The Religious Society of Friends is a group with Christian roots that began in England in the 1650s. The group's formal title is the Society of Friends, or the Religious Society of Friends.
People in the Society of Friends are called "Friends" or Quakers, which mean the same thing. Most Quakers are Christian, but the group today includes a few other people. They live all over the world, but the largest groups are in Kenya, the United States, Bolivia, Guatemala, the United Kingdom, and Burundi.
The Society of Friends began in the 1650s in England. A man, named George Fox, spent several years struggling to figure out how to be a good Christian. He finally heard God's voice telling him that Christ would make it clear to him what he should do. Fox went around preaching to people and told them they could talk to God themselves and that they did not need a priest or minister to do it for them. He told them that if they listened within themselves, they would hear Christ telling them what to do. Fox found other people who had similar experiences. Together, they started a religious movement, which later became the Religious Society of Friends.
The government of England did not like the new group since at the time, the law required people to belong to the Church of England. Many Friends were put into jail or made to pay money as a punishment. At first, the word "Quaker" was a name used to make fun of the Friends, but after a while, many of those people came to like it and use it for themselves.
Seeking freedom of religion, some Quakers moved away to places like America. A young Quaker named William Penn started a new colony there. He got the land because King Charles II of England owed his father a lot of money. The new colony was called Pennsylvania, and it was a place for people to belong to any religion. Penn wanted people to be fair to one another, and he called the biggest city in his new colony Philadelphia, which means "The City of Brotherly Love." Soon, many Quakers were in America.
The Quakers were very active in America in the 19th century 1800s. Many of the leaders of the abolitionist and the women's rights movements, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, were Quakers.
Today, there are about 375,000 Quakers in the world. This number is very small compared to other religious groups. Even so, many people have heard of the Quakers, because they have worked hard to make the world fairer and more just.
Quaker worship services are called "meetings for worship". They start with everybody sitting quietly, trying to listen to God. Sometimes, Quakers will feel that God wants them to say something. When that happens, the person stands up and tells everyone. Then, they all sit quietly again. At some meetings, many people will speak. At other meetings, nobody speaks. Quakers feel that a meeting for worship helps them to understand what God wants. Usually, worship lasts about an hour.
Anyone may go to a Quaker meeting.
Quakers also have meetings for worship for weddings and funerals. When two people get married, the meeting is about them and the life that they will live together. When people have died, the meeting is about remembering things about them and the life that they had.
Many Quakers in North America, South America, and Africa have a different kind of worship service that is like other Christian services. They sing hymns, and a pastor gives a sermon. They also have a quiet time, but it does not last as long. Those Quakers often have strong Christian beliefs.
At other times, the meetings also decide what Quakers should do, which can be called "meetings for business" but also "meetings for worship for business" because they include parts of both worship and business.
Way of life
Quakers seek religious truth in their inner experiences. They rely on conscience to guide what they do. They emphasise direct experience of God rather than ritual or ceremony. They believe that priests and rituals are unnecessary to get between the believer and God. What Quakers say matches what they do.
Almost all Quakers share these beliefs:
- There is a piece of God in everybody and so each person is important. That makes Quakers value all people equally and oppose anything that may harm or threaten them.
- God can be found in everyday life as much as during a meeting for worship.
- Everybody has an "inner light" that tells them what they should do. The inner light comes from God.
- Everybody should try to do what God wants.
- People should try not to hurt other people.
- People should tell the truth and not lie. Quakers think that the truth is very important.
- People should not spend a lot of money on ourselves or wear clothes that make look rich.
- People should take care of the world around us (animals, plants, and the planet) so that it is healthy and can be used by people in the future.
Friends' Syrian Mission, 1874, built this mission house in Ramallah.
Conservative Friends worshipping in London in 1809. Friends are in traditional plain dress. At the front of the meeting house, the Recorded Ministers sit on a raised ministers' gallery facing the rest of the meeting, with the elders sitting on the bench in front of them, also facing the meeting. Men and women are segregated, but both are able to minister.
- "Quakers - the Religious Society of Friends". BBC. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
- "2012 map". Friends World Committee for Consultation - Section of the Americas. 2012. Archived from the original on 2016-03-27. Retrieved 2016-05-07.
- "Distribution of Quakers in the World - Quaker Information Center". www.quakerinfo.org.