Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

 
I want to let you know about a religious group (“church”) that has continued to respond to new knowledge and new challenges. It is the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) founded in England in 1652 by George Fox and his colleagues.

It was founded as an improvement on the current state religion (Church of England) and the dissenting churches (Calvinism, etc.).

The first change was the awareness of Direct Communication from the divine to every person. This led to the method of meeting in silence to listen for the divine, and to speak out the ministry that was received.

The next change followed from the first one; all people, men, women and children of whatever race or class could have direct communication and could provide ministry. So from the beginning of the Friends, women served as well as men as ministers, and children also spoke out when they felt so moved.

This ability to have direct communication was described as Every person have something of the divine in them”. So every person was valued.

If every person is valued, then it is wrong to use violence, wrong to kill, and wrong to go to war. The value of Peace soon followed the founding of the group.

If every person is of value, then we are all spiritually equal and there should be no class divisions and not disrespecting of those often considered of less value. Therefor, the use of titles and honorific are not used nor are different standards of dress and possessions to be used to raise up some persons above others.  Nor should the plural be used for “important” individuals.  Simplicity of speech (use of the singular thee” ; dropping of titles); simplicity of dress (not wearing fancy elaborate clothes) and simplicity Meeting Houses (not using expensive decorations, statues, and stained glass windows, etc.) were ways of living equality.

George Fox preached paying working fair wages for their hire; speaking truth rather than flattering those in power; feeding the poor, visiting the sick, and following Jesus’s actions, to be in fact a Christian and not just in “words”.

Over the years, Quakers improved their own actions – working to end slavery among themselves and then to end it in society. Elias Hicks in the late 1700s and 1800s advocated freeing slaves, and setting up education and vocation programs for freed slaves; he advocated for the environment to stop unnecessary killing of birds, insects, etc. as these were part of the system of creation, and each had their place.

Because of their belief that the divine messages have not stopped back in the year 30 AD but that divine messages continue to be revealed to humankind (when they listen!) in all times and all places, the possibility of new messages if ever present, in line with new conditions, new knowledge, and new challenges.

In modern times, as in the past, Quakers have respected other religions and understood that others have something to teach us. John Woolman in the 1700s visited the native North Americans “to learn from them.”

In modern times, as in the past, Quakers have rejected outward ceremonies as ineffective, and stressed the inward spiritual experience – so if a baby is not sprinkled with water that does not matter – the baby is still a child of the divine.

Jesus can be seen as a child of God because of his spirituality, in the same way that all people are children of the Divine, and it is up to us to live that way – not all of us live up to the state that we should as children of the divine, but we have the capability of doing so, if only we can learn how.  And that is the mission of religious groups -to help us learn how to be better, and encourage us to follow Jesus’s teachings.

In modern times, Quakers have worked for Peace, Justice, and Equality. We try to help refugees, the oppressed, and our neighbours when they are in need. Quakers work for the health of the Earth, as we are part of the Earth’s system and live in mutual dependence on the earth.

Quakers can be located by contacting the Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends at www.quaker.ca in Canada, and  Friends World Committee of Consultation of the Americas at www.fwccamericas.org in the United States.

In Friendship,  
Maida Barton Follini
Member, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Friends Meeting

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