(Part of the Collection, Kersey's Essays)

Jesse Kersey

Taken From  A Narrative of the Early Life, Travels, and Gospel Labors of Jessey Kersey, Late of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Chapman, 1851, pages 196-199.

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[P. 196] It has been very judiciously remarked, "That no form of meeting together for the purpose of Divine worship could be more perfect than that of meeting together in silence: and therefore it was impossible to make any improvement upon this form." Now this "form of meeting is intended as an introduction to the "substance" of the figure used by Jesus Christ in relation to the spirituality of all acceptable worship. After cautioning his disciples against the formality and [P. 197] many words of the hypocrites he says, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret." "And when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do."

But the perfection of the outward form of meeting together in silence, is subject also to the act of vocal preaching and vocal prayer, for the purposes of mutual comfort, instruction and edification.

In accordance with what are considered apostolic views of the forms connected with preaching and praying, the person who believes him or herself Divinely called vocally to preach or to pray in a meeting uncovers the head in testimony of reverence to the Divine Fountain whence all true gospel preaching and acceptable prayer proceeds. To this form of uncovering the head in time of public vocal supplication, is added that of kneeling, as the expression of humble and reverential feeling in thus approaching the throne of grace, and addressing the Majesty of heaven. The company, or assembly present on this solemn occasion also rise, and the men uncover their heads in token of reverence to the Divine Being thus vocally addressed in their hearing, by one professing to be Divinely moved thereunto.

These views of the subjects of Divine worship, gospel ministry, and public vocal prayer, appear to be consonant with the principles and practice of the primitive Christians, and those of our early Friends, such as George Fox, Robert Barclay, William Penn, and other faithful Friends in that day, and ever since down to the present time.

Ever since the year 1719, our Discipline has [P. 198] contained the substance of the following conclusion and judgment of the body. "As the occasion of our religious meetings is solemn, a care should ever be maintained to guard against anything that would tend to disorder or confusion therein. When any think they have aught against what is publicly delivered, they should speak to the party privately and orderly; and if any shall oppose a ministering Friend who is in unity and not disowned by any meeting, in his or her preaching or exhortation, or keep on the hat, or show any other remarkable dislike to such in time of prayers--let them be speedily admonished as disorderly persons Who endanger the peace and oppose the charity and brotherhood of the church."

In this clause of the Discipline and regulation of society, the keeping on of the hat in time of public vocal supplication appears to refer to cases of "dislike" toward the individual thus engaged. But there are and have been those who keep their seats, and keep on the hat, in time of vocal prayer, when no dislike or disunity is felt toward the person so engaged. And among these are found such as plead a conscientious scruple as the ground of their not conforming to this long established order and custom. This plea of conscience appears to arise from the mistaken motive of considering the custom of rising and taking off the hat, as intended to express unity with what is uttered in vocal prayer, or unity and respect or reverence toward the individual praying. But the origin of the custom had no further reference to the person supplicating, than a belief of his or her being, or professing to be immediately called to this duty, and Divinely qualified to perform it.

Now the Yearly Meeting and the society of Friends [P. 199] from the beginning appear to have considered the "form" of rising and uncovering the head during the time of vocal supplication in our public meetings, as, tending to the solemnity and right order of those religious opportunities: and therefore provision is made in the Discipline in order to guard against everything that may "tend to disorder or confusion therein." But on such solemn occasions, for some to stand up and uncover the head, and others to keep their seats with their hats on has the appearance of "disorder" and tends to the "confusion" of young and tender minds, who are unable to account for this diversity of practice.

Considering the simple form of rising and taking off the hat, as having been adopted by the Society on the principle of its being an appropriate expression of reverence to the Divine Being on the occasion of his being thus vocally and publicly addressed, it seems difficult to assign any just cause of a conscientious difficulty in the ease with any one. No one is injured by it--and if the act takes place merely in submission to the judgment and established order of the society, it cannot harm any one to comply with the custom. But it may promote an essential benefit to ourselves and others, to conform to this solemn order from the principle and feeling of reverence and love to our heavenly Father,--and may tend to the harmony, peace and satisfaction one of another.