We are called Quakers or Friends and are are members of the Religious Society of Friends. The Quaker movement originated in mid-seventeenth century England. With the advent of printing, the Bible was becoming widely known, and it appeared to many who read it that the early Christian church depended very little on ecclesiastical structure, elaborate ritual and formal creeds. Indeed, it depended greatly on experiencing the Spirit in the midst of the worshipping group and on prophetic utterances inspired by the Spirit.
The Religious Society of Friends was one of the most radical new Christian sects emerging during the Reformation. Various new religious groups increasingly sought to separate themselves from the established church and from each other by shedding vestiges of religious authority, ritual, creeds, icons and symbols of the traditional Christian church. It has been said that the Friends have “taken out everything except dependence on the Divine Spirit for guidance and power.” George Fox, pictured here, is considered by most to be the primary architect of the Quaker movement.
“Testimonies” are what Quakers call the ways we have found to live and act based on our beliefs. The word “testimony” is used by Friends to describe a witness to the living truth within the human heart as it is acted out in everyday life. It is not a form of words, but a mode of life based on the realization that there is “that of God in everyone” and that all life is interconnected.
Testimonies are not fixed dogma, but a distillation of Friends’ faith in action over the centuries. Here is one formulation of the testimonies from the Friends General Conference. There are many other formulations of these same basic ideas from other Quaker sources.
– Focusing on what is truly important and letting other things fall away.
– Seeking justice and healing for all people; taking away the causes of war in the ways we live.
– Acting on what we believe, telling the truth, and doing what we say we will.
– Supporting one another in our faith journeys and in times of joy and sorrow; sharing with and caring for each other.
– Treating everyone, everywhere, as equally precious to God, recognizing that everyone has gifts to share.
– Caring for the earth, valuing and responding to all of God’s creation; using only our fair share of the earth’s resources; working for policies that protect the planet.
(An easy way to remember these testimonies is by the acronym “SPICES” — simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, sustainability.)
The testimonies are affirmative but may sometimes lead to action that runs counter to certain practices currently accepted in the society at large. Being in community with other Quakers helps each of us as we strive to live according to these testimonies.
Structure of the Religious Society of Friends
Monthly and Yearly Meetings
It was the organizational skills of Margaret Fell and other early Friends to develop the structure of monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings, which has provided cohesion at local and regional levels for over 300 years. A monthly meeting is one that usually worships together weekly and holds a meeting for business once a month. There are also Worship Groups and Preparative Meetings that are under the care of of Monthly Meetings. Fort Myers Monthly Meeting is one of sixteen monthly meetings and six worship groups (in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Nicaragua) which form the Southeastern Yearly Meeting.
Once per year Southeastern Yearly Meeting gathers for five days of worship, business, fellowship, workshops and communal life. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet Friends from our region of the country. SEYM sponsors several mid-year meetings and activities as well.
There are many other yearly meetings around the country and the globe, each composed of monthly meetings (see quakerfinder.org). These monthly and yearly meetings come in many different varieties or “flavors” of Quakerism. Common threads that tie all Quakers together, regardless of theology, are that all are derived from the concepts formulated by George Fox, all adhere to some form of the testimonies, and all are self-governing within the framework established by their yearly meetings and make corporate decisions by gathering a sense of the meeting in the Light rather than by majority vote.
The Wider Quaker World
In the United States and Canada, there is a wide variety of Friends in 31 yearly meetings. Yearly meetings choose to associate with one or more of the following Friends organizations. The diversity within Friends is evident from this listing. Nevertheless, there is something at the core of each of these traditions that can find unity in the heart of each of the others. Fort Myers Monthly Meeting belongs to Friends General Conference through our membership in Southeast Yearly Meeting.
FGC – Friends General Conference: An association of 14 Yearly Meetings and some monthly meetings in the United States and Canada. It began in 1900. Most of the meetings in FGC are “unprogrammed” or silent meetings, where Friends wait until led by the Spirit to speak. From FGC: “Friends General Conference, with Divine guidance, nurtures the spiritual vitality of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) by providing programs and services for Friends, meetings, and seekers.” The emphasis of the meetings associated with FGC is on the authority of the direct leading of the Inner Light or Christ Within. Meetings associated with FGC typically not only tolerate but encourage diverse theological perspectives. FGC organizes a week-long annual Summer Gathering around the beginning of July, and also offers a variety of other programs and services to Friends, including their Quaker Bookstore and Press, the Quaker Quest program of outreach, and resources for religious education, education on racism, couple enrichment, and strengthening meetings.
FUM – Friends United Meeting: Formed in 1966, from 1902 to 1966 it was called Five Years Meeting. Five Years Meeting was formed from the 1887 Richmond, Indiana, Conference of meetings subscribing to the “Richmond Declaration of Faith.” Most of the meetings have pastors and are “programmed,” with hymn singing and a sermon, but some FUM meetings are silent. Here is the mission statement of FUM: “Friends United Meeting commits itself to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.” FUM has partnerships with churches and Yearly Meetings in Belize, Cuba, Jamaica, Kenya, Palestine, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as the United States and Canada.
Conservative Friends: A small number of meetings in Iowa, Ohio, and North Carolina that have split from both of the major streams of U. S. Quakerism. Conservative Friends worship in silent meetings and have an explicitly Christ-centered theology. A website from a Conservative Friends Meeting describes the “original Quaker witness” as “a balance between relying on the Inward Light, identifying the historical Jesus as the eternal Christ, commitment to mending the world, and focusing on evangelizing the Quaker revelation.”
Service Organizations Founded by Quakers
As part of their commitment to service and education, Friends have founded many organizations that work in the U.S. and abroad. Here is a very partial listing. For a more comprehensive overview of Quaker organizations and all things Quaker, go to www.quaker.org.
AFSC- American Friends Service Committee: Founded in 1917 to provide U. S. conscientious objectors with opportunities to aid civilian victims of World War I. AFSC instituted a major child-feeding program in Germany in 1919. The AFSC and its British counterpart, the Friends Service Council, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 on behalf of all Quakers, for their work in post-war Europe. Today, AFSC works to end poverty in the U.S., to resist militarism worldwide and promote peace, human rights, and reconciliation. Currently, AFSC runs over 200 separate programs in more than 20 nations. Although Quaker in origin and administration, most of AFSC’s funding comes from outside the Religious Society of Friends.
CCCO – Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors: An agency for military and draft counseling that provides materials, counselor training and outreach to all who need information about the draft and the military. Based in California.
EQAT – Earth Quaker Action Team: Founded in 2009, EQAT has engaged in an ongoing and escalating series of nonviolent direct actions aimed at persuading PNC Bank to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining.
EFCI – Evangelical Friends Church International: Runs Barclay Press and other services for evangelical Friends.
FCNL – Friends Committee on National Legislation: Founded in 1943, it is the oldest religious lobby in Washington, D.C. It seeks to influence Congress and the President on matters of concerns to Friends, and while it recognizes that it can not speak for all Friends, it does an excellent job of speaking truth to power, especially regarding protecting human rights and opposing militarism.
FLGBTQC – Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Concerns: Supports issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer Friends.
FDS – Friends Disaster Service: Responds to natural disasters (floods/tornadoes, etc.) by sending in trained work crews.
FCE – Friends Council on Education: Runs conferences and support of Friends schools and Friends teachers.
FWCC – Friends World Committee for Consultation: Formed in 1937, FWCC includes all types of yearly meetings, FGC, FUM, etc. Its goals are to foster understanding among the various groups of Friends around the world. FWCC is divided into three sections: Europe and East Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Representatives gather for meetings of these sections once every three years. FWCC is a recognized non-governmental organization at the U. N.
Quaker Earthcare Witness: An organization of Friends “taking spirit-led action to address the ecological and social crises of the world from a spiritual perspective, emphasizing Quaker process and testimonies.”
QUNO – Quaker United Nations Office: Since 1947, this office has provided a link between the UN and Friends. Friends maintain Quaker Houses in both New York and Geneva, where diplomats can meet in a neutral space, thereby making progress toward reconciling differences.
QVS – Quaker Voluntary Service: Established in 2009, QVS provides a year-long opportunity for Young Adult Friends to live communially while providing service to the broader community. There are currently QVS houses in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Portland OR, with others being planned.
Pendle Hill Conference and Retreat Center: Quaker conference center near Philadelphia, PA. Provides adult education, publishes pamphlets, sponsors personal and group retreats.
RSWR – Right Sharing of World Resources: A program that encourages personal and local action to practice simplicity and eliminate poverty.
USFWI – United Society of Friends Women International: Supports Friends women’s groups and mission work worldwide