Life

Quakers – Religious Society of Friends

What does it mean to be a Quaker?

PEOPLE-GEORGE FOX

‘Quakers’ may seem a strange name but the origins of the name are interesting. In 1650 George Fox, the founder of the movement, was on trial in Derby for preaching his Christian beliefs. As the judge sentenced him to six months in prison, George Fox warned him to tremble in fear of God. The judge had heard that people sometimes shook with emotion at the meetings of George Fox, so he laughed and said, “You folk are the tremblers, you are the quakers.” From this came the nickname ‘Quakers’, but the real name is the Religious Society of Friends.

The Religious Society of Friends has its origins within Christianity and some Quakers consider themselves Christians but not all do; some regard themselves as members of a universal religion that  simply contains Christian elements.Quakers believe that God is everywhere, in every person, every place and thing so they do not see the need for priests or special ceremonies. They believe God can be found in the middle of everyday life, as much as during a meeting for worship. On the whole Quakers regard the Bible as a very great book but they don’t see it as the only one, and rely on their own inner sense of morality as much as from any external source.

Although there is no priest Quakers do appoint groups of elders to whom we may turn for advice if we wish. They also arrange the study groups and discussions about spiritual matters. There is also a Clerk who keeps the records and is usually an Elder. Overseers are responsible for the pastoral care of Members and Attenders, looking after their practical concerns, such as visiting those in need, and arranging for them to have help when necessary, etc. The Quaker Meeting House is not a special building, just a useful one. Meetings can take place anywhere – often in people’s houses – but having a large building can make it useful for all kinds of things. It can be shared with other groups in the local community as well

Quaker services are a lot quieter than most churches. This is because Quakers believe if you want to hear something, the best way is to be still and not to have too many distractions around you. Thoughts may then come into your mind which may help you. So when they meet they sit silently with their eyes closed in that bare room. They believe that through this, God can tell them how to live better lives. Quakers think of this time as God ‘leading’ them. If a person feels led to do so, they might stand up and tell the Meeting what they have learned or read passages from the Bible or other religious writings, which they think might help others.

Quakers do not take communion as part of the Meeting, like other churches do. Instead, they remember Jesus’ final act of love for his disciples, the Last Supper, in the old-fashioned ‘Grace’ – a few moments of silent worship at the beginning of each meal at home or with other Friends. They don’t have special ceremonies for christening new babies either. The baby is brought to Meeting to be ‘introduced’ and there is a sense of shared responsibility for helping them along in any way possible. When children reach sixteen they are asked whether they want to stay in membership. People can be married in the Meeting House. An extra Meeting is arranged and, after a time of silence the couple stand up and, taking hands, make their promise to stay together ‘until our lives end’.

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