Religious Society of Friends
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The Religious Society of Friends describes a range of independent religious organizations which all trace their origins to a Christian movement in mid-17th century England and Wales. A central tenet was that ordinary people could have a direct experience of the eternal Christ, particularly as a teacher and guide. Today, the theological beliefs among the different organizations vary, but include broadly evangelical Christian, Orthodox Christian, liberal Protestant, Christian universalist and non-Christian universalist beliefs. Within some groups, Friends meet for silent worship with no leader and no fixed program, where they await spiritual guidance directly from God. In other groups, Friends meet for services led by a pastor with readings and hymns.
Other names used in some groups of Friends include Quakers and Friends Church.
Some branches of the Religious Society of Friends are known to the general public today for testifying to their religious beliefs by refusing to participate in wars, and by social action, for instance on behalf of the environment and equal rights for all. In the past they were known for wearing particular clothing (plain dress); by using outdated modes of speech (thee and thou); and by refusing to swear oaths.
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The Religious Society of Friends began in England in the late 1640s, in a context of social upheaval which included increasing dissatisfaction with the established church, the execution of the king, and the rise of Nonconformist movements.
The founder of Quakerism is generally accepted to have been George Fox. He became convinced that it was possible to have a direct experience of Jesus Christ without the mediation of clergy. He began to spread this message as an itinerant preacher and found several pre-existing groups of like-minded people; he felt called to gather them together, eventually becoming accepted as their leader.
In the first few years of the movement, Quakers thought of themselves as part of the restoration of the true Christian church after centuries of apostasy. For this reason, during this period they often referred to themselves as simply the "saints". Other common names in the early days were "Children of the Light" and "Friends of the Truth", reflecting the central importance in early Quaker theology of Christ as an Inner light that shows you your true condition.
As the movement expanded, it faced opposition and persecution. Friends were imprisoned and beaten in Great Britain, Ireland and the British colonies. In the Massachusetts Bay colony, Friends were banished on pain of death– some (most famously Mary Dyer) were hanged on Boston Common for returning to preach their beliefs. In England, Friends were effectively banned from sitting in Parliament from 1698 to 1833. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn in 1682, as a safe place for Friends to live in and practice their faith.
Despite persecution, the movement grew steadily.
In April 1827, a division occurred within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting when its members could not agree on who was to be clerk. The background issue involved the visits and preaching of Elias Hicks in violation of the wishes of prominent leaders of mostly urban meetings; they claimed his views were universalist and contradicted the historical tradition of Friends. In the same and following year, a number of Friends from Philadelphia, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Baltimore Yearly Meetings in sympathy with him separated to form a parallel system of yearly meetings in America. They were referred to by their "Orthodox" opponents as "Hicksites"; neither side embraced its nickname, preferring to style themselves simply Friends.
The splits in New York and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings were overcome in 1955 when in each yearly meeting the Orthodox and Hicksite meetings merged; Baltimore's division ended a decade later.
The Beaconite Controversy arose from the book "A Beacon to the Society of Friends," published in 1835 by Isaac Crewdson. He was a minister in the Manchester Meeting. The controversy arose in 1831 when doctrinal differences amongst the Friends culminated in the winter of 1836-1837 with the resignation of Isaac Crewdson and of 48 fellow members of the Manchester Meeting. About 250 others left in various localities in England including prominent members. A number of these joined themselves to the Plymouth Brethren and brought influences of simplicity of worship to that society. Notable among the Plymouthists who were former Quakers included John Eliot Howard of Tottenham and Robert Mackenzie Beverley.
The Orthodox Friends in America were exercised by a transatlantic dispute between Joseph John Gurney of England and John Wilbur of Rhode Island. Gurney emphasized scriptural authority and favored working closely with other Christian groups. Wilbur, in response, defended the authority of the Holy Spirit as primary, and worked to prevent what he saw as the dilution of the Friends' tradition of Spirit-led ministry. Wilbur was expelled from his yearly meeting in a questionable proceeding in 1842. Over the next several decades, a number of Wilburite-Gurneyite separations occurred. The Wilburite tradition is carried on today to varying degrees by the conservative yearly meetings of Ohio, Iowa, and North Carolina; Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) is generally considered the most traditional in this regard, retaining more rural Quakers who use the plain language and continue wearing plain dress more than the other two.
Joel Bean was an Orthodox Friend who opposed the extreme evangelicalism that was sweeping into his branch of Quakerism. His opponents within Iowa Yearly Meeting terminated his membership and laid down the San Jose, California, meeting with which he and his wife Hannah were affiliated. Their stance influenced some western Quakers to adopt a more inclusive position that played down doctrine; later in the 20th century others emulated them, and some began referring to themselves as "Beanites."
These independent Quakers, rarely in charge of monthly or yearly meetings, represented more of a "tendency" than anything else and came to resemble an amalgam of Hicksite and Wilburite Quakerism. During the 1980s some of them adopted the label "Christ-Centered Universalism".
The origin of the name "Quaker" is disputed. In 1650 George Fox was brought before Justice Bennet of Derby on a charge of blasphemy. According to Fox's journal, Bennet "called us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God", a scriptural reference (e.g., Isaiah 66:2, Ezra 9:4). Therefore, what began apparently as a way to make fun of Fox's admonition by those outside the Society of Friends became a nickname that even Friends use for themselves. The name "Religious Society of Friends", dating from the 18th century, remains the most widely accepted name to this day, although often "Quakers" is added in parentheses for the sake of clarity. However, there are some Friends who prefer other names: some evangelical Friends' organizations use the term "Friends Church", and some Friends (usually in unprogrammed meetings) object to the word "religious" and refer to themselves as part of the "Society of Friends". There are some monthly meetings that for this reason do not include "religious" in their name, while most larger Quaker organizations, such as yearly meetings, use the full name.
George Fox and the other early Quakers believed that direct experience of God was available to all people, without mediation (e.g., through hired clergy, or through outward sacraments). Fox described this by insisting that "Christ has come to teach His people Himself."
Since Friends believe that each person has the ability to experience and respond to God, much of the Quaker perspective is based on trying to hear God and to allow God's Spirit free action in the heart. Isaac Penington wrote in 1670: "It is not enough to hear of Christ, or read of Christ, but this is the thing– to feel him my root, my life, my foundation..."
The theological beliefs of different Yearly Meetings vary considerably, ranging from evangelical Christianity to universalist and new thought beliefs. Some yearly meetings (especially those in parts of the US and Africa affiliated to Friends United Meeting) regard Christ as their teacher and Lord. Other yearly meetings (especially those in parts of the US, Asia and Central America which are affiliated to Evangelical Friends Church International) regard Christ as their Lord and saviour. Other yearly meetings (especially those in parts of the US which are affiliated to the wider fellowship of conservative Friends) trust in the immediate guidance of the inward Christ. There is often a very wide variety of theological belief in some other yearly meetings (often termed liberal yearly meetings such as those in parts of the US affiliated to Friends General Conference, many yearly meetings in Europe and Australia/New Zealand and the Beanite yearly meetings in western United States), with meetings often having a large proportion of liberal Christians and universalist Christians some of whom trust in the guidance of the inward Christ or inner light, with some non-theists, agnostics, and atheists, as well as some who are also members of other religions, although even amongst liberal yearly meetings this can be controversial. Common ideas among members of these liberal yearly meetings include a belief of "that of God in everyone", and shared values, such as to peace, equality and simplicity.
While the predominant theological beliefs of different Yearly Meetings do not tally exactly with the style of service, there is often some co-relation, with many Yearly Meetings that hold programmed worship having more evangelical theological beliefs, and those with unprogrammed worship tending to have more liberal theological beliefs.
Modern Friends, particularly those in the liberal Yearly Meetings, often express their beliefs in many ways, including the attitude of trying to see/appeal to "[the light] of God in everyone"; finding and relating to "the Inner Light", "the Inward Christ", or "the Spirit of Christ within." Early Friends more often used terms such as "Truth", "the Seed", and "the Pure Principle", from the principle that each person would be transformed as Christ formed and grew in them. The intention to "see the Light" or see "that of God in everyone" is an effort in Quakers to cast aside more superficial differences and focus on the good that they believe to be in all people.
Unlike other Christian denominations, most Quakers completely reject all forms of religious symbolism and outward sacraments, such as baptism or celebrating the Eucharist. (Some, especially those affiliated with Southwest Friends Church, permit their churches to administer what other Friends call the "outward ordinances.") Quakers also believe in continuing revelation, with the idea that God speaks directly to any person, without the need for any human intermediary. For this reason, many reject the idea of priests or holy people, but believe in the priesthood of all believers, and reject the doctrine of sola scriptura. The idea of the Inner Light, or Inward Light of Christ is important to many Quakers: the idea that there is that of God within everyone, guiding them through their lives.
Quakers try to bear witness or testify to their beliefs in their every day life - an expression of "spirituality in action". The ways in which they testify are often known as Quaker testimonies or Friends' testimonies: these are not a formal, static set of words, but rather a shared view or attitude of how many Quakers relate to God and the world. This leads to each Quaker having a different understanding of what the testimonies are and, while the ideologies remain quite similar for all Quakers, they go by different names, and different values are included throughout the Religious Society of Friends. The Testimonies are interrelated and can be seen as a coherent philosophical system, even outside Christian theology. The testimonies have not always been consistent, but throughout their history they have challenged Friends and provided them with guidance.
The list of testimonies is, like all aspects of Friends theology, continuously evolving– so as to be relevant to today, but the following are common:
Some Friends also include other testimonies, such as Unity, Community, Compassion, Justice, Truth, Stewardship, Sustainability, and the testimony against times and seasons. In the USA, Children and Friends school students are often taught the acronym SPICES, which stands for Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship. In the UK, the acronym STEP is used, or more affectionately, PEST, which includes the testimonies to Peace, Equality, Simplicity and Truth. Truth tends to be the more common name of the integrity testimony in the UK, although Integrity is also sometimes added as a fifth testimony. Similarly, in recent years the environment has also come to be regarded by some in the UK as an "emerging testimony", one that is respected and valued, but has not traditionally been prioritized.
An interesting example of Quaker attitudes is in the writings of William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude In Reflections And Maxims, written in his retirement. An excerpt from this work is the following aphorism: "The Wise Man is Cautious, but not cunning; Judicious, but not Crafty; making Virtue the Measure of using his Excellent Understanding in the Conduct of his Life. "
Early Friends rejected the mainstream Protestant idea of sola scriptura, that the Bible is God's written word and therefore self-authenticating, clear and its own interpreter; instead, they believed that Christ, instead of the Bible, is the Word of God. Robert Barclay wrote in his Apology that the scriptures "are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners". Similarly, George Fox recounted an incident in his Journal in which when a minister claimed that the Scriptures were authoritative, Fox "...was commanded to tell them God did not dwell in temples made with hands. But I told them what it was, namely, the Holy Spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the scriptures, whereby opinions, religions and judgments were to be tried; for it led into all Truth, and so gave the knowledge of all Truth".
Early Friends believed that Christ would never lead them in ways that contradicted the Bible; this belief prevented conflicts between Friends' leadings and their understanding of the Bible.
As time passed, conflicts began to arise between what the Bible appeared to teach and how many Friends believed they were being led by the Spirit. Some Friends[who?] decided that the Bible should be authoritative in these cases.
Other Friends, partly under the influence of movements such as liberal Protestantism, decided that it was possible to be truly led in ways contrary to Scripture, and that in such cases scripture should give way. Still other Friends rejected (or neglected) the Bible altogether; hence in many liberal Friends meetings one might encounter non-Christian Friends or those who question some or all of the traditional doctrines of Christianity. In nearly all cases, modern Friends believe in the necessity of being continually guided by God. Divine revelation is therefore not restricted to the Bible, but rather continues even today; this doctrine is known as continuing revelation.
A common set of practices emerged which spoke of key principles and beliefs held by Friends. These are "testimonies", for Friends believe these principles and practices should be expressed (testified as truth) among Friends as well as to others, in both words and deeds. (See Testimonies for a list and description of several testimonies.) Rooted in the immediate experience of the community of Friends, for many Friends these values are verified by the Bible, especially in the life and teachings of Jesus.
Generally, Quakerism has had no creed but always had doctrines. George Fox dismissed theologians as "notionists" but accepted the Catechism and Confession of Faith by Robert Barclay. Some Quakers today are little concerned with theology and are more focused on acting in accordance with the leading of the Spirit. Quakers historically have expressed a preference for understanding coming from God's Spirit over the knowledge derived from objective logic or systematic theology. Due in part to this emphasis on reliance on the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, diverse statements of "faith and practice" and diverse understandings of the "leading of the spirit" have always existed among Friends. As a non-creedal form of Christianity, Quakerism is especially receptive to a wide range of faith understandings.
Liberal Friends believe a corporate confession of faith would be an obstacle–both to authentic listening and to the recognition of new insight. On the other hand, Orthodox Friends have enumerated and subscribed to a set of doctrines, such as the Richmond Declaration or the "Beliefs of Friends" statement by Evangelical Friends International, both of which are comparable to other Christian confessions of faith.
Robert Griswold's pamphlet on this subject expounds Friends' historic witness against creeds–not just as a principle of individual religious integrity, but as an implied statement that Friends, having encountered and experienced God, found creeds not just pernicious, but irrelevant. Doctrinal statements which seek to objectify deity fail to communicate the essence of the "Holy Spirit", "Inner Light", or "that of God within us" that "speaks to us" and can also compel "witness".
As a public statement of faith, many Yearly Meetings publish their own version of a Book of Discipline - often called Faith and Practice - which expresses their sense of truth and purpose; these documents generally are revised periodically.
Early Friends did not believe in the reliance upon practice of the outward rites and sacraments, believing that holiness can exist in all the activities of one's life–all of life is sacred. They experienced baptism by the Holy Spirit as an inward, transforming experience and knew communion with Christ in the midst of gathered worship in the expectant silence. Thus they did not perform water baptism as a rite of membership. These Friends also believed that any meal with others could be a form of communion.
At various times some individuals or small groups of Friends have published corrective cautions against adopting the prohibition of some rite as itself being creedal. The focus should be upon God as Present Teacher, rather than on some human ritual, or the absence of a ritual. Most Friends therefore do not prohibit rites or ceremonies, but they do counsel against allowing these human inventions to take the place of direct experience and leading by God.
The "plain calendar," sometimes called the "scriptural calendar," differs from what Friends refer to as the "world's calendar" in that it uses numbers to denominate the names of the months and days of the week. It emerged in the 17th century in England in the general non-conformist movement but became closely identified with Friends by the end of the 1650s and continuously since that time.
The plain calendar does not use names of calendar units derived from the traditional names due to their derivation from pagan deities. Instead, it uses ancient terminology as found in the bible where the days of the week were numbered; for example, Jesus' followers went to the tomb early on the First Day of the week. From this, the plain calendar week begins with First Day (equivalent to the traditional Christian Sunday) and ends on Seventh Day (Saturday). Similarly the calendar's months run concurrently with the traditional months albeit named First Month, Second Month, etc..
Friends have also eschewed the traditional church calendar of holy days, not observing religious festivals such as Christmas, Lent, or Easter at particular times of the year, but instead believing that Christ's birth, crucifixion and resurrection should be commemorated every day of the year. For example, many Quakers feel that fasting at Lent but then eating in excess at other times of the year is hypocrisy, and therefore many Quakers, rather than observing Lent, live a simple lifestyle all the year round (see Testimony of Simplicity). These beliefs tie in with Quakers' beliefs on sacraments and the belief that all of life is sacred.
Similarly, Friends traditionally are non-Sabbatarians, holding that "every day is the Lord's day", and that what should be done on a First Day should be done every day of the week. Meeting for Worship is often held on a First Day, however this is more because of convenience rather than because it is believed that Sunday is Sabbath, and many Friends hold Meeting for Worship on other days of the week.
These beliefs are often referred to as the testimony against time and season.
Quakerism is unusual because of its emphasis on the personal experience of God. However, it differs from other mystical religions in at least two important ways. For one, Quaker mysticism is primarily group-oriented rather than focused on the individual. The Friends' traditional meeting for worship may be considered an expression of that group mysticism, where all the members of the meeting listen together for the Spirit of God, speaking when that Spirit moves them. On the other hand it is also possible to consider the Quakers as a special kind of religious order (like the Franciscans, who also practise group mysticism), living the mystic and monastic tradition in their own way.
Additionally, Quaker mysticism as it has been expressed after the late 19th century includes a strong emphasis on its outwardly directed witness. Rather than seeking withdrawal from the world, the Quaker mystic translates his or her mysticism into action. They believe this action leads to greater spiritual understanding– both by individuals and by the Meeting as a whole. This view of mysticism includes social and political activities.
Most groups of Quakers meet for regular worship. In some traditions, this is called meeting for worship and in others it is a Friends Church service. In yearly meetings in Europe, Asia, southern Africa, Oceania and parts of the US, worship is usually unprogrammed. This, constituting about 11% of Quakers worldwide, is based in silence; it is usually held with others, and those who feel "moved to speak" can minister for as long as they feel is right. There is usually space to reflect between spoken contributions, and the meetings normally last for one hour. There is no (human) leader in such a service, Quakers who worship in this tradition often believing that each person is equal before God and is capable of knowing "the light" directly. In many yearly meetings in Africa, Asia and parts of the US, worship is programmed. This constitutes around 50% of Quakers worldwide. Here there is often a prepared message, which may be delivered by an individual with theological training. There may be hymns, a sermon, Bible readings and prayers, and a period of silent worship. There is often a paid pastor responsible for pastoral care of the members of the local church. In addition to these, around 40% of Quakers worldwide are evangelical, who may have grown apart from unprogrammed worship.
Friends treat all functions of the church as a form of worship, including business, marriage, and memorial services, in addition to regular meeting for worship. The two main forms of Quaker worship are often referred to as "programmed" and "unprogrammed".
While the different styles of worship generally reflect the theological splits, with unprogrammed meetings generally being more theologically liberal and programmed Friends churches more theologically conservative, this is not a strict rule. Many meetings hold both programmed and unprogrammed services or other activities. Some "Conservative" meetings are unprogrammed yet would be generally considered to be theologically closer to most programmed meetings.
Unprogrammed worship is the more traditional style of worship among Friends and remains the norm in Britain, Ireland, continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and parts of the United States (particularly Yearly Meetings associated with Friends General Conference). During an unprogrammed meeting for worship, Friends gather together in "expectant waiting" for divine leadings. Sometimes a meeting is entirely silent, sometimes quite a few people speak. Meeting for Worship generally lasts about an hour.
When they feel they are led by the spirit a participant will rise and share a message (give "vocal ministry") with those gathered. Typically, messages, testimonies, ministry, or other speech are not prepared as a "speech". Speakers are expected to discern the source of their inspiration– whether divine or self. After someone has spoken, it is expected that more than a few moments will pass in silence before further Ministry; there should be no spirit of debate.
Unprogrammed worship is generally deemed to start as soon as the first participant is seated, the others entering the room in silence. The Meeting for Worship ends when one person (usually predetermined) shakes the hand of another person present. All the members of the assembly then shake hands with their neighbours, after which one member usually rises and extends greetings and makes announcements.
Programmed worship resembles a typical Protestant worship service in the United States. This tradition arose among Friends in the United States in the 19th century in response to large numbers of converts to Quakerism during the national spiritual revivalism of the time. Typically there are readings from scripture, hymns, and a sermon from the pastor. A period of silence (similar in practice to that of unprogrammed meetings, though generally shorter) is included in some Programmed Friends worship services. Most Friends in the southern and central United States worship in this way.
The Friends meetings started in Africa and Latin America were generally started by Friends from programmed elements of the society, therefore most African and Latin American Friends worship in a programmed style.
Some Friends also hold what is termed Semi-Programmed Worship, which brings programmed elements like hymns and readings into an otherwise unprogrammed worship service.
Quakers do not practice any form of water baptism, Christening ceremony or other ceremony for the birth of a child. The child is welcomed into the meeting by everyone present at their first attendance. Formerly, it was the practice that children born to Quaker parents automatically became members of the Religious Society of Friends (sometimes called Birthright membership), but this is no longer the case in most areas, and most parents now leave it up to the child to decide whether to become a member when they are an older child or adult.
Weddings within the Religious Society of Friends differ according to the style of worship of the meeting/congregation.
A meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage in an unprogrammed Friends meeting is similar to any other unprogrammed Meeting for Worship. The meeting for worship is conducted exactly as a normal meeting for worship, and the pair marry one another before God and gathered witnesses. After exchanging vows, the meeting returns to open worship and guests are free to speak as they are led. At the rise of meeting all the witnesses, who comprise of everyone present at the meeting including the youngest children, are asked to sign the wedding certificate as a record of the event. In Britain, Quakers have their own registrars who keep a separate record of the union and notify the General Register Office.
In the early days of the United States, there was doubt whether a marriage solemnized in such a manner was entitled to legal recognition, so that over the years each state set its own rules for the procedure.
In recent years, Friends in Australia, Britain and some meetings in North America have celebrated weddings or civil unions between partners of the same sex. Britain Yearly Meeting decided in 2009 to recognise marriages between same-sex couples, making them the first mainstream religious body in the UK to do so. As true same-sex marriage (as distinct from civil partnership) is not recognised in law or by civil authorities in the United Kingdom these marriages will not be recognised in civil courts. However, they stated that the law does not preclude Friends from "playing a central role in the celebration and recording" of marriage between same-sex couples, and asked the government to change the law so that marriage between same-sex couples would be recognised in the same way as opposite-sex marriages. In parts of the United States where same-sex marriages are not legal, some meetings follow the practice of early Quakers in overseeing the union without reference to the state at all.
Traditional Quaker memorial services are also held as a form of worship and are known as memorial meetings. Friends gather for worship and offer remembrances about the person who has died. Because Friends believe that the spirit is more important than the body, the coffin or ashes of the deceased are not present, rather burial takes place separately. Memorial meetings can last over an hour, particularly if there are a large number of people in attendance. Memorial services give everyone a chance to remember the lost individual in their own way, thus bringing comfort to those present, and re-affirmation of the larger community of Friends.
Business decisions on a local level are conducted at a monthly "Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business", or simply "Business Meeting". A business meeting is a form of worship, and conducted in the manner or meeting for worship, all decisions are reached so that they are consistent with the guidance of the Spirit.
Instead of voting, the Meeting attempts to gain a sense of God's will for the community. Each member of the meeting is expected to listen to that of God within themselves and, if led, to contribute it to the group for reflection and consideration. This ministry is, unlike in meeting for worship, regulated. A friend will stand if they feel moved to speak but must wait to be called upon by the Clerk of the meeting before speaking. Each member listens to others' contributions carefully, in an attitude of seeking Truth rather than of attempting to prevail or to debate. Direct replies to someones contribution are not permitted and all contributions must be addressed to the clerk or the meeting as a whole.
A decision is reached when the Meeting, as a whole, feels that the "way forward" has been discerned (also called "coming to unity") or there is a consensus. On some occasions a single Friend will hold up a decision because they feel the meeting is not following God's will; occasionally, some members of the Meeting will "stand aside" on an issue, meaning that these members do not share in the general sense of the meeting but are willing to allow the group to move forward.
Many Quakers describe the search for unity as the gathering of believers who "wait upon the Lord" to discover God's will. When seeking unity, Friends are not attempting to seek a position with which everyone is willing to live (as is often the case in consensual models) but in determining God's will. It is assumed that if everyone is listening to God's Spirit, the way forward will become clear.
The business conducted "in the manner of Friends" can seem time-consuming and impractical. The process can be frustrating and slow, but Friends believe it works well, allowing the group to come to decisions even around the most difficult matters. By the time a decision is recognized, the important issues have been worked out and the group supports the decision; there is no "losing" side.
Many non-Friends express doubts as to whether this process of decision making can work in a large group, although many yearly meetings have successfully employed this practice for generations. Some Quaker-related organizations, such as Haverford College near Philadelphia and Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, also use traditional Quaker form practices of governance.
Like many movements, the Religious Society of Friends has evolved, changed, and split into various smaller subgroups.
Since its beginnings in the United Kingdom, Quakerism has spread to other countries, chiefly Australia, Bolivia, Burundi, Costa Rica, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Uganda, and the United States. Although the total number of Quakers is relatively small, around 360,000 worldwide, there are places, such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;Kaimosi, Kenya; Newberg, Oregon; Greenleaf, Idaho; Whittier, California; Richmond, Indiana; Friendswood, Texas; Birmingham, UK; and Greensboro, North Carolina in which Quaker influence is concentrated.
The various branches have widely divergent beliefs and practices, but the central concept to most Friends is the "Inner Light" or "Light of Christ within". Accordingly, individual Quakers may develop individual religious beliefs arising from their personal conscience and revelation coming from "God within"; Quakers feel compelled to live by such individual religious beliefs and inner revelations. Throughout their history, Quakers have also founded other charities or organizations for many causes they felt are in keeping with their faith. Within the last century there have been some 100 organizations founded by either individual Friends, groups of Friends or Friends working with others - amongst others: Amnesty International, Greenpeace, OXFAM, Peace Action, WILPF. (SEE List of Quaker Businesses)
Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) is the international Quaker organization which loosely unifies the diverse groups of Friends; FWCC brings together the largest variety of Friends in the world.
There are various organizations associated with Friends including a U.S. lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C. called the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL); several service organizations like the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker United Nations Offices, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Friends Committee on Scouting, the Quaker Peace Centre in Cape Town, South Africa and the Alternatives to Violence Project.
Friends World Committee for Consultation is divided into four Sections to represent different regions of the world: Africa, Asia West Pacific, Europe and Middle East, and Americas.
Africa Section represents Friends throughout the continent of Africa. Most African Friends are from the evangelical and programmed traditions. However, a significant minority are from the unprogrammed tradition. South Africa Yearly Meeting is principally an unprogrammed Yearly Meeting and there are unprogrammed Meetings elsewhere in Africa, notably in Kenya. Africa Section is numerically the most numerous of the Sections and the administrative headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya. The 2012 Friends World Conference will be held in Kenya.
Asia West Pacific Section (AWPS) is geographically the largest FWCC Section stretching from Japan in the North to New Zealand and Australia in the South and from the Philippines in the East to India in the West. Asia West Pacific Section is growing significantly and recently welcomed into Membership the Philippine Evangelical Friends Church, a Filipino programmed and evangelical Friends Meeting; Marble Rock Friends and Mahoba Yearly Meeting in India. Some AWPS Friends Meetings are numerically small, e.g. those in Korea and Hong Kong but nonetheless give generously to Friends work internationally and contribute a lot to the life of Friends. Other Friends Meetings in the Section are relatively large with several thousand Friends. The geographical area of the AWPS region includes numerically numerous Friends Meetings of the evangelical programmed tradition which have not as yet affiliated with FWCC, although friendly relations are maintained locally. AWPS has led the way among Friends for action on what Friends call "Global Change" which we define as: "The unity, integration and the inter-connection of all change. Seemingly different or unrelated changes are in fact aspects of facets of a single greater change." (Quoted from Julian Stargardt: "Friends and Global Change", AWPS, 2008.) In 2008 AWPS established a Global Change Committee to network, research and work on the subject, the AWPS Global Change Committee is currently Clerked by Jo Valentine of Australia and Julian Stargardt of Hong Kong. AWPS also asked FWCC to take up this subject on behalf of Friends worldwide which FWCC is doing.
Europe and Middle East Section (EMES) is numerically the smallest of the Quaker Sections but historically the oldest and is growing in former East Block countries, though declining in so called Western countries. EMES includes Britain Yearly Meeting, the mother Meeting of Friends, being the heir to the former London Yearly Meeting. Britain Yearly Meeting's "Faith and Practice" or book of discipline is used by many Friends around the world as a guide to Friends' practices and procedures. Britain Yearly Meeting is the largest Meeting in the Section with approximately 16,000 Members, followed by Ireland Yearly Meeting with around 1,000 Members. Other Yearly Meetings in Europe are small, in some cases smaller than Monthly Meetings in Asia but retain the name and form of Yearly Meetings for historical reasons. Friends have a long standing presence in the Middle East and the Holy Land, dating back to Ottoman times. For example, Friends School, Ramallah, is a noted educational centre and Friends are active in attempts to build peace at the grass roots in this troubled area. Britain Yearly Meeting's Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) is one of the significant international Friends agencies. The FWCC Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in Geneva is partly supported by Britain Yearly Meeting. Friends presence at the United Nations has engaged and continues to engage in much quiet diplomacy to reduce violence and build peace around the world. Friends House in Geneva is a quiet haven in a busy international city and hosts Geneva Meeting.
Section of the Americas is numerically the second largest section and includes Friends from all Friends traditions in both North and South America as well as in the Caribbean and Central America. Section of the Americas is officially bi-lingual in Spanish and English, though Canada Yearly Meeting also operates in both English and French. FWCC's other QUNO branch is located adjacent to the New York UN Building and is closely connected with the quasi-Quaker organisation American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). AFSC was founded by Friends and still has a substantially Friends Board of Trustees, however, only the Director of AFSC is required to be a Friend and the vast majority of AFSC staff, including senior staff, are not Friends and are not familiar with Friends worship or testimonies leading to some Friends' Meetings distancing themselves from AFSC and its activities. In 1947 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Friends for 300 years of work for peace and received on behalf of Friends by AFSC and its London counterpart, the Friends Service Committee, now known as Quaker Peace and Social Witness. Approximately 160,000 Friends live in the USA and some 300,000 live in Latin America. US Friends are often relatively affluent whereas many Latin American Friends come from relatively impoverished and oppressed indigenous communities. As in Asia and Africa, in Latin America, Friends are a growing church. Section of the Americas Friends have a long history dating back to the mid-17th Century. Friends founded or helped found a number of the US States, notably Pennsylvania, named after distinguished 17th Century English Friend, William Penn; Rhode Island; New Jersey and Delaware all had substantial Friends' contributions in their founding. William Penn's constitutional documents for Pennsylvania formed an important and influential source for the later United States Constitution. In the early colonial period Friends were persecuted in Massachusetts and New York. Friends also had a substantial impact in the early days of colonisation of the Caribbean, for example in the 17th and early 18th centuries 25% of the population of Barbados was Friends. The history of suffering is a uniting factor with Latin American Friends, many of whom live in difficult circumstances and find living the transformative Peace Testimony a daily commitment.
It is difficult to speak about American Friends as a whole because they represent such a broad and diverse range of Friends traditions, however, it is a tribute to their commitment to Friends beliefs that they respect each other and work together.
The highest concentration of Quakers is in Africa. The Friends of East Africa were at one time part of a single East Africa Yearly Meeting, then the largest Yearly Meeting in the world. Today, this region is served by several distinct Yearly Meetings. Most of these are affiliated with the Friends United Meeting, practice programmed worship, and employ pastors. There are also Friends meetings in Rwanda and Burundi, as well as new work beginning in North Africa. Small unprogrammed meetings exist also in Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Quakers can be found throughout the provinces of Canada, with some of the largest concentrations of Quakers in Southern Ontario.
Considerable distances between the colonies, and a low immigration of Quakers, meant that the organization of Friends in Australia was quite dependent on London until the twentieth century. The Society has remained unprogrammed and is constituted as the Australia Yearly Meeting, with local organization around seven Regional Meetings: Canberra (which extends into southern New South Wales), New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia (which extends into Northern Territory), Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. There is an annual meeting each January hosted by a different Regional Meeting over a seven year cycle, with a Standing Committee each July or August. The 2006 Australian Census recorded 1984 Quakers in Australia, which was an increase of 11% since the 2001 Census.
These meetings used to be called Preparative Meetings, and the groups they formed were previously known as Monthly Meetings: now they are Area Meetings. This change, made in Britain Yearly Meeting 2007, was intended to simplify Quaker jargon. The structure extends into several Area Meetings becoming a General Meeting– formerly Quarterly Meeting– Some General Meetings now call themselves Regional Gatherings (e.g.-Bristol & Wessex Regional Gathering, was Bristol & Somerset GM) which each continue to meet up to three times per year, but now play no direct role in church government. Instead, Area Meetings are represented directly in Meeting for Sufferings, which meets in between Yearly meetings.
The first French quaker community was founded in Congnies, in the south of France in 1888.
Friends in the United States have diverse practices, though united by many common bonds. Along with the division of worship style (see "Quaker Worship" above) come several differences of theology, vocabulary and practice.
A local congregation in the unprogrammed tradition is called a meeting, or a monthly meeting (e.g., Smalltown Meeting or Smalltown Monthly Meeting). The reference to "monthly" is because the meeting meets monthly to conduct the business of the meeting. Most "monthly meetings" meet for worship at least once a week; some meetings have several worship meetings during the week. In programmed traditions, the local congregations are often referred to as "Friends Churches".
Several local monthly meetings are often part of a regional group called a quarterly meeting, which is usually part of an even larger group called a yearly meeting. Again, quarterly or yearly refers to the frequency of "meetings for worship with a concern for business."
Some yearly meetings belong to larger organizations to help maintain order and communication within the society, the three chief ones being Friends General Conference (FGC), Friends United Meeting (FUM), and Evangelical Friends Church International (ECFI) (in all three groups, most member organizations, though not necessarily people are from the United States). FGC is theologically the most Liberal of the three groups, while EFI is the most Evangelical. FUM is the largest of the four. Friends United Meeting was originally known as "Five Years Meeting." Some monthly meetings belong to more than one of these larger organizations, while others are independent, not joining any.
Friends have founded many schools and colleges around the world. Several organizations centered on education have continued amongst Friends, including Friends Council on Education (FCE) an organization supporting Friends schools (typically primary through secondary, often boarding) and Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE) which supports Friends post-secondary institutions and those who resonate with Friends' teaching and traditions who serve in higher education.
Although nearly all Quakers prior to the twentieth century, and most today, consider Quakerism as a Christian movement, some Friends (principally in unprogrammed Meetings in the United States and the United Kingdom) now consider themselves universalist, agnostic, atheist, secular humanist, postchristian, or Nontheist Friend, or do not accept any religious label. Calls for Quakerism to include non-Christians go back at least as far as 1870, and this phenomenon is evident in some branches of Quakerism today, although it is unrepresentative of Friends worldwide. An especially notable example of this is that of Friends who actively identify as members of a faith other than Christianity, such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism  or Paganism.
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