"Be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one." -- George Fox, 1656
1. Basic Quaker beliefs
2. Quaker meetings
3. Quaker testimonies
4. Quaker structures
5. World family of Friends
6. Life and development of small worship groups
The Quaker movement arose in the mid-17th century in England. Its followers called themselves "Friends of Truth", as they thought of themselves as friends of Jesus (John 15:15). In time they came to be known simply as "Friends". The name "Quaker" was a nickname used by others, as it was said that they trembled or quaked with religious zeal. Friends have since adopted the term and today the words Friend and Quaker have the same meaning. The formal title of the Quaker movement is now: "Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)".
Originally, this introduction was prepared for a 'Meeting for Learning' to help introduce a new group of Friends in Lithuania to Quaker beliefs and practices. The text is based on a number of existing leaflets, brochures and books. I thank all Friends and organisations that have supplied me with their material, especially Quaker Home Service of Britain Yearly Meeting and Friends General Conference in Philadelphia. You can find a list of the sources and other relevant publications in the Literature list. I also thank the Friends who have critically reviewed the text.
Of course this brief introduction cannot possibly cover all aspects of Friends and Quakerism in depth. I also realise that my selection of texts is subjective. Still, I hope it helps interested individuals and groups to learn more about Quakers, their beliefs, their ideals, and the ways they put their faith into action.
Friends are invited to translate this publication in their own language and to use it for their own 'outreach'. Over the centuries Friends have introduced and used many words and phrases which are very difficult to translate into other languages. While editing the text I have tried to avoid such 'Quaker English', but this was certainly not easy and could not always be avoided.
For further information you can contact the FWCC office in London or the office of the Europe & Middle East Section (addresses below).
Friends began their radical redefinition of Christian Truth in England in the 17th century. George Fox was the great driving force of the early years. He was born in 1624 the son of a reasonably prosperous weaver and an intensely religious mother. A serious, introspective, physically powerful youth, he was at an early stage drawn to religious concerns. But he was genuinely shocked by the failure of the 'professors', the professing Christians, to live their beliefs.
At the age of 19, George left home on a spiritual quest. He sought out and challenged religious leaders everywhere to answer his questions. His searching and wandering lasted four years, but no one seemed to understand him and no one accepted the reality of his inner conflict. Gradually his conviction grew that God had given him the answer within himself. In 1647, he heard a voice which said, "there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition". This experience changed his life, his religious conceptions, and his view of the human-divine relationship. He devoted the rest of his life to sharing this new understanding.
George Fox was imprisoned eight times for spreading his religious beliefs and for drawing the radical consequences from them. He suffered cruel beatings, great strain and deprivation. He proved to be a heroic and resolute person and a true religious genius. His Journal and other writings continue to be basic works of the Religious Society of Friends, of which he is generally accepted to be the founder. He knew the Bible so well that most of his writings draw on biblical sources.
George Fox never intended to found a new religious sect. He believed that his discovery was universal, that he had rediscovered original Christianity. Embracing this insight went far beyond the institutional limits of the Christian Church. The sense of joyful release that he discovered has been echoed down the Quaker history up to the present. It strengthened Friends in their conviction that people can find new understanding if they trust in and respond to the life that Jesus lived.
At the very centre of the Quaker faith lies the concept of the Inner Light. This principle states that in every human soul there is implanted a certain element of God's own Spirit and divine energy. This element, known to early Friends as "that of God in everyone", "the seed of Christ", or "the seed of Light", means to Friends, in the words of John 1:9, "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world".
Friends generally believe that first-hand knowledge of God is only possible through that which is experienced, or inwardly revealed to the individual human being through the working of God's quickening Spirit. This explains the attitude of Friends towards many things, including the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, the scriptures, the establishment and authority of the church, its use of ceremonies, symbols and sacraments, and especially the obligations felt by each individual.
Broadly speaking, the concept of the Inner Light is twofold. Firstly, the Inner Light discerns between good and evil. It reveals the presence of both in human beings, and through its guidance, offers the alternative of choice. Secondly, the Inner Light opens the unity of all human beings to our consciousness. Friends believe that the potential for good, as well as evil, are latent in everyone.
George Fox acknowledged that there is "an ocean of darkness and death" over the world. But he also saw that "an ocean of light and of love" flows over this ocean of darkness, revealing the infinite love of God. Friends believe that the power of God to overcome evil is available in the nature of anyone who truly wants to do the will of God. To a great extent, we are the arbiter of our own destiny, having the power of choice. Salvation, in the Quaker sense, lies in our power to 'become' children of God.
Although the Inner Light or the Divine Spirit has always been available, Friends generally accept that the fullness of God's divine revelation is made manifest in the life of Jesus Christ - "made flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth".
The rediscovery by ordinary men and women of a sense of the immediacy of God is one of the most distinctive aspects of Quakerism. The writings of early Friends are full of stories of "meetings with God" and of "being led by the Holy Spirit". Sometimes these experiences helped their understanding. Sometimes it was an awareness of something that had to be done as part of God's purpose on this earth. Friends began to use the term 'concern' to describe the experience of Friends who believe that God might be saying to them: "this is what needs to be done - and you are to help do it".
This type of direct experience of God is not unique to Friends. It is common to both Judaism and Christianity. But the Religious Society of Friends is unusual in the way it tries to support its members in obedience to such calls. Friends have always encouraged in one another an approach to Christian discipline that stresses the need to be open to the Holy Spirit and the call of God.
Friends consider that true religion cannot be learned from books or set prayers, words or rituals, which George Fox called 'empty forms'. When Quakerism began in England, the Bible had only just come into common circulation in English translation and was widely read and quoted. Most Protestant groups attributed a great finality and infallibility to it. The common desire for an external authoritative standard was very strong. In religious controversies, each group tried to find support somewhere in the wording of scripture.
At times, Friends fell into the same habit. But they also believed in the contemporary revelation of God's will, parallel to what was described in the Bible. George Fox once said: "You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from the God?"
Friends refuse to make the Bible the final test of right conduct and true doctrine. Divine revelation is not confined to the past. The same Holy Spirit which has inspired the scriptures in the past can inspire living believers centuries later. Indeed, for the right understanding of the past, the present insight from the same Spirit is essential. Friends believe that, by the Inner Light, God provides everyone with access to spiritual truth for today.
The attitude of Friends to formal creeds and theological dogma is different from that of most Christians. Creeds do not form the basis for association in their fellowship. Friends are aware of the limitations of words to express one's deepest experiences. Friends also realise that words may suitably express the personal convictions of someone at one time, but that they will almost certainly be unsuitable for the same person later in life. It is even more difficult to define the religious conviction of a group of people. Words and phrases often lend themselves to very different interpretations.
The absence of creeds does not mean that Friends feel that it does not matter what a person believes. They recognise that personal beliefs vitally affect behaviour. Friends are people of strong religious views, but they are quite clear that these views must be tested by the way in which they are expressed in action. Many Friends have hesitations about the value of theology, fearing that it too easily leads to speculation and argument. But all would agree that humans, as rational beings, must think about the nature of their religious experiences. Friends are encouraged to seek for truth in all the opportunities that life presents to them. They are further encouraged to seek new light from whatever source it may arise. Their questing and open attitude to life has certainly contributed to the tolerance with which Friends try to approach people and problems of faith and conduct.
This may make it easier to understand how the Religious Society of Friends can accommodate such a range of religious outlooks among its members. Pretty well every colour in the religious spectrum seems to be reflected in the views of Friends. There are Friends whose faith is most sincerely expressed in the traditional language of orthodox Christianity. Other Friends could justly be described as religious humanists.
Friends believe that prayer and the love of God are of primary importance. This erases an artificial division between the secular and the religious, and makes all of life, when lived in the Spirit, sacramental. Friends reject traditional, outward ceremonies and sacraments, sometimes characterised as 'empty forms', but without rejecting the spiritual reality they symbolise. Baptism, for example, means an inward or spiritual experience, not a ritual act. Communion is also of the Spirit, a conscious openness to, a communication with the Divine. Although Friends may differ in their ways of observing the Sabbath and Christian festivals, these days are not regarded more holy than weekdays.
Friends do not consider a life after death as a reward for virtue, or as a compensation for the suffering in their lives on earth. Neither has the fear or threat of damnation been used to induce Friends to live better lives. The Quaker view of what happens beyond death is firmly rooted in the experience of this life. Friends believe that life is good, and that an essential clue to its real nature is to be glimpsed in the love that people have for one another.
There is always an element of mystery about love which people cannot fully penetrate, but Friends are convinced that it has a timeless quality. Love cannot be destroyed by death and cannot be limited by time and space. This conviction is underlined by the experience of Quaker worship, and by the awareness that the personality of Jesus was not diminished by his death. His life was based on his profound trust that God is love. Friends respond to this love. They experience heaven here and now, and believe that whatever lies beyond death must be for our good.
Friends do not dogmatise about what happens after death. There are Friends who are convinced that there is an after-life, and those who are convinced that there is not. But all Friends feel that it is more important to get on with living this life, and seek to improve the conditions of humanity in this world, than to engage in speculations about the next.
Quaker worship happens when two or more people feel the need to be still together and seek God's presence. This can happen anywhere and anytime, but Friends usually refer to a 'meeting for worship' to indicate the meeting which takes place regularly at a meeting house or another fixed place. In attentive waiting together in silence, Friends can find peace of mind and a renewed sense of purpose for living and joy in wonder at God's creation.
Silence is greatly valued by Friends. In removing pressure and hurry, it helps them to be aware of the inner and deeper meaning of their individual and corporate lives. It enables them to begin to accept themselves as they are and to find some release from fear, anxiety, emotional confusion and selfishness. This silence is more than an absence of sound: one can be aware of external sounds, such as a dog barking, a car passing, or a child calling. But these sounds are not distractions. They are absorbed, often unconsciously, as Friends try to be open to that of God within. An early Friend, Robert Barclay, described his experience during a meeting for worship as follows: "I found the evil in me weakening and the good raised up".
The seating for a meeting for worship is usually arranged in a circle or a square to help people to be aware of one another, to be conscious of the fact that they are worshipping together. Those present settle quietly, and by corporately seeking God's will, become open to one another. This may happen quickly, or it may take most of the meeting, usually an hour long.
The silence is different from that experienced in traditional, solitary meditation, which normally takes place deep inside oneself, as a devotional exercise for one's own spiritual development. The listening and waiting in a meeting for worship is a shared experience in which worshippers seek to meet God.
Friends may worship entirely without words, but usually there will be some brief spoken contributions. This 'ministry' is intended to express aloud what is already present in the silence. Anyone may feel the call to speak, man, woman or child, Friend or first time visitor. There is a very wide variety of sources of spoken ministry and the acceptance of them is an important part of Quaker worship. Since the Religious Society of Friends is part of the Christian tradition, people may speak of the life and teachings of Jesus, use words from other sources, or refer to events in daily life. Friends try to receive positively what is said and to look for the underlying truth, regardless of the words in which it is expressed. If Friends are impelled to respond to vocal ministry, they should be very cautious and try to build positively on what has gone before.
Friends in Europe usually gather in silence and expectant waiting, as just described. In other parts of the world there are also many congregations of Friends which follow a form of worship that is similar to that of Protestant and Evangelical churches generally. This form of worship developed in the United States during the 19th century, a time of revival and renewal in American Protestantism. As a result of mission and service work, it is also found in Africa, Latin America, India and Taiwan.
The order of these 'services for worship' is planned in advance and may include pastoral prayer, Bible reading, a sermon, hymn singing and choral/organ music. There may also be a significant open time of free worship based upon silent waiting, as among other and earlier Friends. In many cases this programmed or semi-programmed worship is led by a pastor, a minister who may be paid and may also be responsible for other pastoral services in the Friend's group.
A Quaker 'meeting for business' is also held in the context of worship. This may take place after a meeting for worship on a Sunday or at any other convenient time during the week. Besides members, attenders of the meeting may join in as well with the permission of the Clerk of the meeting.
The aim of a meeting for business is to seek the will of God. It is not a matter of bowing to the will of the majority, as Friends do not vote. It is an exercise of listening to God through what each person says. The Clerk has prepared an agenda and conducts the meeting, often with the help of an Assistant Clerk. The Clerk discerns 'the sense of the meeting'. If the Clerk feels that an item has been thoroughly considered, he or she drafts and offers a 'minute' to the meeting. This will encapsulate what has gone before and record any decision that has been arrived at. The minute must receive the assent, spoken or tacit, of the meeting. If the Clerk is not able to discern a clear sense of the meeting, no decision will be taken, and no minute will be made except to record that the meeting is not ready to proceed.
For special occasions Friends can hold specially appointed meetings. Like other meetings for worship, a meeting on the occasion of a wedding, for example, begins in silence. A Friend will then stand to explain to newcomers and family guests the procedure which will follow. The bride and bridegroom stand when they feel ready, take each other by the hand and make a declaration to the meeting. After this, the meeting continues with a period of silence. Out of the silence vocal prayer or ministry may arise relating to the marrying Friends.
In a meeting for worship on the occasion of a funeral or in a later memorial meeting, Friends concentrate lovingly on the life of the late Friend. The meetings have no set form apart from the usual meeting. It may be held at a grave side, the crematorium, or at the usual meeting place. It is a service of thanksgiving for the grace of God displayed in the life of the departed, with thoughts of comfort and sympathy for those left behind.
A relatively new form of meeting is 'worship sharing', sometimes referred to as 'creative listening'. German Friends choose the term 'Gespräch aus der Stille' (conversation out of the silence), which beautifully expresses how the worship sharing is 'framed' in silence. Worship sharing can be very useful for sharing personal experiences and thoughts on a specific theme. Normally the size of the group is about eight to twelve Friends. The facilitator of a worship sharing group usually asks the attenders to observe some general rules, such as: speak for a second time only after everyone has had a chance to speak once; speak from your own experience only; leave silence between speakers; everything said in the group is confidential to the group; do not comment directly on what others have said; listen with attention and do not lapse into discussion.
A 'meeting for clearness' can be called to focus on a particular issue, to enable members of the meeting to become 'clear' about possible options and ways forward. They can be held, for example: to prepare a couple for a marriage under the care of the meeting; to 'test' a concern of the meeting; to make decisions about an application for membership; to seek guidance at times of change or difficulty. Meetings for clearness can also be of help and comfort to Friends who are confronted with difficult choices at turning points in their lives and to the dying.
Children and young people are also important members of the meeting. However, many of them find it difficult to remain in the silence of the meeting for worship for the whole hour. If they attend it is usual for them to stay in the meeting for the first ten or fifteen minutes or to come in towards the end. During their absence they may be discussing Bible stories or Quaker traditions, using crafts, games or other activities to develop their own understanding and insights. The aim of the children's or young people's group is to give its members an awareness of being part of the community, a knowledge of its spiritual traditions, and of having a positive role in the larger community around them. Some older children prefer to stay in meeting with the adults and sometimes take part in vocal ministry themselves. At Young Friends' gatherings there are often experiments with different forms of worship, including certain aspects of programmed worship and music.
The word 'testimony' is used by Friends to describe a witness to the living truth within the human heart as it is acted out in everyday life. It is not a form of words, but a mode of life based of the realisation that there is "that of God in everyone", that all human beings are equal, and that all life is interconnected. It is affirmative but may lead to action that runs counter to certain practices currently accepted in the society at large. Testimonies reflect the corporate beliefs of the Religious Society of Friends, however much individual Friends may interpret them differently according to their own light. They are not 'optional extras' but fruits that grow from the tree of faith. Basic Quaker testimonies are: truth, equality, peace, simplicity and community.
Truth is a complex concept. Sometimes the word is used for God, sometimes for the conviction that arises from worship, sometimes for the way of life. It was the obedience to truth as they understood it that led Friends to act in ways which others thought odd and even provocative. For early Friends, witnessing to Truth involved the keeping up of public meetings for worship, whatever the penalties involved. It also involved preaching, for which many Friends were imprisoned. The concern for truthfulness led Friends right from the first day to refuse to take oaths. An oath according to them was a sign that there were two different levels of truthfulness and they believed that you should tell the truth all the time. Margaret Fell was imprisoned and lost all her property for her refusal to take an oath of loyalty to the king.
If God is directly accessible to all persons, regardless of age, gender, race, nationality, economic, social or educational position - if every person is held equal in God's love and has equal potential to be a channel for the revelation of God's Truth - then all persons are to be equally valued. There is that Seed, that Light - there is "that of God" in every person. For Friends this insight has meant, from the beginning, equality of the sexes and of races. In England and the English colonies this had to mean the end of privilege based on wealth or class. In Japan and Kenya, where the existing cultures made women little more than 'domestic property', it resulted in the establishment of Quaker schools for girls. It also formed the basis for opposition to slavery and the death penalty.
The peace testimony is based on the same understanding of the nature of God and of human beings. How can one kill another child of God, a potential channel of Truth, no matter how misguided he or she may seem at the moment? This testimony has led Friends to oppose all wars and preparation for wars. At the time of the American Revolution, many Friends were 'disowned' by their meetings for participating in military actions. Later, Friends, faced with military conscription, worked to establish the right of conscientious objection. Some Friends today work to end the conscription for military purposes not only of their bodies but also of their tax money.
The peace testimony has meant efforts to ease suffering of victims of war on all sides. It means efforts to be or to seek a reconciling force between peoples and nations in conflict. It means a constant search for nonviolent means of conflict resolution through institutions of law, such as international treaties and structures like the European Union or the United Nations. It means a continuing search for peace and social justice through personal and group nonviolent techniques for mediation and social change. The Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) in Brussels, and the Quaker United Nation Offices (QUNOs) in Geneva and New York, for example, promote Quaker views at the heart of centres of power, where political, economic and military decisions with worldwide effect are made ("speaking truth to power").
There is certainty among Friends that the world offers many distractions from the Truth, for example the pursuit of wealth or power or pleasure, extravagance in language, fashion or behaviour, and too great an emphasis on business, even for good causes. Truth is usually discovered in quiet, undistracted waiting for its leadings in the human heart, in the humble simplicity of spirit which acknowledges that ultimately God is in charge of our world, not we ourselves.
The testimony of simplicity seeks, therefore, to focus our attention on what is essential and eternal, without distraction by the transitory or the trivial. Plain and honest speech is an expression of simplicity. Respect for God's creation and, therefore, concern for the environment and the right use of the world's resources is another obvious expression of this testimony. A growth economy based on extravagance, wastefulness and artificially stimulated wants is seen to be a fundamental violation of the testimony of simplicity.
As equally beloved children of God, all human beings are brothers and sisters, one human family, no matter how great our differences of experience, of culture, of age, of understanding. Friends have found that the Light may illuminate a gathered group as well as an individual heart and bind the group together in a community of faith, conscience and experience. Friends see it as their task to build a broader community throughout our world, by seeing and affirming in each other the divine potential, the Seed, the Christ, the Light within. We must learn to deal with one another by affirming and nurturing the best we find in each other - or, in the words of George Fox - by "answering that of God in everyone". In such a community, Friends believe, human beings witness to the sovereignty, compassion and love of the God of their experience.
Because Friends believe in the possibility of immediate and direct communion with God, they have felt no need of an elaborate ecclesiastical establishment, organisation or authority. In a certain way Friends assume in their individual lives the obligation of searching out and following the will of God as it applies to them. Despite this approach, Friends have developed a network of local, regional, national and international organisations.
In most countries the Monthly Meeting is the primary meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. In Great Britain and Kenya, for example, the Monthly Meeting is formed of several smaller Preparative Meetings (in Kenya: Village Meetings). In other countries each local meeting is a Monthly Meeting.
Among other things, Monthly Meetings decide upon membership and are responsible for the right and regular holding of the meetings for worship. The Monthly Meeting is also the forum in which a Friend tests a 'concern', a strong leading of the Spirit for action. If felt appropriate the Monthly Meeting may bring the concern before Yearly Meeting.
As there is no clergy, all members have a responsibility for the life of the meeting, but each Preparative and Monthly Meeting will appoint a Clerk. Most meetings will also have Elders, Overseers, a Treasurer and committees to help carry out specific responsibilities.
Elders have a special care for the spiritual life of the meeting and for the "right holding of meeting for worship". The most visible role they have in meeting is for two of them to shake hands to signal the end of a meeting for worship.
Overseers have, at an appropriate time, a pastoral responsibility for the individual members, attenders or families of the meeting. They give advice and information about application for membership and help with any personal difficulties that the worshippers may be encountering. They also keep in touch with members who are unable to attend meetings regularly.
In some countries, Friends from several Monthly Meetings gather from time to time for a General Meeting (also called Regional Meeting or Quarterly Meeting). In these meetings there is less emphasis on business and more on discussion of topics of general interest.
A number of Monthly Meetings come together to form a Yearly Meeting. In Europe this often covers a whole country. This annual assembly meets to share concerns brought forward by its Monthly Meetings and to deal with any business that needs a corporate decision. Most Yearly Meetings have a standing committee or regular meetings of Monthly Meeting representatives to deal with items that need a quicker response. Yearly Meetings can also appoint committees to deal with particular concerns or tasks. Many Yearly Meetings have, for example, committees for making the Society known to the world at large (outreach) or for giving voice and expression to the Quaker witness for peace and justice. Yearly Meetings or their committees often appoint staff for administrative support or to work on the concerns that were endorsed by the Yearly Meeting.
From time to time some of the larger Yearly Meetings around the world publish an anthology of writings of the Religious Society of Friends throughout its history. Such a Book of Discipline includes reference to both spiritual experiences of Friends and organisational matters of the Yearly Meeting. Despite this title, it provides a set of guidelines rather than strict rules.
In 1995, Britain Yearly Meeting agreed on a new Quaker Faith and Practice. This book also includes Advices and Queries. These are sometimes read aloud in meetings for worship as a focus for meditation or consideration. They give a good insight into a whole range of attitudes and practices predominant in the Religious Society of Friends today. Again, they are not rules, but offer guidance to help in the search for love and truth.
Minutes are the written expression of the sense of meetings for business and form an important means of communication between Preparative, Monthly, General and Yearly Meetings and their committees. They also form a historic record of the life of Friends in the Religious Society of Friends and their concerns. As such the minutes are carefully preserved in archives.
Since most Friends groups do not vote, there is no election for office. The Quaker method is to use a Nominations Committee, chosen by the meeting as a whole, which suggests names to the relevant body of Friends (e.g. Monthly Meeting). The meeting will either appoint the person suggested or ask the committee to think again. The Nominations Committee fills a vital role in the nurture of the community since the mixing and matching of available talents calls for both discernment and imagination.
FWCC was set up in 1937 at the World Conference of Friends in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, "to act in a consultative capacity to promote better understanding among Friends the world over, particularly by the encouragement of joint conferences and intervisitation, the collection and circulation of information about Quaker literature and other activities directed towards that end."
About 60 Yearly Meetings, with total membership of over 300,000 Friends, are now affiliated to FWCC. Representatives of these affiliated Yearly Meetings and groups meet every three years at Triennials. These meetings aim to provide links between Friends as they seek to perceive God's will more clearly, so that they may make their corporate witness more effectively. An Interim Committee meets annually to continue FWCC's decision making process and guide the work of staff between Triennials.
The World Office in London serves as a centre of worldwide communication. It helps organise Triennials and other gatherings and maintains contact with the four FWCC Sections and the Quaker United Nations Offices in New York and Geneva. Isolated Friends and worship groups throughout the world are linked to the family of Friends through the International Membership programme. Through travel, correspondence and publications, the office helps Friends to gain a better understanding of the worldwide character of the Religious Society of Friends and its vocation in the world.
In 1938, at the second World Consultative Committee meeting held in Vallekilde, Denmark, the European Section of FWCC was recognised. The name was changed to Europe & Middle East Section (EMES) in 1992. EMES consists of and serves the Yearly Meetings and groups of Friends within Europe and the Middle East. The Section normally meets once a year for an Annual Meeting. The officers of the Section are: Clerk, Treasurer and Executive Secretary. The Executive Secretary is appointed on the basis of a written contract and receives a remuneration. All other officers are voluntary. The Executive Committee consists of the Clerk, Treasurer, Executive Secretary and two other members. Urgent decisions may be taken between Annual Meetings by the Executive Committee. Several committees and groups have been set up for organising the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage and Peace and Service Consultations (bringing together representatives of peace committees and service bodies from various yearly meetings and groups).
Also in 1938, the Section of the Americas was recognised. It now serves some 40 Yearly Meetings and groups in the western hemisphere and seeks to bring Friends from different traditions together in unity. It also sponsors programmes such as Right Sharing of World Resources programme, Quaker Youth Pilgrimage and International Quaker Aid. The Wider Quaker Fellowship (under the care of the Section) circulates a range of carefully selected Quaker literature (in English and Spanish) to 'friends of Friends'. This service is appreciated by many isolated Friends around the world.
The Africa Section was established in 1961. It maintains links with Friends in West and Central Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire), East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) and Southern Africa (South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia). The first representative meeting of the Section was held in 1975. The first secretary was appointed in 1976. The Section newsletter makes a valuable contribution to communication within such a wide area. The Section is involved in several peace and service projects in the region.
The Asia-West Pacific Section started in 1985. Its first meeting was held during FWCC's Triennial in 1988 in Tokyo. The Section seeks to serve the small and dispersed Yearly Meetings in India, Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia, as well as small groups in Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere. The main organ of communication is the newsletter, which is edited by the volunteer Executive Secretary. In addition, the Section encourages intervisitation and regional gatherings.
Most Friends join the Religious Society of Friends after worshipping at a meeting near their home. If there is no such meeting they can become members through the FWCC International Membership programme. This programme was started in 1919 by British Friends, but the responsibility was taken on by FWCC in 1979. FWCC was seen as the natural organisation to have this worldwide responsibility. There are at present about 100 Friends whose membership is held in this way.
The International Membership Committee seeks to nurture and support isolated Friends, worship groups and several recognised meetings. The Committee acts as a kind of Monthly Meeting with regard to membership and pastoral care for these Friends. Each application for membership is considered by the Committee as carefully as are applications to any other Monthly Meeting. Visiting Friends are appointed to meet with the applicant and discuss the meaning of membership. The visitors make a written report to the Committee which gives the application its prayerful consideration.
A number of organisations, such as Friends General Conference, Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International, associate (mostly North American) yearly meetings from programmed and unprogrammed Quaker traditions. Europe & Middle East Young Friends aims to provide spiritual support and a base for communication between Young Friends. Several Quaker study centres, such as Woodbrooke in Great Britain, and Pendle Hill College in the USA, provide learning communities in which individuals and groups can study, explore new ideas and seek spiritual growth.
Many individuals with an interest in Quakers or members of the Religious Society of Friends live in countries or areas where there are no Friends meetings. These isolated Friends often face problems of finding spiritual nourishment and support and of remaining faithful. In consequence, they will sometimes find it quite natural to worship with members of other religious communities.
Many isolated Friends find it helpful to spend private hours with their diary, with the gospel or with the writings of Friends. Through correspondence with other Friends and Quaker organisations they may develop and maintain a sense of belonging to the wider family of Friends. FWCC also makes efforts to keep in touch with these Friends and interested individuals and to bring them into contact with others in the area.
Once two or three individuals or families find each other, it is possible to form a consistent core around which others can gather. Often this will develop into a worship group with Friends from a variety of countries and seekers on their way to becoming Friends. It can also happen that people of different denominations or faiths can be included and feel at home with Friends' worship and ways.
Many new groups hold their meetings for worship in private homes. Friends usually follow this worship with informal discussion over coffee or a meal. But meeting in private also has disadvantages. Locations may change too frequently and the intimacy of the private home may discourage attendance by local people. If the group meets in a set public place it is easier to advertise and easier to find. However, many small groups cannot afford the costs of these meetings. Some also face legal or cultural restrictions on assembling for worship.
Once a worship group is formed, it is almost certain that others who have never experienced Quaker worship before will join in. When a newcomer is present, it is helpful to give beforehand a brief explanation of the Quaker worship pattern and the root from which it springs. Small cards with printed introductions to worship after the manner of Friends are also available from various Quaker groups. It is also helpful to state clearly that those of other persuasions are welcome to worship with the group without feeling pressure to become members. It is not unusual for people from other denominations or faiths to join Friends regularly in these small worship groups.
Often these small worship groups have developed without any contacts with the wider body of Friends. But even if there are only two or three Friends gathered together, one person can act as a Quaker contact person. The worship group can also be put under the care of FWCC's International Membership Committee. Visitation can be encouraged and word sent regarding any new Friends known to be moving into the area. The FWCC Section for the area can also help link the group with other Friends in the region. Attending Section events can help intensify these contacts.
It is helpful if one member of the group serves as convenor, to see that the people are notified of the meeting place, to keep advertisements up-to-date, etc. It is good to rotate these responsibilities or for the convenor/correspondent to share out some of them. Especially when a group does not yet hold business meetings and writes no minutes, a group log book or journal may help the group to keep a record of its development. It is also useful to keep account of the costs for rental, postage, advertisements and the like and try to share fairly according to means.
If the group feels it is ready to do so, business meetings can be held on a regular basis, for example every two or three months. One person can serve as clerk, taking care that business is conducted after the manner of Friends. The business meeting can provide a vehicle for discussion of potential problems, growth, children's programmes, meeting structure, finance, concerns, etc. All regular attenders, whether or not they have formal membership in the Religious Society of Friends, should be encouraged to participate in the business meetings. All can contribute and work towards unity. More experienced Friends can give guidance and suggestions to assure a worshipful consideration of business.
Once the group begins to evolve and develop strength and continuity as a meeting, it can apply to be under the care of FWCC's International Membership Committee. This will help put the group in touch with the world family of Friends in a tangible way. It will also give the group a place to turn to when there are questions about organisation and spiritual matters, or when there are concerns to be shared with the larger body of Friends.
Eventually, if the group and the International Membership Committee agree that the time has come, the worship group can ask for status as a full-fledged Monthly Meeting. It then becomes responsible for its own membership matters. A strong Monthly Meeting may even be the nucleus of a new Yearly Meeting.
If there is a strong Monthly Meeting or Yearly Meeting within reasonable travelling distance (even though it be in another country) the group may prefer to turn to it for nurture and may later request recognition as one of its meetings. Even if the group chooses to link directly with the FWCC International Membership Committee, it may also want to establish contact with the FWCC Section in the area, and it may sometimes be possible to begin to develop ties with a Yearly Meeting to which the group might eventually affiliate.
The following books, brochures and leaflets were used to edit the text of this publication. Most of these titles are still available from the Friends Book Centre and the FWCC World Office in London or Friends General Conference in Philadelphia.
This document was written by Hans Weening, in 1995, revised July 1997.