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The Religious Society of Friends is a religious movement, whose members are known as Friends or Quakers. The roots of this movement are with 17th century Christian English dissenters, but today the movement has branched out into many independent national and regional organizations, called Yearly Meetings, which, while sharing the same historical origins, have a variety of names, beliefs and practices. It is therefore very difficult to accurately describe beliefs and practices of the Religious Society of Friends generally. Most groups of Friends meet for regular worship, ranging from silent meetings with no leader and no fixed plan of the proceedings, through to services led by a pastor with readings and hymns (similar to conventional church services). The theological beliefs of the different Yearly Meetings also vary, from strong evangelical Christian beliefs through the spectrum to predominantly universalist or Christian universalist beliefs.

In the public eye, Quakers are known for their social activism, having been instrumental in the campaign against the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as campaigning for the rights of groups such as women, prisoners and gay people.[1][2] A number of leading charities today were founded with participation from Quakers, such as Oxfam and Amnesty International.[3]


Quaker William Penn founded Pennsylvania


Template:Move portions The Religious Society of Friends began in England in the 1650s, as a Nonconformist breakaway movement from English Puritanism. As the movement expanded, it faced opposition and persecution. Friends were imprisoned and beaten in Great Britain, Ireland and the British colonies. William Penn was imprisoned in England on a number of occasions. In the 1670 "Hay-market case", William Penn was accused of the crime of 'preaching Quakerism to an unlawful assembly', and while he freely admitted his guilt he challenged the righteousness of such a law. The jury, recognizing that William Penn clearly had been preaching in public, but refusing to find him guilty of speaking to an unlawful assembly, attempted to find Penn guilty of "speaking in Gracechurch-street". The judge, unsatisfied with this decision, withheld food, water, and toilet facilities from the jurors for three days. The jurors finally decided to return a not guilty verdict overall, and while the decision was accepted, the jurors were fined. One of the jurors appealed this fine, and Chief Justice Sir John Vaughn issued an historically important ruling: that jurors could not be punished for their verdicts. This case is considered a significant milestone in the history of jury nullification.[4]

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 at Westminster from 1698-1833. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, as a safe place for Friends to live and practice their faith. Despite persecution, the movement grew steadily.

During the 19th century Friends in Ireland and the United States suffered a number of separations.


Various names have been used for the Friends movement and its adherents. These include:

  • Children of the Light
  • Friends
  • Friends Among Friends
  • Friends of the Truth
  • Publishers of Truth
  • Quakers
  • Quiet Helpers
  • Religious Society of Friends
  • Saints
  • Seekers of Truth
  • Society of Friends

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.

The name "Quaker" was first used in 1650, when 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",[5] 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" came many years later, in the 18th century. This 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.

Hicksite-Orthodox split

In 1827 a division occurred within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting when its members could not agree on who was to be clerk. The issue involved the visits and preaching of Elias Hicks in violation of the will of numerous meetings; they claimed his views were universalist and contradicted the historical tradition of Friends. The same year, a number of Friends in sympathy with him separated to form a parallel system of yearly meetings in America, referred to as Hicksite and those who did not were called Orthodox; ultimately five yearly meetings divided.

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.

Beaconite Controversy

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.

Gurneyite-Wilburite split

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 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.[6]


Joel Bean was an Orthodox Friend who opposed the extreme evangelicalism that was creeping into his branch of Quakerism. He formed a new branch of Quakerism in the western part of the United States when his membership was terminated and his meeting was laid down by Iowa Yearly Meeting.

The "Beanite", or independent, Quakers resemble an amalgam of Hicksite and Wilburite Quakerism. During the 1980s some of them adopted the label "Christ-Centered Universalism".

Beliefs and testimonies

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 writing that "Christ has come to teach His people Himself." [7]

Since Friends believe that each contains 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..."[8]

Theological beliefs

The theological beliefs of different Yearly Meetings vary considerably, ranging from evangelical Christianity through 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.[9] 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.[9] 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 an inward Christ.[9] 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 an 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 is 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.[10]

While the predominant theological beliefs of different Yearly Meetings do not tally exactly with the style of service,[10] 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."[11] 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, some forms of Quakerism completely reject all forms of religious symbolism and outward sacraments, such as baptism or celebrating the Eucharist. Quakers also believe in continuing revelation, with the idea that God speaks directly to any person, without the need for any 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 an 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.

Quaker Testimonies

Quakers try to bear witness or testify to their beliefs in their every day life - an expression of "spirituality in action".[12] These 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 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:[13]

  • Peace
  • Equality
  • Integrity (or sometimes Truth)
  • Simplicity

Some Friends also include other testimonies, such as Unity, Community, Compassion, Justice, Truth, Stewardship, Sustainability, and the testimony against time and season. 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. "

The Bible

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".[14] 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".[15]

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.[16] 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 modern Quakers are generally little concerned with theology and more concerned with 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.[17] Eschewing notions of "authoritative" doctrines, diverse statements of "faith and practice" and diverse understandings of the "leading of the spirit" have always existed among Friends. The leading to lay down all sense of authoritative theology (notions thereof) results in broad tolerance within the Society for earnest expressions of "the light within".

Liberal Friends believe a formal creed 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" stated by Evangelical Friends International, both of which are comparable to mainstream Christianity 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.[18] 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 every few years.


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 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.

Holy days and church calendar

Friends have traditionally eschewed the traditional church calendar, 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 (Sunday) should be done every day of the week. Meeting for Worship is often held on a First Day (Sunday), 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. For example, this idea is represented by the Anglican minister and Quaker, Paul Oestreicher. 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. It is also possible to consider the Quakers as a kind of humanistic religion in the sense of Erich Fromm. In this view mysticism includes social and political activities. For instance the German Quaker Heinz Röhr saw himself as a Friend between Marx and mysticism.


Friends Meeting House, Manchester.

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 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.[10]

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

The interior of an old meeting house in the United States

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

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.

Rites of passage


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), however 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.


A marriage in a Friends meeting is similar to any other unprogrammed Meeting for Worship, which can be very different from the experience expected by non-Friends.[19] Quakers have their own registrars to sanction the union. The ceremony 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, including the youngest children in attendance, are asked to sign the wedding certificate.

In the early days of the United States, there was doubt whether a marriage solemnized in such a manner was entitled to legal recognition, leading at least one jurisdiction, Florida, to enact special legislation on the subject.[20]

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. At the Yearly Meeting in 2009 in Britain the Quakers decided to perform marriage ceremonies for 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 legal in the United Kingdom these marriages will not be legally valid. However, they stated that the law does not preclude from "playing a central role in the celebration and recording" of them and asked the government to change the law so that they would be recognised in the same way as opposite-sex marriages in Quaker meetings.[21]

Memorial services

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.

Decision making among Friends

Quaker Business Meeting in York

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 all decisions are reached so that they are consistent with the guidance of the Spirit.[22]

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. Each member listens to others' contributions carefully, in an attitude of seeking Truth rather than of attempting to prevail or to debate.

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.[23]

National and international divisions and organization

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,[24] 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.

Unlike many other groups that emerged within Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has tended away from creeds, and away from hierarchical structure.[25]

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)

International organisation

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 (FWCC) - 4 Sections Globally

FWCC is divided into four Sections to represent different regions of the world. The four FWCC Sections are:

1. Africa Section 2. Asia West Pacific Section 3. Europe and Middle East Section 4. Section of the Americas

For details about FWCC see the official website:

A brief description of each FWCC Section is provided below:

1. Africa Section Africa Section represents Friends throughout the continent of Africa. Most African Friends are from the evangelical programmed tradition. 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. For Africa Section's official website, see:

2. Asia West Pacific Section (AWPS) Asia West Pacific Section 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, see: For AWPS's official website, see:

3. Europe and Middle East Section (EMES) Europe and Middle East Section 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, Ramalla, 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. For EMES's official website, see:

4. Section of the Americas 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, for a detailed discussion see: 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. For Section of the Americas official website, see:

In Africa

The highest concentration of Quakers is in Africa.[26] 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.

In Canada

Quakers can be found throughout the provinces of Canada, with some of the largest concentrations of Quakers in Southern Ontario. The village of Argenta, British Columbia is the only community in Canada where Quakers form the majority.

In Australia

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 [27]. 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[28].

In the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Quakers follow unprogrammed worship and are part of Britain Yearly Meeting, where there are 25,000 worshippers[29] in around 500 Local Meetings.

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.[30]

In addition to Britain Yearly Meeting, there is also a very small minority of independent 'Christian Quakers'[31] who follow Ohio Yearly Meeting's conservative discipline.[32]

In the United States

Friends Church, Pleasant Plain, Iowa.

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), Wider Fellowship of Conservative Friends (WFCF), 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 four groups, while EFI is the most Evangelical (of course WFCF is the Conservative one). 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;[33] however Friends have often cautioned against the admission of education credentials as either a form of honouring humans instead of God or as a substitute for a relationship with God . 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.

The Religious Society of Friends within the wider Christian community

Many Quakers feel their faith does not fit within traditional Christian categories of Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, but is another way of experiencing God.[34]

Although all Quakers in previous centuries, and most today, recognize Quakerism as a Christian movement, a few Friends (principally in some Liberal 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.[35] Calls for Quakerism to include non-Christians go back at least as far as 1870,[36] but this phenomenon has become increasingly evident during the latter half of the 20th century and the opening years of the 21st century, and is still controversial among Friends. An especially notable example of this is that of Friends who actively identify as members of a faith other than Christianity, such as Islam[37] or Buddhism.[38]

Quaker terminology

Birthright Friend
a historical term for those Friends born into families that are members of a Friends Meeting. (This term is not always officially recognized by Friends.)
a process undergone to discern the true leading of the Spirit of God, especially in ambiguous or complicated situations. Friends often work with clearness committees when struggling with a difficult issue.
the only officer of most meetings (as there are no clergy); the person charged with making and keeping the records of the meeting (including the records of births, marriages, and deaths). The clerk's role is to serve—as an honoured servant of the meeting—and, whilst revered, is not an authoritarian position.
Friends believe that anyone may feel called by God. Friends consider carrying out a concern to be a form of ministry. Often there may be a meeting for clearness to test the concern after which the meeting may well support the person in their concern. Many well-known organisations, such as the American Friends Service Committee, Don't Make a Wave Committee (the predecessor organisation to Greenpeace), Oxfam and Amnesty International, have been founded by Friends "acting under concern".
Convinced Friend
a historical term for those Friends who were not born into Quaker families, but who came to Friends because of the Truth of Quaker teaching and practice. The process of deciding to become a Friend is known as "convincement."
Gathered Meeting
A meeting for worship, where those present feel that they were particularly in tune with the leadings of the Spirit.
Facing Benches
Older meetinghouses often have benches on a raised platform which face the rest of the congregation where Weighty Friends (see below) who might be expected to speak would sit. Historically (and in some meetings still) these would be the recorded ministers and elders.
Hold in the Light
To recognize concern in one's self for another person or situation. This is often considered to be synonymous with praying for someone.
I hope so
(British term) during a meeting for worship for business, when the clerk asks those present if they agree with a minute, Friends will usually say "I hope so" rather than "yes". It is meant in the sense of “I hope that this is the true guidance of the Holy Spirit”.
Lay down
the action properly taken upon a committee, meeting or ministry that is no longer needed; "to lay down" a meeting is to disband it.
Lay over
to allow time to pass before action on a consideration, in hopes of obtaining clearness; "the transfer of Mary's membership has lain over for one month"
a course of action, belief or conviction that a Friend feels is divinely inspired.
the act of speaking during a meeting for worship. (Many Friends use the term more broadly to mean living their testimonies in everyday life). "Vocal" or "proclamational" refer to ministries that are verbal.
An unfounded, unspiritual position. (Used by George Fox, often to refer to teachings or doctrines that were expressed but not fully understood or experienced.)
Proceed as Way Opens
to undertake a service or course of action without prior clarity about all the details but with confidence that divine guidance will make these apparent and assure an appropriate outcome.
Recorded Minister
A person whose vocal ministry (spoken contribution in meeting)—or another spiritual gift—is recognised as helpful and probably faithful to Divine leading, by the body of Friends to which they belong and formally recorded by that body. Not all Friends' organisations record ministers. Other Friends have adopted a defined process prerequisite for "recording."
Right ordering
has to do with proper conduct of a meeting for business. The term is often used in the negative, that is, if someone senses that something about the conduct of the meeting is not proper, they may object that "this meeting is not in right ordering."
Speaks to my condition or Friend speaks my mind
Commonly used during meetings for business to express that another Friend has spoken what is in the mind of the speaker; used to help add weight to the ministries of others.
That of God in everyone
the belief in the presence of God within all people. Also referred to as the Inner Light.
Weighty Friend
a Friend, respected for their experience and ability over their history of participation with Friends, whose opinion or ministry is especially valued.


  2. Library of Society of Friends Subject Guide: Abolition of the Slave Trade
  3. Amnesty International Secretariat Archives at the International Institute of Social History
  4. Abramson, Jeffrey (1994). We, The Jury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 68–72. ISBN 0-674-00430-2. 
  5. Quotation from Chapter 4 of George Fox's journal (also see footnote). Here Fox would have meant Christ by "word of God"; see Beliefs and practices of Friends.
  6. See A short history of Conservative Friends for further information.
  7. Throughout his journal, Fox made several similar statements. Including in Chapter 5 stating: "God was come to teach His people Himself" and Chapter 6 "Christ was come to teach people Himself". Fox frequently used the words God and Christ interchangeably.
  8. Isaac Penington to Thomas Walmsley (1670)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Friends General Conference. "Quaker Finder". Retrieved 2009-07-26. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Page 5; Introduction from Quaker World Relations Committee
  11. Quaker Faith & Practice. Yearly Meeting. 1999. pp. 1.02.5. ISBN 085245306X. 
  12. Living What We Believe — Quaker Testimonies: a way of living faithfully - A leaflet "produced by Testimonies Committee of Quaker Peace And Social Witness, 2005"
  13. see Quaker Testimonies leaflet
  14. Quotation from the third Proposition of Barclay's apology.
  15. Quotation from George Fox Journal, entry for 1649.
  16. David Rush (2002) They Too Are Quakers: A Survey of 199 Nontheist Friends The Woodbrooke Journal, 11(Winter)
  17. There are several examples of Fox referring to people as notionists in his journal. One is in Chapter 5: "After a while there came a priest to visit him, with whom also I had some discourse concerning the Truth. But his mouth was quickly stopped, for he was nothing but a notionist, and not in possession of what he talked of."
  18. #377, Pendle Hill, 2005
  19. Britain Yearly Meeting (1994). "Quaker faith & practice (Third edition) - Quaker marriage procedure". Britain Yearly Meeting. Retrieved 2008-03-26. "The simple Quaker wedding where the couple, together with their friends, gather in worship ... a number of those attending the wedding may be unfamiliar with worship based on silence" 
  20. See Florida Statutes, 741.07 Persons authorized to solemnize matrimony, (2) (specifically validating Quaker marriages) (Revised 10/20/2006).
  21. Gledhill, Ruth (2009-08-01). "Quakers back gay marriage and call for reform". The Times. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  22. Guide to Quaker Business Meetings. Quakers in Scotland
  23. Quaker consensus decision making practices at Haverford College
  24. FWCC's map of quaker meetings and churches
  25. "The Trouble with 'Ministers'" by Chuck Fager gives an overview of the hierarchy Friends had until it began to be abolished in the mid-18th century.
  26. 43 percent of Quakers worldwide are found in Africa, versus 30 percent in North America, 17 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 6 percent in Europe, and 4 percent in Asia/West Pacific. See Quaker Information Center.
  27. list of Australian Quaker Regional Meetings
  30. Britain Yearly Meeting (1999). Quaker faith & practice (3rd edition ed.). London: Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. ISBN 085245306X. 
  31. See one such meeting's website: Ripley Christian Quakers.
  32. News and Events
  33. See Also Quaker Schools in Britain and Ireland, link title
  34. Quakers - The Religious Society of Friends. BBC Religion and Ethis
  35. David Rush (2002) They Too Are Quakers: A Survey of 199 Nontheist Friends The Woodbrooke Journal, 11(Winter)
  36. E.g. The Quakers in New England: An Essay (1870) by Richard Price Hollowell, p. 26.
  37. Brett Miller-White (2004) The Journeyman – The Making of a Muslim Quaker Quaker Theology, 10
  38. Valerie Brown (2006) The Mindful Quaker

Further reading

  • Abbott, Margery, Mary Ellen Chijioke, Pink Dandelion, and John William Oliver, editors, Historical Dictionary of The Friends (Quakers) ISBN 0-8108-4483-4
  • Allen, David., There is a River: a Charismatic Church History in Outline ISBN 1-85078-564-3
  • Bacon, Margaret H., The Quiet Rebels: The Story of the Quakers in America ISBN 0-87574-935-6
  • Bernet, Claus, Quaker Missionaries in Holland and North Germany in the Late Seventeenth Century: Ames, Caton, and Furly, in: Quaker History. The Bulletin of Friends Historical Association, 95, 2, 2006, 1-18.
  • Bill, J. Brent, Imagination and Spirit: A Contemporary Quaker Reader ISBN 0-944350-61-5
  • Bill, J. Brent, Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality ISBN 1-55725-420-6
  • Boulton, David (ed.) 2006. Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. Dales Historical Monographs. ISBN 0-9511578-6-8
  • Brinton, Howard H., Friends for 350 Years ISBN 0-87574-903-8
  • Birkel, Michael L., Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition ISBN 1-57075-518-3 (in the UK, ISBN 0-232-52448-3)
  • Burnet, G.B., Story of Quakerism in Scotland The Lutterworth Press 2007, Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-7188-9176-3
  • Dandelion, Pink, The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction ISBN 978-0-19-920679-7
  • Cooper, Wilmer A., A Living Faith: An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs. 2nd ed. ISBN 0-944350-53-4
  • Gillman, Harvey, A Light that is Shining: Introduction to the Quakers ISBN 0-85245-213-6
  • Guiton, Gerard, The Growth and Development of Quaker Testimony' ISBN 0-7734-6002-0
  • Hamm, Thomas D., The Quakers in America ISBN 0-231-12362-0
  • Harrison, Richard S. Merchants, Mystics and Philanthropists - 350 Years of Cork Quakers Published by Cork Monthly Meeting 2006
  • Hubbard, Geoffrey, Quaker by Convincement ISBN 0-85245-189-X and ISBN 0-14-021663-4
  • Ingle, H. Larry, First Among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism ISBN 0-19-507803-9 and ISBN 0-19-510117-0
  • Ingle, H. Larry, Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation ISBN 0-87574-926-7
  • Minear, Mark., "Richmond, 1887: A Quaker Drama Unfolds" ISBN-10 (0913408980) ISBN-13 (9780913408988)
  • Michener, James A., Chesapeake (novel), Genre: Historical novel, ISBN 0-394-50079-2
  • Moore, Rosemary, The Light in Their Consciences: The Early Quakers in Britain 1646-1666 ISBN 0-271-01989-1
  • Moretta, John A., William Penn and the Quaker Legacy ISBN 0-321-16392-3
  • Mullet, Michael, editor, New Light on George Fox ISBN 1-85072-142-4
  • Punshon, John, Portrait in Grey : a short history of the Quakers ISBN 0-85245-180-6
  • Smith, Robert Lawrence, A Quaker Book of Wisdom ISBN 0-688-17233-4
  • West, Jessamyn, editor, The Quaker Reader ISBN 0-87574-916-X
  • Sheeran, Michael. 1983. Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in the Religious Society of Friends. Philadelphia, Pa: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
  • Steere, Douglas. 1967. On Being Present Where You Are. Wallingford, Pa: Pendle Hill Pamphlet No. 151.
  • Walvin, James. The Quakers: Money and Morals. London: John Murray, 1997.

Children's books

External links


Documentary films