RESPONSES TO “WHY I AM A QUAKER”
ORIGINAL QUESTION, April, 2007
Following up on the two recent discussions of Misunderstanding Quaker Faith and Practice, there seems a need to share more of our various concepts of Quakerism. It was suggested that each person answer briefly and anonymously either of the following questions. We will compile answers and distribute them to all, so that each will have a variety pack of answers to digest and use as they will. A paragraph is probably sufficient, maybe two; nothing over a single page will be accepted. Please return in writing or by e-mail. Thank you!
Why do I go to a Quaker Meeting?
What do I tell my friends about being a Quaker?
I was attracted to Quakerism by its simplicity. It is a group of people seeking to know God directly without intermediary clergy, people simply following the teachings of Jesus Christ (consciously or otherwise) as closely as is modernly possible. Believing that there is that of God in everyone, as Christ did, lays the foundation for the basic Quaker principles: integrity, equality, peace, simplicity, community, stewardship, education, continuing revelation. Lives truly lived in accordance with these principles become beacons in our world, and Quakers are often accused of elitism and impractical idealism. However, the many works that result from at least trying to put these principles into practice are witness to its power. Seeking God out of the silence of personal and community worship has become for me the best way to fill my spiritual need.
The main reason I became a Quaker is the usefulness and meaning of silent worship. On the worst day when I don’t center well, it is at least a respite and chance to relax mind and body during a busy week. At its best I have intensely introspective experiences and sensations of something powerful in the collected congregation. I occasionally attend a traditional liturgical service at a client church, and I enjoy the singing and responsive reading as a change of pace. However on the whole this type of service tends to be something passively consumed, like an entertainment.
I tell friends that Quakerism is a type of protestant Christianity. I tell them a little bit about the history, and usually express our central aphorism, that there is that of God in everyone. If pressed, I’ll explain that to most Friends Christ is thought of in the abstract e.g. the light of Christ, and not so much as a personality or personal savior. If asked about salvation, I’ll explain that most Quakers are more concerned with establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, rather than going there when we die. I imagine most Quakers are Universalists when it comes to the question of salvation.
I go to Quaker Meeting because there is no creed but rather a self-responsibility for one’s spiritual life. In talking to my friends, I emphasize the Peace Testimony.
My faith is center to how I hope to live my life and raise my children. I go to grow in my faith, to have a sense of spiritual accountability, to grow as a member of a community of individuals who try to live in a manner representative of Quaker belief.
I have grown tremendously since sitting on the benches of my first meeting as a young girl, and continuing to practice, attend, seek, and question challenges me to bring my faith into my daily activities and into the lives of those I meet.
I tell my friends that being a Quaker is a deeply personal spiritual journey that starts by answering the inner desire for peace.
I go to a Quaker meeting because although I can reach God directly, without a priest or minister, at any time or place, and through meditation or centering down receive God’s guidance, the discipline of doing so at a specific time and place, in the company of other believers doing the same is valuable and helpful to me. What I tell my friends about being a Quaker is:
Quaker beliefs are pretty simple. We believe there is God and ‘that of God’ in everyone. You may call it ‘the Light within’, the Holy Spirit, or Conscience. It’s what gives us all a sense of right and wrong. As a result of this sense of right and wrong almost all religions have very similar commandments. Since we have this source of continuing guidance and revelation, ‘hireling priests,’ ministers and holy books are not required. Sermons, lectures, writings and Scripture may be useful, but are not taken as direct messages from God. All are interpreted using scholarship and the ‘Light Within.’ There is no need for or recognition of hierarchy, holy places or sacraments, thus no churches or ‘Steeple Houses.’ We worship in silence, meditating on God’s will for us. Anyone who feels led by that of God may speak according to that leading. In addition Quakers recognize others right to their revelation of God and to worship according to the leadings of that of God within them.
Because there is that of God within us all, any act of violence toward another is like cutting off a part of yourself, therefore the ‘Peace Testimony.’ (Following Jesus’ example ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’] In order for there to be peace, there must be justice and fairness to all. Quakers, since the time of George Fox, do not fight with outward weapons. They are however active in working to achieve justice and fairness by persuasion, demonstration and civil disobedience. [In a Roman occupied country, where the Jewish population wanted a Messiah to lead a successful revolt against Rome, Jesus was non violent.] [Most other religions endorse and participate in ‘Holy Wars.’]
Because we believe that there is that of God within us all continually observing us, we cannot behave dishonestly or lie. Thus Quakers are generally known for integrity and fair dealing (Hence ‘Quaker Oats’ etc.). Quakers also generally refuse to swear oaths and most courts use ‘swear or affirm.’ [Jesus integrity led him to the cross.] [Most religions require members to ‘believe’ things they know are not true or do not act on. You don’t believe the building is on fire if you continue sitting there.]
Because there is that of God within us all, there is equality of all. Quakers recognize no religious hierarchy, royalty, race, sex or ethnic differences. Thus the Quakers in this country had no slave ownership after 1760, and worked peaceably for abolition of slavery. Women have been an active and equal part of Quakerism since the beginning. Separate men’s and women’s meeting for business were held for many years to avoid any influence or embarrassment. This is the reason for the divider in older meeting houses. There was always a door for a representative of the women’s meeting to bring the consensus of that group to the men’s meeting so the final decision would be the consensus of all. Education, always a Quaker priority, was equally important for men and women. [Jesus dined with publicans and sinners, healed the centurion’s daughter and offered the Samaritan woman ‘living water.’][Most religions discriminate against women, other races and different lifestyles.]
Because there is that of God within us all, living in extravagant luxury while others are in poverty is abhorred. Simplicity of life allows resources to go to help those in need. (Live simply so that others may simply live.) Simplicity also means avoiding the ownership of Quakers by their possessions and jobs [‘the son of man has no places to lay his head.’] [The wealth, ambitions and rich houses of worship of other religions contradict this.]
I attend Meeting primarily to get a sense of peace. I take the time at Meeting to still myself and quiet my mind in an environment that is simple and serene, in the company of people that I appreciate and respect. Although I have not been able, thus far, to focus solely on “the light within” due to jangling thoughts, the attempt, I feel, is worthwhile. The total experience of driving to Fallston and attending Meeting on such beautiful grounds, with so much history, provides a welcome respite from the week’s harried pace.
I wonder if my reasons for attending Meeting are worthy and appropriate. I can’t say that I know a great deal about Quaker beliefs beyond the very basic concepts. I can say with certainty that the ideas of simplicity and clarity are something that I hope to move toward in my lifetime. The people at Little Falls are honorable and good, and I admire many of these individuals.
I don’t know that I will always attend Meeting at Little Falls. One day I may simply ‘drop out’ due to a sense of incongruity or perhaps a feeling of no longer fitting in. So far this has not happened; it has been a deeply pleasant, educational experience.
I do not consider myself to be a Quaker, but rather, someone who has been attending Quaker Meetings. I do not go out of my way to tell friends about this, however, if it comes up in conversation, I will attempt to answer any questions they have. If they ask me why I attend Meeting, well, … see above.
I am drawn by the notion that there is that of God in everyone and that if we only Listen, we WILL hear God speak to us as that “still small voice.” To me this means that we are each divine, and Quakerism honors that. Truthfulness, patience, peacefulness, respect, simplicity, and other Quaker values all stem from the notion that every single person is connected to God and should be treated as such.
Because there is the light of God in each of us, we don’t need others to tell us what to believe, what to do, how to behave, what to think. We have only to listen to the God inside of us for alt the “operating instructions” we need. It is good, however to receive reminders and guidance from Quakers who have gone before, though I don’t feel compelled to adopt anyone else’s ideas if I find that they do not ring true for me.
When we gather together, we form a larger piece of God and have more “power” or “strength” (for lack of a better word).
Though there is a historical element to the *culture* of Quakerism, that doesn’t much interest me. I am more interested in Quakerism as a living, growing faith and Meeting as a Lliving, growing community to support members and attenders as they strive to hear more of the ‘still small voice’ inside them.
What do I tell my friends about being Quaker?
I tell them that, in a nutshell, Quakers believe that there is an element of God within each person, and consequently, we treat all people with the respect and reverence. For example, Quakers were early abolitionists, believing it is wrong to enslave another human being. That we are traditionally pacifists, believing that it is wrong to harm another human being. I also point out that Friends are great proponents of teaming and education for everyone, because no one is more or Less deserving of these opportunities. I also may point out that some of our greatest Leaders and educational institutions are related to Quakers.
I tell them that Quakerism is probably the most accepting, inclusive faith that I have come across because we honor everyone, including those who think differently or behave differently than we would choose.
This answers both questions:
- the peace testimony
- the community (together and spiritually and from afar)
- working together on both spiritual matters and mundane matters, and making a Quakerly witness to local/national/world issues
- the peacefulness and ‘lack of clutter’ both in meeting and in the Quaker approach to life–having a personal, spiritual relationship with God, the ability to worship wherever one finds oneself
- a family heritage of peace-church membership on my Pennsylvania German side (Brethren, mostly, and Quaker via my widowed grandmother’s second husband)
I belong to a Quaker Meeting because I feel at home in a community of seekers open to exploring the deeper meanings in life. I appreciate the absence of a formal creed and the possibility and responsibility of connecting directly with God without intermediating clergy. I find the sharing of worship in the silence of a supportive group a beautiful experience, both challenging and rewarding. The basic tenets of Quakerism — truth, equality, peace, simplicity, community, stewardship — are guides to everyday right living. Some Friends actually live them and the world is better for their patient endeavors. I would like to live in such a way that I could simply say “Let my life speak.”
I think I returned the questionnaire regarding why I go to meeting. But in case I did not, I attend to participate in the Meeting for Worship. Most Sundays I enjoy the Adult Discussion. I realize that the Meeting needs everyone to take a share of the committee work in order to accomplish the work of the Meeting. I tell my friends that Quakers believe that there is that of God in every person and that it is possible to communicate directly with God without an Intermediary.
I am not sure that I am the right person to answer this question, as I am new to the meeting. However I felt compelled to write a line to you. For most of my life I would describe myself as someone that was very spiritual but not very religious. I have tried many times to find a church community that felt like a good fit to me but to no avail, I always felt like there were things that didn’t seem right. I had a friend years ago that was raised as a Quaker and she had given me my first introduction. Since I have been attending Little Falls meeting I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about being a Quaker. I was originally drawn to the meetings because I like the silent prayer, meditation, and simplicity. I have learned that the Quakers believe that God is within us all and this is something that I also believe and that sometimes is a challenge. Social awareness and being connected in a positive way is also something I hope to achieve and I feel like I can find an outlet and guidance for that through the meetings. These are all things that I hope to give to my daughter but I have never felt like I had found the proper framework for doing so until I started going to the meetings. I still have much to learn but I look forward to the journey. Thank you all for welcoming Olivia and myself, it has meant a lot.
I go to meeting for a number of reasons: to become “re-minded” of the power of love that we sometimes call “that of God” within me and others; to learn from and be changed by the discipline of silence and by the words and example of other Friends; to experience joining with those other Friends in deepening our commitment to living in love, and thereby to find encouragement and inspiration for the week ahead; to share what I can with other Friends, through silent communion and sometimes through offering words from the heart’s depths as well; to renew the sense of playing my small part in a great historic movement that helps bring peace, respect, justice, and love to a harsh world.
Whenever I think about such a question, I recall Robert Barclay’s words: “…when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart, and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me, and the good raised up, and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed.” That comes very close to describing my initial experience among Friends (at Little Falls) many years ago.
A colleague recently asked me, “What do Quakers believe?” I replied: “It’s not so much about belief, but about how we live. Mostly, it’s about trying to act lovingly, even toward people who make us angry or want to harm us, at all times.” Even after many years as a Friend, I’m still uncomfortable about exposing my idealism, vulnerability, and failure in that manner, but I think it’s very helpful to be asked to state my ideals explicitly now and again. Maybe it’s a question that helps perform one function that plain dress and speech performed for earlier generations: public identification as one who seeks to live as a continuous expression of love. In any case, I tell people, too, that being a Quaker is about being part of a community of Friends who are committed to that kind of life and to helping each other live it. And yes, that can be expanded to include the answer to the first question as well.
Going to Quaker Meeting is something I have done all my life. I remember a period of time while I was in college and had just started teaching when I rarely went to Meeting. Then I had the opportunity to be a representative of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting to a Conference at Oxford University to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quakerism. I met a number of weighty Quakers from the United States and England who gave me a greater sense of the significance of Quakerism and of my responsibility to help sustain and support it. As a result I took on greater leadership roles at Little Falls and on Boards of Quaker institutions and developed a recognition of my role in the immediate and broader Quaker community.
I attend Meeting now because I cherish the serenity. I love our meeting house and its beauty, strength and simplicity. I like thinking about all the relatives and friends I remember from the past 3/4 of a century who sat on these benches. I think about the life passages which have taken place here – weddings, bringing Laura as our new baby here for the first time, Quarterly Meetings, quilting, and funerals.
I have sat here in joy, in anger, in confusion, in fear, and mostly in peace. I no longer expect an epiphany while I am sitting here, but I know I have prayed desperately for ways to solve problems and to achieve goals and have found answers and guidance.
I doubt if I had not been born a Quaker, I would have been diligent enough to seek out a Friends Meeting. But Quakerism is just right for me. It is sensible; it is practical; and it opens door to learning more and acting for the good of others. It does not require me to subscribe to ideas which are not mine and not rational. I believe that there is a spark of the Divine in every person and that establishes the significance of continuing revelation, nonviolence, respect, honesty, and the other testimonies of Friends. Using Quaker principles in life situations rarely fails.
I am not impressed by those who need to bring attention to themselves through some kinds of bizarre behavior in the name of Quakerism, and I fear that they may be becoming more prevalent. The greatest strength of Quakerism is the people who embrace the concepts of Friends and live lives and/or help to create institutions that speak to and perpetuate the basic premises of our religious society.
FROM THE CHILDREN’S FIRST DAY SCHOOL
I am a Quaker because I really don’t believe in war. Because God is in everyone, why would we have war?
I am a Quaker because it runs through my family. I tell people that Quakerism is a specially wonderful disease.
I am a Quaker for a few reasons.
- I was born into it and my mom is Quaker.
- The Quaker values make a lot of sense to me.
- I like the fact that there isn’t a minister and you can think your own thoughts and center down your own way.
I tell my friends…
- That I am not Amish or Mennonite, because many mistake Quakers for them.
- That I go to a Quaker school
- That Quakers aren’t as weird and different than a lot of people think.
- Some of the Quaker beliefs
I am a Quaker because Quakers are nice people who sit in the Meetinghouse and believe that peace is good. That is why I am a Quaker.
To me, being a Quaker means accepting all other faiths. It means being uninvolved in the clash of beliefs, but still being a friend to all. To my friends, I say that being Quaker is to swim in a raging river. Do not fight the river, nor urge it faster, but let it take you where it will.
[accompanied by a picture of figures standing on a river bank while someone saves a drowning person]
I am a Quaker because my family is. I tell my friends that Quakerism is a religion where we sit together and connect with the God inside of us.