Quakers share a way of life rather than a set of beliefs. We seek to experience God directly, within ourselves and in our relationships with others and the world around us. These direct encounters with the Divine are where Quakers find meaning and purpose.
Quaker spiritual practices
The bedrock 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. During our meetings for worship some may feel moved to speak: this is something anyone can do, as all are considered equal. Meetings can be held anywhere, at any time, although they are often on Sundays in our Quaker meeting houses.
Quakers and Christianity
The Quaker way has its roots in Christianity and finds inspiration in the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus. Quakers also find meaning and value in the teachings of other faiths and acknowledge that ours is not the only way.
Quakers meet together for worship and other activities in local meetings. These are inclusive and open to all. In our meetings we hope to find acceptance, support, challenge, practical help and a sense of belonging. Our sense of community does not depend on professing identical beliefs, but from worshipping, sharing and working together.
Sharing our experience
Our focus is on our experience rather than written statements of belief and our collective experience is shared in the book Quaker Faith & Practice, an anthology of Quaker insights from the founding of the Religious Society of Friends in the seventeenth century to the present day. It is updated every generation, recognising that our understanding of truth moves on.
Quakers do not have priests, or a hierarchy, as we believe all people can have a direct relationship with God. All Quakers are entitled to participate in decision-making processes and to help run the Society. Those with specific roles are asked to serve for limited periods of time, after which others take their turn to serve.
Working for a better world
Our religious experience leads us to place a special value on truth, equality, simplicity and peace. These testimonies, as they are known, are lived rather than written. They lead Quakers to translate their faith into action by working locally and globally for social justice, to support peacemakers and care for the environment.
A Quaker Insight
Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? Do you approach new ideas with discernment?
Read more about Quakers at Quakers in Britain.
Some insights into Quaker History
Although we are a relatively small church, Quakers have had a disproportionate influence on many areas of the UK’s life.
Quakers in history
Founded in 1652 by George Fox, More Info for the first forty years Quakers were ridiculed and persecuted. From the passing of The Act of Toleration in 1689, Quakers were able to worship freely in their own buildings but in 1828, the Test Acts barred all non-conformists and Roman Catholics from entering the professions or public service because they were not communicants of the Church of England.
Early Quakers had no alternative but to earn their living in business. They had the advantage that the administration of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was securely established on area and national networks. The close “Quaker Connection” meant that families from different areas met up regularly and could exchange ideas and make contacts.
Fortunes were made by some Quaker businesspeople, but their faith encouraged thrift and simple living so the money was invested in industry, scientific and medical research and charitable enterprises. As they had no access to English universities, Quakers set up apprenticeships and established schools teaching science and engineering rather than classics.
Quaker money financed canal building and the early railways. Quakers supported the anti-slavery movement, prison reform, conscientious objectors and Kindertransport. Quaker employers were among the first to improve the working and living conditions of their employees.
Quakers showed their belief in the sacramental nature of all life in many ways. They were active in industry, in art and music, science, medicine and health, justice and human rights, the earth and environment and – the best known, in Peace.
Industry and Commerce
The 21st century saw the end of the historical development of the great Quaker businesses. The global chemical company Scott Bader Commonwealth Ltd is the only known business founded by Quakers which is still run on Quaker principles today.
First-generation Quakers were encouraged to pursue “innocent trades” – grocers, shoemakers, clockmakers, goldsmiths, brewers, woollen merchants, nurserymen and pharmacists. Quakers built a reputation for honesty and fair dealing. In time, Quaker business people were trusted to protect customers’ savings and so evolved the Quaker Banks which funded many industrial, scientific and humanitarian projects.
Second and third generation Quakers had no fundamental prejudice against economic activity and were open to opportunities to develop family businesses in new and profitable directions.
Quakers were drivers of the Industrial Revolution.
Abraham Darby 1st moved to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire and set up the foundry which became the European centre of innovative techniques in the iron industry.
In Darlington, the Pease family put up the capital for George Stephenson’s early steam locomotives.
Quakers were heavily involved in Railways in Britain (including Quaker introduction of timetables, tickets and Bradshaw’s Railway Guide).
Companies no longer in Quaker ownership:
Here are some of the household name businesses founded by Quakers but no longer in Quaker ownership.
Barclays Bank, Bryant and May Matches, Cadbury’s Chocolate, Carr’s Biscuits, Cash’s Nametapes, Clark’s Shoes, Fry’s Chocolate, Harris Brushes, Horniman Tea, Huntley and Palmer Biscuits, Lloyds Bank, Price Waterhouse Professional Services, Reckitt and Colman.
Warning: Quaker Oats is not and never has been a Quaker-run business.
The Quakers and Business Group today champions better values for all in the workplace based on the Quaker principles:
Truth and Integrity; Justice, Equality and Community; Simplicity; Peace;
The Light Within – Quakers have always followed their conscience and been courageous in standing up for what they believe to be right.
Membership is open to all who believe integrity in business and the workplace matters.
Arts and Music
Early Quakers were resolutely opposed to the arts and music. Solomon Eccles, an early Quaker who made musical instruments went so far as to burn his stock. Quakers favour extreme simplicity in the rooms where they hold Meeting for Worship. With the passing of the centuries, most Quakers have come to see arts and music as another way to express a love of creation and means for spiritual nurture, witness and outreach
There are various references to Quakers and the Arts in Quaker Faith & Practice, specifically Sections 21.27 – 21.42 (‘Creativity’).
ARTS AND MUSIC
Modern Quakers are definitely in favour of arts and music. Many members are active and skilful artists in varied media. Some of our members are world famous actors. Although music is not an integral part of our practice, spontaneous song sometimes arises during Quaker worship.
Quaker Arts Network
The Quaker Arts Network brings together British Quakers who practise and follow the arts in any form.
On Quakers and Music
You can read more about Quakers and music in some online resources here (about the history of Quakers and Music) and here (British music) and here (American music).
Quaker Solomon Eccles who burned his stock of musical instruments has an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography
Eccles featured in Pepys’ Diary (29 July 1667): ‘… a man, a Quaker, came naked through the [Westminster] Hall, only very civilly tied about the privates to avoid scandal, and with a chafing-dish of fire and brimstone burning upon his head… crying, “Repent! repent!”’
John Dalton (1766-1844) More info Still more info– laid the foundations of modern chemistry being the first to calculate the atomic weights of different elements, meteorologist, researcher into colour blindness (Daltonism)
Luke Howard (1772-1864) More info Still more info – pharmacist and meteorologist. Presented a paper on the classification of clouds which forms the basis of the international classification known today.
Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) More info Still More info– astronomer, physicist, mathematician. Explained Einstein’s theory of general relativity to the English-speaking world. Conducted an expedition to Principe to view the solar eclipse of 1919 which provided early confirmation of general relativity.
Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) More info Still more info– chemist, pacifist and prison reformer. Forwarded the science of crystallography and pioneered the use of X-rays to study crystals.
George Ellis (1939-) More info – cosmologist. Co-author of “The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time” with Stephen Hawking in 1973
Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-) More info Still more info and a radio show– astrophysicist and first scientist to observe radio pulsars.
Many early Quakers practiced pharmacy
Medicine and Health
John Fothergill (1712-1780) More info – his observations advanced the treatment of scarlet fever, TB, epilepsy, influenza and migraine. Botanist and plant collector.
William Tuke (1732-1822) More info – pioneer in the humane treatment of mental illness. Founded The Retreat in York.
John Lettsom (1744-1815) – physician, prison reformer, philanthropist. Founded the Medical Society of London.
Robert Willan (1757-1812) More info and Still more info – pioneer in the study of skin diseases
Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) Still more info – pathologist, advocate of preventative medicine, identified lymphatic disease which carries his name – Hodgkin’s Disease – advocate of social medicine for the poor.
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) – first woman to gain a medical degree in the USA, first woman on the Medical Register of the General Medical Council in the UK. Promoted medical education for women.
Joseph Lister (1827-1912) more info – pioneer of sterile surgery and the use of antiseptics.
John Rickman (1891-1951) – psychoanalyst. Pioneered group sessions of psychotherapy.
Justice and Human Rights
Refusal to pay tithes
Early Quakers refused to pay tithes More info, taxes to maintain churches and clergy. Their principled objection landed large numbers of them in trouble and frequently gaol.
The underground railroad More info Still more info was a network of people, African American as well as white, offering shelter and aid to escaped enslaved people from the South. It is often linked to Quakers.
Quakers are one of the Peace Churches (other examples include Anabaptists and Mennonites) who maintain the want of Christianity in organised armed conflict. This is shown through conscientious objection to conscription More info. which was a prominent Quaker position first manifested in World War II when many conscientious objectors suffered very severely. By the time of World War II legislation had changed substantially, largely due to Quaker pressure so that objectors had a less hard experience..
Recent Activism – Quakers protest and are arrested at the DSEI Arms Fair on 3rd September 2019
Quakers continue to witness against war and the Arms Trade in varied ways. At the DSEI Arms Fair in 2019, 300 Quakers conducted Meeting for Worship in front of the Excel Centre where the event was being held
The Earth and environment
Listed below are some useful websites and books where further information can be found regarding the Quaker relationship with the earth and the environment.
Early Quakers and the Earth
John Woolman, a New Jersey Quaker, better known as an abolitionist of slavery was ahead of his time in understanding the need to respect the earth and live sustainably:
“The produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the earth to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age”. Modern Quakers echo his views in modern work towards sustainability, both personal and collective More info.
William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania, his “Greene Countrie Town” preserved an acre of trees for every five cleared to build the town, recognising that the spiritual and physical welfare of its inhabitants was affected by their environment.
From the early days of Quakers, they were interested in botany and the natural world,. Several of the great gardens of England are linked to Quakers. More Info
The Golden Age of Quaker Botanists (2006) is a beautifully illustrated book on Quaker botanists by Ann Nichols.
Sydney Parkinson, a Scottish Quaker botanical artist accompanied the voyage of the Endeavour to the South Seas and Australia. More info He was still in his twenties when he died and was buried at sea but he left a remarkable legacy of illustrations. The Natural History Museum website contains an account of the art and illustrations from the HMS Endeavour trip.
Peter Collinson lived in Peckham and then Mill Hill, London. Many of the new species he imported, now regarded as native to Britain, can be seen in parks such as Peckham & Burgess Park and Dulwich Park.
Ruth Harrison Obituary– was a Quaker animal rights activist, whose work highlighting the cruelty of factory farming, resonates with the contemporary drive for more humane and sustainable forms of food production.
“In fact if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to a lot of animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.”
Quaker Action at home
Quakers in Britain have undertaken a corporate commitment to become a low carbon sustainable community. The Canterbury Commitment was recorded at Yearly Meeting 2011 in Minute 36 of the meeting.
Quakers continue to maintain our collective witness for sustainable living More info. The Quakers in Britain website has an account of the work taking place both centrally and in Quaker meetings to move towards more sustainable living.
Our Trustees have decided to disinvest our central funds from fossil fuels and there is a strong feeling among Quakers against shale fracking and other forms of extreme fossil fuel extraction.
Friends are encouraged to assess their carbon footprint and manage it. Our Area Meeting (Kingston and Wandsworth Area Quaker Meeting) is collecting individual assessments of carbon footprint that use this carbon footprint calculator.
Quaker Action Internationally
Quakers worldwide maintain two offices of the Quaker United Nations Organisation (QUNO) one in Geneva (managed by Quakers in Britain) and one in New York.
A broad outline of the work covered by QUNO includes the human impact of climate change and food and sustainability.
“We seek meaningful commitments from our leaders and ourselves, to address climate change for our shared future, the Earth and all species, and the generations to come. We see this Earth as a stunning gift that supports life. It is our only home. Let us care for it together”. Facing the challenge of climate change’. 2014
Quaker Earthcare Witness More info
Founded in Ohio in 1987 QEW works to address the ecological and social crises of the world from a spiritual perspective.
“We are called to live in right relationship with all Creation, recognizing that the entire world is interconnected and is a manifestation of God. We work to integrate into the beliefs and practices of the Religious Society of Friends the Truth that God’s Creation is to be respected, protected, and held in reverence in its own right, and the Truth that human aspirations for peace and justice depend upon restoring the earth’s ecological integrity. We promote these truths by being patterns and examples, by communicating our message, and by providing spiritual and material support to those engaged in the compelling task of transforming our relationship to the earth”.
Quakers are a Peace Church. Our Quaker Peace Testimony was first published soon after the church began to organise its affairs.
Quaker Peace work in Britain today is part of our ongoing witness More info. Other Quaker bodies work internationally on peace issues and collaborate. More info.