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A brief introduction to Quakerism

Quakerism arose in the religious and political turmoil of the 1640s. George Fox, the son of a Leicestershire weaver, decided as a young man that he would study the Bible for himself, rather than simply accepting the teachings of the Church.

For four years he wrestled with the religious ideas of the day, and with his own vivid experiences of God and the divine. He came to believe, unusually for his time, that people can and often do have direct experience of God, and do not need priests to act as intermediaries. He became convinced that we all carry “that of God” within ourselves, if we will only listen.

Others heard his message, and from those small beginnings Quakerism spread throughout Britain. By the end of the seventeenth century a significant proportion (possibly 10%) of the population had become “Quakers by convincement”. They worshipped together, without liturgy or creed, in small self-regulating local groups known as Meetings for Worship.

Today, Quakers still gather every week in Meetings for Worship. These are not church services as people usually think of them, but quietly reflective gatherings of about one hour in length, in which people speak only when they feel moved by the Spirit to do so.

In the British tradition of Quakerism there are no appointed Ministers or Pastors. Everyone who attends a Meeting is felt to be there as a “seeker after truth” in his or her own way. George Fox and his fellow-worshippers were known as “Friends in the Truth” (from which our present-day name of “The Religious Society of Friends” derives).

There is no formal creed. We try to listen to God within ourselves and in others. Our book of religious advice, Quaker Faith & Practice (available to consult in the Cheltenham Meeting House library or to buy from the Quaker Bookshop) is a collection of the thoughts and writings of Quakers from the early beginnings to the present day. It is revised from time to time to take account of new knowledge and changes in religious and social awareness.

Quakerism has its roots in Christianity, and Jesus is an important figure for many Friends. However, Quakers do often use other terms, such as “the light within”, “the divine spark”, “the living presence”, “the vitalising presence within creation” and so on. For some people, this a more helpful language in which to try to express spiritual insights and beliefs.

Worship is at the heart of the Quaker experience. God is met in the gathered Meeting, and through the Spirit we are led into ways of life and understandings of truth which have become recognised as distinctively Quaker. We are advised to:

Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts.
Trust them as the leadings of God whose light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.
Quaker Faith & Practice 1.02 - Advices & Queries 1

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