Exploring Quakerism

We continue our exploration of Quakerism for the LGBT community with some interesting facts, links and explanations…

To read a personal experience of faith and being a young gay man read our interview with Rhodri here

Interesting facts

© Mike Pinches 2012

Quakerism started as a radical Christian movement in England in the 17th Century after the end of the English Civil War.

Quakers in Britain meet together in stillness for worship in local meetings, which are inclusive and open to all. Their faith leads them to make the world a better place, for instance, working for social justice, supporting peacemakers and caring for the environment.

Around 22,000 people attend 480 Quaker meetings in Britain. As an offshoot of Protestantism, Quakerism has its roots in Christianity. Quakers also find meaning and value in the teachings of other faiths.

Quakers share a way of life, not a set of beliefs. They seek to experience God directly, within themselves and in their relationships with others and the world around them. Quakers say there is something sacred in everyone.

Quakerism does not follow a creed. No one ever says ‘Quakers believe’, they say ‘As a Quaker I believe’. Quakerism is a lifetime of spiritual exploration and growth.

Quaker faith and practice is an anthology of writing and ministries from Quakers over the last 360 years.

Although there are plenty of Quakers who identify as Christian, some prefer to believe in the spirit, truth, light or good, rather than ‘God’.

There’s an LGBT Quaker group active across the UK. In 2009, Quakers in Britain made a commitment to seeking legal changes that would enable same sex and opposite sex marriages to be treated in exactly the same way. Quakers say that all are born equal and their love should be equal too.

Quakerism does not have a set doctrine. Quakers aspire to live by the Quaker testimonies, which have evolved over time. Some of these testimonies arose in direct response to events and societal attitudes.

The Quaker Testimonies

Some spiritual insights, which Quakers call testimonies, spring from deep experience and have been re-affirmed by successive generations of Quakers. These testimonies are to truth, equality, simplicity, sustainability and peace.

Peace: From early in their 350 year history, Quakers have taken a clear stand for peace, opposed war and worked for nonviolent solutions. It is not simply about international conflict, but also about building peace and challenging the causes of violence in our everyday lives. Quakers engage with the transforming power of nonviolence at every opportunity. Many Quakers are pacifists.

Equality: everyone is equal – there is that of God in everyone. Quakers recognise the equal worth and unique nature of every person. This means working to change the systems that cause injustice and working with those who suffer.

Truth: Quakers are committed to peaking the truth to all, including people in positions of power. Integrity is the guiding principle Quakers set for themselves and expect in public life.

Simplicity: Quakers try to live simply and to give space for the things that really matter: the people around us, the natural world, our experience of God. ‘Live simply that others may simply live,’ said early Quaker John Woolman.

Stewardship and sustainability: We don’t own the Earth; we should take care of it in all of its natural wonder.

Quakers, formally called the Religious Society of Friends, are known for a key role in abolishing the Slave Trade, working to end the use of child soldiers and bringing thousands of mainly Jewish children to safety on the Kindertransport away from Nazi occupied Europe. Quakers helped to set up Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Oxfam.

Quaker meeting for worship

Quakers meet in silence to discover together a deeper sense of God’s presence. Meetings for worship may last for an hour, maybe on Sunday mornings.

Quakers do not have ministers or priests; instead anyone may feel moved to stand and speak, which is called ministry. Someone might read a passage from The Bible or from Quaker faith and practice. Thoughts settle in the deep stillness and instant responses are avoided. Everyone’s contribution is equal. Ministry comes from the soul. You’re not meant to come with ministry prepared: it’s spontaneous in that moment. After the meeting, people mingle, normally over tea and coffee or perhaps a shared lunch, and members welcome any new faces.

Quaker meetings and families

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© Mike Pinches 2012

Children’s meetings often run alongside meetings for worship. Children often join the adults in quiet worship for between 5 and 15 minutes and then go out for a workshop or activity. “It can be hard to talk to children about faith without essentially preaching at them,” writes Georgina, who grew up in a Quaker family, and is now a young adult who works for Quakers in Britain “But in Children’s Group there was always an emphasis on asking questions. Activities which may seem innocuous like painting actually gave time, freedom and support to express our own thoughts”. Children might talk to older Quakers about their lives, or read a story from The Bible or Quaker faith and practice, exploring what a passage might mean. “Some of the writing is from the 1650s, some of that language means less to people now, especially young people,” explains Rhodri who has been going to Quaker meetings since he was a young child. “At one point we were given the opportunity to look carefully for the message behind some passages and rewrite the same message but in a way that we would understand. There were some really creative ways to get young people to explore their faith that don’t require sitting down and listening.”

Quaker meetings are inclusive and open to all. Quakers welcome new LGBT members, especially those with young families.

For further information: Quakers in Britain can give you more information about Quakerism and put you in touch with your local Quaker meeting. Visit their website, email enquiries@quaker.org.uk or call 0808 109 1651 to find out more.

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