Frequently asked Questions

“Quakers share a way of life, not a set of beliefs. Their unity is based on shared understanding and a shared practice of silent worship, where they seek a communal stillness.”

Quaker News 2018

 

This leaflet has been produced by the Outreach Committee of Milton Keynes Quaker Meeting. We try to answer the questions often asked by non-Quakers. We give brief answers but hope you will ask for more information.

You can pick up more leaflets, ask more questions or join us for Meeting for Worship at our Meeting House. You are most welcome.

1) Who are Quakers?

Quakers are a religious organisation started around 1652 by George Fox and others.

The Quaker movement began as one of many groups that broke away from the Church of England in the 17th Century. This was the time when the Bible had become freely available and people began to read it for themselves and follow their own convictions. Quakers believed that you did not need a priest or a sacrament (like Holy Communion) to have a relationship with God or to access the ‘divine light’ within. This is still one of the central beliefs of Quakerism today.

2) Where did their unusual name come from?

Quaker’s formal name is ‘The Religious Society of Friends’, which is derived from their original name of ‘Friends of the Truth’. The term ‘Quaker’ was given to George Fox and his followers as a term of derision by a sharp-witted judge when Fox told him to quake at the name of the Lord. It was an insult but Quakers accepted it and have used it ever since. Quakers often refer to themselves as Friends.

3) What do Quakers believe?

 

Quakers value the diversity of beliefs within their Meetings. There is no single belief that Quakers hold or share, many believe in God, others may be agnostic, atheist or humanist. Quakers believe there is that which brings love no matter what you call it. Quakers pursue their own spiritual journey. They do this in a gathered listening silence supported by the whole Quaker community. They reflect their beliefs in the way they try to live their lives.

4) What are the Testimonies?

Quakers try to follow the testimonies of ‘equality’, ‘peace’, ‘truth’ and ‘simplicity’:

  •  The ‘equality’ testimony invites us to view each individual as of equal intrinsic value as a human being;

  • The ‘peace’ testimony invites us to pay attention to all relationships, from those between family and neighbours to those between nations. Historically, Quakers have been at the forefront of movements to promote peace and prevent war;

  • The ‘simplicity’ testimony invites us to focus our lives around what really matters, resisting the many calls that can so easily distract us, and to consider how our lifestyle affects others and the planet;

  • The ‘truth’ testimony invites us to live a life of integrity recognising that honesty about how things really are can be challenging. Quakers try to be truthful in all circumstances including to people in positions of power.

5) How do Quakers differ from other churches?

Quakers emphasise direct experience and so do not feel the need for external religious symbols, rituals or ceremonies. Quakers have no hierarchy and do not employ a minister because everyone is considered equal.

A Quaker gathering is known as a Meeting for Worship or Meeting for short. In the UK there is no sermon, no planned prayers or hymns. Quakers have no creed. At a Meeting, Friends sit in silence; sometimes someone will feel moved to stand and speak, this is known as ‘ministry’. Anyone who attends the Meeting can give ministry.

6) Do you have to be a Christian to be a Quaker?

Quakerism has its roots in Christianity. Some Quakers consider themselves to be Christians, others don’t. Quakers respect differing opinions about the Christian message and the importance of Jesus and some have experience of different religious traditions such as Buddhism or Islam.

7) Is it correct that some Quakers do not believe in God?

Many Quakers believe in God but they may prefer to use other terms like ‘The Light’ or ‘The Spirit’. Some Quakers may say that they are not sure about God or even that they don’t believe in God at all. An increasing number of Quakers today describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious.

8) Do Quakers read the Bible?

Many Quakers refer to the Bible regularly, others occasionally and some not at all. There may be Bibles on the table in Quaker Meetings. Many Quakers also draw inspiration from the spiritual writings of other faiths especially mystical ones such as Buddhism and Sufism.

9) How are Quakers guided?

Quakers recognise that everyone follows their own spiritual journey. Quakers share a spiritual approach to worship rather than a firm set of beliefs and they have a strong commitment to living out their faith in the world. In particular, they try to follow the Quaker testimonies of Peace, Truth, Equality and Simplicity. Quakers look for the good in everyone.

‘Quaker Faith and Practice’ is a book of personal experiences, ministry and information which guides their spiritual and business matters. For example it describes how to conduct a Quaker wedding.This book is revised every generation or so, to reflect Quaker understanding of their faith in a changing world.

10) How do Quakers feel about accepting people from other religions or no religion?

People from other religions or no religion are welcome. Quakers welcome the spiritual experiences of other religions and are keen to foster interfaith friendships while staying true to their own insights.

11) Why don’t Quakers make it better known that it is not necessary to be a Christian, or believe in God, in order to attend Meetings?

Some people argue that if this was better known, more people might be attracted to attend Quaker Meetings. Quakers do not seek to convert people but are keen to raise awareness to encourage people to attend their Meetings and to find out more about their way of worship. However, these days in Britain this is done in a quiet, unassuming way. The downside of this is that many people have not heard about Quakers or know little, or nothing about them. Maybe a more direct approach needs to be considered now.

12) What do people do in the silence?

There is no set approach and it is for each person to decide what to do during the meeting. It is a space to be whoever you are. Sometimes people reflect on the week just gone, the future or what they want from their lives. For others it is about opening oneself up spiritually.

Sometimes Quakers use mindful breathing, quiet reflection, read a passage of scripture or some other helpful text, remember a poem, pray, or think of absent friends. If someone has ministered during a Meeting for Worship, that may give food for thought in the silence.

13) Is it really absolute silence? This makes me feel worried about disturbing people.

Quakers sit quietly without chatting, but it is a comfortable, shared quiet rather than a tense silence. There will be outside noises anyway. You should not be embarrassed about coughing, moving in your seat or taking a book from the centre table.

14) Are children welcome at Meeting for Worship?

Yes, children are welcome. They typically spend 10/15 minutes in the Meeting at the beginning and then go to their own specially prepared meeting. They will be supervised by at least two adults at all times and can be accompanied by family members if the child or their parents so wish. Adults taking the session will have been checked and approved under the safeguarding policy. The children are encouraged to think about life in a non-dogmatic way but more deeply than they may otherwise do.

15) Will I be asked to give Quakers money?

Quakers do not pass round a collection dish during Meeting for Worship. Most people who attend regularly donate and when someone new has been attending the Meeting for a while they may wish to start contributing also. There is no pressure. The money is used for the practical organisation of Quaker meetings both locally and nationally. It is also used to fund Quaker charitable work in this country or abroad.

16) I’ve heard that Quakers are very strict, are they?

Modern Quakers are not strict – they aim to be friendly and non- judgemental.

17) Are Quakers like the Amish?

No, there is no connection between them. Quakers very much live in the modern world and are outward-looking.

18) Are Quakers allowed to drink alcohol?

Yes. Some Quakers choose to be teetotal, but this is a personal choice. Meeting Houses are mostly kept alcohol free, except for special occasions, like weddings.

19) Do Quakers own the porridge oats company?

No. Quaker Oats is an American firm which took the Quaker name because Quakers had gained a reputation for honesty.

20) Are there any Quakers I might have heard of?

Margaret Fell 1614-1702 Quaker founder
George Fox 1624-1691 Quaker
William Penn 1644 – 1718 Founder of Pennsylvania
Robert Barclay 1648 – 1690 Theologian
John Freame 1669 – 1745 Founder of Barclay’s Bank
Abraham Darby 1678 – 1717 Iron manufacturer
Anthony Benezet 1713 – 1784 Slavery abolitionist
Elizabeth Fry 1780 – 1845 Social reformer
George Bradshaw 1800 – 1853 Publisher of railway guides
Cyrus Clark 1801 – 1866 Co-founder of Clark Shoes
John Cadbury 1801 – 1889 Chocolatier
Elizabeth Magie 1866 – 1948 Monopoly board game
Corder Catchpool 1883 -1952 Conscientious objector
Eric Baker 1920-1996 Amnesty and CND
Dorothy Stowe 1920-2010 Co-founder of Greenpeace
Oliver Postgate 1925-2008 Creator of Bagpuss
Sheila Hancock 1933- Actor
Judi Dench 1934- Actor
Anne Wood 1937- Creator of Teletubbies and In The Night Garden
Terry Waite 1939- Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Envoy
Joan Baez 1941- Folk singer
Jocelyn Burnell 1943- Discovered pulsars
Geoffrey Durham 1949- Quaker author
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Quakers were founder members of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in May 1787.

Quakers oppose war and uphold personal conscience in decisions to take up arms. Quaker MPs helped draft the ‘conscience clause’ in the Military Service Act 1916.

Quakers founded the International Voluntary Service.

Quakers won The Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for the Friends Service Council for their war relief work.

Quakers were heavily involved in setting up OXFAM.

Quakers were one of the first religious organisations to recognise gay marriage.

Quakers United Nations Office works for peace building, the prevention of violence, disarmament, and alleviating the human impacts of climate change at the UN.

Worship is our response to an awareness of God. We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence. 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.

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