Read about the Quakers!
Note that the author of this website attends non-programmed meetings for worship, also known as “waiting worship,” “silent worship” or, more commonly today, “Meeting for Worship.” During the 1800s, there was a split within Quakerism, with one branch wanting to return to some of the ways of Protestant churches with programmed services including hymns and a prepared message from the Bible coordinated by a pastor, and the other wanting to retain the traditional service of silent worship, punctuated by spontaneous ministry.
There is no formal set of beliefs that you have to hold to be a Quaker. This is because Quakers think that adopting a creed is accepting belief second hand; they think that faith should be more personal, based on a person’s inner conviction. Quakers believe that faith is something that is always developing, not something frozen at a particular moment in history which can be captured in a fixed code of beliefs.
The Quakers, also called Friends, are a historically Christian group whose formal name is the Religious Society of Friends. The various Quaker movements are all generally united in a belief in the ability of each human being to access the light within through personal experience, the light that is “that of God in every one.”
Some Quakers may profess the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine derived from the First Epistle of Peter. There are also Nontheist Quakers whose spiritual practice is not reliant on the existence of God. To differing extents, the different movements that make up the Religious Society of Friends / Friends Church avoid creeds and hierarchical structures. In the early 21st century, there were over 300,000 adult Quakers worldwide, with almost half in Africa.
The first Quakers lived in mid-1600s England. The movement arose from the Seekers and other dissenting Protestant groups breaking away from the established Church of England (the Seekers, for one, considered all organised churches of their day corrupt and preferred to wait for God’s revelation). The Quakers, especially the ones known as the Valiant Sixty (more than 60 itinerant preachers mostly from northern England who spread the ideas of the Friends during the second half of the 1600s), converted others to their understanding of Christianity, travelling both throughout Great Britain and overseas, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of these early Quaker ministers were women. They based their message on the religious belief that “Christ has come to teach his people himself,” stressing the importance of a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and a direct religious belief in the universal priesthood of all believers. They emphasized a personal and direct religious experience of Christ, acquired through both direct religious experience and the reading and studying of the Bible. Quakers focused their private life on developing behavior and speech reflecting emotional purity and the light of God.
In the past, Quakers were known for their use of “thee” as an ordinary pronoun, refusal to participate in war, plain dress, refusal to swear oaths, opposition to slavery, and abstinence from alcohol. Some Quakers founded banks and financial institutions, including Barclays and Lloyds, manufacturing companies, major British confectionery makers including Cadbury, and philanthropic efforts including abolition of slavery and prison reform.
In 1947, the Quakers, represented by the British Friends Service Council and the American Friends Service Committee, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their relief efforts in the wake of World War II.