The Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakerism, was founded in England in the 17th century. George Fox had an experience of God, and decided as a result of this experience that an individual could pursue a heavenly connection without the guidance of a clergy. He found like-minded people and formed a fellowship. In this way, Quakerism was born; a pursuit of individual spirituality, be it from a Christian perspective or from a more universal view. The object is to look out for one another, to bring out the best in one another, and to “ignite” that inner light which is inspired by Christ. Sometimes this involves a formal gathering of prayers, scripture readings, and music. At other times, it is enough to probe silently into one’s soul and find the truths there. There is an implicit faith in the inner guide.
As with all religions, Quakerism has evolved and expanded through time. The Quakers divided into several branches depending on their theology, manner of worship, if they are evangels, and with whom they are affiliated.
Liberal Friends are friends who practice “unprogrammed” worship. Here the emphases is more in inner development, or “Inward Light” rather than a theological doctrine, where the individual may follow Christ or a more universal form of spirituality. These Friends do not go into the word and preach, but offer their services to help better society.
The Pastoral Friends come together in a more established function whose worship services are guided by a clergy. They are missionaries who promote the authority of the Christian scripture.
Conservative Friends are made of both Christians and the Inward Light. They may be traditionally mired in plain clothes and speech. These Friends follow the unprogrammed method of worship.
Evangelical Friends are the missionaries, the Friends who wish to go out and spread the light of God. While the other branches hold meetings, these Friends consider themselves a church.
While the Quakers experimented with different approaches, certain key beliefs held these communities together:
1) The certainty of the divine within us all. Because we hold the divine within us, all people are equal regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, nationality or religious beliefs.
2) A passion for peace. Since every human has the capacity for goodness and godliness, it is wrong to create war against them. Because of this inherent divine nature, it is wrong to kill another human. As a result of this belief, and the prior one, Quakers have been known throughout history as social activists, fighting for the rights of the wronged and oppressed.
3) A desire for a more simplistic lifestyle. Through simplicity, honesty, and integrity, contact with the divine may be achieved. Without the distractions, one can concentrate on what matters.
4) Assisting the unfortunate and the suffering. Since all people are of the same light, one hurts when another suffers, therefore one should try to relieve the suffering.
5) The desire for true contact with God. Rather than hiding in ceremony, the ultimate spiritual experience can only be achieved through an inner spiritual presence.
With these objectives as their cornerstone, The Quaker faith has survived over four hundred years and their numbers are increasing. If you would like more information about these Friends, or wish to find a meeting near you, please check the links below.