Leaving Quakerism Better Than We Found It

Norval Reece was giving a tour of his Quaker meetinghouse when someone asked, “What is this space used for now?” That’s when he realized we’ve got to do a better job of telling our story.

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Norval Reece was giving a tour of his Quaker meetinghouse when someone asked, “What is this space used for now?” That’s when he realized we’ve got to do a better job of telling our story.


People have asked me why I became a public Quaker instead of a private Quaker, which I’ve tried to describe as going from being happy to keep my Quakerism boxed into a little compartment I open up on Sunday morning and put back, into being a more open Quaker throughout the week. To me it has to do with stewardship. We talk a lot about stewardship as Quakers: stewardship of money, stewardship of the planet and so on, but what about stewardship of the Religious Society of Friends? We are the inheritors of a tremendous history of people who have changed the world.

Leaving Quakerism Better Than We Found It

My name is Norval Reece and I live in Newtown, Pennsylvania. I’m a member of Newtown Quaker Meeting, Newtown Friends Meeting.

Newtown Meeting when I joined it really wasn’t doing much outreach, and I became clerk of the meeting, and one time a chap called up—this was about 25 years ago—and wanted to come over and film the graveyard. I said, “sure,” so he came over to Newtown and we spent about half an hour around the graveyard and I showed him various graves and Edward Hicks and so on and so forth. I said, “Would you like to see inside the meetinghouse?” He said, “Oh sure, that’d be great!” And so he walked into the meetinghouse and he said, “This is beautiful! What’s it used for now?”

I said, “Well actually, Quakers meet here. There are 250 of us or so.” That was part of it. People just don’t know that we’re around.

Applying Our Skills

Somebody once said, “Norval, you’ve been in marketing in business and you’ve had a certain amount of success, but if you share your skills in that area in your business, why don’t you share them in your Quaker meeting?” It had never occurred to me to share them with my Quaker meeting because I segregated my business from my religious life. Some good Quakers said we shouldn’t do that. We should have a seamless life. Our lives should be patterns, examples to all people in all countries all the time. So that gave me a lot of things to think about, and I thought, well, yes, we should open our doors and be willing to let people know who we are and that we still exist.

Describing The Quaker Faith

When people ask me who Quakers are, it’s an elevator speech that doesn’t fit too nicely into an elevator time period. Because I have a theological background, I like to say that there are 3 radical theological concepts that Quakers are based on, and they’re really radical. One is that there’s that of God in every person. Every single person has that spark of the divine in them, whoever they are, wherever they are. The second point is that of continuing revelation. People can learn more about God, have more revealed to them than they currently know today. And point 3 is the perfectibility of man, which is also radical. That man, women, people… they can improve. They can become more perfect as it were, more like Jesus, more like the divine.

Owning Our Accomplishments

So one piece of this “private Quaker, public Quaker” is to, as a Quaker… yes, it’s ok to acknowledge that Quakers have done wonderful things. You don’t have to push them under the carpet or hide them behind the door. The Nobel Peace Prize is a good example. I had never seen it. I finally talked the American Friends Service Committee into bringing it out to Newtown Meeting so that we could see it, even though they had a policy not to take it out of the lockbox. Well it belongs to all Quakers, why not show it to people? It’s ok. You don’t have to be embarrassed about having won it, a lot of people gave a good portion of their lives in refugee work in Europe when that was awarded, so that’s the kind of thing.

Stewarding Our Tradition

I like to tell the story of Dr. Rogers’ boathouse on Cape Cod. Dr. Rogers was a wonderful kind of gruff old guy and he had a wonderful, mysterious boathouse that had all the tools you would ever need to fix a toy, fix a boat, to fix anything… but he had rules. 1. You had to be invited to get in. 2. You could borrow a tool (if he liked you) and you promised to bring it back, and 3. You had to bring it back in better shape than when you took it. So to me, all Quakers, we have inherited the Doctor’s boathouse. It’s a wonderful place, a serious place with everything we need, and we have borrowed it in our own lives. We’ve benefited from it tremendously. So I think we have an obligation to leave it in better condition than when we found it, and that means in every possible way: in terms of values, in terms of practice, financially, in terms of membership: do everything we can to make sure this wonderful institution we call Quakers or the Religious Society of Friends remains and prospers after we’re gone.


It has been an honor to serve Friends as the founder and director of QuakerSpeak. Now I am pleased to announce my next endeavor, a Quaker media project for the modern era. Find out more at TheeQuaker.org

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