Posted on 5 January 2021
From who are the Quakers to what’s their connection with Quaker Oats, here are some Frequently Asked Questions.
- Who are the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)?
- What do Quakers believe?
- What brings Quakers together?
- What are the Quaker Testimonies?
- What is Quaker Faith & Practice?
- What is Meeting for Worship?
- Why is there silence during Meeting for Worship?
- When does Meeting for Worship start and end?
- Who’s in charge of the Quakers?
- How are the Quakers organised?
- How do you become a Quaker?
- How did the Quakers begin?
- How are the Quakers and Quaker Oats connected?
The Quakers are a worldwide community of faith-based individuals.
Therefore Quakers call and greet each other as Friend.
The First Panel of the Quaker Tapestry has the following quote:
“For the Society of Friends might be thought of as a prism through which the Divine Light passes, to become visible in a spectrum of many colours; many more, in their richest, than words alone can express.”
The Quakers started in England and Wales in the mid 17th century, and quickly spread to Ireland, the Netherlands and the American colonies. In recent years there has been a growth of Quakerism in Africa, with Kenya now being the country with the most Quakers.
The Quakers formal name is the Religious Society of Friends, usually just shortened to the Society of Friends.
Today, Quakers cover the globe with an estimated 377,000 Friends.
The word Quaker and Friend are used interchangeably but mean the same thing, someone who follows Quakerism.
Quakerism is the name given to the belief of faith that Friends both seek and practice.
The Quakers have no creed. A creed is a system of religious belief, most often written down. Without any central statement to point to for reference there is a huge diversity of beliefs and opinions within the worldwide Quaker community. Therefore, it’s very difficult if not impossible to pinpoint exactly what Quakers as a whole believe.
There is a maxim within Quakerism that the only thing Friends have in common is that they don’t like being told what to believe! At Hammersmith Quakers’ Meeting House, London, there is a poster that reads:
thou shall decide for yourself
no-one telling you what to believe – just the peace and quiet to work it out for yourself
Quakers widely describe themselves as being seekers on a journey of Continuous Revelation, where learning and experience are constantly sought.
What brings the Quakers together is the understanding that within every person there is something special, something of the divine. Christian Quakers often use the phrase, ‘That of God in everyone’.
Some Quakers come from a Christian, Jewish or Buddhist background. Some Quakers come from Quaker families and some come from no religious background at all. Being a Quaker doesn’t mean you have to stop being a Christian, Jew or Buddhist if that’s what you identify as.
Rather Quakerism is often seen as widening whatever path you are walking on.
Every Quaker must speak for themselves and let their lives speak.
For the vast majority of Quakers this is achieved by living out their lives through the Quaker Testimonies.
The word testimony describes the way that Friends testify or bear witness to their beliefs in their everyday life. A testimony is therefore not a belief in itself, rather it is committed action arising out of Friends’ experience.
The testimonies, as generally recognised globally in the 21st century, are as follows:
- Stewardship / Sustainability
As you might have seen, listed in this way the testimonies make the acronym SPICES.
By having SPICES as part of their everyday existence, Quakers often say they lead a more fulfilled life.
As such they often use this quote from one of the faith’s founding Friends, George Fox, as a motto:
“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you go, so that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world.”George Fox
Quaker Faith & Practice (QF&P) is a book written by Quakers exploring Quakerism.
It is not a holy book and it is not an instruction manual. Rather, QF&P offers reflective wisdom on the Quaker experience and how the Society of Friend live in the light.
With the Quaker faith finding its away across the oceans of the globe, each country produces its own version of QF&P to make it relevant to them. Countries that have their own book include Australia, Denmark, Germany, Central & Southern Africa, Switzerland and New Zealand. In America, because of its size and number of Quakers many different states and communities have their own version. Some of these countries and regions that have there own version of QF&P do not always call it Quaker Faith & Practice.
The most common way Quakers live out faith and practice is by gathering for Meeting for Worship.
The name may seem a little strange, if not out-dated, but Meeting for Worship (MfW) is purposely designed to be accessible and open for all.
Essentially, MfW is sitting in a stillness of silence, usually for an hour – where anybody is able to stand and speak.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time attending a meeting or whether you’ve been coming all your life, MfW brings everyone present into the same space.
Here there is a shared connection between Friends sitting quietly without words.
In this quiet place and time, Friends connect perhaps with their deeper selves or connect with those around them. Perhaps what happens here is a connection with something divine.
This experience of something deeper happening to you is often referred to as Listening to the Light.
YQN describes MfW as somewhere between prayer and meditation – however, each Friend will have their own way of describing it.
What exactly happens goes beyond what words can describe.
Quakers feel that words are unnecessary to have a connection with the divine.
If someone feels moved to speak they can stand and say whatever they wish to. All that is required is that it comes from the heart.
This is called ‘ministry’ and anyone can give it, even those attending for the first time.
It is etiquette in a MfW that a person only gives ministry once.
Also, as Quakerism is a worldwide faith their are some Quaker Meeting for Worships that include sermons and hymns as well as a period of stillness. These types of services are common in some parts of the USA and most of Africa.
MfW begins when the first person enters the room and ends when two Friends shake hands and everyone else follows by shaking hands (although during the Covid pandemic this is not done). After the Meeting has finished any announcements are usually read out.
Then there is tea and coffee. Here there’s the opportunity to chat and ask any questions. Usually friends start discussing one topic or another and this can lead to some very interesting discussion.
Chatting to Quakers over a cuppa and a biscuit is a great way to learn first-hand about Quakerism and how it is lived out in daily life.
Having a chat will also undoubtedly lead to a conversation with how you can get involved with your local meeting.
As you might have guessed from Friends’ belief in equality no-one is charge of the Quakers. There is no leadership and no clergy such as bishops or priests – as such Quakers affirm to the Priesthood of All Believers. Some meetings though, mainly in America and Africa, do have pastors to look after Friends’ well-being.
Every local meeting is connected to other regional meetings. This grouping of local regional meetings is called an Area Meeting. All Area Meetings belong to a Yearly Meeting. The Yearly Meetings help give local Quakers a national voice.
The Quaker Community comes together globally under the Friends World Committee for Consultation with the purpose to “Encourage fellowship among all the branches of the Religious Society of Friends.”
Without a creed there is no ceremonial process or rituals in becoming a Quaker. Rather a person becomes a Quaker by what is known as Convincement. This is when a person becomes ‘convinced’ that the Quaker way is right for them.
Convincement can happen at any time or any place, but when it does, looking at life through the Quaker lens will never be the same.
For those that want to take further responsibility within the Society of Friends they can enter into Membership.
The First Generation Friends came together as a ‘great people to be gathered’ in 1652, in north-west England. This was during the period of history known as the English Revolution (1640 – 1660) that encompassed both the English Civil War Period and the Commonwealth of England.
Despite proclaiming peace and tolerance, the Quakers were persecuted and often thrown in jail. Partly this was because they broke away from the Church of England and refused to pay tithes (a tax to the local church). Partly, also they refused to swear oaths, as they believed their word alone was good enough. Therefore they did not swear allegiance to the king as this was an oath. This lead to further trouble for Friends.
Government legislation was introduced to make Quakers assembling illegal. Despite this, the Quakers still gathered and worshiped in defiance of the law. As a result record numbers found themselves incarcerated, fined and punished. As a result, several Quakers left England for the freedom of the newly created colonies in the New World . Here the Quakers would play a key part in the founding of United States of America.
In 1689, William and Mary came to the throne and passed the Act of Toleration. The act was a response to the bitter religious divides that had plagued Britain since Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic church in 1534.
Finally, it was legal to be a Quaker. Although prejudice and persecution would remain for decades to come.
By the end of the century, all the resisting religious and political groups that had formed during the revolution had been crushed for dissent and died out.
That is apart from the Quakers.
Through sheer determination and organised campaigning, the Society of Friends proved too strong to be crushed and continues to this day.
Quakers Oats took the Quaker name and image (for their own purposes) but the oats are definitely not sold by Friends.