Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Quaker Q&A

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What are the basic tenets of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)?

There are three fundamentals generally accepted by Quakers:

1. All people are potentially able to directly experience a profound connection or  relationship with the Divine.  The definitions of "Divine" might include God, all encompassing love, Christ, that which is eternal, Truth, or whatever metaphor speaks to the individual wherever they presently are in their spiritual journey.

2. This innate ability for all humans to experience such an inward spiritual connection and to be guided by its "Light" has profound implications for Quakers in choosing how to live.  We must respect the presence of that Inner Light both in ourselves and in others.

3. In recognizing the "Light Within" or "that of God" in ourselves and others, Quakers see some fundamental implications that can guide our behavior and our lives.  These behavioral guides are stated in the traditional Quaker testimonies of Equality, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Simplicity.

Why are we called "Quakers"?

George Fox admonished his followers to "tremble at the Word of the Lord." In 1650, an English judge called them "quakers," and the label stuck.  By the way, the Religious Society of Friends has no affiliation with the "Quaker Oats" cereal brand.

What do Quakers believe about God?

From the beginning, Quakers have been a "non-credal" sect and consequently there are no set theological beliefs to which Quakers must subscribe.  This means that each person may have their own way of experiencing and definining what "God" means to them.  Since the middle of the 20th century the kind of Quakerism practiced in Durham Meeting has been increasingly described as an "orthopraxy" (right practice or behavior) as opposed to an "orthodoxy" (right belief.)

Is Quaker Theology and Practice Unchanging?

One of the things that our branch of Quakerism has embraced wholeheartedly in the last several generations is the notion of "Continuing Revelation".  For Quakers this principle is not only applicable to Biblical interpretations, but also to how we see our understandings of Truth as regards any matter of significance including how Quakers practice and are together in our religious community.  "Continuing Revelation" means that we are open to change at all levels when carefully considered and appropriate.

How do Durham Quakers worship?

Durham Meeting's worship is unprogrammed, that is, without a designated minister or liturgy. We seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God's love drawing us together and leading us. We worship in silent meditative reflection, awaiting revelations led by the Divine. If a person in the meeting for worship receives such a leading, he or she may share the message, usually by standing and speaking, but sometimes by singing.

Sometimes no one speaks or sings during a meeting for worship, and so the hour passes in silence. How does this work? Watch a one-minute example of an unprogrammed meeting for worship.

The regular times for meeting for worship at the Durham Meeting are Sundays from 8:30-9:30 a.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Do children participate in the meetings for worship?

Yes, they may accompany their parents for the whole meeting for worship.  Alternatively, for the 10 a.m. session, children may sit with their parents for the first 15 minutes, and then go to First Day School for an hour. Our Meeting has a well-organized, parent-led, First Day School with about 100 children attending each week.

Why is it called "First Day School," and not "Sunday School"?

Early Friends rejected what they considered words with pagan origins. The word, "Sunday," for example, comes from dies solis, meaning "sun's day," the name of a pagan Roman holiday. Instead of endorsing pagan nomenclature, Friends chose to use the more biblical phrase, "First Day."

Are there other unusual turns of phrase used by Quakers?

Yes.  For example, instead of using "January," Friends say, "First Month." The basis for what Friends call "plain speech" stemmed from a refusal to endorse an unspiritual, conventional order. Plain speech requires strict honesty, a lack of artificial elaborations, and directness. There are more places on the web to read about unique Quaker turns of phrase.  The publication, Friends Journal provides another resource.

How and when did the Durham Meeting get started?

The Meeting's origins go back to 1937, when a Duke University professor, Elbert Russell, began to hold Quaker meetings in his home. Eventually, the Meeting acquired property in the middle of the campus of Duke University, which is now where the Meeting is located. 

Buildings on the property include the "historic meetinghouse," which was constructed in the 1950's; a facility used by the Early School (i.e., preschool) of the Carolina Friends School; and the newest building, completed in 2004, which provides space for both worship and fellowship activities.

What can you expect as a visitor or newcomer?

You will be welcomed with tenderness and respect.  We do not proselytize. Our intent is expressed in one of our monthly queries:

"Do we welcome newcomers and non-members to our meetings?  Are they encouraged to share in Meeting activities and to consider membership when they are in agreement with the principles and practices of Friends?  Are our younger members appointed to committees and encouraged to share in other responsibilities of the Meeting?  Do we visit one another frequently, remembering those who may be lonely?  Does this visitation and caring extend beyond the members of our own Meeting?"

This quotation is from Queries for Monthly Meeting within the document, Faith and Practice, used by Durham Friends Meeting as a guidebook.

We are glad you found us.

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