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John Churchman and Quaker Reform in Colonial Pennsylvania: A Search for Spiritual Purity Maria Mazzenga* The intense hostility between Quakers and Puritans in the seventeenthand eighteenth-century American colonies is well-documented. The historiography of early American religion emphasizes this antagonism more often than it explores how shared motivations may have influenced their relations and behavior. As David Hall has recently stressed, however, both groups felt that purity of belief could be achieved by destroying "the corrupted, worldly church in order to restore it to its primitive condition, as a gathered fellowship of true believers" (328). The conscious rejection of the "worldly church" in search of "true faith," an act a religious group commits itself to as it moves toward sectarianism, is a recurring theme among both left-wing Protestant groups in seventeenth-century America (Troeltsch 332, Hall 328). The implications this shared conviction held for Quaker reform and Great Awakening revivalism in the eighteenth-century colonies have not yet been explored. ' The concrete disciplinary activities Frederick Tolles alluded to in Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants ofColonial Philadelphia and Jack Marietta explored more fully in TheReformation of American Quakerism, 1 748-1 783 offer one indicator ofthe character ofthe reformation ofthe Pennsylvania Society. However, a continuing quest for inward spiritual purity also manifested itself in less concrete ways in the reform activities of John Churchman (1705-1775).2 The first part of this paper describes Churchman's reform style, focusing on the role ofQuaker "inwardness" in Churchman's vision ofa renewed Society. In Churchman's efforts, the drive for spiritual purity often operated according to its own logic, related to—yet not dominated by—his belief in the efficacy of disciplinary reform. The role the drive for inward purity played in his plan for renewal becomes clearer and more meaningful, as the second part of this paper emphasizes, when examined with respectto the revivalism ofthe Great Awakening unfolding in the colonies as he beganprofessing the need for reform in the Society. A look at Churchman's reformism and the revivalism of certain evangelicals suggests that both forms of renewal possessed antecedents in the radical sectarian tendency Hall discerns in the earliest American left-wing Protestant groups.3 * Maria Mazzenga is completing work on a Ph.D. in American religious history at The Catholic University of America. 72Quaker History John Churchman, "Steady and Inward" When young John Churchman was sent by his father on horseback to complete an errand a number ofmiles from their home in Chester County, the "colt which accompanied the mare I rode," he later wrote, "ran away to a company of wild horses feeding nearby." The boy hurried home in distress, where John Churchman, Sr., told him to "go back to the place with speed, that [the colt] might follow the mare home." He returned to find the horses feeding among some dead trees, when "a mighty wind arose, which blew some [of the trees] down, and many limbs flew about." Churchman was not hurt in the tempest, however; "I stood still with my mind turned inward to the Lord, who I believed was able to preserve me from hurt." Inspired, he was able to pass "among the trees without fear," reach the colt, and return "home with great bowedness of heart and thankfulness to the Lord, for his mercy and goodness to me" (Account 9). This incident occurred when Churchman was eight years old and became a monument of a memory, a concrete foundation for his Quaker conviction. His reaction to the storm is an early manifestation of a pattern that would reappear throughout his life. Churchman's Account and correspondence chronicle a Quaker faith that deepened in the midst ofpersonal hardship, and reveal that the tendency to turn to the inner world for inspiration and strength surfaced even in the most mundane aspects ofhis life. He recorded stories, dreams, and personal encounters so that future generations could learn from his experiences how to interpret misfortune and suffering as a Friend, to cultivate a Quaker faith as enduring as his own. Biblical references and passages were linked by their central purpose of revealing some dimension of"being quiet and inward."4 "Inwardness," in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 71-98
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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