Do you think this could be a possibility?  Perhaps not quite a monastery in the strictest sense of the word, since Quakers don't have a hierarchy, but an ummah(community) living together, pooling their resources together, and living and working according to Quaker testimony and scripture?


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Without trying to decide to what extent I agree or disagree with it, it is interesting to note that many people tend to view Quakers as living a pseudo-monastic life (at least those of the conservative branch).  Since being "convinced," I have become more aware of those things in my life that are only holding me back and making me a slave to materialism.  I strive to be honest and upfront in everything that I do.  I try to avoid anything that makes me a human billboard, and I have begun making myself what items I can to avoid buying those things produced in areas of the world that have poor work environments.  Some of my friends simply think I've lost my mind, but I know that I have actually found it for the first time.  Some people have confused it with the Shaker movement, so I have gotten questions concerning whether or not I plan on getting married and having children (awkward questions, since these same people know that I have a fiance). 

I guess my point is that, when compared to the "outside" world, Quakers theoretically live a life that is close to that of monks.  I actually live a few minutes away from a Russian Orthodox monastery, and after talking with them I would argue that we have some of the same goals in mind.  Monks try to do away with those pleasures in life that can distract us in our work for the Lord, and often attempt to be as self-sufficient as possible.  They are also pacifists, as far as I can tell, and do not consume alcohol as a general rule (communion, of course, not be factored in).

The idea of a community is interesting, though.  Are you talking about having a full-fledged monastic lifestyle, in the sense that there would be vows of celibacy, cutting ties with family and friends, and giving up all personal ownership of items?

There have been several attempts to create close communities among Christian Friends.  One was the Conservative Friends community at Fairhope,  Alabama.  When that community "ran out of steam", the more conservative members moved to Holly Spring, North Carolina and established a meeting which flourished for several years.  Others moved to Monteverde, Costa Rica, where the settlement succeeded but lost its Conservative Quaker identity.  Lewis Benson and associates established the Baring Street Fellowship in Philadelphia; I know that it failed, but I don't know any of the details.  The "Apple Pickers" established a commune in New York State during the 1960s, which lasted for several years and made a creative contribution to the search for community.  At one time the Rockingham Friends Fellowship in Virginia had similar semi-communal aspirations.  There is still a meeting there, but it is more conventional in its understanding of Quaker community.

The idea of holding all goods in common is hard to implement, and has never succeeded in Quaker circles, as far as I know.

Friends are not as good at realizing community as are Anabaptists.  Friends usually come from dissimilar backgrounds, which causes theological and other problems.  They tend to be too individualistic.  The dynamics of leadership are less clear cut, and domineering people tend to wreak havoc.


This is an interesting topic, and one worthy of further discussion.

I should also mention the fellowship-building efforts of Cyrus Cooper and associates in the Salem Quarterly Meeting of Ohio Conservative Friends.  Their effort to establish closer community among Conservative Friends succeeded for decades.

The Chestnut Ridge Meeting near Barnesville OH was also a close fellowship.  They had their own school,  and their own telephone system at one time.

Yes, Karen, that is more what I mean.

I'm sorry everyone, I should have been more clear.

What I meant was something more along the lines of a religious order rather than a monastery\abbey.

Maybe something like the the order of Saint Gregory which exists in the UK - there are ordained brothers\sisters but there is also a large lay community attached to the order.  They have jobs (usually ones that emphasise service in some capacity - teaching, nursing etc) in the outside world, but they pray together, sometimes live and eat together, and try to dedicate their lives and works as much as they can to, in this case, Saint Gregory.

In reply to your last paragraph, David Watson, no, I was not thinking along the lines of vows of celibacy, complete removal from the world and cutting ties with friends and family!  I like the idea of community and shared values, ministries and so on. 

I think the correct term for what I'm thinking of is contemporary religious order.

I was a member of the Baring Street Fellowship (mentioned by William F.Rushby).  This was a small group -- four families at its largest.  I think Rushby's 3rd paragraph pretty much sums up the thicket that brought us down.  My judgment is that we lacked any structure of process for resolving interpersonal conflicts that arose within the group.

What an interesting discussion!  A couple of thoughts.... After being a pretty active Quaker in my teens and twenties I am now a Catholic and have joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (

Religious life in the Catholic tradition is wide and varied.

As a Quaker I always had this dream of having a Quaker wedding between me and Jesus... Acknowledging a commitment that already exists (like a Quaker wedding does).

Some aspects of religious life naturally carry over into Quakerism.  Our constitutions are centered around prayer, community, and ministry.   Quakers do this communally as well.


The vows of poverty, consecrated celibacy, and obedience create discipline around money, sexuality, and power.  I think that discipline and communal accountability is what is most important about the vows.


I think one of the most vital aspects of religious life which is difficult to carry over into Quakerism is the formation process.  I have just completed a nine year process to become a Catholic sister.  This time frame is about average.  Years focused on just learning about prayer, community, and ministry, and the vows, is also a deep time to learn about my self and whether I am a good fit with my community.  Sometimes I feel like I have been turned inside out by the process.... and my community is always there with me...



I hope that Vail Palmer will write a history of the Baring Street Fellowship, and of what we can learn from it.

Actually, there should be a book of essays on Quaker attempts to develop intentional communities.  We talk about community as an abstract Quaker value, but not much has been written about concrete efforts to "flesh out" community in the Society of Friends.

Thank you for that link, Isabel - it is very interesting.

Thank you also, Sarah - yes, what you are describing is what I mean...though instead of a vow of celibacy I would maybe substitute a vow of chastity! 

Your comments on the formation process are particularly interesting.  I agree that there would have to be a good 'vetting' process, if you like.  Even though the people in the community would probably be going out and working, they would still need to hold some values in common for the whole community to work.  So the process for deciding who stays in the community and who doesn't would need to be put in place.  Perhaps the community could take a leaf out of the book of some Catholic abbeys and have a probationary period - six months, say - and then evaluate with the rest of the community to see whether it is working or not.

I wonder about the appropriateness of borrowing models of community from the "high church" traditions.  Wouldn't it be better to draw upon Quaker or other similar traditions to provide a context for thinking about "community"?

Perhaps it is inappropriate - but then again perhaps not.  Some of these traditions have endured for centuries, and there is a reason that they have done so.  I find that admirable.

I am quite new to Quakerism, so I am not familiar with the traditions you speak of.  As Sarah says, some of the traditions such as communal prayer are common to both the 'high church' and Quakerism. 

This is only a discussion, at the moment; I'm not going to go out tomorrow and start a commune!  I'm just turning ideas over in my head and seeing what other people say and think.

William F Rushby said:

I wonder about the appropriateness of borrowing models of community from the "high church" traditions.  Wouldn't it be better to draw upon Quaker or other similar traditions to provide a context for thinking about "community"?

This conversation is very fascinating.

I am also new to the Quaker movement, but I have learned some interesting things as far as the group functions as a denomination.  Our worship group is under the care of the Ohio Yearly Meeting, and those in attendance come from a very diverse background of theological beliefs.  Because the meeting is later in the evening, many people are able to go to the group and to different churches as well.  My fiance and I attend a Baptist church, two members attend a Unitarian church, the man who organized the worship group is, I believe, a minister of OYM, and we also have a Methodist minister who attends every Sunday.  I can see how such diversity, when amplified to the size of a community, could make things difficult.

It is sad to hear that the conservative Quaker community previously mentioned was unable to hold together.  I would still like to think that such a thing is possible, and would do all I could to support such a group is one emerged.


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