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Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

The Religious Society of Friends arose from the ideas of Christian preacher George Fox in England around 1647. Members refer to each other as 'Friends', but the term 'Quaker' (originally a nickname) is more widely known. There are about 300,000 Quakers around the world, and 28,000 in the UK. Early persecution in Britain led many to emigrate to America, and their greatest numbers are there today.

Fox did not find spiritual answers in the established churches of his day, and developed his own message. He taught that after death Christ returned in the Spirit, and that this 'inner light' can be experienced directly and personally by anyone - regardless of background and without the need of a church hierarchy. Fox and the early Friends formed the Society.

There is a wide variety of belief among Friends. The historical roots of the Society are Christian, and many Friends express their faith in Christian terms. Others, however, feel uncomfortable with Christian language. The words in which members express their beliefs may change over time. However, one of the essential features of the faith is a personal sense of the nearness of God in day-to-day life.

Religious Scriptures and Symbols

The Christian Bible is an important book for Quakers, but not a set of fixed rules or final revelation. They believe it was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that its words can awake insights of the Spirit in the reader. A local Quaker group is called a meeting, and their place of worship is called a Meeting House. They have no special symbol.

What do Quakers believe?

Quakers believe there is 'that of God' in everyone. So all people are children of God and no-one should set themselves above others. They do not separate religion and everyday life, but aim to experience God in all aspects of their lives. They believe that human fulfilment comes from the attempt to live in the power and spirit of God, the fruits of which are love, truth and peace.

Religion is about experiencing God for oneself, not just accepting words and practices. If one waits silently on God, this inner light will sometimes speak in one's heart. Such times of revelation and spiritual guidance are often called openings. Quaker life is an inward and outward journey: being mindful of God's presence in everyday activities, and turning one's spiritual guidance into action in the world. Friends are often involved in social action and supporting those in need.

There is no creed (statement of common belief), as Quakers believe all people are on individual spiritual journeys. Instead they are challenged to live their lives in ways which show they value truth, equality, simplicity, caring, kindness and peace.The Friends believe strongly in peace, and oppose preparations for war. They aim to work in ways that bring different points of view together to make a new and higher understanding, seeing the Light as a force that creates unity among those who respond to it. They are open to learn from other people and other faiths.

What do Quakers do?

Meetings for worship are held once or twice a week, often on a Sunday. Meeting Houses vary, but are generally simple and plain. There are no special symbols. Members sit together in silence seeking God's guidance for how they should live their lives and receiving the strength and energy to carry out this work. Anyone present may stand and share insights or experiences that they feel may be of help to others. (Some meetings in other countries use paid ministers and have more structured worship.) A Meeting for Business is also held in the context of worship, seeking the will of God. It is a careful exercise in listening: coming along well informed but then being open to the spirit. The Clerk draws out 'the sense of the meeting'. No votes are taken. The majority isn't necessarily right, and a meeting will continue to hear a member's deeply felt concern. There are no appointed religious leaders. Tasks are shared among the members: nurturing the spiritual growth of each individual and looking after each other, the buildings and finances. Practically, this work is carried out by committees.

Quakers are encouraged to avoid alcohol, tobacco and other habit forming drugs, but not prohibited from using them. There are no rules about what may be eaten. Those that feel the Religious Society of Friends is the right place for them can write to the local district clerk and apply to join. An existing Friend works with them to explore the nature and insights of the Society, and their application is considered at a monthly business meeting.

Dates of Importance

Quakers do not celebrate festivals, believing that no day is more holy than any other and that the messages associated with special days such as Christmas and Easter need to be remembered every day. Quakers do, however, celebrate an international Summer Gathering of Friends every four years. Here worship and experiences are shared, various workshops take place and there is singing and dancing for those who choose. There are also various other Quaker meetings and gatherings throughout the year.

Quakers in Nottingham

About 50 people meet for worship each Sunday at 10.30am at Nottingham Friends' Meeting House in Clarendon Street. During the meeting, activities are organised for the children, who join the meeting for the last 10 minutes. The Friends try to include the children in all aspects of the life of the meeting and respect the spiritual insight that can be gained from them. Some members also meet up during the week for fellowship and to study various issues.

Quakers have always been committed to finding peaceful methods to prevent and resolve conflict, and this concern is reflected in a local Quaker peace group. The belief in the worth of every human being has led to a long history of involvement in criminal justice issues.There is a fledgling peace and justice group running in Nottingham. Twice a month there are meetings of a spiritual growth support group, at which Friends can support others on their spiritual journey. Once a month there is a shared lunch followed by a talk or activity of interest to Friends. While they have no programmed singing in worship, a singing group meets once a month. Everyone is welcome to join our meeting for worship on Sundays. The doorkeeper greets newcomers and will answer any questions. For information on other Quaker groups in Nottingham visit nottinghamquakers.org.uk/local-meetings