Who are the Quakers?

A timeless approach to spiritual life and religion since 1652

The revolutionary aspect of Quakers is that we believe we can each have direct experience of the divine, and though this can be supported by shared seeking it is a personal experience that does not need mediation by a priest, imam or rabbi.

We find that answers to spiritual and religious questions are best explored by trying to gain, as a community, a sense of stillness in which we can each listen for the  ‘still, small voice’, revealing deeper truths about ourselves and the world around us.

This can at times be personally challenging but always strengthening.

The shared stillness is open to everyone, whether a member of a faith community or not.

A (very) brief history of Quakers

The Quaker movement was founded by Christian dissenters and was born out of the turmoils of the English Civil War.

At a time when many were questioning the authority of the Crown many were also questioning the authority of the Church.

Early Quakers, or members of the Religious Society of Friends as they are officially known (or ‘Friends’ for short), were invariably steeped in Christian theology.

You can read more about our history on our Quaker Action page.

What do Quakers believe?

Quakers have few, if any fixed beliefs.

Most will say they believe in God, but few will have words to describe what they mean by that phrase. Many are Christian but many are not. Even those who believe in Life after death will still hold with 17th Century William Penn that ‘True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it,…’ For us that means gently challenging ourselves on how to apply our core values to the challenges of the day be they external ‘world’ challenges, such as poverty and injustice, or internal ones of close relationships and the changing stages of life.

Whether you draw inspiration from the life of Jesus of Nazareth as told in the New Testament or not, and whatever you believe you can explore it more with Friends.

Our shared values: living authentically

As part of our journey we are encouraged to consider the ‘Advices & Queries’ – a set of questions to which there is no conclusive answer but that challenge us on whether we are living our deepest values.

We have noticed that certain values seem to arise more or less consistently when we try to stay close to the guidance of the Inward Teacher, and we call these principles our “testimonies.” They are not so much rules that we try to obey as the outcomes of our efforts to live in harmony with the Holy Spirit.

It may be that you already feel an affinity with some or all of these testimony guidelines (see below). They exist as a reminder of the diverse insights of Quaker communities over many generations.

Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?

Advices & queries 41

Throughout our history Quakers have been known for their commitment to truth. Many early Quaker businesses thrived because of their trustworthiness.

If pressure is brought upon you to lower your standard of integrity, are you prepared to resist it? Our responsibilities to God and our neighbour may involve us in taking unpopular stands. Do not let the desire to be sociable, or the fear of seeming peculiar, determine your decisions.

Advices & queries 38

If you take to heart the advice from ‘Advices & queries’ 22 to ‘Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God’, it is likely to lead you to a position of equality.

At the centre of Friends’ religious experience is the repeatedly and consistently expressed belief in the fundamental equality of all members of the human race. Our common humanity transcends our differences. Friends have worked individually and corporately to give expression to this belief. We aspire not to say or do anything or condone any statements or actions which imply lack of respect for the humanity of any person. We try to free ourselves from assumptions of superiority and from racial prejudice.

We must constantly ask ourselves whether we are living up to these ideals, not only in international relations but also in our individual and corporate relationships within Britain – which has become and will remain multiracial and multicultural. To liberate ourselves from pervasive attitudes and practices of our time and social environment requires new perceptions and hard work.

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Quakers are known as a Peace Church and have historically been at the forefront of pacifism and conscientious objection. Perhaps it is one of the more modern statements which best explains our attitude to peace.

Public statement of the Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa/New Zealand, 1987, at a time when many Friends were making submissions to a committee established by their government to review defence policy:

We totally oppose all wars, all preparation for war, all use of weapons and coercion by force, and all military alliances: no end could ever justify such means.

We equally and actively oppose all that leads to violence among people and nations, and violence to other species and to our planet.

Refusal to fight with weapons is not surrender. We are not passive when threatened by the greedy, the cruel, the tyrant, the unjust.

We will struggle to remove the causes of impasse and confrontation by every means of nonviolent resistance available.

We urge all New Zealanders to have the courage to face up to the mess humans are making of our world and to have the faith and diligence to cleanse it and restore the order intended by God.

We must start with our own hearts and minds. Wars will stop only when each of us is convinced that war is never the way.

The places to begin acquiring the skills and maturity and generosity to avoid or to resolve conflicts are in our own homes, our personal relationships, our schools, our workplaces, and wherever decisions are made.

We must relinquish the desire to own other people, to have power over them, and to force our views on to them. We must own up to our own negative side and not look for scapegoats to blame, punish, or exclude. We must resist the urge towards waste and the accumulation of possessions.

Conflicts are inevitable and must not be repressed or ignored but worked through painfully and carefully. We must develop the skills of being sensitive to oppression and grievances, sharing power in decision-making, creating consensus, and making reparation.

In speaking out, we acknowledge that we ourselves are as limited and as erring as anyone else. When put to the test, we each may fall short.

We do not have a blueprint for peace that spells out every stepping stone towards the goal that we share. In any particular situation, a variety of personal decisions could be made with integrity.

We may disagree with the views and actions of the politician or the soldier who opts for a military solution, but we still respect and cherish the person.

What we call for in this statement is a commitment to make the building of peace a priority and to make opposition to war absolute.

What we advocate is not uniquely Quaker but human and, we believe, the will of God. Our stand does not belong to Friends alone – it is yours by birthright.

We challenge all New Zealanders to stand up and be counted on what is no less than the affirmation of life and the destiny of humankind.

Together, let us reject the clamour of fear and listen to the whisperings of hope.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Quakers believe in God?

It has been said that ‘a word is worth a thousand pictures’ and this is more so for the word God than just about any other.

Many Quakers would answer that they believe in ‘God’, but you should know that, almost certainly, their idea of God will be personal and different to yours. There are also Quakers who don’t know what to believe and some who believe there is not a God.

It is through our wilingness to be open to each other that we grow in our knowledge of the things which are eternal.

Are Quakers Christian?

We have found corporately that the Spirit, if rightly followed, will lead us into truth, unity and love: all our testimonies grow from this leading.

We are challenged to know ‘the guidance of the universal spirit of Christ, witnessed to in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.’

For Quakers, the Christian way is universal rather than exclusive to followers of Jesus of Nazareth. As William Penn wrote in 1693:

The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strange.

Can I attend a Quaker meeting?

Yes!  You are welcome to attend Quaker worship. There are Quakers of all ages, religious backgrounds, races and ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and classes. All are welcome.

Do Quakers celebrate festivals?

Quakers consider that every day should be ‘sacramental’ and as holy as the next and early Friends had a testimony to ‘times & seasons’.

Though still not on the Quaker calendar, nowadays many Quakers enjoy Christmas and many will be particularly mindful over the Easter period of the potential for personal renewal.

How did Quakers begin?

They began during a period of much religious upheaval in England during the mid-1600s, as people questioned the established church and sought new ways to understand Christianity.

The emerging faith community gathered around the leadership of George Fox and others who encouraged people to be guided by a direct, first-hand encounter with the Spirit.

These Quakers were seeking an authentic return to “primitive Christianity,” as practised by the followers of Jesus in the first century.

How do Quakers live today?

There are Quakers of all ages, religious backgrounds, races and ethnicities, education, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and classes.  Modern Quakers generally “blend in” with the larger culture, rather than adopting the distinctive dress and patterns of speech associated with Quakers of earlier centuries.

Quakers try to live and act in ways that are consistent with the divine harmony that we seek in worship. Through this effort come our testimonies of peace, integrity, equality, community, simplicity, and care for the environment.

How do Quakers get married?

Quakers believe the couple ‘must be married by God’ and that ‘we are but witnesses’ . Once we are content the two individuals are truly a couple we will happily celebrate the union with a special meeting for worship. The couple will stand and face each other, then make very simple promises, giving themselves and taking each other in marriage.

They sign a special certificate of marriage containing the words of their promises, then after the close of the meeting for worship, everyone present signs the certificate as a witness.

There are many Quakers who are qualified to serve as a ‘Registering Officer’ and take the place of the registrar to ensure the marriage is legally recognised.

Quakers are equally happy to support same sex marriages.

Do Quakers welcome diversity?

Quakers welcome to our meetings all people who come to share our worship!

We believe we are all equal and our worship is an encouragement to live authentically – embracing all apsects of who we are, regardless of race, disability and any non-exploitative sexuality.

We actively worked towards the legalisation of same sex marriage and are happy to celebrate positive diverse lifestyles.  

How do Quaker meetings make decisions?

Once a month, the meeting (congregation) holds a “meeting for worship for business.” Anyone who is part of the meeting may attend. Decisions are made without voting. Instead, the participants consider each matter and listen deeply for a sense of spiritual unity. When the clerk recognises that unity has been reached, it is called the “sense of the meeting.” If those present agree with the clerk’s expression of that sense, then the decision is recorded  there and then.

What is your ‘Holy book’?

Traditional churches consider the bible their ‘Authority’ and though it is a book close to the hearts of many Friends, corporately, through generations, we rely on our shared and direct experience.

This is captured in Quaker faith & practice which is regularly updated to reflect current thinking. You can explore Qf&p online by clicking here, or by browsing a copy in any of our meeting houses.

The Quaker business method is open to all Quakers and is pretty much the same now as it was 350 years ago. It forms the basis of the shared organising of our life and work together.

We are encouraged to consider  Advices & queries which through questioning encourages us to live according to our deepest values. This is a small pamphlet and you are welcome to take a copy from any of our meeting houses.