• When and where did the Religious Society of Friends start?

To be brief, around 1652 in England with the ministry of George Fox in England.

  • Who started the Friends?

It was the inspiration and preaching of George Fox (a troubled seeker who saw the hypocrisy and ritualistic nature of the churches around him at the time) that first sparked like-minded Christians to be drawn to the liberating message of early Friends and that of subsequent members of what was to become The Religious Society of Friends.

  • Why did the Society start?

Many professed Christians at that time in England were disillusioned with the formality and lack of true spirituality among their fellow Christians (largely members of the Church of England at that time).  The Puritan movement, among other nonconformist movements, gave place to an era of much discussion and debate over the subject of religion.  The political climate was unstable, with the overthrow of the monarchy and the subsequent return to the monarchy in England.  People were in turmoil and many were seeking answers to the issues of how to best live a “Christian” life.  Many seekers were to be found, among whom was George Fox.   After deep inner turmoil over his Christian living, George Fox began to feel that the Lord was “opening” (or revealing) to him, not as a special prophet but just one seeker among many, some basic foundations of faith and life in God that had been ignored or not emphasized for many centuries.  He received a now famous revelation that “there was only One Who could speak to his condition, Christ Jesus.”  He began to preach in the countryside and even in the church buildings that everyone could hear the voice of God for his/herself, which was a radical revelation in its time.   The Light of God was, as stated in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, in every man (and woman!).  Thus his ministry began.  He also preached that believers could truly walk in the Light of Christ daily, and that this was sacramental living in its purest sense.  He felt led to reject the outward rituals and religious habits of the “accepted” church (Church Of England) not as bad things, but as “forms without power” which all too easily led people to believe that having done them they would be “saved”.  Fox and his followers (ever growing in numbers) preached that true baptism is of the Spirit (Jesus’ baptism and not John’s) and that true “communion” was in meeting together and listening to God’s voice as a community, not in an outward symbol of wine and bread.  If Jesus was indeed the bread of life, then one was always “taking communion, or Eucharist” every day!  The Quakers wanted the substance of Jesus and not the symbol!  They took Jesus’ words quite literally about taking oaths and swearing, about doing good, and about loving one’s enemies and never returning evil for evil.  This led to an adoption of complete pacifism as a basic tenet, or testimony, of the Friends beliefs.  Other testimonies that resulted from the group discerning of the Spirit of Christ were simplicity of clothing, equality of the sexes in all areas of life (including of course the religious life of the group…men and women were both believed equal in the Spirit and women were from the very start preachers and ministers in Friends meetings…quite a radical situation for their day!), peace, community, and integrity.   Such integrity led to Friends developing a positive reputation in business and in the communities for honesty and fairness.   The equality testimony led eventually to a complete and definitive public stand as abolitionists in the fight against slavery quite a few years before the movement caught on outside of Friends groups. Christ wanted us to live a simple life, and so, both individually and as a group, Friends adopted simple living and organizations.  Groups who met together each First-day (“Sunday”- Friends rejected the use of the pagan-originating names for the days of the week and the months) and met for “business” concerns monthly were called “Monthly Meetings”.  Monthly Meetings met yearly and Quarterly according to geographic proximity and therefore they had Quarterly and Yearly Meetings.  Yearly Meetings stayed in touch by means of writing “epistles” or letters to each other.    

  • Why are you called “Quakers”?

This was most likely a derogative term first used by a judge who mocked the fact that George Fox commanded him to “tremble at the words of the Lord” and the term also “stuck” and was even welcomed by some Friends because they observed that shaking or “quaking” often occurred when one rose to speak in meeting under the true inspiration of the Spirit.  Today, “Quaker” and “Friend” are used interchangeably.  

  • When did Quakers come to America, and what role did they play in

the history of the United States of America?

They left England after suffering much persecution for their refusal to attend Church of England services, for meeting

Together despite laws prohibiting their religious meetings, for their refusal to take oaths of allegiance to King and country, and for not paying the State-imposed tithes.   America offered the possibility of a land where freedom of religion would be guaranteed.  So, like the Puritans, they came to the New World in search of liberty and religious freedom.

Their role in helping develop many facets of this country is enormous despite their small size as a group.  Pennsylvania was first a Quaker Colony which offered freedom to all groups.  They played major roles in several states, and spread their message as well among the colonists…although often staying separate in some ways from the growing mainstream of English settlers who came to America for various other reasons.   They settled in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and then down into North Carolina.    

  • Where are all the Quakers now?

There are Quakers in most parts of the world, although numbers are small.  Pennsylvania and New England still have quite a number of active meetings, and North Carolina has one of the largest total populations of Quakers.  Ohio and Indiana, as well as Iowa, are also states where Quakers are more common, but most states now have at least a few Friends meetings.

It might surprise you that Kenya has a very large Quaker population!  There are even Quakers in Alaska!

  • Why do you use the term “meetinghouse” and “meeting” instead of “church”?

The “church” as the term is used in the New Testament, always refers to the people, and never to a building.  It is improper to refer to a building as a “church”.  Only God’s people are His church.

  • What are meetinghouses like?

They vary, of course, as there is no “set” pattern.  But they always tend to be quite simple.  You will not encounter icons or even crosses.  No art adorns the interior meeting room used for worship.  The simple benches or chairs are arranged in facing manner, to represent the equality affirmed to by Friends in their manner of worship.

  • Are Quakers Christians?

YES!  There are some Quakers who will not agree with this nor hold to the necessity of holding orthodox or traditional Christian truths as absolute, and it is true that Friends do not have formal creeds.  No one is rejected as a person just because they disagree with others about faith and the historical Jesus, but for many Meetings, this would seem to indicate that one is not in unity with the Society, and might prevent membership being recommened to the individual expressing their non-adherence to Christian principles and the divinty of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  Regardless of the attempt of a few Quakers today to claim that Quakerism is not necessarily based in Christian belief, it is a historical truth that Quakers very much saw themselves as trying to revive “primitive Christianity”, or returning to the age before the apostasies of the Roman Church and others.  They believed they had a message to share about the true message of Jesus’ power to be with us even now, not just in a book, and His overwhelming commandment to love all.  They, like George Fox, did not reject Jesus in any imaginable way.  In fact, He was the center of their writings.  But they did not always fit into the other Christians’ ideas of their day of the Christian "way" (meaning their doctrines and beliefs) and so some accused them of being heretics.

  • What do Quakers believe?

Mostly already stated above!  But most importantly that “Jesus Christ has come to teach His people himself” and that each person is responsible for spiritual growth and listening to the voice of God.  We are not rogues, however, and therefore meet together to learn and discern God’s voice to us as a group.

  • What do Quakers believe about the Bible?

Because the scriptures state that The Word (capital “W”) is God and that Jesus was the Word Incarnate, we do not think it proper to refer to scriptures as “The Word”.  In fact, that could even lead to idolatry of a book.  The scriptures are indeed inspired and reflect the leadings and inspiration and revelation that the writers received at the time they were written.  Paul did not know he was writing parts of “the Bible”! But this does NOT diminish the power and appropriateness of scriptures for training and revelation.  What is true is that scriptures without the Spirit who inspired them are not understood. We see this happen when scriptures are taken out of context, historical accuracy, and cultural relevance, and then used to “defend” a particular belief or practice.  We must guard against that, and see the scriptures as a whole, and understand that the discrepancies and contradictions found in scriptures are not indications of faults, but rather the input of human thought and feeling.  Even the process of the choosing of the books of the bible, while overall most likely accurate and inspired, was in some cases perhaps a “political” process with a hidden agenda (or maybe even many hidden agendas!).  All this makes them useful and great inspiration, but they are NOT the substance, or Word of God… Jesus is THE WORD!  The Spirit will reveal to us all we need to know IF we are listening carefully.  However, not that the Spirit would not reveal anything to us that went in complete and utter contradiction to the scripture of the new covenant through Christ (the New Testament).  So, scriptures are a secondary source of Christian inspiration.  To summarize to a brother or sister, we can live our lives without that book (although it would be much missed!), BUT WE CANNOT LIVE OUR LIVES WITHOUT THE SPIRIT!  That seems to settle the discussion.

  • Are all Quakers the same?

NO. We wouldn’t really want to be.  Freedom and individual responsibility has always been part of our Christian walk.  We do not demand conformity in the faith.  That was one of the major differences between Puritans and Quakers.  However, to be honest, all groups experience turmoil, and the very fact that Quakers listening to opposing ideas to try to gain wisdom from each idea or revelation made Quakerism vulnerable to schisms.  And so it was.  In the early 1800s the Friends divided over issues of the faith.  The two divided groups soon divided again, and even again.  Today, there is still division, but in general Friends accept all other branches of the Religious Society of Friends as having legitimacy.  Organizations such as American Friends Service Committee and the Friends World Committee on Consultation bring various branches of Friends organizations together in many ways to work together on causes much broader than the divisive issues.  Friends everywhere enjoy learning about other Friend’s traditions and practices.

  • What do I have to wear to a “meeting for worship”?

There is no dress code!  Some people prefer to dress down, and not wear loud outfits or clothes that draw attention to themselves rather than to the person.  Some dress in the plain dress of Quakers of the past.  Wear what you like.

  • What do the terms First-day, Second-day, First Month, etc. mean and why do you use them?

These are terms used to honor the old habit of Friends to avoid using the names of the days and the months which were in many cases of pagan origin.

  • What do I do during meeting?

First pick up our brochure, “A Quaker Meeting for Worship” in the lobby.  You should read it as you settle into your seat.  It’s fine to read during this time!  You will experience silent, waiting worship, and then as someone is led, they will rise and speak (usually briefly and to the point) what God is speaking to their heart.  It may mean a great deal to you or very little, but the silence will continue afterwards.  Others may do the same, but silence may prevail.  Often newcomers find the silence extremely deep and refreshing.  At a time that seems appropriate, Friends will shake hands which officially announces the end of waiting worship for that day.   

  • How do Quakers differ form other Protestant groups?

I have found that the differences are found in manner of worship, the experience of spiritual rather than physical rituals or sacraments, and the insistence on the “Word” of God being Jesus, while the scriptures are the words (little “w”) of God.  We have much in common as well.  But one major difference here is that we do not have “pastors”.  But rather than saying that we eliminate the clergy, you might say that Quakers have eliminated the laity! We are now all ministers to Him and to each other! That’s the challenge of our faith!  We also vary in the way decisions are made, never taking votes, but rather waiting to members all agree in the direction that God is leading for a particular issue.

  • Are all Quakers pacifists?

Yes, although you will find various degrees of thought on the subject among us.  Some indeed question “what they might do if….”, but we trust that God will reveal to us His will in those situations, and that we will be obedient to His will in those situations.  We do not judge the conscience of each person.  We only know in our innermost being the words of Jesus “render not evil for evil” and “love your enemies”, and “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword”.  These are difficult words in this world of violence and hate.   We seek wisdom and guidance.

  • Why do Quakers not swear or take oaths?

Jesus said not to!  Also, it implies that we would use one degree of truth in one situation and another in another situation.  We reject that thought.  We should always speak the truth.  Oaths are not only therefore against the teachings of Christ but in essence are unnecessary.

  • Who is in charge at a Quaker Meetinghouse?

Hopefully, always the Spirit of God!  Of course, among Friends, Committees and in some groups Elders, take care that others are free to explore the voice of God without hindrance, and will sometimes have to gently correct a situation where a Friend has misspoken or become angry, or disrupted what was agreed upon to be a true and valid movement of the Spirit.  Also, words of hate or prejudice should be promptly corrected in love.  So it is not complete anarchy in an unprogrammed meeting for worship, but an outsider might be hard-pressed to identify the “elders” or committee members for Ministry and Worship by sight (a fact that we like) unlike a more traditional setup where a pastor is in front of a congregation.  The Clerk of a Monthly Meeting assists the group in meetings for worship with business

  • How does one become a Quaker?

This is what we call convincement.  It is a matter of the heart, not the organization.  If after time you feel a strong desire to officially identify with the Religious Society of Friends, simply write a letter to the Clerk of the Meeting expressing your desire.  You will find you are welcome among us!