and moral truths and principles of the Bible, according to the customs and usages of the Society of Friends.

I’m pretty impressed with this. Their approach was broad; “mental and moral condition”, both thoughts and behavior. Their scope was wide; they didn’t want to exist only for themselves, but for “members of this Society and mankind”.

“Great religious and moral truths and principles of the Bible” is an interesting phrase. I read it as their attempt to clearly define themselves as Christian. They were “orthodox” Friends theologically. I would prefer to see something about Jesus as opposed to the bible, but that might be forcing my perspective onto something that wasn’t an issue historically.

“According to the customs and usages of the Society of Friends” reminds me that our identity as Quakers/Friends has always been important to Newberg Friends.

What do you notice? What stands out, positive, negative, or neutral?

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5 thoughts on “What are we about? Part 1

  1. A “Block Party” sounds great (from below, I didn’t get around to commenting there…) The rest is very exciting too.

    Here I noticed the word “practicing.” I read it as their commitment to *being* moral and truthful as they were teaching and disseminating the great moral truths of Bible to a wider society.

    It’s not as Christ centered as we would phrase it today but isn’t the epic story of Jesus himself the greatest moral truth of the Bible? Theirs was a different angle probably to the same end. “The Bible” may have been a phrase picked as the common ground between programmed and unprogrammed friends of the day???

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  2. I think it would be interesting to compare this to the incorporation papers of other churches at the time – was some of this stock phrasing, you know, just to satisfy the lawyers? I think incorporation papers have to be broadly stated, so as to include anything a church might want to do now or in the future. I’m impressed at how well this statement still holds up as describing basically what you’re still about as a corporation, over 100 years later.

    Second, would they have assumed that the only way to know about the teachings of Jesus was through the Bible?

    Was this a sop to the ‘Bible is inerrant and only Word of God’ folks from Iowa? I mean as opposed to the Inner Light as an experience of Christ or the Holy Spirit, which the Iowa Friends had recently decided was a dangerous idea? I think referring to the Bible as their source of authority was not a bridge in their day, it was stating clearly which Quaker side they were on.

    But I don’t know for sure.

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  3. As you implied, this was a statement primarily prepared for people who were asking:
    Does the church make a contribution to the common good of society significant enough that it would be counter productive to take money (taxes) from the church and put it into the services provided by government agencies?

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  4. Things that stand out to me from this statement:

    “mankind generally” (not just the Society and not just Christianity)

    “by… practicing” (It’s not just teaching and preaching but living… they got that)

    “customs and usages of Friends” (just like this term, sounds like *after the manner of Friends* but more professional)

    Interesting statement, love the history behind it and the fact that as far as I can tell for the most part it still applies.

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  5. Kathy and Robin, thanks for the good thoughts. I think I side somewhat with Robin, although maybe not quite as drastic. Iowa Yearly Meeting was clearly in the process of changes, moving toward Bible centered theology, that led to programmed and pastoral meetings, a sweeping change in a relatively short period of time. I think NFC was “taking sides”…but I don’t think they were going quite so far as to say that the bible replaced the Inner Light of Christ. Or maybe that’s my wishful thinking.

    Dan, I need to dig the originals out again. I remember being surprised, because I didn’t see anything that said “non-profit.” But maybe I was missing the 1880’s code words to that effect.

    Thanks, Michael, for your thoughts, which are pretty similar to my own.

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