This leaflet provides you with some initial information about Quakers in
general and about those in Milton Keynes. The Meeting has steadily grown
since its beginnings in 1972. Today, Quakers are a small group nationally,
numbering around 14,000 members, plus about 10,000 non-members and
children. Although the origins of Quakerism are British, most Quakers
today are to be found in America and Africa. Worldwide there are some
380,000 adult members.
Origins of Quakerism
Quakerism dates from the 17th Century. Its founder, George Fox, was brought up in Leicestershire in a religious family. He became discontented with the Anglican Church’s teaching and practices, including the existence of a priesthood. After years of spiritual struggle, he became convinced that there is something of God in everyone and that anyone can communicate with the God within if they are open to the leadings of the ‘inner Light’. Following the example of Jesus, Fox preached that true religion is ‘inward’ and not ‘outward’. This explains why, today, Quakers worship in plain, domesticstyle buildings and that we make no use of religious symbols or rituals. Early Quakers met largely in silence, and thought of worship as waiting together and listening for the leadings of the Spirit. We still think of Worship in this way. In these post-Darwinian times, Quakers leave it to individuals to interpret words like ‘spirit’ and ‘God’ in their own way.
What we call ourselves
The early Quakers called themselves ‘Friends of Truth’ ; in time, this became
The Religious Society of Friends’. However, when some early Quakers
appeared in court charged with meeting illegally, they were mocked by
the judge as ‘Quakers’, probably because many shook and quivered during
the intensity of their ministry. The nickname has stuck. We also often refer to
ourselves as ‘Friends’. Neither of these names contain many clues as to what wear and it’s probably true to say that many people think of us as a strange, old-fashioned, slightly secretive sect. The reality is that Quakerism in Britain is non-doctrinaire, progressive and open to all who wish to join in silent worship or meditation with us.
Our beliefs and practices
Quakers come together for what we
call a ‘Meeting for Worship’. Our main
Meeting for Worship is held on a Sunday.
On the table in the centre are copies of
The Bible and Quaker Faith and Practice
(a collection of Quaker spiritual writings).
These books are for anyone in the meeting to consult should they wish to. Our worship is based in silence. No one leads the worship—anyone may speak (or ‘minister’) during the meeting if they feel moved to do so. We have no priests —a consequence of Fox’s belief that everyone can access the Spirit directly and equally. However, each meeting is upheld by one of the elders who closes it with a handshake at the appropriate time (usually after an hour). Elders are a group of experienced Quakers who have responsibility for the spiritual life of the Meeting. They are appointed to serve for a period of three years at a time. Amongst other things, they are responsible for maintaining the discipline of our way of worship.
Quakers place emphasis on the ‘experience’ of religious faith rather than
on strict doctrines or creeds and, today, there are many Quakers who
draw inspiration and spiritual nurture
from the teachings of other faiths besides Christianity, particularly Buddhism and Sufism. Others would describe themselves as ‘non-theistic’ (i.e. without a belief in God as a supernatural being). What unites Quakers is a shared way of
worshipping and ‘centring down’ to
listen for the leadings of the Spirit.
Many Quakers would describe
themselves as spiritual seekers. Despite an emphasis on the importance of following one’s own spiritual path, Quakers share a strong belief that faith should be expressed in action and we share the key values or ‘testimonies’ of peace, equality and justice, simplicity, truth and integrity, and concern for the environment. Many of these, of course, derive directly from the teachings and the life of Jesus. One of our key ‘advices’ encourages us to: ‘Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us new life.’
Quakers have long been involved in social reform, especially prison
reform, mental health, the abolition of slavery, housing, overseas
aid, enlightened employment practices and refugee support. We also
have a strong commitment to peace. Many Quakers have been conscientious
objectors in times of war, and this also includes peace-building. Friends are
often to be found working in conflict zones around the world. That said,
by no means all Quakers today are
pacifists, as is often thought. Today,
members of Milton Keynes Meeting are individually involved in a wide range of social actions. As a Meeting, we have joined Citizens:mk to campaign for social justice in Milton Keynes and we support our local Food Bank and homelessness charities.
We have no full-time leaders, so specific roles are undertaken on a
voluntary and rotating basis by individual members and attenders. The
day-to-day running of the Meeting is done through committees which
have responsibility for matters such as outreach, children, finance, property, pastoral care and so on.
We hold business meetings once a month after
Meeting for Worship on the first Sunday of each
month. These are led by a clerk who is appointed by
the membership. (Clerks are the central point of reference for each Meeting.) Everyone, including nonmembers, is welcome to attend our business meetings. We conduct our business meetings in an atmosphere of worship, seeking to be led by the Spirit.
We do not vote and do not proceed with a matter if there is disunity.
The Quaker Meeting in Milton Keynes is one of a number of Meetings
which together form an ‘Area Meeting’. Together all the Area Meetings in
Great Britain form ‘Britain Yearly Meeting’. This meets once a year and is the
ultimate decision-making body of the organisation. There are over 400
Quaker meetings in Britain.
Quakers and Trade
Early Quakers, like other dissenting (non-Anglican) groups, were denied
the chance to go to University (only Anglicans were allowed to do that).
So they went into trade and very many Quakers prospered because of
their reputation for honesty and quality. Many banks were founded by
Quakers, including Barclays and Lloyds. Other firms founded by Quakers
include Cadbury’s, Fry’s, Terry’s and Rowntree’s—promoting drinking chocolate as an alternative to beer. Fox’s biscuits and Clarks shoes are also Quaker in origin. Many of these large firms pioneered enlightened employment practices, the model village at Bournville, Birmingham, being the best known.
Two main branches of Quakerism
In the eighteenth century, Quakerism
became strongly influenced by the
Evangelical Revival which had been
started by the Methodists John and
Charles Wesley. For most of the
19th. century, Quakerism was dominated by evangelicalism. It had also spread to, and prospered in, America. However, in the late nineteenth century, when the ideas of Darwin and critical approaches to the Bible began to challenge evangelical beliefs, British Quakers embraced liberalism and corporately rejected the idea that the Bible was the complete and final word of God. However, many Quakers in America and elsewhere remained evangelical. In America,
liberal and evangelical Quakerism exist side by side, unlike in Britain, though there are a very small number of evangelical Quaker Meetings in Britain. Throughout the world, around 90% of Quakers are evangelical.
Key texts and writings
Our main reference book as Quakers is known as Quaker Faith and Practice. This is a collection of Quaker writings going back to the earliest days, with quotations from George Fox and other early Quakers right up to the present day. This is not a ‘sacred text’ in the sense that it sets out what Quaker have to believe but it expresses and reflects the Quaker experience over the centuries. Importantly, it is revised every twenty-five years or so to reflect contemporary concerns and provides guidance on issues Friends are facing in the modern world. Quaker Faith and Practice begins with Advices and Queries (published seperately) and is organised around key themes, including ‘Approaches to God’, ‘Living faithfully today’, ‘Social responsibility’ and ‘Personal journey’.
Finding out more
Probably the easiest way to findout more aboutQuakers in general is to visit the website
www.quaker.org.uk and click on
Copies of Quaker Faith and
Practice can be found online by pressing here.
This and many other Quaker publications can be found through the ‘bookshop’ section of the website. Visitors are welcome at the Quaker bookshop and café which is at Friends House, opposite Euston Station in London. ‘Being a Quaker: a guide for newcomers’ by Geoffrey Durham is an excellent introduction to modern British Quakerism.
An enquirers pack is available free of charge – click here to request one.
Alternatively phone 020 7663 1000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org