‘Quakers’ started as a nickname – their proper title is the Religious Society of Friends – but they are happy to be called either Friends or Quakers.
Quakers are a small group of believers spread across the globe; their number in Great Britain for example does not exceed 28,000 including full members and attendees at meetings for worship. They have a special view of what religion means, and of Christianity in particular.
Quakerism started in England in the 1650’s, when George Fox gathered groups of ‘seekers’ or dissidents together. They felt that the churches over the centuries had led people away from the real aims of Christianity, and got bogged down with traditions, rituals and hierarchies.
They were trying to lead a renewal – to see how they could live more simply and truthfully, following Jesus’ example more closely. By today, many Quakers also look both within and beyond Christianity for inspiration and understanding of their inner experiences. Quakerism is, however, rooted in Christianity. Quakers recognise all the great faiths as ways to spiritual fulfilment, and they are willing to learn from and work with other faiths and churches.
The Religious Society of Friends appears very different from other Christian groups; without the usual priests, services or creeds. They have always questioned anything they were told to believe! This is part of their ‘seeking for truth.’
This is based on the experience that there is a real and direct relationship between each person and God, and that all individuals have to find their own way to religious truth, being aware of God in their own lives and learning from the wisdom of the past. In this searching, they rely on the community of which they are part and do not have an ordained or appointed priesthood. All Friends are priests, they therefore share amongst themselves all the tasks that are needed to maintain their witness and activities.
Since they believe that there is something of God in every person – and every time, place and thing – then there is no need for special feast days, ceremonies and sacraments such as baptism or Holy Communion. In the same way, their Meeting Houses are not consecrated; they can just as well be used for music, eating, discussion or fun as for worship. Because they feel that there is ‘something of God’ in everyone, Quakers aim to find that ‘something’ in all their dealings and activities.
For Quakers there should be no split between religion and daily life. Everything, including joy and suffering and the good and the bad things we do, are part of living, growing and learning.
Friends place considerable reliance on their Meetings for Worship, where they share with each other what they have found out for themselves, and gain from each other in this way. This communion can best be experienced if they meet in silence, with nothing pre-planned. Meeting for Worship couldn’t be simpler: you go in and sit down in a room and settle in silence, a silence which can become very deep and powerful, a direct relationship between each person and God.
After a time, someone may feel inspired to stand up and speak briefly in his or her own words, or pray, or read from the Bible or some other book. Silent worship is the core of the Meeting for Worship.
It’s no good having a faith if you don’t put it into practice. Quakers have always tried to be honest at work (which for many Quaker businesses has proved to be the best policy). They aim at truthfulness at all times, which is why, for example, a Quaker won’t swear an oath in court – it would suggest that the rest of the time you can have different standards of truth.
From the start, Quakers have felt strong concern to improve social conditions and the environment. Help for slaves, prisoners, mental patients, refugees, war casualties, the elderly – quite a few charities and campaigns for reform have started as the concern of a Quaker.
Quakers say that if you follow the teaching and life of Jesus, you must rule out war and violence as a way of solving problems. They try never to give up on getting in touch with that of God in every person. So Friends have always worked for peace, refusing to contribute to war and military action. William Penn, the founder of a state that lasted 75 years without military force, said that true godliness shouldn’t turn people out of this world, but should make them more able to live in it. Quakers believe this is possible and strive towards this.
The school retains its links with Quakers worldwide. There is the Friends Meeting House on the campus. On Sundays, the small group of Lebanese Quakers use the school for the meetings and gatherings. The Trustees of the school are encouraging Quakers from across the world to give service to the school.