Quaker Quest – a 6 weekly cycle of 6 talks presented at Friends’ House in London and elsewhere for newcomers and anyone interested to find out more about Quaker belief and practice. 3 of these sessions based on 3 of the 4 Quaker ‘testimonies’ (the missing testimony here being that to Truth) and the other 3 on three more religious topics: God, Worship and Jesus.
I was only able to start attending these Monday night sessions in Euston after attending the Sunday meetings for worship at Brentford & Isleworth for 6 months. The first session I could manage was that on Simplicity which followed a standard format for Quaker Quest of an introduction by your Quaker ‘compere’ for the evening followed by short presentations of personal views by 3 Quakers often with a contrasting point of view or belief. This then followed by small group discussions of 3-4 people each led by a different Quaker (not involved in the presentations), returning after about 15 minutes to the ‘plenary’ session when the three Quakers presenting each gave a further short talk developing more personal aspects of their experience. Followed in turn by questions from all the newcomers/enquirers to the 3 presenters. There was then a 25 minute ‘trial’ period of ‘meeting for worship’ after the style of the usual (weekly 1 hour meetings on a Sunday) Quaker silent worship. The session closing with upto half an hour of further questions and answers.
The sessions on the three testimonies were pretty straightforward, whether you agree with them or not, but Worship, God and Jesus are perhaps more problematic.
Do Quakers believe in God? Well, yes and no. Some do; it all depends on what you mean by ‘God’ etc. All seem to accept the idea from one of the founding Quakers, George Fox in the 1650’s, of ‘that of God’ in everyone – even those who suggest they are agnostic, ‘non-theist’ or even atheist. (No, it doesn’t seem to quite make sense!).
Quaker worship (in Britain at least) consists of sitting, waiting in silence as a group in expectation of something which some call ‘God’. This may cause some to stand and speak (or ‘minister’) about whatever it is that has come to them in this silent waiting. This is supposed not to be ‘meditation’ but certainly seems very similar to those who have practised any kind of group meditation. (Apart from being occasionally ‘interrupted’ by those who stand to speak). There doesn’t seem to be much ‘quaking’ or ‘shaking’ and the ‘ministry’ is quite often mundanely related to current events. I’ve even stood and spoken myself on two occasions, mainly just ‘for the hell of it’ (if you don’t mind) or dipping the toes to see what it might feel like. I probably won’t do it again unless I feel extraordinarily moved or compelled to do so (by God?) which I think is what is supposed to happen but sometimes someone speaks about a current issue perhaps because they are stumped by the silence or feel an obligation for someone to say something sometimes. Sometimes the whole hour passes in silence. No-one ‘speaks in tongues’ which is a bit of a relief or perhaps a disappointment. No idols, icons or persons are ‘worshipped’ (so far as I can tell); no praises are sung and the time passes in generally peaceful silent ‘worship’ or ‘prayer’. What anyone else present is actually doing each minute (if they are not speaking) is perhaps known only to them or ‘heaven above’ -wherever that might be. Some might summarise this practice in the words ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. Others perhaps wouldn’t. (I believe there’s a Quaker joke that if you ask 10 Quakers a question, you’ll get at least 12 different answers).
Who was or is Jesus? Quaker belief on this (there seem to be only individual Quakers’ beliefs) range from the ‘Ever-living Christ’, the Inner Light, the holy spirit, our saviour who died for us to the illegitimate son of Mary (and maybe a Roman soldier) who proved to be one of the greatest ever Jewish teachers, etc. The early Quakers felt they were re-discovering the true message of Christ (from the Christ within) and that they were therefore the only true Christians whilst some modern Quakers are avowedly Christian and reject the more ‘non-Christian’ views of some contemporary Quakers (who might (also) be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, non-theist, atheist etc), whilst some might also be Anglican or Roman Catholic or Methodist etc.
Are Quakers Christian? (See above!) Well, for some ‘Christians’, at least some if not most Quakers are clearly heretics – perhaps as the early Christians, or Jesus himself, where Jewish heretics.
to follow soon:
Quakers and Simplicity
Quakers and Worship
Quakers and Peace
Quakers and God
Quakers and Equality
Quakers and Jesus