By Emma Condori-Mamani
Quaker Life intern, Emma Condori Mamani, interviewed former FUM General Secretary Sylvia Graves, current FUM General Secretary Colin Saxton, Western Friend Editor Kathy Hyzy and Friends JournalExecutive Director Gabriel Ehri about the unique role Quaker publications have in revitalizing the Quaker message.
Quaker Life magazine recently celebrated 50 years in publication with a commemorative issue that included background information on how Quaker Life came into existence. Quaker Life was created by the merger of The American Friend and Quaker Action, two publications of the Five Years Meeting. The American Friend was also the creation of a merger between The Friends Review and The Christian Worker. How did the other Quaker publications in the U.S. — Western Friend and Friends Journal — come into being?
Kathy: Western Friend actually started out in 1929. At that time it was called Friends Bulletin. Rumor has it that the name came about because Anna Brinton, wife of Howard Brinton, had said, “You know, we need to call this thing something, so let’s call it Friends Bulletin.” It was supposed to be a temporary name that then stuck for over 80 years.
It really started out as just a newsletter for Friends in Pacific Yearly Meeting (PYM), which, at the time, covered the entire West Coast and reached inland as far as Colorado. It was a huge area and Friends thought a print publication that came out at least a few times a year would be a good way for people to keep in touch with one another.
PYM realized in the 1970s it was too big and it split into three yearly meetings: Pacific Yearly Meeting, North Pacific Yearly Meeting and Intermountain Yearly Meeting. Even though they are three yearly meetings now, we still serve the same audience.
Over the years the newsletter changed shape, grew and shrank and grew, and now it is a 32-page magazine.
Gabriel: Friends Journal was formed in 1955 when the Hicksite and Orthodox branches of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting reunited. Prior to 1955, each of the different branches had a magazine of its own. There was the Friends Intelligencer and The Friend, and those two magazines merged into Friends Journal. So Friends Journal was born at a time when different kinds of Quakers were coming together. That spirit is something we try to continue. We want to be a place where Quakers across the spectrum of Quaker thought can come together to discuss ideas and spirituality.
Do you think Quaker publications encourage unity in the wider Quaker community?
Kathy: I think so. It goes back to simply sharing ideas, sharing where the Spirit is moving quite obviously among Friends. When you do that, you really see the potential for excitement and energy to grow around any given cause.
I think it’s also a really wonderful thing to be able to share different perspectives among Friends, particularly in print. I think it’s sometimes easier to hear things that might be hard to hear when you’re reading them, instead of in conversation or hearing them spoken at you.
Sylvia: Our Quaker publications allow us to have a conversation with each other when we cannot always meet face to face. When people contribute articles, they write from their own perspectives, which might be a new perspective to others across the spectrum who haven’t thought of things in the same way. With a variety of articles and authors, we end up with a variety of perspectives. This variety allows for insights into new ways of looking at issues or events and how they relate to our spiritual growth, our life and our churches.
Colin: Quaker Life is an opportunity for people to talk about their experience of Christ and what they feel called to do. Those stories are inspiring for others. In some ways it connects us to each other. For instance, when we read a story of how somebody from Friends Theological College in Kenya is being trained and equipped for service in their community, it is a way for us all to join in that person’s ministry calling. It provides an opportunity to pray for them but also support the work that Friends Theological College is doing, and to continue encouraging that kind of training.
What main reasons would you give for why Friends should read Quaker publications?
Gabriel: One main reason would be to connect Friends with other Friends’ ideas through writing — that’s what we uniquely provide. Some of our readers may live in big cities where there are a lot of Quakers, but many live in isolated areas or areas where their home meeting is not a large faith community. Friends Journal can connect them with a lot more ideas and voices and the sense that there is a wider Quaker world out there. We really benefit when we learn what other Quakers are doing.
A second reason would be because it can provide another spiritual experience for Quakers that is not just limited or confined to Meeting for Worship on Sunday. Friends can have this experience in their home and pick it up at any time and refer to it.
Colin: Our publications help propel us into the future. We are not just telling the past but we are trying to envision and to call the community into the future together — staying up to date on what is going on and wrestling with the issues and challenges that we face together. Being stretched by the experiences of others is a good way to keep us moving forward.
How can Friends support Quaker publications?
Gabriel: We certainly want people to read them. We want people to subscribe if they can so they can be involved regularly in that conversation. Sharing the magazine with others is a wonderful way to support us.
And we want people who have something they feel like they’re led to share with the wider Quaker world to think about it and to submit articles so we can share them. As editors, we can guide people who aren’t professional writers through the process of bringing out the best in their story and in their voice. It’s our mission to be a vehicle for that deep, honest, spiritual sharing.
If people are subscribers and they really value what we do, they can make a financial contribution as well. But we think we work very hard to provide a service and ministry to Friends and the most important thing to us is that it reaches as many eyes and hearts as possible.
As FUM’s new general secretary, how will Quaker Life enable you to share the message of FUM with Friends and others around the world?
Colin: One of our strategies for the future is to think about what are the main priorities and the themes that God is calling us to share. Quaker Life becomes a primary vehicle for thinking about critical issues and important priorities that God wants Friends to wrestle with. Finding people who can write for Quaker Life and reflect on those priorities becomes very important for us as we grapple with these issues as a community.
We’ll also use the magazine to keep in front of people who are involved in FUM the important priorities and projects that we are working on together, telling the news and stories of what is going on in our local meetings and churches and yearly meetings. That’s an important way of communicating who FUM is, and what we are doing.
What are your hopes for the future of Quaker publications?
Sylvia: For Quaker Life, my hope is that it would become valued, appreciated and loved by more people, so that our readers and we as an organization and we as God’s people will understand each other and work together to accomplish God’s purpose for FUM, which is to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord. Quaker Life can help us to gather people into that great, great fellowship, and that’s what I want it to do.
Colin: My main hope would be that it really would serve and be a resource to FUM, that through what is written and through the stories told people would feel a sense of being empowered, of being encouraged, inspired and challenged to live more faithfully, to be the church. I also hope that it would be a tool of influence beyond the Friends church to make a difference through our testimonies and our distinct spirituality, calling others to faithfulness and transformation.
Kathy: That they could continue serving as a tool to help Quaker church growth.
Gabriel: One of the really exciting things about being in publishing at this time in the world is that the Internet gives us the ability to reach literally anybody in the world if they happen to be interested in Quakers or in the kinds of issues that Friends are writing about. They don’t have to be near a Quaker bookstore or Quaker meeting. They can connect directly with us through the Internet. So, while we love print, we love paper and we don’t think that’s going to go away any time soon, what’s most important is not what format it’s in but the stories themselves. We want to make those stories sing in whatever format our readers or potential readers need us to be in, in order to keep the Quaker message alive and accessible to as many people as possible.