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Lewis Benson (1906–1986) was an expert on the writings of George Fox.
Lewis Benson was born in 1906 in his grandmother's house in Sea Girt, New Jersey and grew up in Weehawken, New Jersey. He was a birthright member of Manasquan Quaker Meeting, where his parents had been married. Most of the year, he attended a Scotch Presbyterian Church where his mother taught Sunday school. Each summer, he attended Manasquan Meeting, and he regularly attended New York Yearly Meeting and the Half Yearly Meeting that Manasquan belonged to. At 16, he dropped out of school and became a messenger boy for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Soon after, he met George Gurdjieff, who claimed to have studied in Tibet and have secret knowledge that would allow one to influence others. Benson joined Gurdjieff's movement, but after seven years became disillusioned and left abruptly.
While reading old books in the Manasquan Meeting library, Bension read the journal of George Fox which related Fox's despair and his rescue from it through the voice of the Lord. Benson set out to find that experience of rescue himself. He read all the Quaker classics, and began a lifelong collection of detailed notes about them.
Benson spent 1933–34 at Pendle Hill, continuing his study of the early Quakers. The following summer, he moved to Shrewsbury, New Jersey, and helped restart the Shrewsbury Monthly Meeting. He then spent a year at Woodbrooke, in England, studying modern Quaker authors, and concluded that their connection with the early Quakers was weak.
Returning to the United States, Benson was invited to build up a library and be the first librarian at Pendle Hill. In the summer of 1938, Benson went to Evanston, Illinois, to become the pastoral secretary of a new meeting. He spent four years there. For the rest of his life, he worked to deepen his understanding of the message of George Fox, and to share it through writing and speaking. He supported his family by working as a printer.
Over the years, he spoke times at prominent Quaker institutions such as Pendle Hill and Haverford College. His major work, Catholic Quakerism (now republished as A Universal Christian Faith) based on a series of lectures given at Woodbrooke in the 1960s, was published by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. During the last ten years of his life, he traveled and spoke throughout Britain, Ireland, the United States, Canada, and Japan. Lewis Benson died of leukemia at his home on the Jersey shore in 1986. His library and papers now reside in a special collection at Haverford College Library.
Wilmer Cooper, Founding Dean of the Earlham School of Religion; T. Canby Jones, former Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wilmington College; and John Punshon, author of Encounter With Silence, Portrait in Grey, and Reasons for Hope have claimed to have been positively influenced by Benson.
Dean Freiday, editor of Quaker Religious Thought and author of Nothing Without Christ said, "Lewis Benson has made the major contribution in recent years toward recovery of a Christian basis that is genuinely Quaker."
The New Foundation Fellowship groups in Britain and the United States formed in the mid-1970s following lecture series of Benson's, and take their name from one of his talks. These groups have reprinted all of George Fox's published writings, have re-instituted the traveling ministry of the early Quakers, and keep many of Benson's writings in print.
- Finding Aid for the LEWIS BENSON PAPERS, 1932-1986, Haverford College Library, February 2009. Accessed November 23, 2015. "Lewis Benson was born August 15, 1906 in his grandmother's house in Sea Girt, New Jersey, on the coast about 100 miles south of New York City."
- Benson, L: A Universal Christian Faith, New Foundation Fellowship, 2007.
- Claus Bernet (2008). "Lewis Benson". In Bautz, Traugott (ed.). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). Vol. 29. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 157–159. ISBN 978-3-88309-452-6.