Writing an online guide introducing Quakers and what we believe is undeniably a difficult task, not least because of the difficulty of making such statements all Quakers will agree upon, either individually or as a statement of the ‘corporate’ belief of the organisation to which we all belong. There will probably be a number of Quakers who read this site thinking to themselves “I don’t agree with that statement” at various points. There is no ‘Quaker Creed’, or ‘Quaker Statement of Faith’ behind which we all line up – for what we together hold as being very good reasons.
So with all that talk of how Quakers don’t have many common beliefs, you could be forgiven for wondering what actually makes us specifically Quakers rather than just a random bunch of individuals who happen to enjoy each others’ company of a Sunday morning. We have no creed, but we do have common purposes on our spiritual journeys, and we unite around our celebration of our diversity. We share our developing concepts of God, of ‘the Light’, and we are interested in each others’ differing concepts. Although we are loath to set out in advance what the boundaries of Quakerism are, we do have boundaries – we are not an ‘anything goes’ religion, but rather as one journeys alongside other Quakers you get to learn by osmosis what is likely to be considered acceptable.
How do you ‘know’ you are a Quaker? Consider this analogy – of your dearest love and your closest friends. You might have a checklist of criteria for yourself of attributes you consider desirable in people to associate with, and most of your friends you’ll probably be able to tick all the boxes. But when it comes to falling in love, or those extra special friendships, there’s something more than just ticking the boxes involved, something you can’t put your finger on – you ‘just know’. So it is with Quakers. and similarly with what is not acceptable for Quakers – like the apocryphal judge’s definition of pornography, you can’t say what it is beforehand, but you sure recognise it when you see it! You cannot truly learn about Quaker belief by reading a book or a website, but from real life Quakers, in conversation and in the context of Meeting for Worship.
In behaviour, we do share a set of standards which we all try our best (and, as humans, often completely fail) to live up to – these are set out in the very beginning of Quaker Faith and Practice in a section called Advices and Queries, which are just that – a set of gentle pieces of advice on subjects and questions to challenge our thinking, ranging from “Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit?” (#3), through “Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life” (#7), to “Do you welcome the diversity of culture, language and expressions of faith in our yearly meeting and in the world community of Friends?” (#16), and “Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community?” (#27).
Although we are quite strange and peculiar in our own ways, ultimately we are just like any other ordinary human beings, trying to make sense of the world, our place in it, and our connection to what we call God as best we can. We have our failings and our successes; we try to be friendly but sometimes inadvertently find ourselves being rude.
Hopefully, you’ll have learned enough about us from this site either to know our way is not your way, or to be intrigued enough to want to find out more. You’ll be very welcome at any Quaker meeting, whether your questions are the most obvious or the most difficult.