Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Elias Hicks Challenges 21st Century Hicksites

Workshop Number: 
Paul Buckley
Who may register?: 
Open to All (adult & high school)
Experiential Activities: 
part time-attenders welcome
half gathering attenders welcome
First half (Monday-Wednesday)
Second half (Wednesday/Thursday-Friday)

Elias Hicks was not who you thought he was. Even today, he challenges our opinions about Christianity; our relationships with God, creation and each other; and how Quakers lead faithful lives, earn a living, and are involved with government. Participants will consider how they respond to Hicks’ challenges.

Workshop Description

In 1828, Elias Hicks was the best-known Quaker in the United States. He was a deep and original religious thinker, a commanding and compelling preacher, and though 80 years old, still a faithful traveling minister. Whenever God said, “Go!” he went.

If he is remembered at all today, it is for his role in the most traumatic events in the history of the Religious Society of Friends – a series of separations in 1827-28 that split American Quakers into two hostile camps – one of which came to be called Hicksite.

Over the years, his memory has been buried beneath the stories spread by both his friends and his opponents. Much of what people believe about him is false. Elias Hicks was a minister, a mystic, a farmer, an environmentalist, an abolitionist, a father and a husband. The first goal of this workshop is to uncover the real Elias Hicks and discover his understanding of what it means to be a Quaker.

In addition, Hicks has much to say to Friends today. To him, Quakerism was a profound critique of, and a radical alternative to, the world view of the wider society he lived in. In his lifetime, Friends still looked, spoke, and behaved very differently from other people. They were Christians, but with a very different understanding of what that meant. They didn’t pretend to be “in the world, but not of the world” – they were separate from it. In Hicks’ words, they rejected the world’s “friendships, manners, maxims, policies, customs, fashions, vanities, pleasures, and amusements.” Few contemporary Friends would make such a sweeping claim. This workshop will allow participants to understand what that a Quaker life was like in those days and to judge for themselves what we have gained and what we have lost by giving it up.

On a personal level, participants will be asked to consider how they individually respond to Hicks’ challenges. Some of the questions that we will grapple with are:

  • What do we risk for our faith?
  • Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than what we expect from others? Is that ever a challenge? For example, has adherence to radical truth-telling ever made demands on our lives?
  • Do we first put our own lives in order before calling on others to change?
  • Do we heedlessly accept the benefits of others’ bad behavior? For example, do we recognize the privileges that come from being citizens of the United States?
  • Do we refrain from involvement in the military, but accept the advantages our country gains from having the most powerful military in the world?
  • Do we avoid harming the environment, but receive without thinking the benefits of others’ bad environmental behaviors?
  • Do we have both the daring and the humility to engage with the wisdom distilled over thousands of years in the Bible? Do we know how to read scripture under the direction of the Holy Spirit?
  • Will we go whichever way the Inward Light points us? Are we prepared to give up our hopes and dreams if the Spirit of Truth calls us elsewhere?
  • Do we have the patience to wait for the guidance of the Inward Light to be clear? Do we have the humility to submit our leadings to the discernment of our spiritual communities?
  • Are we willing to speak truth to our neighbors? Or, in Hicks’ words, do we “conceal our testimony rather than lose the friendship”?
  • In our professional lives, do we seek employment “which will much less interfere with our religious duty and conduce more to the general good of Society”? To what degree are we “ensnared by the accumulation of wealth”?
  • Do we see how the fundamentally coercive nature of human governments leads inevitably to war? What is our proper relationship with our government? Are we ruled by God or by human beings?
  • When we vote, are we doing God’s will? When our government acts in our names, do we knowingly and willingly “bear a part of the guilt of shedding the blood of our fellow creatures”?

Expectations and objectives

Workshop participants will gain an understanding of who Elias Hicks was, what he believed, and what relevance he might have to contemporary Friends in general and to each of them individually.


Each day will open with a substantial period of worship. I will make a presentation on one or more topics of importance to Elias Hicks, followed by questions and discussion. Workshop participants will then be invited to share their responses to the challenges raised by the day’s topic raises in a period of worship sharing. Finally, participants will have time to write down whatever feelings the day has generated in them. At the end of the week, there will be an opportunity (for those who wish to) to share these reflections.


The workshop will make extensive use of The Essential Elias Hicks. In addition, participants might benefit from looking at The Journal of Elias Hicks and Dear Friend: Letters and Essays of Elias Hicks.

What to bring to the Gathering

Bring open and enquiring minds.

Leader Experience

I have led six or seven workshops at the Gathering, several at Pendle Hill, and dozens at yearly meetings, quarterly meetings, and monthly meetings among FGC, FUM, and Conservative Friends. These have covered a wide variety of topics.