Who are Quakers?
The Religious Society of Friends
“You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
John 15:14-15 (NIV)
Faith & Practice
Faith and Practice is our book of discipline. It expresses Friends Church of North Carolina’s sense of truth and purpose and describes the current structure and administration of the Yearly Meeting.
History of Quakers
The Religious Society of Friends had its beginning in England more than 300 years ago in a time of great religious and political turmoil. The established church put great emphasis upon outward ceremony and very little emphasis upon inward experience and righteous living. As a result, many people were restless and dissatisfied, seeking for a religion of personal experience and direct communion with God.
George Fox, the leader of the Quaker movement, was born in 1624. Although an earnest seeker, he could not find peace and satisfaction in the established church. When, after a long search, he despaired of finding help from the religious leaders of his day, he heard a voice within saying, “There is One, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.” This glorious witness of the living Christ within his own heart was the answer to his search for reality. He had found the way to direct communion with God – without ritual or ceremony and without the help of ordained clergy. This was a revolutionary discovery for his day, and he soon ran into strong opposition. George Fox and thousands of his followers were imprisoned in the years of terrible persecution that followed.
These Friends, sometimes called Quakers, were concerned to find again the life and power of the early church. They sought reality of experience and were little concerned with ritual and speculative theology. In worship they met together seeking for the living presence of God as an immediate and present reality. In everyday life they were known for sincerity, honesty, simplicity, gentleness, and loving kindness.
The famous philosopher William James once said: “In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness and a return to something more like the original truth than men have ever known in England.”
The movement grew rapidly in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and by the time of the death of George Fox in 1691 there were between 40,000 and 50,000 Quakers in England.
Great numbers of these early Friends came to America. Pennsylvania was settled under the leadership of William Penn. Other colonies, such as New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, North Carolina and others, had large numbers of Quaker settlers. Today Friends are scattered around the world. Interestingly enough, the largest yearly meeting is neither in England nor in the United States, but in Africa.
The name “Friends” is taken from the words of Jesus: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). The term “Quaker” was first a nickname given to early Friends because they “trembled under the power of God.”
-from “Who Are the Friends (Quakers),” a pamphlet by Seth B. Hinshaw
Foundations of Structure
In his early ministry George Fox had not thought of forming a new “denomination.” In the following years, however, some organization became necessary.
The Quaker system is very simple. The local group is called a meeting, rather than a church. The gathering for worship is called a meeting for worship, not only because the people meet together, but also because they meet God. The local group is called a monthly meeting, because the meeting for business (called monthly meeting) convenes once a month. All the local meetings in a given county or similar area assemble four times a year for worship and business; this is called a quarterly meeting. The quarterly meetings in a given state or locality send representatives to an annual gathering called a yearly meeting. Several yearly meetings have associated themselves together in a cooperative group which meets every three years, with headquarters in Richmond, Indiana. This is called the Friends United Meeting.
In a monthly meeting (quarterly meeting or yearly meeting) the principal officer is a clerk, who sits at the head of the meeting for business. The whole group seeks to find the will of God in a spirit of worship. The clerk does not take a vote but seeks to find unity of mind and heart upon which the group can take action. If there is disunity, action is delayed until harmony can emerge. Friends proceed upon the basis of Paul’s counsel to the church at Corinth:
“I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
I Cor. 1:10
In organization, the Society of Friends is a democracy. There is no authoritarianism of any kind. The accent is upon freedom – true religious liberty which is extremely rare in the world. In seeking to be “led by the Spirit,” Friends are striving toward the ideal expressed in Romans 8:14: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
In the early days Friends did not have pastors, and some yearly meetings are still unprogrammed, or “non-pastoral.” Most of the yearly meetings belonging to the Friends United Meeting adopted the pastoral system because a full-time person was needed to promote the spiritual interests and general activities of the membership. In most meetings there is a period of silent or open worship, and individuals are urged to participate as they may feel led. Silence in itself is not worship; rather it is the opportunity to worship, to pray, to seek, to listen and to commune with God.
-from “Who Are the Friends (Quakers),” a pamphlet by Seth B. Hinshaw
Quaker Testimonies or SPICE
“For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,” Philippians 3:8
Quakers agree on the importance of living a simple life. Friends try to live lives in moderation in order to use their energies and resources toward constructive ends.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” Luke 6:27-29
Quakers believe “there is that of God in everyone”, therefore we should seek to love everyone, even our enemies. Quakers rarely participate in war.
“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37
Quakers believe in a call to consistency between what a person professes and their actions. We strive to live out our faith through our practice.
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Acts 2:44-46
Quakers hold a strong connection to family and community. There is a conscience effort at work among Friends that seeks to foster a deeper, Christ-centered community among us, while inviting others throughout the world into that same spiritual and eternal fellowship.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:16
Quakers believe that everyone is equal in the sight of God. We believe that the Inward Light of the Holy Spirit is at work in all people regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, age, or social status. This is why Friends seek to help people who are not being treated fairly by others.
(Frequently Asked Questions)
Why are they called Quaker?
Friends were given this nickname by those opposing the Friends movement in it’s early beginnings. This is because when some of the Friends spoke in a moving way they would tremble in the power of the Lord. Friends felt that this was actually a compliment and eventually did not hesitate to use the name themselves.
What is a Meeting?
Quakers don’t have church services. Instead, they have meetings. These meetings are sometimes held without a minister or other leader. Therefore, instead of having a Church or Temple, Friends have Meetings or a meetinghouse.
What is a Monthly Meeting?
Although each local Friends group ordinarily meets for a weekly worship service, it holds a meeting to handle business once each month. Hence, for business or structural purposes, it is a “monthly meeting” and such has long been the name applied to the organized local Quaker groups.
What is a Quarterly Meeting?
Several neighboring meetings are usually associated in a Quarterly Meeting. As the name indicates these ordinarily have three or four gatherings during the year, at which representatives from the monthly meetings discuss matters of joint concern.
What is a Yearly Meeting?
Monthly meetings within a larger area, sometimes covering several states, join in a Yearly Meeting. There are thirty of these in the United States and Canada. Some overlap geographically, allowing monthly meetings to group themselves with others which they feel are most similar in attitudes and practices. The Yearly gatherings not only are occasions for business but promote spiritual inspiration as well as sociability.
Most of the Yearly meetings are members of some national grouping such as Friends United Meeting, Friends General Conference, or the Evangelical Friends Association. Internationally there is a Friends World Committee for Consultation which ties together Quakers all over the world.
Copyright © Laurence Barber, 1990, 1999