We have answered these FAQs as individuals in an attempt to show that the ways in which we experience Quakers may be different but can also be harmonious. We invite South Australian Friends to send along their own responses to these questions.
What form do your services take?
Kerry: There is no ritual or order of service. We gather together in a silent meeting, usually for an hour or so. The silence may continue for the whole time. Or, after a period of settling into the stillness, one Friend may feel led to speak to the group. This will be followed by a period of reflection on that ‘ministry’. Others may subsequently be led to speak as well; or may not. At the end of the hour, we shake hands with each other and the meeting has come to an end.
Geoff: I join with other Friends and enjoy being welcomed
into the group whether I know them or not. I normally find Friends sitting
facing each other in a circle although sometimes this is made difficult
by the configuration of the room. There is normally an agreed start time
though I have found that Friends feel comfortable joining the group before
or after Worship has started and also feel comfortable leaving the worship
group during worship. Young Children are an example of people who are lead
away after worship has begun to a classroom where they share their ideas
and experiences together and work on creative arts hear stories and sometimes
learn about other Quakers or other religions. I have been to some meetings
where children come into Meeting towards the end so that they can be part
of the end of Meeting and hear the notices that are read after Meeting.
Once I am in a Meeting for Worship I look around to see who I'd like to sit next to and sit there. I begin to think of the people there and my connection with them. Some might be on various committees with me or might have given me some good ideas about something and I contemplate these learnings. Some Friends may be feeling old and tired and I try to think positively about how I can instill energy into these individuals. My thoughts might be interrupted by ministry as someone stands to share what they have been thinking about which they consider is worth sharing with the group. My job as I listen to their ministry is to consider how it might fit in with what I am considering. If others minister after the ministry has finished then my job is to consider the weaving of thoughts and their connections with my own. This is often a time of inspiration and opportunity to see things differently. Also if felt moved I will stand and minister too. In fact Worship is a time for anyone to minister. In the early days of Friends people would be together in a safe place and minister simultaneously often, and be speaking allowed to God or to who every they wanted to. The answers to their speaking would come in different ways. This process or waiting in the light, was and still is, thinking about keeping on track seeking the truth or reality of your thoughts. Other ministries might actually help in ones own dilemmas and why we trend these days to listen carefully to each others ministries and allow time for thought between one ministry and the next. Meeting ends when the Clerk or someone on their behalf shakes hands with someone else. No Meetings are the same as each other because of the different groupings of Friends and because of what ministries are shared. I have been to Meetings where no one ministers however afterwards over a cup of tea I hear about some of the thoughts that people had during the quiet time and sometimes amazed how similar to my own thoughts they were. The general public are always welcome to join in a Meeting for Worship and participate in the same way as Friends do. If you every get a chance to see one happening during a peace protest or other public place or lucky enough to get to a Meeting House for Meeting I recommend that you join the group and feel the experience.
If you meet in silence, how do you have any communication with each other?
Beth: For the participant, silent worship is a contemplative and meditative experience; a corporate activity. At its best a Quaker meeting is a fullness with a deep feeling of the Presence among them. Through worship the individual becomes part of a large community of worshippers who are friends in the widest sense. 'When worship ends, service begins' (A light that is shining, pp29-30).
debra: When I sit amongst Friends in silent waiting, whomever feels moved to do so may speak. Sometimes a meeting is entirely silent. At other times quite a few people speak and there have been occasions when I have felt that they were speaking directly to me. The cuppa afterwards is anything but silent.
Do Quakers have sacraments?
Kerry: We do not have sacraments as practised by some Christian groups. So it could be said that we have no sacraments. On the other hand, with our belief in the sacredness of human life and human activity, we consider that all of life – each encounter, each activity, each experience – is in some way sacramental.
debra: As sacrament means to 'make sacred' I don't believe that sacraments should be limited to special times or places. I try (and often fail) to remember make all relationships and areas of my life sacred.
Do Quakers have priests or ministers?
Kerry: Quakers do not have an ordained ministry. The responsibilities typically associated with such a role are shared among the members of the Society, various members taking on different responsibilities from time to time.
debra: I believe that a there is 'that of God in everyone', that is, we are equal and deserve equal treatment. As a result of this, Friends were some of the first to value women as ministers. I believe that God is directly accessible to everyone without the need of an intermediary priest or ritual. Quakers have not abolished the priesthood, they have abolished the laity.
How is the society organised?
Kerry: Issues are raised and decisions made and enacted at various levels, locally, nationally and internationally. At each of these levels we have a comprehensive set of committees with responsibility for all the concerns and activities of the Society.
What do Quakers do about weddings and funerals?
Kerry: Weddings and funerals are both conducted as meetings for worship. At a wedding , the guests and
debra: The attendees at a weeding gather in silence at a meeting for worship, which can seem unusual to some visitors. At some stage the couple stands and exchanges promises before God and those gathered. The meeting for worship then continues and guests are free to speak. At the rise of meeting all of the witnesses are asked to sign the wedding certificate. Australian Quakers have supported the celebration of same-sex commitment ceremonies since 1994 and recognise them on an equal basis with other committed and loving relationships.
How did you get the name ‘Quakers’?
Ray: When the movement was founded by George Fox and his followers in the 17th century some became so moved by the experience of the worship and preaching that they trembled. Thus observers nick-named them 'quakers'.
Do Quakers have to wear special clothes?
Beth: Quakers do not wear special clothes. However their dressing, as with all of their life, follows the concept of simplicity which is one of the Quaker's main guiding ideas.
debra: Modern day Quakers do not have a dress code. For some people codes can become more important than the reason behind them. The Quaker testimonies of simplicity and equality influence the dress of some Quakers: I try to resist the urge to continually buying new clothing just to be 'in fashion' (although dressing simply does not mean being 20 years (or more) out of fashion) and try not to use clothes to make myself seem better than other people. A few Quakers—who predominantly seem to live in the USA—choose wear plain dress (you can visit some Modern Plain Quakers online) but most Quakers now do not wear clothing that sets them apart from other people.
How many Quakers are there in Australia?
Ray: About 1000 members and many more so-called attenders who are interested and participate actively but who have not yet decided to accept full membership.
How to you get to be a Quaker?
Ray: One attends meetings for a period of time, often several years, participating in the various activities associated with the Quaker movement. When a person is ready to accept the responsibility and commitment required of a member, he/she makes an application for membership and they are visited by senior members to confirm their intentions. In due course their membership is accepted by the Regional Meeting.
debra: After attending meeting for worship for about a year I became 'convinced'. Once one comes to be convinced and chooses to identify with the Religious Society of Friends a letter expressing this is written to the Clerk of the Regional Meeting.
What are Quakers’ attitudes towards Jesus Christ and the Bible?
Ray: Attitudes vary widely; no acknowledgment of doctrines or creeds is required of Quaker members. In general Jesus is recognised as an extraordinary human being and the Bible as an instructive record of the Hebrew people’s search for the best way to live and the increasing understanding of the early Christians.
debra: Some early Friends believed that Christ, instead
of the Bible, is the Word of God. Today you will find Friends who believe
that Jesus (as part of the Trinity) is God and others who think that he
was just a good bloke. I beleive that Jesus had a closer, more profound
relationship with God (whom he called as Abba) than the rest of us. I don't
know how or why this relationship developed, but assume that it grew gradually
as Jesus lived his life, heard the (Hebrew) Scriptures and asked himself
about his own response to God. I do not believe that Jesus was born knowing
that he was the Messiah and would be crucified on a cross.
The Bible's 66 books tell stories about groups of people who have faith in God and contains symbolic/spiritual truth but not literal truth.
Are Quakers something like the Amish?
Ray: Very little similarity. The Amish are an orthodox American Anabaptist sect. Quakers are unorthodox, originally English and emphatically not a sect.
debra: Quakers come from a separate tradition from the Amish, although both groups were influenced to some degree by the ideas Anabaptist groups. As Martin Kelley (in his quakerranter.org blog) points out, Quakers 'spent much of the twenthieth century distancing themselves from Anabaptists, and on giving up on our shared 'peculiar' testimonies on plainness and separation from the world'.
Do Quakers have sermons in their services?
Ray: Usually one or more people during the otherwise silent worship will contribute so-called ‘verbal ministries’ which consist of ideas and insights which they themselves have found valuable and they wish to share.
debra: Anyone give vocal ministry during a meeting for worship. Is this a sermon? Perhaps. If one means 'a discourse for the purpose of religious instruction or exhortation, especially one based on a text of Scripture' then may be it is a sermon, but that's not the terminology I'd use.