What Is Quakerism?
The Light Within
(from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting: https://www.pym.org/faith-and-practice/experience-and-faith/the-light-within/
The essential experience of Friends is that of a direct, unmediated relationship with the Divine. Friends have used many terms or phrases to refer to the inner certainty of our faith: the Light Within, the Inner Light, the Christ Within, the Inward Teacher, the Divine Presence, Spirit, the Great Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, that of God in every person, and the Seed.
In his journal, George Fox referred to “that Inward Light, Spirit, and Grace by which all might know their salvation” and to “that Divine Spirit which would lead them into all truth.” Today Friends continue to use these terms and have added others out of a sense of ongoing revelation.
For some Friends, “spiritual energy” best describes their personal experience of that which enlivens and empowers them in seeking truth for themselves and in community. In contrast with early Friends, not all Friends today consider themselves to be Christians or even theists. Friends come from very diverse religious backgrounds and experiences and apply their different perspectives as they encounter the Light Within.
Regardless of the journey that brings individuals to explore the Quaker way, the invitation to enter into an unmediated, inward relationship with the Divine continues to be at the heart of Quaker experience.
Through this relationship, each person encounters the Spirit, active in the world, and providing guidance for everyday living. The reality of this spiritual relationship within each worshipper brings the Friends meeting together as a community of faith.
Friends understand that faithfulness to Spirit can produce a spiritual energy within their faith community that encourages them to support each other within that community, and most of all, to live in harmony with the Divine. Friends also understand that the experience of God continues to unfold and that the record of God’s presence in human lives continues to be written.
Friends find that the Light Within:
Accompanies, comforts and loves us as we seek Divine truth;
Reveals who we are, including what we would prefer not to see about ourselves, and leads us out of spiritual darkness or dryness;
Illuminates, inspires and transforms us;
Shows us how to live with love, compassion and justice towards others;
Gives us energy and power to change ourselves and the world in small ways and large;
Leads us to the right decisions in our Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business;
Provides ongoing revelation of God’s truth.
The Light Within is not the same as the conscience or moral faculty. Conscience is conditioned by education, personal experience, and the cultural and social environment. Only when the conscience is illuminated by the Light of Christ can it serve as a dependable guide to a Spirit-led life.
Recognition that God’s Light is in every person helps us to overcome our apparent separation and differences from others; it leads to a sympathetic awareness of their needs and a sense of responsibility towards them. Friends believe that the more widely and clearly the Light is recognized and followed, the more the human family will come into harmony and peace. “Therefore,” wrote George Fox, “in the Light wait, where unity is.”
The message at the heart of Quakerism is pretty simple. In these brief videos, find out what it's all about. Turn on your speakers!
There are details of how to ask any questions you have at the bottom of the page.
What are Testimonies?
Friends have, over time, developed some consistent ways of behavior and of interacting with the world that we call our testimonies.
There have been many testimonies over the years, but a basic list of our testimonies is often remembered with the acronym SPICES:
Quakers believe in following certain tenants of the faith:
We try to live our lives simply, with integrity, treating everyone equally.
We are opposed to war, and encourage peaceful resolution to conflict.
We believe that all humans need to be good stewards of the earth, limiting wasteful use of non-renewable resources and encouraging exploration of sustainable innovations in energy, agriculture and other.
What are the Queries?
Friends have assessed the state of our religious society through the use of queries since the time of George Fox. Meetings use queries as a guide for self-examination, as a framework for periodically examining, clarifying and prayerfully considering the direction of our individual lives and the life of the meeting community. Quakers explore many facets of their daily lives to be sure that each is living in harmony with the Quaker community, the wider communities and the planet.
As an example, the queries for Deepening Our Faith in Meeting for Worship are:
Are our meetings for worship held in stilled, expectant waiting upon God?
As we worship in the living silence, are we drawn together by the power of God in our midst? Do we experience a deep reverence for the integrity of creation?
How does our worship nurture all worshipers, creating a deeper sense of community?
How does our meeting encourage vocal ministry that spiritually nurtures the worshiping community?
Meetings apply the general queries in a variety of ways. Some meetings prepare written answers—for example, as background for developing a state-of-the-meeting report; some use them as an aid to inward reflection; some make them part of the meeting for worship or meeting for business—either by reading one of the sets of queries or by reading selections from that set.
The current queries are contained in our Faith & Practice book. There may be times when a meeting will reword a query or contemplate a new one to meet its particular situation. Whatever the approach, faithful attention to the queries—open to the Spirit—can enrich the life of the meeting and individual Friends.
Faith & Practice includes advice on procedures within the faith, membership, current practice for conducting meeting business and numerous quotations from Friends on belief, worship, concerns, leadings, and testimonies.
Quakerbooks.org is currently selling copies of Faith & Practice.
What is Vocal Ministry?
(From Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice:
Direct communion with God constitutes the essential experience of meeting for worship. Fresh insights may come to anyone out of the living stillness. Some insights are purely personal, providing guidance and inspiration to that individual. Other insights seem meant for the meeting as a whole.
Friends find that vocal ministry:
Can arise in anyone who is present at meeting for worship;
Manifests itself in the individual as a “call”, described as an uncomfortable quickening or a profound silence before speaking and a sense of relief or release afterward;
Arises from the heart rather than the head;
Impels the worshipper to rise and share the message received from Spirit;
Does not break the silence but adds to it;
Takes many different forms, including prayer, song, story, testimonial or dance;
Cannot be readily reconstructed afterward by the one who responds to the call;
Is a conduit for God’s love and work in the world;
Is a call to faithfulness.
Those who are hesitant should feel the meeting community’s loving encouragement to give voice to the message that arises within them. Friends who are frequent speakers in meeting for worship serve the meeting best when they, like all others, wait patiently for the prompting of the Inward Teacher. Friends need time to absorb each message, so it is important to allow space between messages.
Friends are encouraged to welcome the movement of the Spirit in ministry. A given message may resonate differently among worshippers or become clear with time. Individual messages may converge toward a single, vital theme that becomes evident during the meeting; at other times, apparently unrelated messages are later discovered to have an underlying unity.
When and How Did Quakerism Begin?
By Andrew Wright, Durham Friends Meeting
George Fox was born in 1624 and was raised by Puritan parents. He was a young man during the height of the civil war in England, but he played no role in it. At this time he was wandering the countryside in England, reading the Bible inside and out, and pressing anyone who would talk to him for answers to inward questions.
He struggled extensively with despair because he felt he could not live a righteous life. He found the preachers of his day, who encouraged him to accept his sinful and imperfect nature, to be “poor comforters”. He continued to search the Bible and his own inner conscience for an answer to his despair.
As the Puritan revolution progressed and radicalized, many began to distrust any religious authority and any ritual expression of the gospel. It seemed to them that none of the existing alternatives were faithful to the life and teachings of Jesus. It also seemed to them that all religious ritual seemed hollow and empty.
Some of these people (called Ranters) began to give up their search of the Truth and rather spent their energy mocking Truth and drinking, etc. Others called themselves Seekers and simply sat in silence in their meetings, waiting for a deeper Truth to be revealed.
Fox had discovered within himself a Voice or a Light or a Guide that began to teach him and bring him into a new life that brought him out of his despair. He had many names for this direct and unmediated experience of the Divine. He then began to feel led by this Light Within to preach about it.
The message he preached was simple – that Christ had come to teach his people himself. George Fox had nothing to teach others, except to direct them to the Living Christ within themselves.
This message – that Christ had come and that he was available to all in their own inner conscience – had a profound resonance to many of those radical puritans who had begun to distrust any outward religious authority or ritual. Fox’s message helped them to find what they were looking for: an inward spiritual authority that could give their lives meaning and order.
During the late 1640s and 1650s, Fox continued to travel the countryside, going from town to town, but now he carried a message. Within a few years, Fox had begun to draw together a community of people who waited on the guidance of the Christ Within to lead them in all aspects of life – from worship to the conduct of business to outward testimonies to the world.
Four key aspects of George Fox’s thoughts:
The four aspects are:
a) Spiritual experience is at the heart of the Quaker faith and has the greatest authority, not text, tradition or church;
b) For the first Quakers, true religion is inward;
c) Fox is clear that everyone can have the kind of transforming experience he has had;
d) Everyone is spiritually equal.