Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is Quakerism?

My protagonist in Speaking of Murder, Lauren Rousseau, is a Quaker. I just happen to be one, too. This means I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends.

I have found over the years that there is a certain lack of common knowledge about who Quakers are. No, we're not the celibate Shakers, nor the Ludditely Amish or Mennonites. Or a guy who markets oatmeal in an old-fashioned hat.

Friends have a long history - over 350 years - and much has been
written about them. George Fox founded the Society of Friends in England, and it soon spread to America.

The branch of Friends that I belong to and the Meeting I attend feature unprogrammed worship. This means simply that we sit in silence together on pews in a beautiful and simple Meetinghouse built more than 150 years ago (photos by Ed Mair). We sit in expectant waiting, listening for a message from the Light.

Friends are a tolerant bunch and, while it is at base a Christian faith, no one is quizzed on their individual belief system. One might be listening for a m
essage from God, another for a message from Spirit, another for a message from within, and another might be mindfully meditating. All are welcome. If someone feels moved to share a message, she or he stands, speaks, and then sits.

That's it. We have First Day School for the children, fellowship and refreshments, and a monthly business meeting. We hold peace vigils as well as social potlucks.

The five Testimonies guide our lives:

  • Simplicity
  • Equality
  • Integrity
  • Peace
  • Community
Quakers believe there is that of God in each person, which leads to the core and strength of the Testimonies. We have no minister because we all minister to each other. We believe in peace and non-violence because we are all equal. Living simply frees us to help others.

Historically, Friends have been rabble-rousers in the name of peace and equality.
Mary Dyer was hung on the Boston Common in 1660 for preaching Quakerism. John Woolman traveled the American colonies urging people to give up their slaves. John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet and abolitionist, was on the building committee of the Amesbury Meeting, where I am a member. Many modern Friends have been conscientious objectors in time of war. See my earlier post on this topic, too.
I came to Friends as an adult. I find that quiet individual worship in community suits me, as do the Testimonies. Being a Quaker seems to suit Lauren, too. It's not for everyone, though. I knew someone raised as a high Episcopalian and he really couldn't handle all the silence. When I visited his church, I couldn't take all the busyness!

Did you know what Quakerism meant? If you have ever sat in silent Meeting for Worship, how was it for you?


  1. I saw this before you asked for blog ideas. I was going to ask how being a Quaker affected your being a writer. I'm a big admirer of a faith system that causes people to act in the name of their beliefs. Thank you for the insight. I had no idea.

  2. Quakerism has changed my life! (for the better, I might add)

  3. This is so profound and so beautiful, Edith, all the more so because I attend the same Quaker Meeting with you and can attest to the truth of what you say. With life becoming more and more complex and increasingly dominated by technology, I am attracted by the simplicity of Quakerism as well as by the fact that here at last is a group of people who seek the path of Love and Light and then live accordingly. Quakers have done so for centuries and hopefully will always continue to do so.
    Sending you continued Light for your journey,

  4. My understanding of Quakerism was/is limited so I thank you for this insight. I did understand the "busyness" vs. "silence". I'm a Methodist but I used to take my mother-in-law to Catholic Mass on Sundays. All the rituals of the Mass seemed too busy to me and I'm sure she felt our services were incomplete without them. So much of how we worship is just what "feels right".

  5. Thanks for stopping by PJ, The.Mim, Marina, and LD! Glad the post was helpful.

    PJ, I'm not totally sure it affects how I write, but possibly in that I am comfortable being quiet and letting the muse in.

    The.Mim - glad to hear it!

    Light right back at ya, Marina.

    LD, I agree.


  6. I've had Quaker friends (gone now, alas) and attended some silent meetings with them. Our youngest daughter had a Quaker roommate in college who wore a T-shirt that said, "Quakers - Not All Oatmeal And Silence". ;)

    I followed Pat Deuson here on her blog tour, and I'm glad I did!

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

  7. Beautifully said, Edith. We should post it on the meeting website to give folks a real person's view. thank you.
    Joan B.

  8. I need to to thank you for this very good read!! I absolutely loved every little bit of it.Driver Detective Registration Key