This account is written from the point of view of a Quaker in Britain. I am a member of Walthamstow Friends Meeting, which meets at Jewel Road, London E17.
Enquirers will undoubtedly find fuller information at the sites listed below, but please read what I have to say first! Friends (small or large "F") who know me may also be interested in the part Quakerism has played in my life.
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Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) are a Christian religious movement founded in the 17th century, and based on principles of Peace and human equality.
A Quaker Meeting for Worship can be either of two sorts: "Programmed", or "Unprogrammed". The programmed tradition is followed in much of the United States, where the name "Quaker Church" is also used. Meetings are very like a Baptist or Methodist church service.
Meetings in Britain are unprogrammed. This means that they are conducted mostly in silence, while those present wait for a message from God. Unprepared spoken Ministry can be offered by anyone present, simply by standing and speaking on a theme appropriate to the Meeting. Ministry normally lasts only a few minutes, and typically 4 or 5 Friends might speak during the course of an hour-long Meeting, but an entirely silent Meeting is not unusual.
This is done without a formal priest or leader, although Friends do have a committee (called "Elders") who, among other things, make the practical arrangements for the Meeting.
I am what used to be called a "Birthright Friend", in that I was born into the Society and have remained a Quaker. Because of this I sometimes find that other Quakers expect me to have a special insight into Quaker principles or way of life, but I don't believe this is true. In fact, I often find that convinced Friends (those who have come to the Society entirely through personal decision) know more, and are more committed, than I.
My first Meeting (that I remember) was at Swansea. There are now Meetings nearer to my childhood home in west Wales, but at the time the 30-mile trip was the only possibility. We were not frequent Meeting-goers, but travelled perhaps once a month.
At college in Cambridge (1974-77), I attended Jesus Lane Meeting. There was an active Young Friends group there - not all students! At the time there were two Meetings in Cambridge, and from about 1978, when I was still living there, I was a member of the Oast House Meeting, which met, and still meets, in Pembroke College.
In 1984 the third Cambridge Meeting was set up at Hartington Grove, and it was this Meeting that I was attending immediately before I moved to London shortly afterwards. So I was associated at different times with all 3 Cambridge Friends' Meetings.
When I moved to London, I became a member of Friends' House Meeting, which meets at the Quaker headquarters building in Euston Road, London. (Individually and as a Meeting, Friends' House Friends do not have any more connection with Quaker officialdom than do members of any other Sunday worshipping group, so please do not expect me to answer all your questions.) While at Friends' House, I served (at different times) as Clerk, Elder and Overseer. My Quaker wedding in October 1998 was conducted (uniquely) in 3 languages: English, Korean, and Esperanto.
From the time our first child was born, the round trip into central London became more of a burden (particularly for my wife Kwang Mi), and I became a regular attender, and from 2001 a member, of Walthamstow Meeting, Jewel Road, E17.
It's a notable fact that the majority of Quakers come to the Society as adults, while children of Quakers very often do not remain in membership. Why, then, did I?
I've always been intrigued by religion, but at the same time never being entirely convinced by "traditional" Christianity, particularly the sort of evangelical enthusiasm that I came into contact with at college. I am naturally suspicious of any group of people claiming to have a monopoly of the truth, whether religious or secular, and I am put off many of the religious movements I have encountered, for this reason.
Other problems I have with this sort of Christianity, are the preoccupation with the personality of Jesus, generally to the exclusion, as far as I can see, of what he tells us in terms of how to live our lives; and the emphasis on literal Biblical truth, which I find intellectually unacceptable (also, in many places, morally so).
By contrast, the simplicity of Quaker worship, the principles of equality, and the acceptance that religious truth may be drawn from the most unexpected sources, have always appealed to me. It is perfectly true that there are many non-Quaker Christian movements, such as the Unitarians, who have a similar outlook; but Quakerism is the form of worship that I have known from an early age, and Quakerism is where I have stayed.
Friends' House entrance, plus courtyard fountain
by Antony Lewis