Coming from diverse religious backgrounds, Friends look for spiritual guidance from many different sources, including direct, personal experience. We believe that within each person is a special power. Some call this power God, some the Holy Spirit; many Friends call it the Inner Light. We believe that everyone can experience this Light and that it can be the foundation for convictions and actions.
The Quaker way of worshiping together is a Meeting of people who seek the Inner Light. We begin in silence--no minister leads us; no formal prayers are said nor hymns sung; no religious symbols are displayed. If someone is moved to speak, his or her words may enrich the understanding of those present. Both our silence and our spoken words bring us closer together.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Quaker?
Quakers, properly Friends, are followers of the practices of the Religious Society of Friends. Friends believe that religious inspiration and guidance can come from many sources, including direct experience. God, however one perceives or names God, can speak to us directly. A common term for God among Friends is The Inner Light, as we believe that there is "that of God in every person."
What happens in Quaker worship?
The Quaker way of worshiping together is a Meeting of people who seek the Inner Light. We begin in silence--no minister leads us; no formal prayers are said nor hymns sung; no religious symbols are displayed. If someone is moved to speak, his or her words may enrich the understanding of those present. Both our silence and our spoken words bring us closer together. Spoken ministry can take many forms and have varied content. In some ways each meeting is different, but in many ways they have an overarching unity.
How long does it take to become a Quaker?
There is no formal time set. There is no catechism to be learned, no rituals to master. When a person has attended meeting for worship for a while and believes that his or her beliefs are harmonious with those of Friends, that person will write a letter to the meeting expressing the desire to become a Friend. A "clearness committee" of two or three members will then meet with the person to discuss the points raised in the letter. The committee will then make a recommendation to the whole meeting about accepting this person into membership and the recommendation will be acted upon by the meeting. Many people remain attenders for some time before becoming members. For the most part there is no distinction between members and attenders in meeting activities, both in worship and otherwise.
Where did you get the name "Quaker?"
Detractors of early Quakers taunted them for "quaking with the Lord" when they spoke in meeting for worship. The name stuck. The formal name for Quakers is however The Religious Society of Friends. Early Quakers used the names Friends of the Light or Children of the Light among others.
What are the big Quaker holidays? (Can I get off work for these?)
Quakers traditionally do not celebrate any holidays as each day is holy. Quakers have gone so far as to rename the days and months to First Day, Second Day, etc., instead of using pagan day and month names. Many Quakers do celebrate Christmas, however, and some also celebrate other holidays from the Christian tradition (Easter) or from other traditions. Brooklyn meeting has an annual Christmas Tree Festival, but does not otherwise celebrate holidays as a meeting. A recent edition of the New York Yearly Meeting newsletter, Spark examined Quaker approaches to celebrations.
What are the rules and regulations for being a Quaker?
Quakers have strenuously rejected endorsing a dogma or catechism. However, there are guidelines for Quaker behavior. These are elaborated on in many Faith and Practice books published by different Quaker groups. These books are revised with some frequency and do not delineate rules and regulations, but only provide guidance, most critically in a section known as Queries, which consists of questions one can ask oneself about what one does. For all of these forms of guidance, a overarching theme of them not being hidebound rules is the statement attached to one of the first of these statements, the one from Quakers in Balby, England in 1656: "Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light which is pure and holy may be guided; and so in the Light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life."
Who is the head Quaker and where can I reach him?
There is no "head Quaker" but God, and Quaker beliefs about whether God is a "him" vary widely. Quaker meetings however do have some worldly organization for the purpose of conducting the business of the church and doing good works. See "what is a monthly meeting" below.
Do you make any money off Quaker Oats?
There is no relationship between Quakers and Quaker Oats, or Quaker Sugar.
Who do I contact for more information?
The best way to find out about Quakers is to come to worship with us (see www.brooklynmeeting.org/directions.html. If you would like more information about Brooklyn Meeting you can also contact the clerk of the meeting via clerk at brooklynmeeting.org. Online, there is a lot of information about Quakers in New York at the Yearly Meeting website nyym.org and more generally at quaker.org.
Who was the first Quaker?
George Fox is considered the founder of Friends. Fox and other like-minded men and women began meeting for worship in England in the 1640s. Quakers were among early settlers in New Amsterdam (as early as 1657). Conflict between Quakers and the Dutch governor led to the Flushing Remonstrance, one of the foundational documents of religious liberty in the United States. The colony of Pennsylvania was established as a Quaker colony by William Penn in 1681.
What is a monthly meeting? A quarterly meeting? A yearly meeting?
Quaker meetings are organized into "monthly meetings" which meet once a month to conduct the business of the meeting; they meet more often for worship. Monthly meetings are grouped into quarterly or half-yearly meetings that meet several times a year. These in turn are grouped into yearly meetings. New York Yearly Meeting, which Brooklyn Meeting is part of, meets annually in the summer with smaller meetings in the spring and fall. New York Yearly Meeting includes most of the monthly meetings in New York State, northern New Jersey and parts of western Connecticut. New York Yearly Meeting is also part of larger Quaker gatherings, such as Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting. Friends General Conference was originally known as Five Years Meeting.
Are Quakers Christians?
Historically, Quakers grew out of the desire to return to the roots of Christian practice and emulate the behaviour of Jesus and his apostles. Today many Quakers consider themselves Christians, but not all Quakers do so. Some reject all such labels, and some retain an alignment with other spiritual beliefs.
Why do Quakers work for peace?
Quakers believe that there is "that of God in every person" and thus no person is set above another and no person has the right to kill another, as must be done during wartime. Quakers, since the late 1650s, have said "All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world." Throughout Quaker history, there has been debate about war, as Quakers came into existance during the decades the resulted in the English Civil War. Some Quakers today also question the propriety of paying taxes that support war.
What are Quaker testimonies?
Many people have written about the basic beliefs or testimonies of Quakers. Quakers have resolutely resisted codifying their beliefs into a dogma, believing that God will communicate to us directly. Among the fundamentals, however, are the idea that God can speak to us, even today, that there is continuing revelation, and that there is some part of God in every person. Quakers are also active in the world, working to make the world a better place. Quakers were early in being active in prison reform and in the abolition of slavery. Quaker ideals in the Pennsylvania colony ensured that treaties with Native Americans were adhered to as long as the Quakers were in the majority in the colony. And today Quakers are active in prisons, environmental concerns, peace activities, and many other social causes. A Quaker joke illuminates the importance of service to the world: A visitor to a Quaker meeting, seeing everyone sitting in silence with no preacher, etc, asks "When does the service begin?" To which the response is "The service begins at the end of meeting."