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Ask Tom: Is There A Distinctive Quaker Approach To Stewardship?

If any testimony unites all persuasions of Friends, at least in my experience, it is ambivalence about raising money. Pastoral Friends, when they know it is coming, often arrange pressing engagements elsewhere on the particular Sunday that is designated as “Stewardship Sunday.” Unprogrammed Friends are as likely as others to question “Stewardship Sunday” as the excessive demands coming from the yearly meeting office.

Still, fund-raising goes back to at least the second generation of Quakerism. As early as 1672, London Yearly Meeting ordered that, “a collection be occasionally made in the several counties and places for defraying the expenses of the society, [such] as printing and distributing books for the service of truth, the passage of ministering friends who are called into the service of the Lord beyond sea, the salary of a clerk, and house-rent for keeping records, with other incidental charges.” American yearly meetings followed suit. By the 18th century, the practice was to inform each quarterly meeting what its share would be, apparently proportional to what the yearly meeting perceived as the relative wealth of its members.

At the local level, we often find references in monthly meeting minutes before 1850 to raising what Friends referred to as the meeting “stock.” An unusually illuminating record is found at Salem Monthly Meeting in Indiana in 1838. When the meeting agreed on how much money was needed, each family was informed what its share would be, in sums ranging from one to five dollars! Apparently everyone paid up without coercion, as no reference to dealing with recalcitrant members is found.

This system apparently broke down with the advent of the pastoral system, perhaps in deference to Friends who had reservations about supporting, if not listening to, a paid ministry. Financial support became voluntary. This led to complaints that well-to-do Friends had disproportionate influence in the choice of pastors. Overall, however, from conscience, innate frugality, lack of means or perhaps just stinginess, Friends were often not generous. By the 1890’s one angry Ohio Friend published a pamphlet with the arresting title, Will the Friends Church Starve Out Ministers? The solution, of course, was to form a committee. When the Five Years Meeting (now FUM) approved its Uniform Discipline in 1902, finance committees were authorized at monthly and yearly meeting levels.