THE ORIGINS OF FCRP
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE EARLY FRIENDS CONFERENCE ON RELIGION AND PSYCHOLOGY WRITTEN FOR THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY, MAY 2017
by Lorraine Kreahling
The first Friends Conference on religion and psychology took place on Easter weekend in 1943 in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Thirty-seven women and seventeen men from six states, representing twenty-one Quaker meetings met for dinner at Haddon House Hotel and Restaurant on that Good Friday evening. They then likely took the short walk to the Haddonfield Meeting House. After Meeting for Worship, Elined Prys Kotschnig, the group’s “chairman,” offered opening remarks and introduced the first speaker, Dr. Seward Hiltner, Secretary of the Federal Council on Churches, who spoke on religion and health (and the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit). By the final evening meal on Sunday, April 23, the group had heard three additional speakers and two four-person panels. Each event began and ended with silent worship.
The “Friends Conference on the Nature and Laws of Our Spiritual Lives,” as the conference was initially called, had grown out of several Quaker study groups focused on how the “new sciences of the mind” (specifically psychology and psychiatry) could contribute to and support spiritual life in religious communities, and most particularly Friends meetings. War—the impact of the First World War and the beginning of a new one—was affecting everyone’s faith and mental balance. As church pastors and priests became schooled in psychology to better minister to those with problems in their congregations, Friends recognized their own clergy-free meetings might be falling behind the curve. Quakers’ role as medics and other service workers such as ambulance drivers in World War I—and the incarceration and institutionalization of some conscientious objectors—had left many spirits wounded. Such traumas, coupled with the growing psychological problems of modern life, presented new challenges within Quaker meetings where every member could act as lay minister.