Who are the Quakers?
While Quakers are rooted historically in Christian tradition, we began as a reaction against established church practices, and today’s Quakers come from a variety of backgrounds. Ours is a non-dogmatic spiritual path. We have no orthodoxies to define, no creeds to defend, and no test of faith. In all things, we seek the guidance of the Light within. Quakers believe that the same Spirit or Inner Light that inspired sacred traditions and writings throughout history continues to work in the lives of individuals today.
Quaker worship is a little difficult to explain to someone accustomed to church services centered on creed and ritual. Because we believe that the “Inner Light” is accessible to all, we have no clergy or hierarchy. Instead Friends seek the guidance that comes from the experience of collective worship. In unprogrammed meetings like ours, Quakers gather together in attentive silence, each seeking direction for our lives and our actions. At times the silence may be broken by brief messages of vocal ministry from any person present. This unique style of worship is at the heart of the Quaker experience.
Quakers are a society of friends who seeks to encourage one another along a spiritual path which affirms the potential of every person to connect with the central mystery that lies at the heart of the human experience. Some call this mystery “God”, some the “Inner Light”, some “Spirit”, and some prefer not to name it at all. What we all share is the common conviction that there is “that of God” in each of us, and that it can be known through direct personal experience. This experience guides us through life and opens our consciousness to a growing awareness of the unity of all human beings. The fruits of this process have found outward expression in certain principles referred to as our Quaker Testimonies.
An old Quaker story tells of a puzzled newcomer’s question, “when does the service begin?’ “When the meeting for worship ends,” came the reply. Not believing in creeds, Quakers developed “testimonies”, that are a set of principles used to guide one’s life. Some of the primary ones are:
Integrity: Quakers strive to put truth, honesty and integrity into practice in their daily lives, in dealings with others, and in the internal conversations they have with themselves.
Peace: Of all the testimonies identified with Quakers, the peace testimony is perhaps the best known and most controversial. The Society of Friends is committed to non-violence as the method of dealing with conflict on both a personal and societal level. In the three centuries of their existence, Quakers have given the world a powerful and consistent witness to peace and non-violence. Individual Quakers have often accepted persecution and imprisonment rather than take up arms. Friends reject the notion that violence is an inevitable element of the human condition. The quest for peace will always begin within the individual human heart and with the knowledge that peace is more than simply the absence of violence, it is also the presence of justice, tolerance, equity, and love.
“Let your lives speak” –– George Fox
Equality: The conviction that the presence of the divine dwells within each person has led to a radical commitment to human equality within Quakerism. Regardless of race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, or economic status, all people are deserving of respect and dignity. Quakers have often been at the forefront of important social movements including humane treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill, abolition of slavery, and equal rights for women and gays.
Simplicity: A voluntary simplicity of life is central to the Quaker Way . Mental and material clutter destroys peace of mind and distracts us from the spiritual values by which we seek to live. Even more so, in a world of limited and shrinking resources, our luxuries may deny others of their necessities, creating poverty, want, and war.
Stewardship: Stewardship of our natural and economic resources is an emerging testimony that unites many of our Quaker ideals. Our faith gives us a direct call to action. We must protect our natural environment and live simply so that all people may share in the earth’s bounty. Economic justice is the prerequisite of peace.