Quakers: A Good Introduction

A Light That is Shining, by Harvey Gillman

2nd edition, 1997, Quaker Books, London

I read this book recently and it’s a wonderful discovery. In just 86 pages, with a great list of suggestions for more reading at the back, it gives a brief history of the Religious Society of Friends  (Quakers) in Britain.  Written in a straightforward, chatty style, it covers the founding of the Society and its early struggles, comes right up to the 20th century, and then lays out briefly the structures and procedures followed by Friends in modern Britain.

Harvey Gillman writes with authority, having worked at Friends House –the London headquarters of the RSoF– for many years. His style is decidedly readable, with a wry sense of humour as well as the abundant facts at this fingertips.  Although the history of Friends in the USA and many of the current practices  are different, Americans couldn’t find a more concise and readable summary than this one of the early history of Quakers.

I was particularly interested in the grotesquely expansive bureaucracy of the Society in Britain — the committees, boards, chain of command, etc. that seems to me to be stifling the core truths and historical practices of Friends. Gillman did not disappoint, giving a succinct summary of the various committees and bureaucratic procedures that were in place in the 1990s.

Highly recommended for people interested in Quakers who need a good place to start. It’s short (I read it in less than two hours) and fun to read, and full of information, giving the reader a good sense of whether s/he wants to know more or not.

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