The Life and Religious Labors of Lloyd Lee Wilson
written by Lloyd Lee Wilson
reviewed by David Nachman
To be precise, the title of this book is: Memoir of the Life and Religious Labors of Lloyd Lee Wilson, a Minister of the Gospel of the Religious Society of Friends, Particularly of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), to describe the workings of the Lord in the various stages of my life, showing how God is at work in all things for good, whether we perceive it so or not, and how our surrender to divine providence allows God’s work to be done in and through us for the advancement of the Realm of God.
From the title page onward, Lloyd Lee Wilson’s 2021 Memoir echoes the writings of Friends of earlier centuries – a hallmark of the Quaker Conservative movement to which he was drawn in midlife. From his traumatic birth (nurses bound his mother’s knees together so she wouldn’t deliver before the obstetrician arrived at the rural hospital where he was born), to his recognition as a boy minister in the Methodist circuit where his family worshipped, to his successful student career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lloyd Lee met or exceeded the standards of his parents and community, living as an exceptional child and exemplary young man. When seeds of doubt were planted in his mind by the popular culture of the 1960s and by what seemed at the time to be a chance encounter with Quakerism at Cambridge (MA) Meeting, Wilson resigned his Air Force commission and began a lifelong struggle to live faithfully, guided by the Light of God.
Distilled from a personal journal stretching back sixty-some years, the Memoir is a record of struggle. Along the way, Wilson overcame numerous accomplishments – a term as the General Secretary of Friends General Conference, success as a businessman, admiring recognition within Friends United Meeting and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) – and accepted numerous tribulations – two divorces, chronic pain from a debilitating back injury, disaffection from family and Friends, psychotherapy, a baseless whisper-fueled scandal – before reaching a state of confidence in God’s unqualified love.
Like many accounts published by ministers of earlier centuries, this book details the author’s deep prayer life and visits in ministry to Friends and Meetings. Somewhat unusually, this book is written in two voices: the voice of the person who lived each day and wrote journal entries in moments of peace or conflict, uplift or doubt, and the voice of maturity, looking back and interpreting those entries written across a lifetime. Now widely recognized as a writer and speaker who transmits the Quaker message of God’s immediate presence, Lloyd Lee Wilson offers observations and challenges to Friends of all leanings (in the so-called Liberal, Evangelical, and Conservative branches). For example:
Meeting for business is a good place to observe the health of a Quaker meeting. If we truly believe that there is one Truth that all can perceive, then we will enter meeting for business expecting to reach unity. If we believe that each person has their own truth, then we will not expect unity and meeting for business will reflect that.
In a conversation I had with Lloyd Lee Wilson in the 1980s, he shared an old aphorism: you can assess the state of a Quaker’s soul by looking at the state of their Bible – the more ragged the book, the more luminous the soul. Lloyd Lee’s Bible must be ragged indeed.
David Nachman has been a long-time member of Quaker meetings in Pennsylvania and Arizona.