Who Are Quakers?

Members of the Religious Society of Friends believe that all people have the same access to God and that God’s Inner Light shines through each of us. Friends are also known as Quakers. Quakerism is rooted in Christianity; however, today’s Quakers are united in a close religious community of faith which springs from many different traditions and beliefs. Quaker Meeting for Worship is simple. Friends gather at their meetinghouses in silence and await God’s word and guidance. One or more worshipers may break the silence to share an inspired message of hope or joy or thankfulness—or a pressing problem or concern. Friends listen carefully and are mindful and accepting of the messages, with an openness to the Spirit from whence they sprang.

There is no appointed clergy; anyone may minister. No offering is taken. The worship service ends as Friends shake hands. Quakers often have programs before or after worship, including singing, discussions on Quaker faith and practice, and social events. Members try to live the Friends’ testimonies of simplicity, equality, integrity, and peace. Individual Friends and meetings are led to active lives working for a better world. For many Friends, their spiritual community becomes the center of their lives.

The Religious Society of Friends began in the mid-1600’s amid the tumultuous years of England’s Civil War. The first Friends were drawn to George Fox, who believed that God dwells in each of us, rather than in holy books or buildings. The name Quaker became popular after George Fox told a judge that he should tremble before the Lord and the judge replied, “you are the quaker, not I.” Early Friends faced persecution until they came to the haven offered by an influential convert, William Penn. Pennsylvania’s first proprietor passionately believed in religious tolerance, constitutional government, trial by jury, and fair and friendly relations with native Americans. Quaker immigrants settling in Pennsylvania built houses of worship called meetinghouses and simple stone farmhouses that remain the hallmark of rural Pennsylvania. Quaker schools were established and libraries built, creating the legacy of Quaker education that continues to thrive to this day. The keystone of Penn’s Holy Experiment was the importance Quakers place on individual rights, which springs from our belief that there is that of God in each person. Among the Quaker values contributed to our nation were freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equality of women, and education for all.

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