Tuesday, 11 June 2013

William Penn

I love this letter written to his wife and children by Quaker William Penn, when he left his family in England to travel to the New World and see the land he had been given by King Charles II in recognition of what the monarch owed Penn’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn, who at one time had fed the entire Navy from his own resources while the Crown sorted out its finances.   Because Quakers were persecuted in England and America alike, the acquisition of this land was crucial in creating a refuge for freedom of thought and worship.  Penn called it at first “New Wales”, then amended that to Sylvania – presumably because of its wooded landscape – but the King insisted it be named Pennsylvania to honour the Admiral for whom the gift had been made.  

William Penn’s crossing from England took seven weeks under sail; he did not know what he would find or if he would ever come home.  But he took this chance to realise his dream of a place where government would be ethical and just, and Friends would be free to meet in silent waiting on the movement of the Spirit of God.

His first treaties, signed with the native Indians of the country he had been given, were based on an acceptance of Indian equality, and the beginning of the peaceable civilisation he planned.

In his territory, the two hundred crimes punishable by death in his native England reduced to two – treason and murder, and the prisons Penn built were for reform and correction, not the hellholes he had left in England.  Penn had himself been incarcerated for his allegiance to the Society of Friends, in Newgate Prison near London’s Old Bailey, where in due course Oscar Wilde also served time for his homosexuality.

Despite his wisdom and integrity, and his hopes and dreams for the life human beings could build together, William Penn was cheated right and left, and harrowed by political turmoil and worldly ambition in the realm of freedom and brotherly love he tried to create.

Two strokes ruined his health and cheating acquaintances ruined him financially.  He died penniless back in England in 1718, and his body was laid to rest alongside his first wife, in an unmarked grave in the burial ground of Jordans Meeting House in Buckinghamshire, a place of remarkable peace.

I love his letter's humble moderation and level-headed good sense.  Its aspirations are attainable.   The world was a better place for having had William Penn travel through:

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”  ~  William Penn


mamaof3 said...

What a nice post! I have always wanted to know more about the Society of Friends! I guess William Penn is a good place to start. Thanks! :)

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Pilgrim said...

Wow, that's an amazing story. That's an amazing quote, in the context.

Paula said...

Thank you, Pen! Is there a reason you chose today to share this story about William Penn?

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi, Pilgrim :0) x

Yes, Paula. At the weekend our church had a quiz night. One of the rounds in the quiz was entitled 'Born in the USA', where the answer to each question was a different one of the United States of America. I am a bit shaky on any kind of geography and history (I only really know about Heaven!) and some of the answers, I hadn't even realised *were* states - Mississippi, for example; I thought it was just a river. And West Virginia - I knew it was a place, but wasn't sure if it might be a town or a vague area location (like, 'the Rockies' or something).
But then we had a question, 'Which state is known as "the Quaker state"?'
Well, I thought that was so EASY everyone would know at once. But apparently not. I said, 'Oh, that's Pennsylvania; you know, where Philadelphia is - city of brotherly love?'
I seemed to be the only person that knew this, and when the papers were collected in, I was asked a couple of times if I was sure about that.
It made me realise that though I love the Quakers and Quaker history, love William Penn and the story of his life, love the Christ-centred Conservative Quaker faith - these things are by no means common knowledge!
I also fell in love with Jordans Meeting House on the one occasion when I went to visit there - though I disgraced myself by being loudly incredulous when one of the Friends said the most important aspect of her faith was probably the Meeting House ("WHAT? More important than Jesus? Bricks and mortar? You have to be kidding!" etc)
It is the vanishment of Jesus from mainstream Quaker practice that has kept me out of the society of Friends. I almost joined - but for me Jesus is central, and the Bible a close second.
But I have learned so much from Friends, and I think the Quaker way is entirely beautiful - the silence, the testimonies, the plainness.

Ganeidaz Knot said...

So many of the Quakers write with quiet good common sense ~ & yes, I find people know next to nothing about this most interesting group. Like you, despite nominating it as my faith group, I am not a member because Christ & the word are central to what I believe & Australian Quakers no longer believe that for the most part.

Pen Wilcock said...

Indeed - the struggle for me has been one of style versus content. My ideal would be the Quaker way with proper scholarly Bible teaching, and all rooted and grounded in Jesus.
Also I think praise and worship songs are more than a take-it-or-leave-it cultural phenomenon:http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Chronicles%2020:21-22&version=NIVUK x

Ganeidaz Knot said...

Agreed. I get flack for putting so much emphasis on the word & one dear brother in Christ [ignore the sarcastic overtones] informed me roundly that preaching was redundant. All we need is praise & worship. Needless to say I disagree. If that was true so many of the charismatic churches would not have ended up in moral trouble. And yet I keep coming back to Quakers central beginning beliefs because I think they had it right. Relationship with God. Hear from Him. Do what He tells you to do.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - "Christ has come to teach His people Himself." (Fox)

Paula said...

Christ IS come, in every moment. :)

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, indeed. x