Religious Society of Friends

Religious Society of Friends

The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers, was founded in England in the 17th century as a Christian religious denomination by people who were dissatisfied with the existing denominations and sects of Christianity. Historians generally credit George Fox with being the principal co-founder or most important early figure. [E.g. in [ "Review: [Untitled"] , a review by Arthur J. Mekeel of "The History of Quakerism" by Elbert Russell in "The American Historical Review," Vol. 48, No. 2. (Jan., 1943), Mekeel praises the author for casting Fox as the "leader rather than founder" of the movement.] The Society of Friends is counted among the historic peace churches.

Society members are known as "Quakers" or "Friends".

Since its beginnings in the United Kingdom, Quakerism has spread to other countries, chiefly Australia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ireland, Kenya and the United States. Although the total number of Quakers is relatively small, approximately 350,000 worldwide, [ FWCC's map of quaker meetings and churches] ] there are places, such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Newberg, Oregon; Greenleaf, Idaho; Whittier, California; Richmond, Indiana; Friendswood, Texas; Birmingham, UK; and Greensboro, North Carolina in which Quaker influence is concentrated.

Unlike many other groups that emerged within Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has tended away from creeds, and away from hierarchical structure. [ [ "The Trouble with 'Ministers'"] by Chuck Fager gives an overview of the hierarchy Friends had until it began to be abolished in the mid-18th century.]

The various branches have widely divergent beliefs and practices, but the central concept to many Friends is the "Inner Light". Accordingly, individual Quakers may develop individual religious beliefs arising from their personal conscience and revelation coming from "God within"; further, Quakers feel compelled to live by such individual religious beliefs and inner revelations.

Many Quakers feel their faith does not fit within traditional Christian categories of Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, but is an expression of another way of experiencing God.

Although nearly all Quakers throughout history and many today consider Quakerism to be a Christian movement, some Friends (principally in some Meetings in the United States and the United Kingdom) now consider themselves universalist, agnostic, atheist, realist, humanist, postchristian, nontheist or Nontheist Friend, or do not accept any religious label.David Rush (2002) [ They Too Are Quakers: A Survey of 199 Nontheist Friends] "The Woodbrooke Journal", 11(Winter)] Calls for Quakerism to include non-Christians go back at least as far as 1870, [E.g. " [ The Quakers in New England: An Essay] " (1870) by Richard Price Hollowell, p. 26.] but this phenomenon has become increasingly evident during the latter half of the 20th century and the opening years of the 21st century, and is still controversial among Friends. An especially notable example of this is that of Friends who actively identify as members of a faith other than Christian, such as IslamBrett Miller-White (2004) [ The Journeyman – The Making of a Muslim Quaker] "Quaker Theology", 10] or Buddhism.Valerie Brown (2006) "The Mindful Quaker"]

Beliefs and practices of Friends

Experiencing God

George Fox and the other early Quakers believed that direct experience of God was available to all people, without mediation (e.g. through hired clergy, or through outward sacraments). Fox described this by writing that "Christ has come to teach His people Himself." Throughout his journal, Fox made several similar statements. Including in [ Chapter 5] stating: "God was come to teach His people Himself" and [ Chapter 6] "Christ was come to teach people Himself". Fox frequently used the words God and Christ interchangeably.]

Modern Friends often express this belief in many ways, including the attitude of trying to see " [the light] of God in everyone"; finding and relating to "the Inner light", "the inward Christ", or "the spirit of Christ within." [cite book | title = Quaker Faith & Practice | publisher = Yearly Meeting | date = 1999 | pages = 1.02.5 | isbn = 085245306X] Early Friends more often used terms such as "Truth", "the Seed", and "the Pure Principle", from the principle that each person would be transformed as Christ formed and grew in them. The ability to "see the light" or see "that of God in everyone" enables Quakers to cast aside more superficial differences and focus on the spiritual elements which connect all people.

Since Friends believe that each contains God, much of the Quaker perspective is based on trying to hear God and to allow God's Spirit free action in the heart. Isaac Penington wrote in 1670: "It is not enough to hear of Christ, or read of Christ, but this is the thing — to feel him my root, my life, my foundation..." [ Isaac Penington to Thomas Walmsley (1670)] ]


Quakerism is often termed a mystical religion because of its emphasis on the personal experience of God. But at first glance it differs from other mystical religions in at least two important ways. For one, Quaker mysticism is primarily group-oriented rather than focused on the individual. The Friends' traditional meeting for worship (see Unprogrammed worship below) may be considered an expression of that group mysticism, where all the members of the meeting listen together for the Spirit of God, speaking when that Spirit moves them. On the other hand it is also possible to consider the Quakers as a special kind of religious order (like the Franciscans, who also practise group mysticism), living the mystic and monastic tradition in their own way. For example this idea is represented by the Anglican minister and Quaker, Paul Oestreicher, who gave the Cary Lecture at Germany Yearly Meeting in 1991.

Additionally, Quaker mysticism as it has been expressed after the late 19th century includes a strong emphasis on its outwardly-directed witness. Rather than seeking withdrawal from the world, the Quaker mystic translates his or her mysticism into action. They believe this action leads to greater spiritual understanding — both by individuals and by the Meeting as a whole. It is also possible to consider the Quakers as a kind of humanistic religion in the sense of Erich Fromm.Fact|date=July 2008 In this view mysticism includes social and political activities. For instance the German quaker Heinz Röhr, who held the Cary Lecture in 1992, saw himself as a Friend between Marx and mysticism.

The Bible

Early Friends rejected the mainstream Protestant idea of sola scriptura, that the Bible is God's written word and therefore self-authenticating, clear and its own interpreter; instead, they believed that Christ, instead of the Bible, is the Word of God. Robert Barclay wrote in his Apology that the scriptures "are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners".Quotation from [ the third Proposition] of Barclay's apology.] Similarly, George Fox recounted an incident in his Journal in which a minister claimed that the scriptures were authoritative, Fox "...was commanded to tell them God did not dwell in temples made with hands. But I told them what it was, namely, the Holy Spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the scriptures, whereby opinions, religions and judgements were to be tried; for it led into all Truth, and so gave the knowledge of all Truth". [Quotation from George Fox "Journal", entry for 1649.]

Early Friends believed that Christ would never lead them in ways that contradicted the Bible; this belief prevented conflicts between Friends' leadings and their understanding of the Bible.

As time passed, conflicts began to arise between what the Bible appeared to teach and how many Friends believed they were being led by the Spirit. Some Friends decided that in these cases the Bible should be authoritative.

Other Friends, partly under the influence of movements such as liberal Protestantism, decided that it was possible to be truly led in ways contrary to scripture, and that in such cases scripture should give way. Still other Friends rejected (or neglected) the Bible altogether; hence in many liberal Friends meetings one might encounter non-Christian Friends or those who question some or all of the traditional doctrines of Christianity. [ David Rush (2002) They Too Are Quakers: A Survey of 199 Nontheist Friends The Woodbrooke Journal, 11(Winter)] In nearly all cases, modern Friends believe in the necessity of being continually guided by God. Divine revelation is therefore not restricted to the Bible, but rather continues even today; this doctrine is known as "continuing revelation".

A common set of practices emerged which spoke of key principles and beliefs held by Friends. These are "Testimonies", for Friends believe these important principles and practices should be expressed (testified as truth) among Friends as well as to others, in both words and deeds. (see Testimonies for a list and description of several testimonies.) Rooted in the immediate experience of the community of Friends, for many Friends these values are verified by the Bible, especially in the life and teachings of Jesus.


Generally, Quakerism has had no creed. George Fox dismissed theologians as "notionists", and modern Quakers are generally little concerned with theology, and are more concerned with acting in accord with the leading of the Spirit. Quakers have historically expressed a preference for understanding coming from God's Spirit over the knowledge derived from objective logic or systematic theology.There are several examples of Fox referring to people as notionists in his journal. One is in [ Chapter 5] : "After a while there came a priest to visit him, with whom also I had some discourse concerning the Truth. But his mouth was quickly stopped, for he was nothing but a "notionist", and not in possession of what he talked of."] Eschewing notions of "authoritative" doctrines, diverse statements of "Faith and Practice" and diverse understandings of the "leading of the spirit" have always existed among Friends. The leading to lay down all sense of authoritative theology (notions thereof) results in broad tolerance within the Society for earnest expressions of "the light within".

Most Friends believe a formal creed would be an obstacle — both to authentic listening and to the recognition of new insight. On the other hand, some Friends have enumerated and subscribed to a set of doctrines, such as the Richmond Declaration or the "Beliefs of Friends" stated by Evangelical Friends International, which are comparable to mainstream Protestant confessions of faith.

Robert Griswold's pamphlet on this subject expounds Friends' historic witness against creeds — not just as a principle of individual religious integrity, but as an implied statement that Friends, having encountered and experienced God, found creeds not just pernicious, but irrelevant.#377, Pendle Hill, 2005] Doctrinal statements which seek to objectify deity fail to communicate the essence of the "holy spirit", "inner light", or "that of God within us", that "speaks to us" and can also compel "witness".

As a public statement of faith, many Yearly Meetings publish their own version of a book often called Quaker Faith and Practice which expresses their sense of truth and purpose; these documents are generally revised every few years.


Early Friends did not believe in the reliance upon practice of the outward rites and sacraments, believing that holiness can exist in all the activities of one's life—all of life is sacred. They experienced baptism by the Holy Spirit as an inward, transforming experience and knew communion with Christ in the midst of gathered worship in the expectant silence. Thus they did not perform baptism as a rite of membership. These Friends also believed that any meal with others could be a form of communion.

At various times some individuals or small groups of Friends have published corrective cautions against adopting the prohibition of some rite as itself being creedal. The focus should be upon God as Present Teacher, rather than on some human ritual, or the absence of a ritual. Most Friends therefore do not prohibit rites or ceremonies, but they do counsel against allowing these human inventions to take the place of direct experience and leading by God.


Since their beginnings, Friends have practised "plainness" in how they dress and speak. This has come to be known as their testimony of simplicity.

Traditionally, wearing plain clothes was an answer to a number of Friends' concerns. Expensive styles were used to show social inequality and make statements about wealth. Only a select few could afford expensive adornments, which could then be used to exacerbate differences between people based on class, where people in fancy clothing would not want to be seen socialising with others dressed tattily. This was inspired by the Quaker testimony to equality. In addition, the frequent buying of expensive new styles and discarding what had been bought a month ago, was considered wasteful and self-seeking, where Friends instead aimed to focus on simplicity, and the important things in life. Notably, Friends did not consider it right to judge people on their material possessions, but this could not be achieved in a society which placed an emphasis on keeping up to date with inconsequential but expensive new trends. At the time, this practice of plainness meant Friends were obviously identifiable.

As fashions changed over time, the Quaker ideal of plain dress stood out against contemporary clothing. As a result, the traditional forms of this practice were dropped by most Friends. Today, it is more likely that Friends will try to put their faith into action by dressing in a plain version of current fashions — such as avoiding clothing displaying designer labels. They may also try to buy only the clothing they need, and pay more for fairly traded clothing that has been made ethically.

The logo of Quaker Oats shows a stereotypical 1700s Quaker wearing traditional clothes. As the Quaker Oats brand shares the Quaker name, despite having no links with the Society of Friends, there is now a somewhat popular misconception that Friends today still wear the traditional clothing. A very small minority of contemporary Friends have taken up the traditional dress once again, [cite web |url= |title=The New Plain? |accessdate=2008-04-29 |author=Rich, Brooklyn Quaker |date=2004-12-17 |publisher=Blogger |quote=] but they are in the tens.

Plainness in speech addressed other concerns to materialism: honesty, class distinction, vestiges of paganism and the speaking of truth. These principles were put into practice by affirming rather than swearing oaths, setting fixed prices for goods, avoiding the use of honorific titles and using familiar forms for the second person pronoun. Early Friends also objected to the names of the days and months in the English language, because many of them referred to Roman or Norse gods, such as Mars (March) and Thor (Thursday), and Roman emperors, such as Julius (July). As a result, the days of the week were known as "First Day" for Sunday, "Second Day" for Monday, and so forth. Similarly, the months of the year were "First Month" for January, "Second Month" for February, and so forth. For many Friends today, this is no longer a priority, though the tradition is still upkept by some.

Like many aspects of Quaker life, the practice of plainness has evolved over time, although it is based on principles that have been a lasting part of Quaker thought. These principles now form part of the Quaker testimonies.


Quakers hold a strong sense of spiritual egalitarianism, including a belief in the spiritual equality of the sexes. From the beginning both women and men were granted equal authority to speak in meetings for worship. Margaret Fell was as vocal and literate as her husband, George Fox, publishing several tracts in the early days of Quakerism.

The Friends' attitude towards egalitarianism was also demonstrated by their refusal to practice "hat honour" (Quakers refused to take their hats off or bow to anyone regardless of title or rank), and their refusal to address anyone with honorific titles such as "Sir," "Madam," "Your Honour," or "Your Majesty." This testified to the Friends' understanding that, in the eyes of God, there was no hierarchy based on birth, wealth, or political power—such honours they reserved only for God. This practice was not considered by Friends to be anti-authoritarian in nature, but instead as a rebuke against human pretense and ego.

Today, resistance to "hat honour" does not prevail as it once did—most hat customs are not practiced in contemporary daily life—and the individual Friend is left to decide whether or not to practice "hat honour" as a matter of conscience.


Friends have founded many schools and colleges; however Friends have often cautioned against the admission of education credentials as either a form of honouring humans instead of God or as a substitute for a relationship with God Fact|2 June 2008|date=June 2008.

Oaths and fair-dealing

Early Friends believed that an important part of Jesus' message was how we treat our fellow human beings. They felt that honest dealing with others meant more than avoiding direct lies. Friends continue to believe that it is important not to mislead others, even if the words used are all technically truthful. Early Friends refused to swear oaths, even in courtrooms, believing that one must speak truth at all times, and the act of swearing to it implied different standards of truth with and without oaths; this doctrine is attributed to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (specifically ).

Some Friends have accepted the use of "affirmations" rather than oaths, believing that "taking oaths implies a double standard of truth". [cite book | title = Quaker Faith & Practice | publisher = Yearly Meeting | date = 1999 | pages = 1.02.37 | isbn = 085245306X]

Quaker terminology

; "Birthright Friend": a historical term for those Friends born into families that are members of a Friends Meeting. (This term is not always officially recognized by Friends.); "Clearness": a process undergone to discern the true leading of the Spirit of God, especially in ambiguous or complicated situations. Friends often work with clearness committees when struggling with a difficult issue.; "Clerk": the only officer of most meetings (as they have no clergy); the person charged with making and keeping the records of the meeting (including the records of births, marriages, and deaths). The clerk's role is to serve—as an honoured servant of the meeting—and, whilst revered, is not an authoritarian position.; "Concern": Friends believe that anyone may feel called by God. Friends consider carrying out a concern to be a form of ministry. Often there may be a meeting for clearness to test the concern after which the meeting may well support the person in their concern. Many well-known organisations, such as the American Friends Service Committee, Don't Make a Wave Committee (the predecessor organisation to Greenpeace), Oxfam and Amnesty International, have been founded by Friends "acting under concern".; "Convinced Friend": a historical term for those Friends who were not born into Quaker families, but who came to Friends because of the Truth of Quaker teaching and practice. The process of deciding to become a Friend is known as "convincement."; "Gathered Meeting": A meeting for worship, where those present feel that they were particularly in tune with the leadings of the Spirit.; "Facing Benches": Older meetinghouses often have benches on a raised platform which face the rest of the congregation where Weighty Friends (see below) who might be expected to speak would sit. Historically (and in some meetings still) these would be the recorded ministers and elders.; "Hold in the Light": To recognize concern in one's self for another person or situation. This is often considered to be synonymous with praying for someone.; "I hope so": (British term) during a meeting for worship for business, when the clerk asks those present if they agree with a minute, Friends will usually say "I hope so" rather than "yes". It is meant in the sense of “I hope that this is the true guidance of the Holy Spirit”.; "Lay down": the action properly taken upon a committee, meeting or ministry that is no longer needed; "to lay down" a meeting is to disband it.; "Lay over": to allow time to pass before action on a consideration, in hopes of obtaining clearness; "the transfer of Mary's membership has lain over for one month"; "Leading": a course of action, belief or conviction that a Friend feels is divinely inspired.; "Ministry": the act of speaking during a meeting for worship. (Many Friends use the term more broadly to mean living their testimonies in everyday life). "Vocal" or "proclamational" refer to ministries that are verbal.; "Notion": An unfounded, unspiritual position. (Used by George Fox, often to refer to teachings or doctrines that were expressed but not fully understood or experienced.); "Proceed as Way Opens": to undertake a service or course of action without prior clarity about all the details but with confidence that divine guidance will make these apparent and assure an appropriate outcome.; "Recorded minister": A person whose vocal ministry (spoken contribution in meeting)—or another spiritual gift—is recognised as helpful and probably faithful to Divine leading, by the body of Friends to which they belong and formally recorded by that body. Not all Friends' organisations record ministers. Other Friends have adopted a defined process prerequisite for "recording."; "Right ordering": has to do with proper conduct of a meeting for business. The term is often used in the negative, that is, if someone senses that something about the conduct of the meeting is not proper, they may object that "this meeting is not in right ordering."; "Speaks to my condition" or "Friend speaks my mind": Commonly used during meetings for business to express that another Friend has spoken what is in the mind of the speaker; used to help add weight to the statements of others.; "That of God in everyone": the belief in the presence of God within all people. Also referred to as the Inner Light.; "Weighty Friend": a Friend, respected for their experience and ability over their history of participation with Friends, whose opinion or ministry is especially valued.

Quaker worship

Friends treat all functions of the church as a form of worship, including business, marriage, and memorial services, in addition to regular meeting for worship. The two main forms of Quaker worship are often referred to as "programmed" and "unprogrammed".

While the different styles of worship generally reflect the theological splits, with unprogrammed meetings generally being more theologically liberal and programmed Friends churches more theologically conservative, this is not a strict rule. Many meetings hold both programmed and unprogrammed services or other activities. Some "Conservative" meetings are unprogrammed yet would be generally considered to be theologically closer to most programmed meetings.

Unprogrammed worship

"Unprogrammed worship" is the more traditional style of worship among Friends and remains the norm in Britain, Ireland, continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and parts of the United States. During an unprogrammed meeting for worship, Friends gather together in "expectant waiting" for divine leadings. Sometimes a meeting is entirely silent, sometimes quite a few people speak. Meeting for Worship generally lasts about an hour.

When they feel they are led by the spirit a participant will rise and share a message (give "vocal ministry") with those gathered. Typically, messages, testimonies, ministry, or other speech are not prepared as a "speech". Speakers are expected to discern the source of their inspiration — whether divine or self. After someone has spoken, it is expected that more than a few moments will pass in silence before further Ministry; there should be no spirit of debate.

Unprogrammed worship is generally deemed to start as soon as the first participant is seated, the others entering the room in silence. The Meeting for Worship ends when one person (usually predetermined) shakes the hand of another person present. All the members of the assembly then shake hands with their neighbours, after which one member usually rises and extends greetings and makes announcements.

Programmed worship

"Programmed worship" resembles a typical Protestant worship service in the United States. This tradition arose among Friends in the United States in the 19th century in response to large numbers of converts to Quakerism during the national spiritual revivalism of the time. Typically there are readings from scripture, hymns, and a sermon from the pastor. A period of silence (similar in practice to that of unprogrammed meetings, though generally shorter) is included in some Programmed Friends worship services. Most Friends in the southern and central United States worship in this way.

The Friends meetings started in Africa and Latin America were generally started by Friends from programmed elements of the society, therefore most African and Latin American Friends worship in a programmed style.

Some Friends also hold what is termed Semi-Programmed Worship, which brings programmed elements like hymns and readings into an otherwise unprogrammed worship service.

Quaker weddings

Traditionally, when a couple who are a part of a Quaker Meeting decide to get married they declare their intentions to marry to the meeting. The meeting will typically form a "clearness committee" that meets with the couple to provide counsel and ascertain the clearness of their intent.

A traditional wedding ceremony in a Friends meeting is similar to any other unprogrammed Meeting for Worship, which can be very different from the experience expected by non-Friends. [cite web |url= |title=Quaker Faith and Practice (Third edition) - Quaker marriage procedure |accessdate=2008-03-26 |author=Britain Yearly Meeting |date=1994 |publisher=Britain Yearly Meeting |quote=The simple Quaker wedding where the couple, together with their friends, gather in worship ... a number of those attending the wedding may be unfamiliar with worship based on silence] There is no official to conduct the ceremony and sanction the union; the pair marry one another before God and gathered witnesses. After exchanging vows, the meeting returns to open worship and guests are free to speak as they are led. At the rise of meeting all the witnesses, including the youngest children in attendance, are asked to sign the wedding certificate.

In the early days of the United States, there was doubt whether a marriage solemnized in such a manner was entitled to legal recognition, leading at least one jurisdiction, Florida, to enact special legislation on the subject. [See [ Florida Statutes] , 741.07 Persons authorized to solemnize matrimony, (2) (specifically validating Quaker marriages) (Revised 10/20/2006).]

In recent years Friends in Australia, Britain and some meetings in North America have celebrated weddings or civil partnerships between partners of the same sex.

Decision making among Friends

Business decisions on a local level are conducted at a monthly "Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business", or simply "Business Meeting". A business meeting is a form of worship, and all decisions are reached so that they are consistent with the guidance of the Spirit.

Instead of voting, the Meeting attempts to gain a sense of God's will for the community. Each member of the meeting is expected to listen to that of God within themselves and, if led, to contribute it to the group for reflection and consideration. Each member listens to others' contributions carefully, in an attitude of seeking Truth rather than of attempting to prevail or to debate.

A decision is reached when the Meeting, as a whole, feels that the "way forward" has been discerned (also called "coming to unity") or there is a consensus. On some occasions a single Friend will hold up a decision because they feel the meeting is not following God's will; occasionally, some members of the Meeting will "stand aside" on an issue, meaning that these members do not share in the general sense of the meeting but are willing to allow the group to move forward.

Many Quakers describe the search for unity as the gathering of believers who "wait upon the Lord" to discover God's will. When seeking unity, Friends are not attempting to seek a position with which everyone is willing to live (as is often the case in consensual models) but in determining God's will. It is assumed that if everyone is listening to God's Spirit, the way forward will become clear.

The business conducted "in the manner of Friends" can seem time-consuming and impractical. The process can be frustrating and slow, but Friends believe it works well, allowing the group to come to decisions even around the most difficult matters. By the time a decision is recognized, the important issues have been worked out and the group supports the decision; there is no "losing" side.

Many non-Friends express doubts as to whether this process of decision making can work in a large group, although many yearly meetings have successfully employed this practice for generations. Some Quaker-related organizations, such as Haverford College in Philadelphia and Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, also utilize traditional Quaker form practices of governance.

Memorial services

Traditional Quaker memorial services are also held as a form of worship. Friends gather for worship and offer remembrances about the person who has died. Memorial services often last over an hour, particularly if there are a large number of people in attendance. Memorial services give everyone a chance to remember the lost individual in their own way, thus bringing comfort to those present, and re-affirmation of the larger community of Friends.

Basic divisions and organization

Like many movements, the Religious Society of Friends has evolved, changed, and split into various smaller subgroups.

In Africa

The highest concentration of Quakers are in Africa. 43 percent of Quakers worldwide are found in Africa, versus 30 percent in North America, 17 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 6 percent in Europe, and 4 percent in Asia/West Pacific. See ["Quaker Information Center"] .] The Friends of East Africa were at one time part of a single East Africa Yearly Meeting, then the largest Yearly Meeting in the world. Today, this region is served by several distinct Yearly Meetings. Most of these are affiliated with the Friends United Meeting, practice programmed worship, and employ pastors. There are also Friends meetings in Rwanda and Burundi, as well as new work beginning in North Africa. Small unprogrammed meetings exist also in Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

In Australia

Considerable distances between the colonies, and a low immigration of Quakers, meant that the organization of Friends in Australia was quite dependent on London until the twentieth century. The Society has remained unprogrammed and is constituted as the Australia Yearly Meeting, with local organization around seven Regional Meetings: Canberra (which extends into southern New South Wales), New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia (which extends into Northern Territory), Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. There is an annual meeting each January hosted by a different Regional Meeting over a seven year cycle, with a Standing Committee each July or August.

In Great Britain

In Great Britain, Quakers follow unprogrammed worship and are part of Britain Yearly Meeting, where there are 25,000 worshippers [] in around 500 Local Meetings.

These meetings used to be called Preparative Meetings, and the groups they formed were previously known as Monthly Meetings: now they are Area Meetings. This change, made in Britain Yearly Meeting 2007, was intended to simplify Quaker jargon. The structure extends into several Area Meetings becoming a General Meeting — formerly Quarterly Meeting — which each continue to meet up to three times per year, but now play no direct role in church government. Instead, Area Meetings are represented directly in "Meeting for Sufferings", which meets in between Yearly meetings.cite book|title= Quaker Faith and Practice|edition= 3rd edition|author= Britain Yearly Meeting|url=|isbn= 085245306X]

In addition to Britain Yearly Meeting, there is also a very small minority of independent 'Christian Quakers'See one such meeting's website: [ Ripley Christian Quakers] .] who follow Ohio Yearly Meeting's conservative discipline. [ [ News and Events ] ]

In the United States

Friends in the United States have diverse practices, though united by many common bonds. Along with the division of worship style (see "Quaker Worship" above) come several differences of theology, vocabulary and practice.

A local in the unprogrammed tradition is called a "meeting", or a "monthly meeting" (recently changed to "area meeting") (e.g., "Smalltown Meeting" or "Smalltown Monthly Meeting"). The reference to "monthly" is because the meeting meets monthly to conduct the business of the meeting. Most "monthly meetings" meet for worship at least once a week; some meetings have several worship meetings during the week. Several local monthly meetings are often part of a regional group called a "quarterly meeting", which is usually part of an even larger group called a "yearly meeting". Again, quarterly or yearly refers to the frequency of "meetings for worship with a concern for business." Among the larger Quaker organizations, Friends General Conference was originally known as "Five Years Meeting."

In programmed traditions, the local congregations are often referred to as "Friends Churches". Currently, the largest Quaker church in America is Yorba Linda Friends Church, an evangelical Quaker church located in Orange County, California.Fact|date=August 2007


Various names have been used for the Friends movement and its adherents. These include:

* Children of the Light
* Friends
* Friends Among Friends
* Friends of the Truth
* Publishers of Truth
* Quakers
* Quiet Helpers
* Religious Society of Friends
* Saints
* Seekers of Truth
* Society of Friends

In the first few years of the movement, Quakers thought of themselves as part of the restoration of the true Christian church after centuries of apostasy. For this reason, during this period they often referred to themselves as simply the "saints". Other common names in the early days were "Children of the Light" and "Friends of the Truth", reflecting the central importance in early Quaker theology of Christ as an Inner light that shows you your true condition.

The name "Quaker" was first used in 1650, when George Fox was brought before Justice Bennet of Derby on a charge of blasphemy. According to Fox's journal, Bennet "called us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God"Quotation from [ Chapter 4] of George Fox's journal (also see [ footnote] ),] ). Here Fox would have meant Christ by "word of God"; see Beliefs and practices of Friends.] , a scriptural reference ("e.g.", Isaiah 66:2, Ezra 9:4). Therefore, what began apparently as a way to make fun of Fox's admonition by those outside the Society of Friends became a nickname that even Friends use for themselves.

The name "Religious Society of Friends" came many years later, in the 18th century. This remains the most widely-accepted name to this day, although often "Quakers" is added in parentheses for the sake of clarity. However, there are some Friends who prefer other names: some evangelical Friends' organizations use the term "Friends Church", and some Friends (usually in unprogrammed meetings) object to the word "religious" and refer to themselves as part of the "Society of Friends". There are some monthly meetings that for this reason do not include "religious" in their name, while most larger Quaker organizations, such as yearly meetings, use the full name.



The Religious Society of Friends began in England in 1648, as a Nonconformist breakaway movement from English Puritanism. As the movement expanded, it faced opposition and persecution. Friends were imprisoned and beaten in both Great Britain, Ireland and the British colonies. William Penn was imprisoned in England on a number of occasions. In the 1670 "Hay-market case", William Penn was accused of the crime of 'preaching Quakerism to an unlawful assembly', and while he freely admitted his guilt he challenged the righteousness of such a law. The jury, recognizing that William Penn clearly had been preaching in public, but refusing to find him guilty of speaking to an unlawful assembly, attempted to find Penn guilty of "speaking in Gracechurch-street". The judge, unsatisfied with this decision, withheld food, water, and toilet facilities from the jurors for three days. The jurors finally decided to return a not guilty verdict overall, and while the decision was accepted, the jurors were fined. One of the jurors appealed this fine, and Chief Justice Sir John Vaughn issued an historically-important ruling: that jurors could not be punished for their verdicts. This case is considered significant milestone in the history of jury nullification. [cite book |title=We, The Jury |last=Abramson |first=Jeffrey |year=1994 |publisher=Harvard University Press |location=Cambridge, MA |isbn=0-674-00430-2 |pages=68-72]

In the Massachusetts Bay colony, Friends were banished on pain of death — some (most famously Mary Dyer) were hanged on Boston Common for returning to preach their beliefs. In England Friends were effectively banned from sitting in Parliament at Westminster from 1698-1833. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, as a safe place for Friends to live and practice their faith. Despite persecution, the movement grew steadily.

During the 19th century Friends in Ireland and the United States suffered a number of separations.

Hicksite-Orthodox split

In 1827 a division occurred within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting when its members could not agree on who was to be clerk. The issue involved the visits and preaching of Elias Hicks in violation of the will of numerous meetings; they claimed his views were universalist and contradicted the historical tradition of Friends. The same year, a number of Friends in sympathy with him separated to form a parallel system of yearly meetings in America, referred to as Hicksite and those who did not were called Orthodox; ultimately five yearly meetings divided.

The splits in New York and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings were overcome in 1955 when in each yearly meeting the Orthodox and Hicksite meetings merged; Baltimore's division ended a decade later.

Beaconite Controversy

The Beaconite Controversy arose from the book "A Beacon to the Society of Friends," published in 1835 by Isaac Crewdson. He was a minister in the Manchester Meeting. The controversy arose in 1831 when doctrinal differences amongst the Friends culminated in the winter of 1836-1837 with the resignation of Isaac Crewdson and of 48 fellow members of the Manchester Meeting. About 250 others left in various localities in England including prominent members. A number of these joined themselves to the Plymouth Brethren and brought influences of simplicity of worship to that society. Notable among the Plymouthists who were former Quakers included John Elliot Howard of Tottenham and Robert Mackenzie Beverley.

Gurneyite-Wilburite split

The Orthodox Friends in America were exercised by a transatlantic dispute between Joseph John Gurney of England and John Wilbur of Rhode Island. Gurney emphasized scriptural authority and favored working closely with other Christian groups. Wilbur, in response, defended the authority of the Holy Spirit as primary, and worked to prevent what he saw as the dilution of Friends tradition of Spirit-led ministry. Wilbur was expelled from his yearly meeting in a questionable proceeding in 1842. Over the next several decades, a number of Wilburite-Gurneyite separations occurred. The Wilburite tradition is carried on today to varying degrees by the conservative yearly meetings of Ohio, Iowa, and North Carolina; Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) is generally considered the most traditional in this regard, retaining more rural Quakers who use the plain language and continue wearing plain dress more than the other two.See [ A short history of Conservative Friends] for further information.]


Joel Bean was an Orthodox Friend who opposed the extreme evangelicalism that was creeping into his branch of Quakerism. He formed a new branch of Quakerism in the western part of the United States when his membership was terminated and his meeting was laid down by Iowa Yearly Meeting.

The "Beanite", or independent, Quakers resemble an amalgam of Hicksite and Wilburite Quakerism. During the 1980s some of them adopted the label "Christ-Centered Universalism".

Testimonies anchor|Testimonies

Quaker testimonies are an expression of "spirituality in action". ["Living What We Believe — Quaker Testimonies: a way of living faithfully" - A leaflet "produced by Testimonies Committee of Quaker Peace And Social Witness, 2005"] They can be regarded as the traditional statements of Quaker belief, though Quakers avoid creeds. The Testimonies are not a formal, static set of words, but rather a shared view of how many Quakers relate to God and the world. This leads to each Quaker having a different understanding of what the testimonies are, and while the ideologies remain quite similar for all Quakers, they go by different names, and different values are included throughout the Religious Society of Friends. The Testimonies are interrelated and can be seen as a coherent philosophical system, even outside Christian theology. The testimonies have not always been consistent, but throughout their history they have challenged Friends and provided them guidance.

The list of testimonies is, like all aspects of Friends theology, continuously evolving — so as to be relevant to today, but the following are common:see [ Quaker Testimonies leaflet] ]

* Peace
* Equality
* Integrity (or sometimes Truth)
* Simplicity

Some Friends also include other testimonies, such as Unity, Community, Compassion, Justice, Truth, Stewardship and Sustainability. In the USA, Children and Friends school students are often taught the acronym SPICES, which stands for Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship. In the UK, the acronym STEP is used, or more affectionately, PEST, which includes the testimonies to Peace, Equality, Simplicity and Truth. Truth tends to be the more common name of the integrity testimony in the UK, although Integrity is also sometimes added as a fifth testimony. Similarly, in recent years the environment has also come to be regarded by some in the UK as an "emerging testimony", one that is respected and valued, but has not traditionally been prioritised.

An interesting example of Quaker attitudes is in the writings of William Penn, "Some Fruits of Solitude In Reflections And Maxims"," written in his retirement.

Excerpt: "The Wise Man is Cautious, but not cunning; Judicious, but not Crafty; making Virtue the Measure of using his Excellent Understanding in the Conduct of his Life. "


The Peace Testimony is probably the best known testimony of Friends. The belief that violence is wrong has persisted to this day, and many conscientious objectors, advocates of non-violence and anti-war activists are Friends. Because of their peace testimony, Friends are considered as one of the historic peace churches. In 1947 Quakerism was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which was accepted by the American Friends Service Committee and British Peace & Social Witness on behalf of all Friends. The Peace Testimony has not always been well received in the world; on many occasions Friends have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in military activities — many conscientious objectors have been Quakers.

Some Friends today regard the Peace Testimony in even a broader sense, refusing to pay the portion of the income tax that goes to fund the military. Yearly Meetings in the United States, Britain and other parts of the world endorse and support these Friends' actions. [cite book | title = Quaker Faith & Practice | publisher = Yearly Meeting | date = 1999 | pages = 1.02.31 | isbn = 085245306X] [ Quaker Council for European Affairs] campaigns in the European Parliament for the right of conscientious objectors in Europe not to be made to pay for the military. It should be stressed that these Friends are not trying to get out of paying taxes and they would willingly give the money to peaceful purposes. Some do pay the money into peace charities and still get goods seized by bailiffs or money taken from their bank account.Fact|date=April 2008

In America, others pay into an escrow account in the name of the Internal Revenue Service, which the IRS can only access if they give an assurance that the money will only be used for peaceful purposes. [] Some Yearly meetings in the US run escrow accounts for conscientious objectors, both within and outside the Society.

Many Friends engage in various non-governmental organizations such as Christian Peacemaker Teams serving in some of the most violent areas of the world. Quaker author Howard Brinton, for example, served in the American Friends Service Committee during World War I.


Friends believe that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. Since all people embody the same divine spark all people deserve equal treatment. Friends were some of the first to value women as important ministers and to campaign for women's rights; they became leaders in the anti-slavery movement, and were among the first to pioneer humane treatment for individuals with mental disorders, and for prisoners.


Also known as the Testimony of Truth, or Truth Testimony, the essence of the Testimony of Integrity is placing God at the center of one's life. To Friends, integrity is in choosing to follow the leading of the Spirit despite the challenges and urges to do otherwise.

This testimony has led to Friends having a reputation for being honest and fair in their dealings with others. It has led them to give proper credit to others for their contributions and to accept responsibility for their own actions. In those legal systems where it is allowed, rather than swearing oaths in a court of law Friends will prefer to affirm — in England this has been the case since 1695. [ definition and etymology in "" Accessed 6 April 2007] ]

Among some early Friends this testimony led them to refuse to participate in drama, stating that to pretend you were someone else was to deny your integrity.


Simplicity to Friends has generally been a reference to material possessions (see "plainness" above). Friends traditionally limited their possessions to what they needed to live their lives, rather than pursuing luxuries. Recently this testimony is often taken to have an ecological dimension: that Friends should not use more than their fair share of the Earth's resources.

This testimony is largely responsible for the tradition of plain walls and functional furniture in meetinghouses.

Quaker organizations

Throughout their history, Quakers have founded organizations for many causes they felt are in keeping with their faith. Within the last century there have been some 100 organizations founded by either individual Friends, groups of Friends or Friends working with others. Amongst others: Amnesty International, Greenpeace, OXFAM, Peace Action, WILPF. ("SEE List of Quaker Businesses")

There are many schools around the world founded by Friends ("see List of Friends Schools"). Several organizations centered on education have continued amongst Friends, including Friends Council on Education (FCE) an organization supporting Friends schools (typically primary through secondary, often boarding) and Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE) which supports Friends post-secondary institutions and those who resonate with Friends' teaching and traditions who serve in higher education.

There are various organizations associated with Friends including a U.S. lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C. called the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL); several service organizations like the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker United Nations Offices, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Friends Committee on Scouting, the Quaker Peace Centre in Cape Town, South Africa and the Alternatives to Violence Project.

Additionally Friends have founded organizations to help maintain order and communication within the society. Some yearly meetings belong to larger organizations, the three chief ones being Friends General Conference (FGC), Friends United Meeting (FUM), and Evangelical Friends International (EFI) (in all three groups, most member organizations are from the United States). FGC is theologically the most liberal of the three groups, while EFI is the most conservative. FUM is the largest of the three. Some monthly meetings belong to more than one of these larger organizations, while others are independent, not joining any. Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) is the international Quaker organization which loosely unifies the diverse groups of Friends; FWCC brings together the largest variety of Friends in the world.

Common Misconceptions of Quakers' Faith

  1. All religions are saying the same thing, only in different words.
  2. You can believe anything you want as a Friend.
  3. Friends have no creeds.
  4. That of God in every person is that Divine Spark, that little piece of God, in each of us.
  5. The Bible is just one great book among many.
  6. All Friends embrace the Peace Testimony.
  7. Friends are rugged spiritual individualists.
  8. Quaker business meetings work by consensus.
  9. [cite web |url= |title=Misunderstanding Quaker Faith and Practice |accessdate=2008-10-11 |author=Wallace, Terry H. |date=January 2007 |publisher=Friends Journal |quote=]

See also


Further reading

* Abbott, Margery, Mary Ellen Chijioke, Pink Dandelion, and John William Oliver, editors, "Historical Dictionary of The Friends (Quakers)" ISBN 0-8108-4483-4

* Allen, David., "There is a River: a Charismatic Church History in Outline" ISBN 1-85078-564-3
* Bacon, Margaret H., "The Quiet Rebels: The Story of the Quakers in America" ISBN 0-87574-935-6
* Bill, J. Brent, "Imagination and Spirit: A Contemporary Quaker Reader" ISBN 0944350615
* Bill, J. Brent, "Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality" ISBN 1557254206
* Boulton, David (ed.) 2006. "Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism." Dales Historical Monographs. ISBN 0951157868
* Brinton, Howard H., "Friends for 350 Years" ISBN 0-87574-903-8
* Birkel, Michael L., "Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition" ISBN 1-57075-518-3 (in the UK, ISBN 0-232-52448-3)
* Burnet, G.B., "Story of Quakerism in Scotland". The Lutterworth Press 2007, Cambridge. ISBN 9780718891763
* Cooper, Wilmer A., "A Living Faith : An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs. 2nd ed." ISBN 0-944350-53-4
* Gillman, Harvey, "A Light that is Shining: Introduction to the Quakers" ISBN 0-85245-213-6
* Hamm, Thomas D., "The Quakers in America" ISBN 0-231-12362-0
* Harrison, Richard S. "Merchants, Mystics and Philanthropists - 350 Years of Cork Quakers" Published by Cork Monthly Meeting 2006
* Hubbard, Geoffrey, "Quaker by Convincement" ISBN 0-85245-189-X and ISBN 0-14-021663-4
* Ingle, H. Larry, "First Among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism" ISBN 0-19-507803-9 and ISBN 0-19-510117-0
* Ingle, H. Larry, "Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation" ISBN 0-87574-926-7
* Moore, Rosemary, "The Light in Their Consciences: The Early Quakers in Britain 1646-1666" ISBN 0-271-01989-1
* Moretta, John A., "William Penn and the Quaker Legacy" ISBN 0-321-16392-3
* Mullet, Michael, editor, "New Light on George Fox" ISBN 1-85072-142-4
* Punshon, John, "Portrait in Grey : a short history of the Quakers" ISBN 0-85245-180-6
* Smith, Robert Lawrence, "A Quaker Book of Wisdom" ISBN 0-688-17233-4
* West, Jessamyn, editor, "The Quaker Reader" ISBN 0-87574-916-X
* Sheeran, Michael. 1983. Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in the Religious Society of Friends. Philadelphia, Pa: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
* Steere, Douglas. 1967. [ On Being Present Where You Are] . Wallingford, Pa: Pendle Hill Pamphlet No. 151.

Children's books

* De Angeli, Marguerite "Thee, Hannah!" ISBN 0-83619-106-4
* Turkle, Brinton
** "The Adventures of Obadiah" ISBN 0-67010-614-3
** "Obadiah the Bold" ISBN 1-89310-319-6
** "Rachel and Obadiah" ISBN 1-89310-318-8
** "Thy Friend, Obadiah" ISBN 0-14050-393-5

External links

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