Inspired by Wess Daniels' post On Quaker PR: Salt, Light and Transformation (Matthew 5:13-20), here is a fictional story I wrote about a young women during the first generation of Quakers in England, meeting George Fox for the first time and hearing him speak on Matthew 5:14-16. Matthew 5:14-16 in early Quakerism
“Elizabeth! Would you please hurry up! We need to leave now to arrive on time!”
“One minute mum!”
This is the state of my life. I am sixteen years of age and too smart for my own good. My parents would put me in a convent if the family was still Catholic but that has not been the case for many generations. Most of my friends have been married off but I remain, without even a suitor to pursue me. My parents are hoping that today may change things for me. Our whole family has been invited to attend worship at Swarthmoor Hall, the home of the great Judge Fell. Many families will be in attendance. Perhaps there is hope for me yet!
The year is 1656 and England is a mess. It has been seven years since King Charles was beheaded and Cromwell is in control of the country. Well, control is relative. Father says I should not be as knowledgeable as I am of country politics; apparently it is unseemly for a young woman. How can I not be aware of what is happening?! My country is in civil war!
In the last hundred years, since the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther nailing his thesis to the church door, hundreds of religious groups have emerged seeking the “one true faith.” When Cromwell took over in 1649, he tried to unite the splintered Protestant groups, but now he is only making trouble for himself. The very wealthy and the very poor despise him and his is at odds with Parliament. Trouble is just around the corner!
My parents grew up in the Church of England but have strayed from the state church and found a home in the community based movements of the Puritans. Our family is supportive of Cromwell, but father says I am not to mention that at the Fell’s residence. Judge Fell works closely with Parliament and would not look favorably on our family if he knew.
Our carriage bumps up and down the rocky road. We live only a short distance from Swarthmoor Hall and I have often seen all sorts of interesting people traveling on their way to visit the Fells. The gossip of the town tells of the Fells hosting the notorious George Fox. Mr. Fox is known throughout these parts as a trouble maker. He stood up in one of the churches south of here and challenged the minister during the service! Oh, how I would love to meet him!
There are all sorts of new religious movements. The Diggers and the Seekers are two that come by often with their preachers. Mr. Fox is starting one called the Religious Society of Friends. He believes that Christ has already come again and is living among us. I hear that Margaret Fell, Judge Fell’s wife is one of Mr. Fox’s followers and that their movement allows women to preach and teach! Perhaps this invitation to the Fells will be more interesting that I thought!
We arrive at Swarthmoor Hall with plenty of time before the service begins. The courtyard is beautiful! This time of year the weather is still damp and grey but the plants love the moisture and the pinks and purples of the spring flowers are bursting with joy. There ivy creeping up the wall of Swarthmoor’s stone buildings expresses a vivid green and an orange cat sits in one of the upstairs windows, framed by the diamond shaped window panes.
As we walk into the grand house, my parents abandon me to give their greetings to the Fells. The wood floor beneath my feet glistens with its recently applied polish and the hallways leads me to a small, quaint library. There are shelves of books from the floor to the ceiling; each book is leather bound and good leafed. I’ve never seen so many books! Gingerly, I caress the spines of the many volumes, pausing ever so often to tilt a book back to read its cover. I am in heaven!
Beside a simple padded armchair, a stand displays a volume larger than the others on the shelves. The book is also leathered bound and gold leafed. A satin ribbon runs down its open middle marking the page for future use. This beautiful book is a copy of the Holy Scriptures and simple elegant letters flow up and down the page. It is open to the book of Matthew, chapter 5. Using my index finger as a guide, I read out loud with only the books on the shelves as my witness:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven.”
The words seep into my heart as I stand there before the Scriptures in silence. I faintly hear my parents calling me from another part of the house. I breath in deeply, exhale, and turn to join them.
The worship service is on the second floor the house. A tight spiral staircase leads me to the room. Before entering I glance down the hall opposite the doorway and see a small study. The door is propped open and a distinguished man in his middle age sits writing diligently at his desk. My father had told me in preparation to this visit that Judge Fell never attends the worship at his house. He listens in from down the hall, but finds it a conflict of interest with his government work to engage in such a subversive worship.
I enter place of worship to find a simple room. There are rows of benches positioned towards a single wall with a line of benches facing back from it. On these facing bench sits a proper young woman who could only be Mrs. Fell and disheveled young man with shaggy hair and leather britches. Could it be? George Fox? My heart beats fast with excitement!
The room is filled with people. Some people I know and many people I do not know. I find a seat beside my parents and settle into the expectant silence that is characteristic of worship among the Friends. We are all here to hear the great preachers speak. Father told me that if the Holy Spirit speaks to me I have the responsibility to share such a message with the meeting. I couldn’t imagine speaking in front of all these people. The very thought of it makes me tremble.
As the silence deepens, I find that I am not the only one trembling. Mr. Fox appears to be shaking up and down his body. His hands are the most visible, trembling as if he had seen a ghost. The rest of his body, slow at first and then much more apparently begins to quake until it seems like he will leap out of his seat and begin to dance.
The silence continues. We all are waiting.
In a blink of an eye, Mr. Fox is standing and begins to speak:
“And so Christ, who is the light, who enlightens every man that comes into the world with his divine light, which is called, the life in the word, which was in the beginning, who is the light of the world; which is not a natural light, or a created light, but a spiritual, heavenly, and a divine light, which enlightens every man’s spirit that comes into the world, his candle; for, the spirit of man, is the candle of the Lord, and the candlestick is everyman’s body, mind, soul, and conscience, that with this spirit their candle being lighted, and set up in its candlestick, they may see all that is in the house; and with this light they may see Christ that died for them, and is risen for them…So this light of Christ, which enlightens every man that comes into the world, is not natural, but enlightens every man’s natural spirit, which is the candle; and they that love the light, love that which lights their candle, their spirit.”
His words bring be back to the moment in the library where I read the words of the Holy Scriptures out loud. Am I the light of the world? Is there the light of Christ inside of me? Is there the light of Christ inside each person here? I look deep inside myself and feel the flickering flame of Christ begging to shine out. All my life, I ponder, I have felt hidden; a basket covering my life and my light. The words of spoken by Mr. Fox pierce through the basket and speak to my very soul. Shine forth Elizabeth! Speak truth!
In those moments I am convinced of the truth that Mr. Fox speaks. Tears fill my eyes and I find that I too am quaking with the beauty of the light. I am the light of the world! I am a city on a hill that cannot be hid. All my worries of marriage and future escape me and I find myself basking in the arms of God. The silence envelops me.
Before I know it worship is over. Others have spoken but I have not heard them. Leaving my parents to their socializing and match making, I walk confidently up to Mr. Fox and thank him deeply for his faithfulness. His eyes seem to dance in the fading light of the evening as he responds “We do not use formal titles my sister, please call me George, your brother in Christ.”
 Swarthmoor Hall was the home of Judge and Margaret Fell: “Swarthmoor Hall was built about 1586 by George Fell, a local landowner. His son, Thomas, inherited the Hall and here in 1652 George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), gained the support and encouragement of Margaret, Thomas’ wife. For several years Swarthmoor Hall was the “powerhouse” behind the movement, which spread all over the country, to the Americas and continental Europe before the end of the century.”The estate still stands today and can be visited quiet easily. More information about the estate and its history can be found at http://www.swarthmoorhall.co.uk/history.htm
 González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.
 Margaret Fell wrote of her convincement to Fox’s movement. George Fox stood up during a service at the Ulverston steeple house and confronted the preacher "Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;' but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?" from "The testimony of Margaret Fox concerning her late husband," from The Journal of George Fox, 1694.
 González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.
 This description of Swarthmoor Hall comes from my own travels in 2005.
 Matthew 5:14-16
 I heard this explanation of Judge Fell’s absence from Quaker worship during my tour of Swarthmoor Hall in 2005. In sharing of this paper with colleagues who are Quaker scholars, they confirmed that Judge Fell listen in on worship from down the hall in his study.
 “In my old leather britches and my shaggy, shaggy locks” is a line from an English folk song describing the physical appearance of George Fox. Fox was known for his devotion to simplicity.
 Friends believe that the Holy Spirit fills the vessel of the individual with a message. Faithfulness is in part measured discernment of this message of the Spirit and the sharing of it with the community.
 Members of the Religious Society of Friends were called Quakers because of the physical trembling they exhibited when speaking in worship.
 Spirit of Man The Candle Of The Lord Works of George Fox (Volume 5): Digital Quaker Collection Electronic Edition Fox, George. Fox, George.
 Quakers believed in radical equality and dismissed class titles.