A movement for our times
Some sixty-odd silent people sit calmly on plain grey wooden benches arranged in a large square, the benches cascade higher, on black wooden platforms leaving an open center, mimicking a Greek amphitheater.
Not a voice to be heard, nothing but the natural soundings of the old building creaking and moaning, almost as if John Cage had elongated his famous piece (4’33”), and slipped quietly out the back door.
For 60 minutes, nothing. Then, as if transported from another place, an older woman stands and smiles and asks all to welcome their neighbor with a smile and a handshake. This everyone is happy to do.
Yes, this is a typical Quaker Meeting on a bright sunny Spring morning.
The Quaker sect was born in England and brought to the ‘new world’ in the seventeenth century, by its founder George Fox. Its reason for leaving, like many other displaced persons, was to avoid religious persecution.
Most people have heard about the Quakers, but hardly anyone knows much about the wonderful selfless service they provide in the name of peace and justice for all people.
The Religious Society of Friends, also referred to as the Quaker Movement, was founded in England in the 17th century by George H. Fox. He and other early Quakers, or Friends, were persecuted for their beliefs, which included the idea that the presence of God exists in every person.
Therefore, right from their inception the Friends were accountable to all mankind. It was a basic tenet of their faith, one which has continued until the present day.
The Quaker movement in North America started in 1656 when missionaries Mary Fisher and Ann Austin started preaching in Boston. They were deemed heretics because of their emphasis on personal submission to the Inner Light. As such, they were jailed and exiled by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The first actual Quaker settlement in the United States was founded in 1675 in what is now New Jersey, while in 1681 William Penn brought the Quakers to Pennsylvania, and it is here their headquarters still remain.
There are many stories surrounding the name ‘Quaker’. One anecdote claims an elder was overheard saying one must tremble before the presence of G.d, and tremble was then related to quake…maybe. There are of course several others.
The “Friends” as they are often called, have become a group of committed individuals who have fostered the ideals of non-violence, equality and serving as part of their belief system. Not only do they encourage these ideals from everyone, they actually live them. Quakers are on the forefront of non-violent demonstrations, counseling anti-war youth, serving the needy in all parts of the world, fighting for environmental justice, racial equality and women’s rights. They are against military intervention, instead are for the building of a stronger infrastructure to care for those need.
Quakers were among the first white people to denounce slavery in the American colonies and Europe, and the Society of Friends became the first organization to take a collective stand against both slavery and the slave trade, later spearheading the international and ecumenical campaigns against slavery.
As a final thought:
There is a wonderful book about non violence, and Quaker belief by David Hartsough, tilted Waging Peace. David is a member of the San Francisco Friends meeting and has been working for Peace and Justice since he met Dr. Martin Luther King in 1956. The book is a story of David’s life, but actually it is a story of courage and bravery. (Highly Recommended)
Waging Peace is a wonderful place to begin an understanding of commitment and Quaker values.
Today there are roughly 250,000 Quakers through out the world.