More on Quakers
Quakers, such as those at Gunpowder Meeting and Baltimore Yearly Meeting, make up a small percentage of Friends around the world. This chart, showing the World Distribution of Friends, is an illustration of the nature of contemporary friends. Today, unprogrammed Friends collaborate with Friends from all branches of Quakerism.
Quakers who worship in unprogrammed meetings share a way of life, not a set of beliefs. We seek to experience God directly, within ourselves and in our relationships with others and the world around us. We meet together for worship in local meetings which are inclusive and open to all. Quakerism is a way of life built upon principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship, rather than a written set of beliefs. Quakers have a long-held commitment to putting their faith into direct action in the world.
Quaker meetings offer a place where people can find a real sense of community and are free to challenge, question and explore their own beliefs, values and ideas. Many Quakers describe it as a spiritual home – a place of deep connections; a group of people bound together by an awareness of the sacred in all things and a desire to change the world for the better.
You do not have to be a Quaker to attend Quaker meetings, which are open to all. If you would like to join us and share in our stillness you would be most welcome. Children, too, are welcome.
The heart of the Quaker way is the silent meeting for worship. We seek a communal gathered stillness, where we can be open to inspiration from the Spirit of God. In our meetings we find both peace of mind and challenging insights, deep community and a renewed sense of individual purpose, and joy to wonder at God’s creation. Not everyone finds the word “God” helpful – some Quakers use a different image or concept such as “spirit” or “the light”.
A Quaker meeting creates a space of gathered stillness. We come together where we can listen to the promptings of truth and love in our hearts, which we understand as rising from God. Our meetings are based on silence: a silence of waiting and listening. Most meetings last for about an hour.
The silence is different from the silence of solitary meditation, as the listening and waiting in a Quaker meeting is a shared experience in which worshippers seek to experience God for themselves. The seating is usually arranged in a circle or a square to help people be aware of one another and conscious of the fact that they are worshipping together as equals. There are no priests or ministers.
The silence may be broken if someone present feels called to say something which will deepen and enrich the worship. Anyone is free to speak, pray or read aloud if they feel strongly led to do so. This breaks the silence for the moment but does not interrupt it.
In the quietness of the meeting, we can become aware of a deep and powerful spirit of love and truth, transcending our ordinary, day-to-day experiences. This sense of direct contact with the divine is at the heart of the Quaker way of worship and nourishes Quakers in the rest of their daily lives.
What do Quakers Believe?
Quakers do not share a fixed set of beliefs. Our unity is based on shared understanding and a shared practice of worship, not on our beliefs all being the same. There is no need to be in unity with Quakers on every issue in order to be part of our meetings.
There is a great diversity within the Quakers on conceptions of God, and we use different kinds of language to describe religious experience. Some Quakers have a conception of God which is similar to that of orthodox Christians, and would use similar language. Others are happy to use God-centered language, but would conceive of God in very different terms to the traditional Christian trinity. Some describe themselves as agnostics, or humanists, or non-theists and describe their experiences in ways that avoid the use of the word God entirely. Quaker faith is built on experience and Quakers would generally hold that it is the spiritual experience which is central to Quaker worship, and not the use of a particular form of words (whether that be “God” or anything else).
Not all our beliefs are so diverse. Some of our spiritual insights, which we call our testimonies, spring from deep experience and have been reaffirmed by successive generations of Quakers. These testimonies are to simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. You can find out more about these testimonies, and how we live them out in our day-to-day lives. We suggest exploring the Faith and Practice of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
There are many explanations of Quakerism in publications and on the web.
Thanks to the Religious Society of Friends in Britain for permission to use material we have adapted above.
Also on the web, visit Friends General Conference (FGC)'s site, to explore the Quaker Way, to view frequently asked questions, or to read about basics for newcomers. Find more frequently asked questions, courtesy of Friends in Washington, D.C., or visit with Gunpowder's neighbors at Stony Run Meeting.