Quakers Are Funny

Collected by Chuck Fager

A Flowery Speech

During the World Gathering of Young Friends in 1985, one plenary session considered a resolution, or in Quaker parlance a minute, opposing apartheid. The minute was adopted, but not before some Friends expressed skepticism as to the value and impact of such declarations. An Oregon Friend, Bob Baird, articulated this view best when he paraphrased Jesus: “Consider the lilies of the field,” he said, “how many minutes do they write?”

The Absent-Minded Spirit

The clerk of a large yearly meeting died just a few days after a long and particularly difficult annual session, and presently found herself at the pearly gates. St. Peter, however, said he could find no record of her, or her yearly meeting either for that matter.

The clerk, who was a graduate of assertiveness training classes, said there must be some mistake and quietly insisted on taking the matter up directly with the management. So she was presented to God the Father; but He also shook His head and said He knew nothing of her or her recent yearly meeting. She then asked to see the Son, and Jesus appeared, but with the same result.

Exasperated but still persistent, the clerk called for the Holy Spirit. And when She arrived, the clerk once more explained who she was, where she was from and why she was there. At this the Holy Spirit grew pensive. “A Major yearly meeting…a major yearly meeting….” She muttered.

Suddenly a snap of the Divine Fingers and a shocked glance of recognition: “Oh, yes,” cried the Spirit. “So that’s where I was supposed to be last week!”

Canadian Quaker Chuckle Number Two

When Canadian Yearly Meeting’s 1984 draft epistle was first read, there was objection to the mention of one item which had been discussed in committee but had not yet been reported to the yearly meeting sessions. The presiding clerk thought for a moment, then smiled. “Friends,” she asked, “could we hold this over as an inspiration not yet experienced?”

A Blow For the Lord

A Meeting was raising funds for a new meetinghouse, and the clerk was calling on members for pledges. One weighty and affluent but tightfisted Friend rose and said, “I’ll subscribe five dollars.” Just then a piece of old plaster fell on his head. Half stunned, the weighty Friend mumbled, “I mean f-five hundred dollars.”

At that point a voice was raised in prayer from the back of the room: “Oh, Lord, hit him again!”

Ecumenical Plain Speaking

Said a Baptist to a Quaker one day, “I don’t like your form of church government. With all those committees and whatnot, it has too much machinery about it.”

“Maybe so, friend,” came the reply, “but then, thee see, compared to thine it doesn’t take near so much water to run it.”

Credentials For Quaker Service

One busy Friend was recently heard complaining to another about the tremendous volume of mail he received as a result of serving on Quaker committees. ” It almost seems as though I need a Master’s Degree in Library Science just to file it all,” he said.

The other Friend, who was of a more practical bent, replied, “Actually, all you really need is a Bachelor’s Degree in solid waste disposal.”

A Yearly Meeting Potpourri

Overheard in a group of Friends waiting for an elevator: “This elevator runs on Quaker process; It usually gets you to the right place, but it often takes forever to get there.”

During a weighty discussion of alcohol and temperance, one Friend asked insistently, “But does this issue really get to the heart of our life as a religious community?” To which another Friend responded, “Perhaps not, but it will get at least as far as the liver.”

A handmade slogan seen on a lapel: “Some things thee has to see to believe. But some things thee has to believe to see.”

Years ago, Raymond Wilson, the late, highly-esteemed longtime secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation spoke at a midwestern yearly meeting on the topic of government support for birth control, which was then very controversial. After his talk, a woman Friend came up and challenged his advocacy of contraception, saying among other things, “I am the youngest of six children, and where would I be if my parents had practiced birth control?”

Friend Wilson answered, as always, calmly. “But Friend,” he said evenly, “neither I nor FCNL has ever suggested that this policy should be applied retroactively.”

Caring for the Caretakers

A Meeting in the West once considered whether to reestablish its Garden and Flowers Committee, which had languished and withered some years before. When the subject came up for discussion, a former meeting Clerk spoke up: “Oh yes, I remember the Garden committee; I was on it for awhile. That’s where they sent you for R&R after too many years on Ministry and Counsel.”

A Plain-Dress Punxsutawney Pete?

Normally, Groundhog Day is observed in Second Month, which the world calls February. But the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting newsletter once noted that Friends have their own definition of a Quaker ground Hog: “Comes out on Labor Day and sees nine months of committee meetings ahead.”

Casting Light On the Subject

How many Quakers does it take to change a meetinghouse light bulb? Why, the whole congregation, of course. One Friend can install it, to be sure–but only after the rest have weightily considered whether they wouldn’t be bearing a truer testimony to the Inner Light, not to mention simplicity, by learning to get along without it.

A Further Testimony

On the other hand, how many Quaker feminists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one–and that’s not funny, Friend.

Speaking to Their Condition

In the midst of a tangled and difficult discussion, a Friends meeting felt pulled toward a controversial decision, even though many obstacles could be foreseen. One member summed up their situation this way: “I think we just have to go forward, and hope that way will open ahead of us at least as fast as it closes in behind us.”

A Hidden Bit of History

Quaker historian Larry Ingle has done extensive research in Quaker records from the days of the Hicksite-Orthodox separation. In one set of papers he came across a report of a conversation between some Hicksites and an Orthodox Friend named Josiah Reeve. The Hicksites claimed a particular woman Friend as one of their members, but Josiah Reeve replied sternly that “If she tells the truth, she is one of us; but if she is lying, then you are welcome to her.”

Meeting a Real Need

“I’m having trouble making sense of this old Quaker journal,” said the graduate student to the venerable Quaker historian. “The Friend who wrote it keeps talking about going from one place to another, but she doesn’t really tell what she did there.

“Read an example,” prompted the historian.

“Okay, try this,” said the youth: “‘At Sandy Spring, we had a precious meeting.’ So what does that mean?”

“It means, I think,” said the historian, “that she preached for an hour.”

“Well then, what about this? ‘At Pipe Creek, we had a precious and blessed meeting.’ What’s the difference?”

“That means,” said the historian, “that at Pipe Creek she preached for two hours.”

Pointing the Way

Once in the 1850s, an Ohio Friend was returning by train from an abolitionist convention when a group of ministers from Kentucky boarded his car. One of them, noting the Friend’s plain garb and guessing his antislavery convictions, began to bait him: “Are you one of those Quakers who wants to free all the niggers?” he demanded. The Friend nodded affirmatively.

“Well, then” badgered the minister, “why do you preach your antislavery doctrines up here in Ohio? Why don’t you come try it over in Kentucky?”

The Friend was tired and a bit out of sorts, so he responded with a question of his own: “Is thee a preacher?” he asked.

The other said he was.

“And does thee want to save souls from hell?” the Friend continued.

Yes, the minister allowed that he did.

“Well, then,” concluded the Friend wearily, “why doesn’t thee go there?”