The Religious Society of Friends (aka Friends and Quakers)
‘Walk cheerfully over the world recognising that of God in everyone,’ seems simple, obvious advice. And it is this advice that, after much soul-searching, led George Fox and Margaret Fell to found the Religious Society of Friends in the 1650s in England.
George Fox’s advice gave a new form to the experience and practice of Christianity in England at the time. The King James version of the Bible made the scriptures available in the vernacular, so access and personal interpretation implied personal responsibility for one’s spiritual experience: essentially ‘Thou shalt decide for yourself.’
Fox’s simple, compelling invitation to take responsibility for one’s experience and practice of religious faith was sternly condemned because it challenged the dominance of the clergy. Fox and his followers – the Religious Society of Friends – consistently refused to comply with the class, gender and other divides of their society, which led to their testimony that they ‘feared no man’. A judge coined the expression “Quaker” because these people quaked ‘only before God.’
Quakerism is not a notion but a way, and today there are Quakers on almost every continent, with a history of ‘recognising that of God in everyone.’ Their activities have involved acknowledging the dignity of Native Americans, freeing African slaves and abolishing slavery, anti-apartheid activism, and involvement in such organisations as Greenpeace. In 1947 international Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their peace testimony, and reconstructive social work in the defeated countries after World War II. To date, Quakers are the only religious grouping ever to be acknowledged in this way.
Through the centuries, Quakers have embraced a democratic expression of their spirituality in meeting for worship with no ordained spiritual leaders, no creed, and no sacraments. Meeting for worship starts when two or more people come together to quieten themselves, and to seek the Inward Light in the gathered silence. There is no programmed sermon, but occasionally someone delivers a brief ministry – a short, unprepared message rising from prayerful inner meditation. Since we are not a debating society, there is no comment on the ministry, just a deepening of the silence as the statement is considered.
Although Quakers do not hold any writings infallible, we recognise and respect many different scriptures as wisdom worth sharing. We refer to our own compilation of wisdom as Advices and Queries. These compilations are reviewed, revised and extended from time to time, and are prefaced by the statement, ‘Our diversity invites us both to speak what we know to be true in our lives, and to learn from others. Friends are encouraged to listen to each other in humility and understanding, trusting in the Spirit that goes beyond our human effort and comprehension. So it is for the comfort and discomfort of Friends that these advices and queries are offered, with the hope that we may all be more faithful and find deeper joy in God’s service.’
Also included is a sensible caution, ‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken.’
In addition, we have recently published a collection of Quaker writings from Central and Southern Africa called Living Adventurously.
The conviction that there is that of God in everyone has profound implications. So, the Quaker Way is often introduced through its testimonies, light-heartedly offered as SPICE for life.
Simplicity – plain speaking and living, focusing on what is truly important, and letting other things fall away.
Peace – inward peace that affects outward living, seeking justice and healing for all people, and working to remove the causes of conflict in the ways we live.
Integrity – living as whole people who act on what we believe, tell the truth, and do what we say we will do.
Community – supporting one another in our faith journeys and in times of joy and sorrow, and sharing with and caring for each other. Being in community with other Quakers helps us to hear and follow the guidance of the Inward Light, and to be faithful.
Equality – treating everyone, everywhere, as equally precious to God, and recognising that everyone has gifts to share.
Equity – seeking a fairer, more compassionate and respectful organisation of our lives and distribution of opportunities, goods and services in community.
Environment – valuing and respecting all of God’s creation, using only our fair share of the earth’s resources, and working for policies that protect the planet.
Western Cape Quaker meeting has adopted the Charter for Compassion as a valuable expression of the Golden Rule. We meet at 2 Rye Road in Mowbray (opposite Mowbray Maternity Hospital), at 09:30 on Sunday mornings, as well as two or three Sundays a month in the homes of Friends in the South Peninsula. When you visit us, expect a warm welcome and to be given the time and space to work it out for yourself; should you have a concern, care is always available. For further information, please see our website.