What Quakers Believe
What do Quakers Believe?
"Quaker" is a popular name for a member of the Religious Society of Friends, whose members are also known as "Friends".
As Quakers we believe that our religious insights, attitudes and practices together form a way of life. We have the conviction that each of us can have direct experience of the Spirit of God and we seek to respond to that of God in everyone. Quakers also share a commitment to our testimony to peace, truth, equality, and simplicity. Quaker testimony is not just about holding these values to be important; it is about a way of living our lives and of acting in the world.
The bedrock of the Quaker way is the silent meeting for worship. We seek a communal gathered stillness, where all can be open to inspiration from the Spirit of God. During our meetings for worship some may feel moved to speak: this is something anyone can do, as all are considered equal. Meetings at Newark are held every first, third and fifth Sunday at 10.30am and every second and fourth Wednesday lunchtime at 12.45pm and are open to all.
The Quaker way has its roots in Christianity and finds inspiration in the life of and teachings of Jesus and in the Bible. Friends also find meaning and value in the teachings of all Faiths and acknowledge that ours is not the only way.
Sharing our experience
Our focus is on experience rather than written statements of belief and our collective experience is shared in the book Quaker Faith and Practice, an anthology of Quaker insights from the founding of the Religious Society of Friends in the seventeenth century to the present day. It is updated every generation, recognising that we are all open to new light and that our understanding of truth moves on.
Our sense of community does not depend on professing identical beliefs, but from worshipping, sharing and working together. Quakers do not have priests, or a hierarchy, as we believe all people can have a direct relationship with God.
Perhaps Quakers are best known for our peace testimony. This derives from our conviction that love is at the heart of existence and all human beings are equal in the eyes of God, and that we must live in a way that reflects this. It has led Quakers to refuse military service, and to become involved in a wide range of peace activities from practical work in areas affected by violent conflict to the development of alternatives to violence at all levels from personal to international.
Justice, Equality and Community
Quakers recognise the equal worth and unique nature of every person. This means working to change the systems that cause injustice and hinder true community. It also means working with people who are suffering from injustice, such as prisoners and asylum seekers.
Truth and Integrity
Quakers try to live according to the deepest truth we know, which we believe comes from God. This means speaking the truth to all, including people in positions of power. Integrity is the guiding principle we set for ourselves and expect in public life.
Quakers are concerned about the excesses and unfairness of our consumer society, and the unsustainable use of natural resources. We try to live simply and to give space for the things that really matter: the people around us, the natural world, our experience of God.
Earth and Environment
‘We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendour of God’s continuing creation.
Advices and Queries 42.
I have an elderly relative called Thelma who is nearly one hundred. Thelma was born in Scunthorpe just after the end of the First World War. Her father had been called up to fight and when he returned, he was suffering badly from shell shock. According to Thelma ‘he had lost his nerves’. As a result, he was unable to work and spent much of the time upstairs in bed. The young family were desperately poor, and the only solution was for Thelma’s mother to go out to work. She found a job in a local shop but what to do about little Thelma who would have to be looked after. There was no immediate family who could help, and the father was too poorly to look after a lively young toddler.
Living next door was a German man. He had been in England some years and had been detained as an enemy alien early in the war and sent to a detention centre on the Isle of Man where Thelma told us ‘he had a rough time of it.’ In desperation they asked if he would come in and look after the little girl so the mother could go out to work. He agreed and Thelma spent much of the next few years being looked after by the man she came to call ‘Grandpa Swannacker’, the German who lived next door. Grandpa Swannacker was an avid knitter, and he spent many hours teaching the young girl as she grew older how to knit and sew. Thelma remained an enthusiastic knotter and sewer for the rest of her life. Whenever any of her children, and then grandchildren and great grandchildren had a special event there was always a piece of knitting from Thelma, whether it be a set of baby clothes, jumper or bed cover. Knotting remained a passion of Thelmas till well into her nineties when her arthritic hands made it impossible.
When Thelma married, she encouraged her husband Ted to learn German and the couple developed close friendships with German penfriends and late exchanged visits with friends in Germany.
The image of the little girl sitting with the enemy alien and knitting together is one which I feel says a great deal and whatever our politics, religion or whatever it is divides us, the things that unite us are greater. Reconciliation is a great thing and often happens in the most surprising of ways. Perhaps it is in the little things, the spending of time together, in the sharing of skills and stories and above all love, that truly shows we are all part of Gods great creation and of one human family.
by Christine Ditcham
Christine Ditcham, a member of the Newark Meeting explains about her own life and faith
Quakers have no dogmas or doctrines. We believe that true religion cannot be learned from books or set prayers but comes only from a direct experience of God. Yet we do have our testimonies through which we try to show how our beliefs influence our everyday lives. At the present time our principle testimonies are to truth and integrity, to simplicity, to peace, to equality and to sustainability.
How do I interpret some of these testimonies in my own life?
Truth and Integrity
Our testimony to truth means living a life that is true to our innermost beliefs for ourselves and for others. I try to be honest in my spiritual journey towards the truth of God. With Quakers I feel that tolerance is shown to individuals to follow their own way towards truth and there is acceptance of different paths. To be able to question freely without censor was one of the things that first drew me to Quakers.
I like the integrity and honesty I find in most Quakers. For myself I try not to ride roughshod over people with differing views. When I come across someone I don’t like or don’t approve of I think of the basic Quaker concept of ‘that of God in everyone’ and try to find some good in them.
I try to limit my possessions to what I really need. I try not to throw away anything that is useful and I don’t replace things that are still working. I don’t buy things just because they are fashionable. I try to be aware of the impact that my style of living is having on the environment and cut down my use of fossil fuels.
I do not judge people by what they have but by who they are.
I strongly oppose violence and feel that most conflicts can only resolved by peaceful reconciliation. I feel that it is my democratic right to demonstrate peacefully for things I feel to be unjust but I also feel that that violence against people and property is not justified. I hesitate to say never because I know I would be violent If one of my family was endangered, particularly a child or grandchild.
I try to make my home a peaceful place. I like the Quaker Advice ‘Try to make your home a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, where all who live or visit may find refreshment of God’s presence’.
I am proud of the Quaker testimonies. They seem to me the way life should be lived. I am proud of the Quakers over the years who have lived out the testimonies in their lives and made a difference to their society. I feel somewhat daunted when trying to emulate them and know I fall far short of their example!
by Julia Richardson
Fourteen people playing a board game in Newark’s Let’s Exscape Games Café. This was not just any board game – it was a game with a difference! Called, ‘Journey Home’ players were invited to take a journey through life. Our starting point came at the throw of a dice. My throw of 2 meant I was born in a caravan. Another player scored 2 which meant that she too was born in a caravan and she became my twin sister. Throughout life different events happened and we collected the cards life had given us and made of them what we could. Other players could give us tokens on the way – helping our development, or they could choose to withhold them, or even take them away as a form of punishment.
There were many levels of meaning behind the game – which indeed depicted our real lives. Sometimes we have decisions to make. How should we react to a certain life event? Will those around us help or hinder us on our way?
As we shared our stories at the end of the game we realised that each of us, though so different, were finding our own way through life – hardships and fun times to that secure place within which we call ‘Home’. Jennifer Kavanagh, the creator of the game writes, “Home is not just four walls or the country in which we were born . . . . .we will never be at home unless we are at home to ourselves. Home is where we all want to be.” (from Journey Home. O-Books 2010)
It is clear to me that journeying home is a spiritual journey. People coming to a Quaker Meeting sometimes say that they felt that it was like ‘Coming Home’ This was where they had found a community, friends, a refuge and inner peace – a safe, loving place to be. This is not unique to Quakers. Those are needs we all share and which we can all find being met when we are at home in our own spiritual community. Just as we are all born into different cultures, different environments, and journey through life in our own unique way, we each need to find our spiritual community where we will find welcome, security and inner peace, and where we will be truly at home. This will be different for all of us, but there are many different churches and faith communities waiting to welcome you. How are you doing on your journey home?
by Cynthia Flemming
I came to Quakers a couple of years ago after many years of avoiding any sort of church. I felt that organized religion was not for me. However, I had always felt there was “something” larger than myself. The words we use as humans are inadequate to describe this feeling. I also felt that there could be no place where my rather nebulous feelings about what some call Spirit could be accepted by others and not condemned as heresy or fancy as they had been in my past.
So why Quakers? Curiosity. I discovered after a 20-year search that some of my early American ancestors were Quakers and, as I knew nothing whatsoever about it, I thought I would find out about modern Quakers to see if the seeds planted in the family past might have eventually boiled down to help create me in the here and now.
I looked on the internet for my nearest Quaker Meeting and found the group in Brant Broughton who meet in one of the oldest Meeting Houses in the country. Nothing prepared me for what I found therein.
We live with so much noise. Most of the folks I know feel the need to have something noisy going on in the background all the time. It is almost as if they fear what they may find in the quiet. I also know others who have said to me that they long for peace and quiet but wouldn’t have any idea where to find it.
I feel I have found my peace and quiet in the Quaker Meeting.
What on Earth do Quakers do in Meeting? They sit in the quiet. They allow time and space for what they call “that of God” which they see in everyone to speak to them and, sometimes, inspire them to speak to the assembled company. There is something intangible that happens when they meet to be together to sit in the silence and wait. It is something akin to food as it feeds a hungry place in the soul.
Quakers are more than just this though. They live their beliefs values in the work they do, in the way they treat others, in just the way they live their lives. It’s as if they are quietly determined to try and leave the world a better place than when they found it and that’s a challenge!
I could say many more things about what I have found with the Quakers but some things are much better left to be discovered. I was warmly welcomed and allowed to find my way.
I sometimes tell my Quaker Friends that I wish we could do more to share what we have with this restless world that sorely needs what they have found. It is probably wise that they say that people come to Quakers when the time is right for them. I know that I am quietly thrilled to have come to a place that I call “home”.
REFUGEES: THEN & NOW
by Cynthia Howell
Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. In our times refugees are fleeing to Europe from Syria and neighbouring countries. They are abandoning their homes, businesses, farms because of the threats of hunger – terror – war and death. They may have sold all their property so to pay for the journey to Europe, where they hope to start a new life and be safe.
We Europeans however are not always as welcoming and hospitable as we might expect. Doubtless if we saw a family begging in the street, we might give them some money towards their next meal, and we would hope – optimistically – that our government might help on a larger scale. But the problem is the scale of the situation. How many hundreds of thousands of people can a country absorb without straining the housing system, schools and hospital care to breaking point?
There is no doubt most of the refugees’ needs are genuine. We read of people walking all the way from France to England through the Eurotunnel. We see pictures on TV of refugees, young and old, running and walking for miles before national borders are closed against them. Babies are drowned at sea; we are moved to help – but how on this vast scale? In the Bible we only hear of the Holy Family escaping to Egypt, but presumably there were other Jewish families trying to save their infant sons. How did Egypt cope? What systems were in place to deal with a sudden increase in population?
We in Europe are among the richest people in the world, but we are arguing about which country should do most. As refugees reach southern Europe they come ashore in Greece and Italy, countries already struggling economically. The problems are increased by the lack of boundary controls under the Schengen agreement. Here in Great Britain we have benefited over many years by having a natural boundary with the English Channel. In the 1930s and 1940s we welcomed those at risk from Hitler’s Nazis. But the current movement of refugees is on an altogether more massive scale.
May God give our leaders insight and generosity to help those fleeing from violence in their own land. In the words of Edmund Burke: All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
NO QUIET PLACE
by David Ditcham
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found was really going in” John Muir.
People come and go like the waves on the sea. There is no quiet place in our towns and cities.....no place to hear the rustle of a butterflies wings or the unfurling of leaves in the spring.
To feel in the right place with God, a holy moment, when everything feels aligned, occurs for many in our Meeting for Worship, for others, also in different environments. In this overcrowded country wild, remote places still exist and we may go there to escape the rush and noise of urban life. What do we seek there? Can we find what we seek elsewhere?
The Australian aborigine tells us of dreamtimes and the Inuit greets the first rays of the New Year’s sun with a gusto unknown to peoples of the south. To experience the changing mists on the mountainside which flees before the blazing morning sun or to be part of the ripples which cross the placid waters of the lake are incredible feelings.
Sometimes when out in the wild and remote parts of this beautiful planet it is possible to experience feelings of deep harmony with one’s surroundings. Illogical, even ridiculous, the idea that everything in nature can be within me as well as outside of me, is one way of describing this harmony.
Is this what Chuang-Tzu, the Chinese philosopher meant in the fourth century BC when he commented that “I and all things in the Universe are one”?
While camping in a remote valley in the Hurrungane in Norway with my daughter, she asked with childlike innocence “Dad, can you hear the silence?”................and I could.
On another occasion I glided in my canoe into the space between the overhanging branches of a willow tree and the banks of a river to avoid an oncoming motor boat. My companion, without making a noise, drew my attention to a kingfisher with a fish in its mouth perched just above us. Who was more surprised him or us? Another golden moment.
All this fits in with my interpretation of the Quaker testimonies to Silence, Peace and Simplicity and why I have devoted much of my life taking young people into the great outdoors to try and give them some sense of this experience.
by Chris Rose
This February I was able to spend a week on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. Not perhaps the obvious location for a winter break but we were blessed with warm sunshine and blue skies. Iona is to many a special place, the centre of the early Celtic Christian church and still today a place of pilgrimage. It is also the centre of the ecumenical Iona community founded by George MacLeod who described the island as “a thin place”, with only “a tissue paper separating heaven and earth.” Certainly it has a feel about it. Walking one afternoon to Port Beul at the far south west of the island I managed to get as far from the modern world as is easily possible in our crowded land. The silence there was almost deafening, the stillness moving and the solitude embracing. Yet there was a wholeness, a reassuring something that my inadequate words fail to describe, but there nonetheless. Philip Newell of the Iona community likens it as to listening to the heartbeat of God. This was a place which once visited is never left.
Back home in Newark How busy we all are. Doing this and that and trying to live fulfilling lives.
And in the process busyness can displace friendship, schedules displace compassion, and the time for others, which make life rich, is stolen.
We cannot all escape to islands and have to live in the world, but we all need places, moments when we can stop. For me it is at our Quaker meetings in Brant Broughton and Newark, others too will have their services and meetings, or places and personnel mountain tops where they can take stock for we are all on a journey of spiritual discover from whatever different places we start. To quote from Diana Ross in the pop song ….’Stop in the name of love,’ …..stop and be still for a while and listen. Listen to that heartbeat!
by Chris Rose
It seems a long time now since the Christmas celebrations, the new year is with us and time flies by. Perhaps though, it is now time to take stock and think for a moment about the Christmas season that has just passed. We sang carols talking of ‘Peace on Earth, Good will to all,’ we listened to the Christmas story of a baby born in a stable whose parents had to flee to Egypt to escape persecution. We heard how the birth of the baby Jesus united people from all walks of life in the celebration of that birth. We heard again that people were generous at Christmas with charities receiving greater donations, and special efforts made to ensure those who sleep rough on our streets could have a decent meal on Christmas Day. Church leaders reminded us of the desire for peace and the need for greater understanding between people and nations in these difficult times.
In many ways it is only now that the angels have hung up their wings, the shepherds have gone back to their classrooms, the wise men are back home and all the Christmas decorations and paraphernalia are put away for another year that the work of Christmas begins: to try and put into practice that Christmas message, to let our ‘Lives Speak’. To be that message of Peace and Goodwill to all men not just on the 25th of December, but on the 25th of January, and the 25th of August, in fact on every day. There used to be an advert ‘A dog is not just for Christmas’ and likewise neither is love, peace, justice and charity.
One thing I will remember from this Christmas season are the words of a new carol ‘Follow that Star’ written by the singer Maggie Boyle which I heard for the first time. It describes the journey of the wise men following the star to Bethlehem till they came to where the baby Jesus was lying in a manger. The last verse of the carol described their journey home. ‘They made their way home with no star in the sky. They were not downhearted no tear did they cry. That star is within me, Yes that’s where you are, I’ll follow, I’ll follow, I’ll follow that star.’
The new year is with us; let us all follow that light within us and let it guide us through this new year. Let us all remember in these fraught times that message of peace and goodwill to all, all 365 days of the year.
by David Ditcham
At the start of any new year our minds are naturally guided towards both reflections on what we have done the previous twelve months and possible plans for the future year. Modern life contains many distractions and it is easy to forget to pause and take stock. Quiet personal reflection is surprisingly rewarding, perhaps discovering greater spiritual depth to our lives. New Year resolutions and planning holidays.....ever thought of going on a pilgrimage? There’s plenty of choice of destinations at home or abroad: Iona, Lindesfarne, Lincoln, Walsingham, Canterbury, Lourdes, Santiago de Compestella, Rome, Jerusalem, Istanbul – the choice is limitless. It’s not such an outlandish idea and forms part of every major faith. Hindus have many pilgrimage sites and Moslems have their Hadj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. So what is involved? Certainly an epic journey, a memorable adventure and excitement can all be involved but it is simply a journey away from home in search of spiritual well being.
In Medieval times people didn’t travel very far from their own village and they believed a journey of endurance, suffering and sacrifice to a holy site would earn them a place in heaven. Imagine walking from Collingham to Lincoln on unmade roads and tracks and arriving at the beautiful and majestic cathedral, then the tallest building in the medieval world. Until the Reformation catering for the needs of pilgrims was a growth industry. Going on a pilgrimage was one of the very few ways an individual could escape the monotony and drudgery of village life and discover what lay beyond the horizon.
The modern era of tourism was started in the late nineteenth century by a religious Victorian gentleman from Leicester. Thomas Cook’s original tour of the Holy Land was inspired by a feeling of Christian duty ....but it was only for the rich.
A few years ago I walked St. Cuthbert’s Way, a route from Melrose Abbey in the Southern Uplands to Lindesfarne, the Holy Island off the coast of Northumberland. Was this a pilgrimage? It was a long walk by daily standards and we met interesting people and stayed in some memorable places. The final trek across the sands at low tide along the age-old pilgrimage track left you with a feeling of achievement. Looking back now the exercise and fellowship were important but the times I was alone with my own thoughts, emotions, aspirations and hopes were perhaps more important.
The outward pilgrimage is a sign of the inner journey which is so significant in the search for the heart of God. The exploration exceeds the value of the arrival.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
by Sylvia Campbell
Silence, is a luxury -a neglected luxury- that is easy to lose in the hurly burly of life around us. We are surrounded in layers of words and images, from the moment we wake each day to the moment we fall asleep each night. We are constantly processing and digesting music, images and words – our world is a cacophony of sound.
Where can we find a moment of peace and introspection in our lives, a moment where our mind is not filled with the task of digesting yet more information? And what happens in these rare, peaceful moments when we set aside the barrage of ‘input’? Are those the moments when our innermost selves, the peace and love of God can envelop us?
Granted, God does not always require silence to speak to our hearts and minds, we often discover the profound or meaningful in words or music. But more often than not the sounds we hear are distracting, diverting us from our thoughts, feelings – distancing us from our very selves, insulating us in many layers against silence, that very space in which ideas, dreams and memories rest. Silence offers that rare opportunity to wait quietly for the direct communion with ourselves and God, without the distraction or influence of others.
The gentle companionable silence of the Quaker meeting, that hour of respite, is an opportunity for me to take stock, reflect, hope, dream and pray. This short hour offers the space for me to reach out to God, to allow the silence to grow into thoughts that feed the soul, into nourishment to take on the week ahead. Sitting in the white washed simple room of the Quaker meeting house, looking at the lovingly arranged garden flowers on the centre table, is my moment of peace, my moment of opening up to my own hopes, thoughts and fears – and yes, opening myself to God.
That quiet, un-judgemental all embracing environment allows me to stop. So what happens in this quiet space, once the mind has ceased racing and you’ve remembered all the things forgotten and undone? When the day, the week, the year starts to fall away and quietly the awareness of silence gently washes in? It is like a deep breath exhaled, an embrace, a tension falling away.
William Penn, one of the Quaker Founding Fathers of Pennsylvania, described it in 1699 as ‘True silence … is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment’, for me this is an eternal truth. Surprise yourself, give yourself some silence. Now stop reading – just for moment – what do you hear? Listen…
Newark and Brant Broughton friends make a regular contribution to the credo column in the Newark Advertiser.
Below are our recent credos written by members of our meeting.
This months Credo
Shades of Light
It has been a difficult time for all of us since the lockdown in March. Many of us have not been able to see family and friends, not been able to do the things we normally do. Many have lost jobs or remain worried about the future of [C1] their work. For me personally the saddest thing was not been able to see and hug my grandchildren and what a joy it was when we were able to meet up briefly again.
At long last we have been able to reopen our small Meeting House in Newark. Of course, we have to limit the numbers and wear masks, but it feels good to be back together
Yet, in the midst of all the problems and suffering, people have spoken of glimpses of things that were impossible to see before all this began. To be able appreciate and value those people we have missed so much. To realise how just how important they are to us. To find the time to stop and appreciate the quiet, to listen to the bird song. To realise the importance of our gardens and parks and countryside and of the need to protect our natural world. To rethink what we are doing and what is really important. To appreciate the dedication and courage of our essential workers turning up day after day during this crisis. To give thanks for those who have stepped up and helped and thought of others and genuinely done to others as we would have them do to us.
Now that our world is getting noisier again, planes are starting to fly, and roads are busier. We are going to have to work hard to see this crisis through and not let the volume of our world drown out the glimpses of a different way of appreciating things and to still hear that still small voice that tells us another world is possible.
Over the lockdown when we could not meet together, Friends at Newark have shared thoughts and readings via the internet. One especially spoke to me and perhaps sums up so much about what I have learned over this difficult time.
'There is no religious or moral rule to equal the demands of love. What people will remember of us is not what rules we kept, what creeds we believed, what doctrines we followed, but when we were kind, when we opened our hearts and minds to the sorrows, joys and fears of others and revealed something of our own weaknesses; when we rejoiced with the joyful and walked alongside the sorrowing, when we encouraged the fearful and protected the timid, when we gasped with wonder at the sunset, when we were hospitable, generous and forgiving, when we were open to the gifts of those seeking our own giftedness, when we made people feel included and valued....’
There will be shades of light and dark in our lives, but there is always love. Let us trust in that love; a ‘love that that passes all understanding’, to see us through these difficult times.