About Quakers

Three Friends

Three Friends

In worship, Friends gather in silent, expectant waiting for guidance. We hold ourselves open to the Light and reach for the divine center of our being. We know the center to be a place of peace, love, and balance, where we are at one with the universe and with each other.

We know from experience that revelation is continuing and that a divine power is at work in the world today, healing, guiding, gathering, and transforming. We call this power God, the Light, Christ, the Seed, the Holy Spirit, the Inward Teacher. By whatever name it is known, its nature is love. It draws us toward a life of integrity, simplicity, equality, community, and peace.

Our meetings strive to be loving, nurturing communities. We celebrate diversity and encourage each person to find his or her true voice grounded in experience. We listen deeply to the Spirit and to each other as we seek to discern and embrace God’s will for us individually and as a community. Two things distinguish Quakers from other Protestant churches: our traditional style of worship, and our group method of making decisions.

We warmly invite you to join us.

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

Is it “Quakers” or “Friends”?

Our denomination’s official name is “The Religious Society of Friends.” We got nicknamed “Quakers” when we were getting started in England in the 1650s. Nowadays, we call ourselves both “Friends” and “Quakers.”

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

Visitors are always welcome

Few of the Friends in Lake Erie Yearly Meeting were raised as Quakers. Our meetings have people who have come from a variety of backgrounds: Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, atheist, Buddhist, as well as other religious groups and denominations. Some have had no religious upbringing. Others have previously experienced religious alienation. Consequently, we tend to have a wide range of religious thinking within our meetings.

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

What are the arrangements for children and youth?

If you are bringing children or youth, it is wise to call the meeting’s contact person in advance to find out what provisions the meeting makes. Many meetings follow the practice of having children and youth sit with the adults for the first or last quarter hour, then offer some kind of programming for the rest of the time.

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

Quaker Worship

Worship is at the heart of all Quakers do and are. From their beginning, Quakers adopted worship practices with a minimum of planned events, instead relying on direct revelation by the Holy Spirit to the worshipers gathered in silent expectation.

Quakers call their services “meeting for worship”. The following attempts to briefly describe worship in Lake Erie Yearly Meeting and among other Friends who practice unprogrammed worship based in silence. There are other groups of Quakers that use a format for worship more like other Protestant church services.

Meeting for Worship

The community gathers together in a waiting, expectant frame of spirit. Worship is in silent waiting upon insight from God. A participant may feel led to share a message with those present. There may be many, few, or no such messages, which Friends call “vocal ministry”. The meeting concludes when the person with responsibility for closing the worship discerns that the meeting has drawn to an end. Worship usually lasts about an hour.

What am I supposed to do during worship?

You are encouraged to explore ways to center down. Centering means entering deep stillness. The idea is to clear one’s mind of chatter and to concentrate on listening to God.

Each person finds his or her own way of centering down. Here are a few possibilities that some Friends have found helpful.

  • Take a deep breath and relax your body; repeat several times.
  • Consciously bring up your internal conversations (such as, I need to stop at the store on the way home, What did my friend mean when they said that yesterday? When is someone going to say something?) and dismiss each one for the time being.
  • Think of your friends and relatives and offer up a brief prayer for each one.
  • Let a familiar hymn run through your mind.
  • Let a familiar prayer run through your mind.

There are many more ways to help you center. If you find your mind wandering, don’t worry about it. Gently bring your focus back to being open to God. The ability to stay focused develops over time.

Centering leads to worship. It is not a time for “thinking,” for deliberate, intellectual exercise. It is a time for spiritual receptivity. The aim is not to think about things, but to experience God’s presence. If someone gives a message, listen carefully and non-judgmentally as they share their experience of the Divine.

Who do I talk to to get my questions answered?

If no one approaches you after worship, ask anyone, such as the person sitting next to you. Or seek out the person who closed meeting (started the hand-shaking), who gave announcements, or who identified him or herself as the Clerk. If the first person you ask can’t answer your question, ask them to direct you to the Clerk or someone else who does know. Because Quakers are organized non-hierarchically, it can take a couple of tries to find someone to connect with who can answer your questions.

What about children?

See section on arrangements for children.

What should I wear?

Friends tend to be informal. Jeans, slacks, or a skirt and a top are fine. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in.

Note: This section on Meeting for Worship is from Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition, by Michael L. Birkel, 2004, ISBN 1-57075-518-3

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

How Quakers Conduct Business

Discernment

Friends’ decision-making is based on communal discernment of where God is leading us. Discernment involves careful listening and recognizing God-inspired leadings. Discernment offers tools to distinguish between an interior leading from God and a worldly impulse such as a desire to feel important or look clever.

In meeting for worship, Friends can come into a powerful experience of unity. The same unifying spirit of worship is the basis for Friends’ decision-making. Quakers do not decide by voting. Instead, we look for a unity deeper than majority rule.

Business Meeting

Local congregations, called “meetings,” usually schedule time once a month to hear reports and make decisions (which is why they’re called “monthly meetings”). Each monthly meeting appoints a clerk, a treasurer, and whatever other officers it finds useful, including a recording clerk (secretary). It also appoints committees to perform tasks that the meeting wants done. Typical committees include Ministry & Nurture which serves pastoral functions; Finance; Peace & Social Concerns; Building & Grounds; etc. The officers are servants of the meeting. The clerk’s task is to help those present at a business meeting discern the will of God. The recording clerk takes minutes.

Everyone who attends worship is encouraged to come to business meeting, which functions as a committee of the whole. Often referred to as Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, the proceedings are held in a worshipful attitude. Items to be decided may deal with membership, finance, community building, the quality of worship, appointments, action to be taken to further the cause of peace in the world, or other matters. Many issues are considered by a committee before being presented to the whole body, and part of the committee’s responsibility is to recommend how the meeting might proceed. Controversial items are presented and discussed among those in the meeting well in advance of the business session so Friends can come to the business meeting prepared with sufficient information and prayerful consideration to engage in group discernment.

The business meeting begins with silent worship. When the clerk judges the meeting is ready, he or she begins the business meeting. The clerk will usually go over the agenda and then present the first item for consideration. People who have something to contribute speak one at a time and allow silent reflection between comments. The clerk can pull together and summarize feelings which are being expressed in the meeting. The meeting seeks to come to an understanding of where God is leading the group. When those present agree on the sense of the meeting, it is written down in the form of a minute and those present are asked to approve it. The next item is then presented.

Ideally, Friends come to business meeting in a prayerful, open state of mind ready to listen attentively to others and to the Spirit. We may express contradictory views, but do not argue with one another. We state what we want to say frankly and briefly without belittling each other.

Because Friends place such a high value on unity, we are willing to wait until we can agree on a decision before moving ahead. This may seem impractical, not to mention exasperating in how long it seems to take to come to a decision. Implementation, however, may go quickly. If we imagine a line with “idea” on one end and “implementation” on the other, the distance between the two remains the same no matter when the group chooses to make a decision. If the group uses majority rule, the decision can be made when just over half the group agrees to vote in the same way. We might chart it like this:
Majority Rule Visualization

The distance from decision to implementation is still considerable. The majority may have to tow a significant minority, many of them dragging their feet, to the point of implementation. The losers feel defeated and may resist or even sabotage the practical policy resulting from the decision.

When all consent to the decision, however, we might chart the process like this:

Consensus

The distance from idea to decision seems immense, but once the decision is reached, the group may proceed directly to implementation. All can feel ownership of the process and of the decision. There are no disgruntled minorities determined to undermine the success of the policy. The group need not be divided into quarrelling factions. No one need feel compromised or marginalized. A stronger sense of community results.

Questions you might want to ask

Can I come to a business meeting if I am not a member?

Yes. You are welcome to attend. In fact, attenders who apply for membership are expected to have participated in business meetings.

How long will the business meeting last?

This varies greatly from place to place and depends on how much business there is. Business meetings seldom take less than an hour and may run two or three hours. Check with the clerk of your meeting.

Will I have to do anything if I attend?

No. As with any Meeting for Worship you are under no obligation to do anything other than to support the work going forward by your presence.

Note: Portions of this text on business practices are based on Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition, by Michael L. Birkel, 2004, ISBN 1-57075-518-3. Used by permission. Other parts of this text are based on a document written and produced by Friends and Attenders from Glasgow Meeting, Scotland. Found at http://www.qis.net/~daruma/business.html 10/05.

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

Beliefs in Action

Most faith groups have specific beliefs that their members are expected to follow. Quakers rely heavily instead upon spiritual discernment by individual members, congregations, and regional assemblies. This makes Quaker beliefs difficult to describe. The following attempts to briefly describe Quaker beliefs and practices in Lake Erie Yearly Meeting. Some groups of Quakers differ significantly from what is described below.

Testimonies

Quaker spirituality is both inward and outward. Friends have always expected the Holy Spirit to transform individuals and then guide them into ways to transform society. The mystical stream in Quakerism has a profound ethical dimension. In worship together Friends have experienced not only wordless union with God but also practical leadings to engage in concrete actions.

Friends have always held dear the belief that the Light would bring them into unity. Their pattern of worship is contemplative yet corporate, blossoming into experiences of deep communion and community. Similarly, Quakers have expected this Light to lead them in the same direction and toward the same goals. Because revelation is continuing, new leadings will come, but because the Spirit is consistent, certain principles will prevail. Friends have called these principles “testimonies” because they witness to the wider world of the power of God to transform individuals and human society.

The testimonies are radically counter-cultural. They challenge the values of a society based on unbridled greed, distrust, violence, and oppression. They are rooted in love for God and one’s neighbors.

The testimonies challenge us to live our lives as God would wish us to. Testimonies bear witness to the truth as Friends in community perceive it-truth known through relationship with God. Some key testimonies are integrity, simplicity, equality, and peace.

Integrity. Integrity means to speak and behave so there is no slippage between what you say and what you do. It means to be honest in all dealings and tell the truth on all occasions.

Simplicity. Quaker understanding of simplicity has changed over time. Earliest Friends opposed luxury and waste. In the eighteenth century, simplicity became a code of plain dress and speech. Today, simplicity is understood to have to do with trust and with focus. A simple life is one that enables one to keep God at the center. Friends have also come to see simplicity as linked with the commitment to social justice and to responsible stewardship of God’s good creation.

Equality. Since every person has a spark of the Divine, Quakers emphasize that all people are equal before God. We welcome to our fellowship and worship all persons of whatever sexual orientation, race, religion or gender.

Peace. Since every person has a spark of the Divine, Friends are opposed to the taking of life, even in war or civil strife.

Community. Quakers seek to create a beloved community in their meetings and hope to influence the wider community to become one as well.

Living our Beliefs

A consequence of Friends’ search for truth is that scientific discoveries do not challenge the basis of our faith. Like the scientific method, Quaker faith and practice rely upon experience as a guide. We come to know truth experientially. The search for truth is more important to us than the maintenance of beliefs, so we try to remain open to new approaches to the truth.

Quakers attempt to live by our testimonies. Much of our ministry is carried out within our families, places of work, and through our community involvements. Over the years, Quakers have worked for prison reform, the abolition of slavery, an end to the death penalty, civil rights, right sharing of the world’s resources, stewardship of the earth, peaceful conflict resolution, religious liberty, and have advocated for alternative service for those whose conscience forbids them to kill others in war. Quakers have ministered to the needy, especially victims of war.

As you come to know us better, you will discover our shortcomings, our faults, and our failures. We have high ideals, but do not always live up to them. We are on a lifelong journey toward truth and fulfillment-a journey made more meaningful and easier by the companionship of other seekers.

Note: Portions of this text are quoted or paraphrased from Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition, by Michael L. Birkel, 2004, ISBN 1-57075-518-3. Used by permission.

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

Activities

In addition to worship and business, monthly meetings may sponsor a variety of activities, which might include:

  • Adult religious education
  • Potluck meals
  • Work sessions, either to work on the meetinghouse (church building) or grounds or to work together on a project such as making blankets to give to the needy or putting together kits of basic supplies for refugees
  • Singing
  • Teen gatherings
  • Retreats and conferences

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

Quakers on the Web

The online encyclopedia known as the Wikipedia provides an entry on Quakers that is a useful starting place for exploring Quakerism as a whole.

Other rich sources of information include the Quaker.org website and the Friends General Conference website’s Welcome to Quakerism section. To go to a page of Quaker-related links, click here.

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

Organization

Quakers who practice worship based in silence call the local congregation “the meeting” and call the building they use “the meeting house”. This is because we consider “the church” to be the people. Meetings are usually named for their geographic location, such as Pittsburgh Monthly Meeting or Pine River Monthly Meeting. Meetings usually gather for worship once a week and hold business meetings once a month (which is why they are called monthly meetings).

The monthly meeting is the primary unit and is where the most important decisions are made. Each meeting appoints a clerk, a treasurer, and whatever other officers it finds useful, including a recording clerk (secretary). It also appoints committees to perform tasks that the meeting wants done. Appointments are for one, two, or three years. Typical committees include Ministry & Nurture which serves pastoral functions; Finance; Peace & Social Concerns; Building & Grounds; etc.

The officers are servants of the meeting. The clerk’s task is to help those present at a business meeting discern the will of God. The recording clerk takes minutes. The treasurer and any other officers act as directed by the meeting.

Meetings in a geographic region will band together in a regional organization in order to work together on issues of common concern. Lake Erie Yearly Meeting has member meetings throughout Ohio and Michigan as well as neighboring parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It holds an annual gathering for business and fellowship (which is why it’s called a yearly meeting). All the members of the monthly meetings are encouraged to attend yearly meeting sessions.

Lake Erie Yearly Meeting is affiliated with Friends General Conference (FGC), a Quaker service organization for unprogrammed meetings in the U.S. FGC publishes books and educational materials, organizes an annual conference, and provides other services to its affiliated yearly meetings.

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

About Lake Erie Yearly Meeting

— Jump Back to Contents Listing

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers