Founder George Fox
|Theology Variable; depends on meeting|
Distinct fellowships Friends World Committee for Consultation
Associations Britain Yearly Meeting, Friends United Meeting, Evangelical Friends International, Central Yearly Meeting of Friends, Conservative Friends, Friends General Conference, Beanite Quakerism
Quakers (or Friends) are members of a historically Christian group of religious movements generally known as the Religious Society of Friends. Members of the various Quaker movements are all generally united in a belief in the ability of each human being to experientially access "that of God in every person," and therefore they profess the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine derived from the First Epistle of Peter. They include those with evangelical, holiness, liberal, and traditional Quaker understandings of Christianity. To differing extents, the different movements that make up the Religious Society of Friends/Friends Church avoid creeds and hierarchical structures. In 2007, there were about 359,000 adult Quakers. In 2012, there were 377,055 adult Quakers.
- Beginnings in England
- Immigration into North America
- Hicksite–Orthodox split
- Beaconite controversy
- Rise of Gurneyite Quakerism, and the Gurneyite–Conservative split
- Richmond Declaration
- Missions to Asia and Africa
- Theory of evolution
- Quaker Renaissance
- Conscientious objection
- Formation of Friends World Committee for Consultation
- Evangelical Friends
- Role of women
- Friends in business
- Friends in education
- Friends and slavery
- Non theist
- Practical theology
- Calendar and church holidays
- Programmed worship
- Unprogrammed worship
- Church government and polity
- International organization
- Yearly meetings
- Memorial services
- National and international divisions and organization
- Australia and New Zealand
- Middle East
- North and South America
- Ecumenical relations
- Relations with other faiths
Around 79% of Quakers worldwide belong to the "evangelical" and "programmed" branches of Quakerism—these Quakers worship in services with singing and a prepared message from the Bible, coordinated by a pastor. Around 11% of Friends practice waiting worship, or unprogrammed worship (more commonly known today as Meeting for Worship), where the order of service is not planned in advance, is predominantly silent, and may include unprepared vocal ministry from those present. Some meetings of both types have Recorded Ministers in their meetings—Friends recognised for their gift of vocal ministry.
The first Quakers lived in mid-17th century England. The movement arose from the Legatine-Arians and other dissenting Protestant groups, breaking away from the established Church of England. The Quakers, especially the ones known as the Valiant Sixty, attempted to convert others to their understanding of Christianity, travelling both throughout Great Britain and overseas, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of these early Quaker ministers were women. They based their message on the religious belief that "Christ has come to teach his people himself", stressing the importance of a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and a direct religious belief in the universal priesthood of all believers. They emphasized a personal and direct religious experience of Christ, acquired through both direct religious experience and the reading and studying of the Bible. Quakers focused their private life on developing behaviour and speech reflecting emotional purity and the light of God.
In the past, Quakers were known for their use of thee as an ordinary pronoun, refusal to participate in war, plain dress, refusal to swear oaths, opposition to slavery, and teetotalism. Described as "natural capitalists" by the BBC, some Quakers founded banks and financial institutions, including Barclays, Lloyds, and Friends Provident; manufacturing companies, including shoe retailer C. & J. Clark and the big three British confectionery makers Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry's; and philanthropic efforts, including abolition of slavery, prison reform, and social justice projects.
Beginnings in England
During and after the English Civil War (1642–1651) many dissenting Christian groups emerged, including the Seekers and others. A young man named George Fox was dissatisfied with the teachings of the Church of England and non-conformists. He had a revelation that there is one, even, Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition, and became convinced that it was possible to have a direct experience of Christ without the aid of an ordained clergy. He had a vision on Pendle Hill in Lancashire, England, in which he believed that "the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered". Following this he travelled around England, the Netherlands, and Barbados preaching and teaching with the aim of converting new adherents to his faith. The central theme of his Gospel message was that Christ has come to teach his people himself. His followers considered themselves to be the restoration of the true Christian church, after centuries of apostasy in the churches in England.
In 1650, Fox was brought before the magistrates Gervase Bennet and Nathaniel Barton, on a charge of religious blasphemy. According to George Fox's autobiography, Bennet "was the first that called us Quakers, because I bade them tremble at the word of the Lord". It is thought that George Fox was referring to Isaiah 66:2 or Ezra 9:4. Thus, the name Quaker began as a way of ridiculing George Fox's admonition, but became widely accepted and is used by some Quakers. Quakers also described themselves using terms such as true Christianity, Saints, Children of the Light, and Friends of the Truth, reflecting terms used in the New Testament by members of the early Christian church.
Quakerism gained a considerable following in England and Wales, and the numbers increased to a peak of 60,000 in England and Wales by 1680 (1.15% of the population of England and Wales). However, the dominant discourse of Protestantism viewed the Quakers as a blasphemous challenge to social and political order, leading to official persecution in England and Wales under the Quaker Act 1662 and the Conventicle Act 1664. This was relaxed after the Declaration of Indulgence (1687–1688) and stopped under the Act of Toleration 1689.
One modern view of Quakerism at this time was that the relationship with Christ was encouraged through spiritualization of human relations, and "the redefinition of the Quakers as a holy tribe, 'the family and household of God'". Together with Margaret Fell, the wife of Thomas Fell, who was the vice-chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and a pre-eminent judge, Fox developed new conceptions of family and community that emphasized "holy conversation": speech and behavior that reflected piety, faith, and love. With the restructuring of the family and household came new roles for women; Fox and Fell viewed the Quaker mother as essential to developing "holy conversation" in her children and husband. Quaker women were also responsible for the spirituality of the larger community, coming together in "meetings" that regulated marriage and domestic behavior.
Immigration into North America
The persecution of Quakers in North America began in 1656 when English Quaker missionaries Mary Fisher and Ann Austin began preaching in Boston. They were considered heretics because of their insistence on individual obedience to the Inner Light. They were imprisoned and banished by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Their books were burned, and most of their property was confiscated. They were imprisoned in terrible conditions, then deported.
In 1660, English Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony. She was one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs. In 1661, King Charles II forbade Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism. In 1684, England revoked the Massachusetts charter, sent over a royal governor to enforce English laws in 1686 and, in 1689, passed a broad Toleration Act.
Some Friends immigrated to what is now the Northeastern region of the United States in the early 1680s in search of economic opportunities and a more tolerant environment in which to build communities of "holy conversation". They were able to establish thriving communities in the Delaware Valley, although they continued to experience persecution in some areas, such as New England. The three colonies that tolerated Quakers at this time were West Jersey, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania, where Quakers established themselves politically. In Rhode Island, 36 governors in the first 100 years were Quakers. West Jersey and Pennsylvania were established by affluent Quaker William Penn in 1676 and 1682 respectively, with Pennsylvania as an American commonwealth run under Quaker principles. William Penn signed a peace treaty with Tammany, leader of the Delaware tribe, and other treaties followed between Quakers and Native Americans. This peace endured almost a century, until the Penn's Creek Massacre of 1755. Early colonial Quakers also established communities and meeting houses in North Carolina and Maryland, after fleeing persecution by the Anglician Church in Virginia.
Early Quakerism tolerated boisterous behavior that challenged conventional etiquette, but by 1700, they continued to encourage spontaneity of expression but they no longer supported disruptive and unruly behavior. During the 18th century, Quakers entered the Quietist period in the history of their church, and they became more inward looking spiritually and less active in converting others. Marrying outside the Society was outlawed. Numbers dwindled, dropping to 19,800 in England and Wales by 1800 (0.21% of population), and 13,859 by 1860 (0.07% of population). The formal name "Religious Society of Friends" dates from this period and was probably derived from the appellations "Friends of the Light" and "Friends of the Truth". Louis de Jaucourt in Diderot's Encyclopedie attributed Quietism to Eastern influence, stating, "The Brahmins push apathy or indifference to an extreme, to which they tie all holiness; saying that it was necessary to become a stone or statue in order to acquire perfection. It is, they say, the deepest sleep of the spirit, letting all energy rest, this continual suspension of the senses, which leads to man's happiness and makes him alike unto the god Fo."
In the 19th century, there was a diversification of theological beliefs in the Religious Society of Friends, and this led to several large splits within the Quaker movement.
The Hicksite–Orthodox split arose out of both ideological and socio-economic tensions. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Hicksites tended to be agrarian and poorer than the more urban, wealthier, Orthodox Quakers. With increasing financial success, Orthodox Quakers wanted to "make the Society a more respectable body—to transform their sect into a church—by adopting mainstream Protestant orthodoxy". Hicksites, though they held a variety of views, generally saw the market economy as corrupting, and believed Orthodox Quakers had sacrificed their orthodox Christian spirituality for material success. Hicksites viewed the Bible as secondary to the individual cultivation of God's light within.
With Gurneyite Quakers shift towards Protestant principles and away from the spiritualization of human relations, women's role as promoters of "holy conversation" started to decrease. Conversely, within the Hicksite movement the rejection of the market economy and the continuing focus on community and family bonds tended to encourage women to retain their role as powerful arbiters.
Elias Hicks' religious views were claimed to be universalist and to contradict Quakers' historical orthodox Christian beliefs and practices. Elias Hicks' Gospel preaching and teaching precipitated the Great Separation of 1827, which resulted in a parallel system of Yearly Meetings in America, joined by Friends from Philadelphia, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Baltimore. They were referred to by their opponents as Hicksites and by others, and sometimes themselves, as orthodox. Quakers in Great Britain only recognized the Orthodox Quakers and refused to correspond with the Hicksites.
Isaac Crewdson was a Recorded Minister in Manchester, UK. He published a book titled A Beacon to the Society of Friends in 1835, which strongly argued that the inward light could not exist alongside a religious belief in salvation by the atonement of Christ. This Christian controversy led to Isaac Crewdson's resignation from the Religious Society of Friends, along with 48 fellow members of Manchester Meeting and about 250 other British Quakers in 1836–1837. Some of these Quakers joined the Plymouth Brethren Church.
Rise of Gurneyite Quakerism, and the Gurneyite–Conservative split
Orthodox Friends became more evangelical during the 19th century and were influenced by the Second Great Awakening. This movement was led by British Quaker Joseph John Gurney. Christian Friends held Revival meetings in America and became involved in the Holiness movement of churches. Quakers such as Hannah Whitall Smith and Robert Pearsall Smith became speakers in the religious movement and introduced Quaker phrases and practices to it. British Friends became involved with the Higher Life movement, with Robert Wilson from Cockermouth meeting founding the Keswick Convention. From the 1870s it became commonplace in Great Britain to have home mission meetings on a Sunday evening with Christian hymns and a Bible-based sermon alongside the silent meetings for worship on Sunday morning.
The Quaker Yearly Meetings supporting the religious beliefs of Joseph John Gurney were known as Gurneyite yearly meetings. Many eventually collectively became the Five Years Meeting and then Friends United Meeting, although London Yearly Meeting, which had been strongly Gurneyite in the nineteenth century, did not join either of these groups. These Quaker yearly meetings make up the largest proportion of Quakers in the world today.
Some orthodox Quakers in America disliked the move towards evangelical Christianity and saw it as a dilution of Friends' traditional orthodox Christian belief in being inwardly led by the Holy Spirit. These Friends were led by John Wilbur who was expelled from his yearly meeting in 1842. He and his supporters formed their own Conservative Friends Yearly Meeting. In the UK in 1868 some Friends broke away from London Yearly Meeting for the same reason. They formed a separate body of Friends called Fritchley General Meeting, which remained distinct and separate from London Yearly Meeting until 1968. Similar Christian splits took place in Canada. The Yearly Meetings that supported John Wilbur's religious beliefs were known as Conservative Friends.
In 1887, a Gurneyite Quaker of British descent, Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, proposed to Friends a statement of faith known as the Richmond Declaration. This statement of faith was agreed to by 95 of the representatives at a meeting of Five Years Meeting Friends; but unexpectedly the Richmond Declaration was not adopted by London Yearly Meeting because a vocal minority, including Edward Grubb, opposed it.
Missions to Asia and Africa
Following the Christian revivals in the mid-19th century, Friends in Great Britain wanted to start missionary activity overseas. The first missionaries were sent to Benares (Varanasi), in India in 1866. The Friends Foreign Mission Association was formed in 1868, and sent missionaries to Madhya Pradesh, India, forming what is now Mid-India Yearly Meeting; and later to Madagascar from 1867, China from 1896, Sri Lanka from 1896, and Pemba Island from 1897. The Friends Syrian Mission was established in 1874, which among other institutions ran the Ramallah Friends Schools, which still exist today. Swiss missionary Theophilus Waldmeier founded Brummana High School in Lebanon in 1873. Evangelical Friends Churches from Ohio Yearly Meeting sent missionaries to India in 1896, forming what is now Bundelkhand Yearly Meeting. Cleveland Friends went to Mombasa, Kenya, and started what was the most successful Friends' mission. Christian Quakerism spread within Kenya and to Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda.
Theory of evolution
The theory of evolution described by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species (1859) was opposed by many Quakers in the nineteenth century, particularly by older evangelical Quakers who dominated the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain. These religious leaders were suspicious of Darwin's theory, and believed that natural selection needed to be supplemented by another process. For example, influential British Quaker scientist Edward Newman stated that this theory was "not compatible with our notions of creation as delivered from the hands of a Creator."
However, some young Friends such as John Wilhelm Rowntree and Edward Grubb supported Darwin's theories adopting a doctrine of progressive revelation with evolutionary ideas. In the United States, Joseph Moore taught the theory of evolution at the Quaker Earlham College as early as 1861 and was probably one of the first teachers in the Midwest to do so. Acceptance of the theory of evolution became more widespread in those Yearly Meetings, which moved towards liberal Christianity in the twentieth century, while a belief in creationism persists within evangelical Friends Churches, particularly in East Africa and parts of the U.S.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century a religious movement known as the Quaker Renaissance movement began within London Yearly Meeting. Young Friends in London Yearly Meeting at this time moved away from evangelicalism and towards liberal Christianity. This Quaker Renaissance movement was particularly influenced by John Wilhelm Rowntree, Edward Grubb, and Rufus Jones. These Liberal Friends promoted the theory of evolution, modern biblical criticism, and the social meaning of Jesus Christ's teaching—encouraging Friends to follow the New Testament example of Christ by performing good works. These Quaker men downplayed the evangelical Quaker belief in the atonement of Christ on the Cross at Calvary. After the Manchester Conference in England in 1895, one thousand British Friends met to consider the future of British Quakerism and, as a result, liberal Quaker thought gradually increased within London Yearly Meeting.
During World War I and World War II, Friends' opposition to war was put to the test. Many Friends became conscientious objectors and some formed the Friends Ambulance Unit with the aim of co-operating with others to build up a new world rather than fighting to destroy the old, and the American Friends Service Committee. Birmingham, UK had a strong Quaker community during the war (see Conscientious objectors in Birmingham in World War I). Many British Quakers were conscripted into the Non-Combatant Corps during both world wars.
Formation of Friends World Committee for Consultation
After the two great wars had brought the different kinds of Quakers closer together, Friends from different yearly meetings—many of whom had served together in the Friends Ambulance Unit, and on the American Friends Service Committee and in other relief work—later held several Quaker World Conferences; this subsequently resulted in the creation of a standing body of Friends named Friends World Committee for Consultation.
After World War I, a growing desire for a more fundamentalist approach among some Friends began a split among Five Years Meetings. In 1926, Oregon Yearly Meeting seceded from Five Years Meeting, bringing together several other yearly meetings and scattered monthly meetings. In 1947, the Association of Evangelical Friends was formed, with triennial meetings until 1970. In 1965, this was replaced by the Evangelical Friends Alliance, which, in 1989, became Evangelical Friends Church International.
Role of women
In the 1650s, individual Quaker women prophesized and preached publicly, developing charismatic personas and spreading the sect. This practice was bolstered by the movement’s firm concept of spiritual equality for men and women. Moreover, Quakerism initially was propelled by the non-conformist behaviors of its followers, especially women who broke from social norms. By the 1660s, the progress of the movement resulted in more structured organization, which led to separate women's meetings. Through the women's meeting, women oversaw domestic and community life, including marriage. From the beginning, Quaker women, most notably Margaret Fell, played an important role in defining Quakerism. Others active in proselytizing included Mary Penington, Mary Mollineux and Barbara Blaugdone. Quaker women even published at least 220 texts during the seventeenth century. However, within the Quaker movement, some resented the power of women within the community. In the early years of Quakerism, George Fox faced resistance in developing and establishing women's meetings. As controversy increased, Fox did not fully adhere to this agenda; For example, he established the London Six Weeks Meeting in 1671, as a regulatory body, led by thirty-five women and forty-nine men. Regardless, conflict culminated in the Wilkinson–Story split, in which a portion of the Quaker community left to worship independently in protest of women's meetings. After several years, the schism became largely resolved, testifying to the resistance of some within the Quaker community, and to the radical spiritual role of women that George Fox and Margaret Fell had encouraged. Also particularly within the relatively prosperous Quaker communities of the eastern United States, the focus on the child and "holy conversation" gave women unusual community power, although they were largely excluded from the market economy. With the Hicksite–Orthodox split of 1827–1828, Orthodox women found their spiritual role decreased, while Hicksite women retained greater influence.
Friends in business
Described as "natural capitalists" by the BBC, dynasties of Quakers were successful in business matters. This included ironmaking by Abraham Darby I (which played an important role in the Industrial Revolution that commenced in Britain), and his family; banking, including Lloyds Banking Group (founded by Sampson Lloyd), Barclays PLC, Backhouse's Bank and Gurney's Bank; life assurance (Friends Provident); pharmaceuticals (Allen & Hanburys); chocolate (Cadbury, Terry's, Fry's); confectionery (Rowntree); biscuit manufacturing (Huntley & Palmers); match manufacture (Bryant & May, Francis May and William Bryant) and shoe manufacturing (Clarks).
Friends in education
Initially, Quakers had no ordained clergy, and thus needed no seminaries for theological training. In England, Quaker schools sprang up, with Friends School Saffron Walden being the most prominent. Later in America they founded Wilmington Friends School (1748), Westtown School (1799), Haverford College (1833), Guilford College (1837), Olney Friends School (1837), Pickering College (1842), Earlham College & Earlham School of Religion (1847), Swarthmore College (1864), Wilmington College (Ohio) (1870), Penn College (Iowa) (1873), Bryn Mawr College (1885), Friends Pacific Academy (now George Fox University) (1885), Cleveland Bible College (now Malone University) (1892), George School (1893), Friends University (1898), Training School for Christian Workers (now Azusa Pacific University) (1899), Whittier College (1901), and Friends Bible College (now Barclay College) (1917). In Australia, the Friends' School, Hobart was founded in 1887 and has grown to become the largest Quaker school in the world. In Great Britain, they organized Woodbrooke College in 1903. In Kenya, Quakers founded Friends Bible Institute (now Friends Theological College) in Kaimosi, Kenya, in 1942.
Friends and slavery
Some Quakers in North America and Great Britain became well known for their involvement in the abolition of slavery. However, prior to the American Revolution, it was fairly common for Friends in British America to own slaves. During the early to mid-1700s a disquiet about this practice arose among Friends, best exemplified by the testimonies of Anthony Benezet and John Woolman; and this resulted in an abolition movement among Friends. By the time of the American Revolution few Friends owned slaves. In 1790, the Society of Friends petitioned the United States Congress to abolish slavery, becoming the first organization to take a collective stand against slavery and the slave trade. One example of a reversal in sentiment about slavery took place in the life of Moses Brown, one of four Rhode Island brothers who, in 1764, organized and funded the tragic and fateful voyage of the slave ship named Sally. Moses Brown broke away from his three brothers, became an abolitionist, and converted to Christian Quakerism. During the 19th Century, Quakers such as Levi Coffin played a major role in helping enslaved people escape through the Underground Railroad. Quaker Paul Cuffee, a free black sea captain and businessman, was active in the abolitionist and resettlement movement in the early part of that century.
The theological beliefs of Quaker yearly meetings vary considerably. Tolerance of dissent widely varies among yearly meetings.
Most Friends believe in continuing revelation, which is the religious belief that truth is continuously revealed directly to individuals from God. George Fox, an "early Friend", described it as "Christ has come to teach His people Himself." Friends often focus on trying to hear God. As Isaac Penington wrote in 1670, "It is not enough to hear of Christ, or read of Christ, but this is the thing—to feel him to be my root, my life, and my foundation..." Quakers reject the idea of priests, believing in the priesthood of all believers. Some Friends express their concept of God using various phrases including the inner light, or inward light of Christ, the Holy Spirit or other phrases.
Diverse theological beliefs, understandings of the "leading of the Holy Spirit", and statements of "faith and practice" have always existed among Friends. Due in part to the emphasis on the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, Quaker doctrines have only sometimes been codified as statements of faith, confessions or theological texts; those that do exist include the Letter to the Governor of Barbados (Fox, 1671), An Apology for the True Christian Divinity (Barclay, 1678), A Catechism and Confession of Faith (Barclay, 1690), The Testimony of the Society of Friends on the Continent of America (adopted jointly by all orthodox yearly meetings in U.S., 1830), the Richmond Declaration of Faith (adopted by Five Years Meeting, 1887), and Essential Truths (Jones and Wood, adopted by Five Years Meeting, 1922). As a public statement of faith, most yearly meetings publish their own Book of Discipline, that expresses Christian discipleship within the experience of Friends in that yearly meeting.
Conservative Friends (also known as "Wilburites" after their founder, John Wilbur), share some of the beliefs of George Fox and the Early Friends. Many Wilburites see themselves as the Quakers whose beliefs are most true to original Quaker doctrine, arguing that the majority of Friends "broke away" from the Wilburite Quakers in the 19th and 20th centuries (rather than the Wilburites being the "breakaway" sect). Conservative Friends place their trust in the immediate guidance of God. Conservative Friends completely reject all forms of religious symbolism and outward sacraments, such as the Eucharist and water baptism. Conservative Friends do not believe in relying upon the practice of outward rites and sacraments, to have a living relationship with God through Christ; believing that holiness can exist in all of the activities of one's daily life—and that all of life is sacred in God. Many Conservative Friends believe that a meal held with others can become a form of communion with God, and with one another.
In the U.S., Conservative Friends are part of three small Quaker Yearly Meetings in Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa; Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) is generally considered to be the most Bible-centred of the three Conservative Friends Yearly Meetings, retaining Christian Quakers who use the plain language, who continue to wear plain dress, and who live in small villages or rural areas; more than the Conservative Friends from the other two Conservative Friends Yearly Meetings.
In 2007, total membership of these Yearly Meetings was around 1642, making them around 0.4% of the world family of Quakers.
Evangelical Friends regard Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, and have similar religious beliefs to other evangelical Christians. They believe in, and hold a high regard for, the penal substitution of the atonement of Christ on the Cross at Calvary, biblical infallibility, and the need for every person to personally experience a relationship with God. They believe that the purpose of the Evangelical Friends Church is to evangelise the unsaved people of the world, to spiritually transform them through God's love, and through social service to others. Evangelical Friends regard the Bible as the infallible and self-authenticating Word of God. The statement of faith of Evangelical Friends International, is comparable to the statement of faith of other Evangelical churches. Evangelical Friends who are members of Evangelical Friends International, are mainly located in the U.S., Central America, and Asia. Beginning in the 1880s, some Friends began using outward sacraments in their Sunday services, first in Evangelical Friends Church–Eastern Region (then known as Ohio Yearly Meeting [Damascus]). Friends Church–Southwest Region, has also approved the practice of using the outward sacraments in their Sunday services. In places where Evangelical Friends are engaged in missionary work, such as in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, adult baptism by immersion in water, is carried out. This practice differs from most other Quaker branches of the Religious Society of Friends. As of 2014, EFCI claims to represent more than 140,000 Friends, equalling roughly 39% of the total number of Friends worldwide.
Gurneyite Friends (aka Friends United Meeting Friends), are the modern-day followers of the Evangelical Quaker theology which was first proclaimed by Joseph John Gurney, a 19th-century British Friend. They make up 49% of the total number of Quakers worldwide. They regard Jesus Christ as their Teacher and Lord, and favour working closely with other Protestant Christian churches. Gurneyite Friends place more emphasis on the authority of the Bible as the direct Word of God than on personal and direct experience of God in their lives. Both children and adults participate in ongoing religious education which emphasises orthodox Christian teaching from the Bible, and in relationship to both orthodox Christian Quaker history and Quaker testimonies. Gurneyite Friends subscribe to a set of orthodox Christian doctrines, such as those found in the Richmond Declaration of faith. In subsequent years, conflict arose among Gurneyite Friends in relation to the Richmond Declaration of faith. Thus, after a while, the Richmond Declaration of faith was adopted by nearly all of the Gurneyite yearly meetings. The Five Years Meeting of Friends reaffirmed their loyalty to the Richmond Declaration of faith in 1912, but specifically stated that it was not to constitute a Christian creed. Although Gurneyism was the main form of Quakerism in Great Britain in the 19th century, Gurneyite Friends are today located in America, Ireland, Africa and India. Many Gurneyite Friends combine "waiting worship" (unprogrammed worship), with religious practices commonly found in other Protestant Christian churches, such as the reading of the Bible and the singing of Hymns. A small minority of Gurneyite Friends practice entirely unprogrammed worship.
Holiness Friends are heavily influenced by the Holiness movement, in particular John Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection, also called "entire sanctification." This doctrine states that loving God and humanity totally, as exemplified by Christ, enables believers to rid themselves of voluntary sin. This was a predominant view within Quakerism in the United Kingdom and United States in the 19th century, and it influenced other branches of Quakerism. Holiness Friends argue that early Friends, including George Fox's message of perfection, is the same as holiness.
Today, while there are some Friends who hold holiness beliefs within most yearly meetings, it is the predominant theological view of Central Yearly Meeting of Friends, (founded in 1926 specifically to promote holiness theology), and the Holiness Mission of the Bolivian Evangelical Friends Church (founded by missionaries from that meeting in 1919, the largest group of Friends in Bolivia).
Liberal Quakerism generally refers to Friends who have taken ideas from liberal Christianity, often sharing a similar mix of ideas, such as more critical Biblical hermeneutics, often with a focus on the social gospel. The ideas of That of God in everyone and the inner light were popularised by American Friend Rufus Jones, in the early 20th century. He and John Wilhelm Rowntree originated the movement. Liberal Friends were predominant in Great Britain in the 20th century, and among US meetings affiliated to Friends General Conference; and some meetings in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa.
These ideas remain an important part of liberal Friends' understanding of God. Liberal Friends highlight the importance of good works, particularly living a life that upholds the virtues preached by Jesus. They often emphasize pacifism, treating others equally, living simply and telling the truth.
Like Conservative Friends, Liberal Friends reject religious symbolism and sacraments, such as water baptism and the Eucharist. While Liberal Friends recognize the potential of these outward forms for awakening experiences of the Inward Light of Christ, they are not part of their worship, and are believed unnecessary to authentic Christian spirituality.
The Bible remains central to most Liberal Friends' worship, and almost all meetings make it available in the meeting house, (often on a table in the centre of the room), which attendees may read privately or publicly during worship. However, Liberal Friends, decided that the Scriptures should give way to God's leading, if God leads them in a way that is contrary to the Bible. Many Friends are also influenced by liberal Christian theologians, and modern Biblical criticism. They often adopt non-propositional Biblical hermeneutics, such as believing that the Bible is an anthology of human authors' beliefs and feelings about God, rather than Holy Writ, and that multiple interpretations of the Scriptures are acceptable.
Liberal Friends believe that a corporate confession of faith would be an obstacle—both to authentic listening and to new insight. As a non-creedal form of Christianity, Liberal Quakerism is receptive to a wide range of religious faith understandings. Most Liberal Quaker Yearly Meetings publish a Faith and Practice, a book with a range of religious experiences of what it means to be a Friend in that Yearly Meeting.
Universalist Friends affirm religious pluralism, that there are many different paths to God and that understandings of the divine reached through non-Christian religious experiences are as valid as Christian understandings. This group was founded in the late 1970s by John Linton. Linton had worshipped God with the Delhi Worship Group in India (an independent meeting not affiliated to any yearly meeting or wider Quaker group) with Christians, Muslims and Hindus worshipping together. Following a move to Great Britain, he founded the Quaker Universalist Fellowship in 1978. Later his views spread to the US where the Quaker Universalist Fellowship was founded in 1983. Most of the Friends who joined these two fellowships were Liberal Friends from Britain Yearly Meeting in the United Kingdom, and Liberal Friends from Friends General Conference in the United States. Interest in Quaker Universalism is low among Friends from other Yearly meetings. The views of the Universalists provoked controversy between themselves and Christian Quakers within Britain Yearly Meeting, and within Friends General Conference, during the 1980s. Despite the label, Quaker "Universalists" are not necessarily Christian Universalists, embracing the doctrine of universal reconciliation.
These Friends have views similar to other post-Christian non-theists in other churches such as the Sea of Faith within the Anglican church. They are predominantly atheists, agnostics, and humanists who nevertheless value membership in a religious organization. The first organization for non-theist Friends was the Humanistic Society of Friends, founded in Los Angeles in 1939. This organization remained small and was absorbed into the American Humanist Association. More recently, interest in non-theism resurfaced, particularly led by British Friend David Boulton, who founded the 40 member Nontheist Friends Network in 2011. Non-theism is controversial, leading some Christian Quakers from within Britain Yearly Meeting to call for non-theists to be refused membership. In one study of Friends in Britain Yearly Meeting, around 30% of Quakers had views that were described as non-theistic, agnostic, or atheist. Another study of British Quakers, found that of the 727 members of the Religious Society of Friends who completed the survey, 75.1% said that they consider themselves to be Christian; 17.6% did not consider themselves Christian; and 7.3% of the members either did not answer or circled both answers. A further 22% of Quakers did not consider themselves to be a Christian, but fulfilled a definition of being a Christian in that they said that they devoutly followed the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. In the same survey 86.9% said that they believed in God.
Quakers bear witness or testify to their religious beliefs in their spiritual lives, drawing on the James advice that faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. This religious witness is rooted in their immediate experience of God and verified by the Bible, especially in Jesus Christ's life and teachings. They may bear witness in many ways, according to how they believe God is leading them. Although Quakers share how they relate to God and the world, mirroring Christian ethical codes, for example the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain, Friends argue that they feel personally moved by God rather than following an ethical code.
Some theologians classify Friends' religious witness into categories—known by some Friends as testimonies. These Friends believe these principles and practices testify to, witness to, or provide evidence for God's truth. No categorization is universally accepted.
In East Africa, Friends teach peace and non-violence, simplicity, honesty, equality, humility, marriage and sexual ethics (defining marriage as lifelong between one man and one woman), sanctity of life (opposition to abortion), cultural conflicts and Christian life.
In the United States, the acronym SPICES is often used by many Yearly Meetings (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship). Stewardship is not recognized as a Testimony by all Yearly Meetings. Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting Friends put their faith in action through living their lives by the following principles: prayer, personal integrity, stewardship (which includes giving away minimum of 10% income and refraining from lotteries), marriage and family (lifelong commitment), regard for mind and body (refraining from certain amusements, propriety and modesty of dress, abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and drugs), peace and non-violence (including refusing to participate in war), abortion (opposition to abortion, practical ministry to women with unwanted pregnancy and promotion of adoption), human sexuality, the Christian and state (look to God for authority, not the government), capital punishment (find alternatives), human equality, women in ministry (recognising women and men have an equal part to play in ministry). Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association (2012)(SAYMA)in their "Testifying to the Life of the SPIRIT" list as testimonies: Integrity, Peace, Simplicity, Equality and Community; Areas of witness lists Children, Education, Government, Sexuality and Harmony with Nature. http://sayma.org/online_documents/faith_and_practice/F&P2012final.pdf
In the UK, the acronym STEP or PEST is used (peace, equality, simplicity and truth). In his book Quaker Speak, British Friend Alastair Heron, lists the following ways in which British Friends testify to God: Opposition to betting and gambling, capital punishment, conscription, hat honor (the largely historical practice of dipping one's hat toward social superiors), oaths, slavery, times and seasons, tithing and promotion of integrity (or truth), peace, penal reform, plain language, relief of suffering, simplicity, social order, Sunday observance, sustainability, temperance and moderation.
Calendar and church holidays
Quakers traditionally use numbers to denominate the names of the months and days of the week, something they call the plain calendar. This does not use names of calendar units derived from the names of pagan deities. The days begin with First Day (Sunday) and ends on Seventh Day (Saturday), and months run from First Month (January) to Twelfth Month (December). This is based on the terms used in the Bible: e.g., Jesus Christ's followers went to the tomb early on the First Day of the week. The plain calendar emerged in the 17th century in England in the Puritan movement, but became closely identified with Friends by the end of the 1650s, and was commonly employed into the 20th century. It is less commonly encountered today. The term First Day School is commonly used, for what is called by most churches Sunday School.
In common with other Christian denominations derived from the 16th century Puritanism, many Friends do not observe religious festivals (e.g. Christmas, Lent, or Easter), but instead believe that Christ's birth, crucifixion, and resurrection, should be commemorated every day of the year. For example, many Quakers feel that fasting at Lent, but then eating in excess at other times of the year is hypocrisy and therefore many Quakers, rather than observing Lent, live a simple lifestyle all the year round (see Testimony of Simplicity). These practices are often referred to as the testimony against times and seasons.
Some Friends are non-Sabbatarians, holding that "every day is the Lord's day," and that what should be done on a First Day should be done every day of the week, although Meeting for Worship is usually held on a First Day, which has been advised since the first advice issued by elders in 1656.
Most groups of Quakers meet for regular worship. There are two main types of worship worldwide: programmed worship and waiting worship.
In programmed worship there is often a prepared Biblical message, which may be delivered by an individual with theological training from a Bible College. There may be hymns, a sermon, Bible readings, joint prayers and a period of silent worship. The worship resembles the church services of other Protestant denominations, although in most cases does not include any Eucharist service. A paid pastor may be responsible for pastoral care. Worship of this kind is celebrated by about 89% of Friends worldwide. It is found in many Yearly Meetings in Africa, Asia and parts of the US (central and southern), and is common in programmed meetings affiliated to Friends United Meeting, (who make up around 49% of worldwide membership), and evangelical meetings, including those affiliated to Evangelical Friends International, (who make up at least 40% of Friends worldwide). The religious event is sometimes called a Quaker meeting for worship or sometimes called a Friends church service. This religious tradition arose among Friends in the United States, in the 19th century, and in response to the many converts to Christian Quakerism during the national spiritual revival of the time. Friends meetings in Africa and Latin America were generally started by Orthodox Friends from programmed elements of the Society, therefore most African and Latin American Friends worship in a programmed style.
Some Friends also hold "Semi-Programmed" Worship, which brings programmed elements such as hymns and readings into an otherwise unprogrammed worship service.
Unprogrammed worship (also known as waiting worship, "silent worship", or holy communion in the manner of Friends) is based on the practices of George Fox and the Early Friends, who based their religious beliefs and practices on their interpretation of how the early Christians worshipped God their Heavenly Father. Friends gather together in "expectant waiting upon God" to experience his still small voice leading them from within. There is no plan on how the meeting will proceed, and actual practice varies widely between Meetings and individual worship services. Friends believe that God plans what will happen, with his spirit leading people to speak. When a participant feels led to speak, he or she will stand and share a spoken message of ("vocal ministry") in front of others. When this happens, Quakers believe that the spirit of God is speaking through the speaker. After someone has spoken, it is generally considered good etiquette to allow a few minutes pass in silence before further vocal ministry is given. Sometimes a meeting is entirely silent, sometimes many speak. These meetings lasted for several hours in George Fox's day. Modern meetings are often limited to an hour, ending when two people (usually the elders) exchange the sign of peace by handshake. This handshake is often shared by the others. This style of worship is the norm in Great Britain, Ireland, the continent of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Canada, and parts of the United States (particularly yearly meetings associated with Friends General Conference and Beanite Quakerism)—constituting about 11% of Quakers. Those who worship in this style hold each person to be equal before God and capable of knowing the light of God directly. Anyone present may speak if they feel led to do so. Traditionally, Recorded Ministers were recognised for their particular gift in vocal ministry. This religious practice continues among Conservative Friends and Liberal Friends (e.g. New York Yearly Meeting). Many meetings where Liberal Friends predominate abolished this religious practice. London Yearly Meeting of Friends abolished the acknowledging and recording of Recorded Ministers in 1924.
Church government and polity
Governance and decision making is conducted at a special meeting for worship—often called a meeting for worship with a concern for business or meeting for worship for church affairs at which all members can attend, as in a Congregational church. Quakers consider this to be a form of worship, conducted in the manner of meeting for worship. They believe this is the gathering of believers who wait upon the Lord to discover God's will, believing that they are not making their own decisions. They seek to understand God's will for the religious community, via the actions of the Holy Spirit within the meeting.
As in a meeting for worship, each member is expected to listen to God, and, if led by Him, stand up and contribute. In some business meetings, Friends wait for the clerk to acknowledge them before speaking. Direct replies to someone's contribution are not permitted, with an aim of seeking truth rather than of debating. A decision is reached when the meeting, as a whole, feels that the "way forward" has been discerned (also called "coming to unity"). There is no voting. On some occasions a single Friend delays a decision, because they feel the meeting is not following God's will. Because of this, many non-Friends, describe this as consensus decision-making; however Friends are instead determined to continue seeking God's will. It is assumed that if everyone is listening to God's spirit, the way forward will become clear.
Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) is the international Quaker organization that loosely unifies the different religious traditions of Quakers; FWCC brings together the largest variety of Friends in the world. Friends World Committee for Consultation is divided into four sections to represent different regions of the world: Africa, Asia West Pacific, Europe and Middle East, and the Americas.
Various organizations associated with Friends include a U.S. lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C. called the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL); service organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker United Nations Offices, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Friends Committee on Scouting, the Quaker Peace Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Alternatives to Violence Project.
Quakers today are organized into independent and regional, national bodies called Yearly Meetings, which have often split from one another because of Christian doctrinal differences. Several associations unite Quakers who share similar religious beliefs—for example Evangelical Friends Church International unites evangelical Christian Friends; Friends United Meeting unites Friends into "fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved, and obeyed as Teacher and Lord;" and Friends General Conference links together Quakers that have non-creedal, liberal religious beliefs. Many Quaker Yearly Meetings, are also members of Friends World Committee for Consultation, an international fellowship of Yearly Meetings from different Quaker religious traditions.
A Friend is a member of a Yearly Meeting, usually beginning with membership in a local monthly meeting. Methods for acquiring membership vary; for example, in most Kenyan yearly meetings, attenders who wish to become members are required to take part in around two years of adult education, memorising key Bible passages, and learning about the history of orthodox Christianity, and of Christian Quakerism. Within Britain Yearly Meeting, membership is acquired through a process of peer review, where a potential member is visited by several members who present a report to the other members of the monthly meeting before a decision is reached.
Within some Friends Churches in the Evangelical Friends Church, in particular in Rwanda, Burundi, and parts of the U.S., an adult believer's baptism by immersion in water, is optional. Within Liberal Friends, Conservative Friends, and Pastoral Friends Churches, Friends do not practice water baptism, Christening, or other initiation ceremonies to admit a new member or a newborn baby. Children are often welcomed into the meeting at their first attendance. Formerly, children born to Quaker parents automatically became members (sometimes called Birthright membership), but this is no longer the case in many areas. Some parents apply for membership on behalf of their children, while others allow the child to decide whether to become a member when they are ready, and older in age. Some meetings adopt a policy that children, some time after becoming young adults, must apply independently for membership.
Traditional Quaker memorial services are held as a form of worship and are known as memorial meetings. Friends gather for worship and offer remembrances about the deceased. In some Quaker religious traditions, the coffin or ashes are not present. Memorial meetings may be held many weeks after the death, which can enable wider attendance, and can also replace grief with spiritual reflection, and celebration of life to dominate. Memorial meetings can last over an hour, particularly if many people attend. Memorial services give everyone a chance to remember the lost individual in their own way, comforting those present, and re-affirming the love of the people in the wider community.
A meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage in an unprogrammed Friends meeting is similar to any other unprogrammed Meeting for Worship. The pair exchange vows before God and gathered witnesses, and the meeting returns to open worship. At the rise of meeting, the witnesses, including the youngest children, are asked to sign the wedding certificate as a record. In Great Britain, Quakers keep a separate record of the union and notify the General Register Office.
In the early days of the United States, there was doubt whether a marriage solemnized in that manner was entitled to legal recognition. Over the years, each state has set rules for the procedure. Most US states expect the marriage document to be signed by a single officiant (a priest, rabbi, minister, Justice of the Peace, etc.). Quakers routinely modify the document to allow three or four Friends to sign as the officiant. Often, these are the members of a committee of ministry and oversight, who have helped the couple plan their marriage. Usually, a separate document containing their vows and the signatures of all present is kept by the couple, and often displayed prominently in their home.
In many Friends meetings, the couple meet with a clearness committee prior to the wedding. This committee's purpose is to discuss with the couple the many aspects of marriage and life as a couple. If the couple seems ready, the marriage is recommended to the meeting.
As in the wider society, there is a wide diversity of views on the issue of same-sex marriage, and Friends have varying views on the topic. Various Friends meetings around the world have voiced support for, and have recognised, same-sex marriages. In 1986, Hartford Friends Meeting in Connecticut, U.S., reached the decision that "the Meeting recognizes a committed union in a celebration of marriage, under the care of the Meeting. The same loving care and consideration should be given to both homosexual and heterosexual applicants as outlined in Faith and Practice." Since then, some other meetings of liberal and progressive Friends from Australia, Britain, New Zealand, parts of North America, and other countries have recognised marriage between partners of the same sex. In jurisdictions, where same-sex marriage is not recognised by the civil authorities, some meetings follow the practice of early Quakers in overseeing the union without reference to the state. There are also Friends who do not support same-sex marriage, and some Evangelical and Pastoral yearly meetings in the United States have issued public statements stating that homosexuality is a sin.
National and international divisions and organization
Like many religious movements, the Religious Society of Friends has evolved, changed, and split into subgroups.
Quakerism started in England and Wales, and quickly spread to Ireland, the Netherlands, Barbados and North America. Today Kenya is, by far, the country with the most Quakers. Other countries with over 5,000 Quakers are Burundi, Bolivia, Canada, Guatemala, Nepal, Taiwan, Uganda, United Kingdom, and the United States. Although the total number of Quakers is around 377,000 worldwide, Quaker influence is concentrated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Kaimosi, Kenya; Newberg, Oregon; Greenleaf, Idaho; Whittier, California; Richmond, Indiana; Friendswood, Texas; Birmingham, England; Ramallah, Palestine, and Greensboro, North Carolina.
The highest concentration of Quakers is in Africa. The Friends of East Africa were at one time part of a single East Africa Yearly Meeting, then the world's largest yearly meeting. Today, this region is served by several distinct yearly meetings. Most of these are affiliated with the Friends United Meeting, practice programmed worship and employ pastors. Friends meet in Rwanda and Burundi, as well as new work beginning in North Africa. Small unprogrammed meetings exist also in Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
In 2012, there were 196,800 adult Quakers in Africa.
Australia and New Zealand
Friends in Australia and New Zealand follow the unprogrammed tradition, similar to Britain Yearly Meeting.
Considerable distances between the colonies and small numbers of Quakers meant that Australia Friends were dependent on London until the 20th century. The Society remained unprogrammed and is named Australia Yearly Meeting, with local organizations around seven Regional Meetings: Canberra (which extends into southern New South Wales), New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia (which extends into Northern Territory), Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. The Friends' School is found in Hobart. An annual meeting each January, is hosted by a different Regional Meeting over a seven-year cycle, with a Standing Committee each July or August. The Australia Yearly Meeting published This We Can Say: Australian Quaker Life, Faith and Thought, in 2003.
Meetings for worship in New Zealand started in Nelson in 1842, and in Auckland in 1885. The New Zealand Yearly Meeting, today consists of nine monthly meetings. The Yearly Meeting published Quaker Faith and Practice in Aotearoa New Zealand, in 2003.
Quaker meetings occur in India, Hong Kong, Korea, Philippines, Japan and Nepal.
India has four yearly meetings—the unprogrammed Mid-India Yearly Meeting, programmed Bhopal Yearly Meeting, and the Mahoba Yearly Meeting. Bundelkhand Yearly Meeting is an evangelical Friends Church affiliated to Evangelical Friends International. Other programmed and unprogrammed worship groups are not affiliated with any yearly meeting.
Evangelical Friends Churches exist in the Philippines and Nepal, and are affiliated with Evangelical Friends International.
In the United Kingdom, the predominantly liberal and unprogrammed Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, has 478 local meetings, and a total of 14,260 adult members, and an additional 8,560 non-member adults who attend worship and 2,251 children. The number has declined steadily since the mid-20th century. Programmed meetings occur, including in Wem and London. Small groups of Conservative Friends meet in Ripley and Greenwich in England, and Arbroath in Scotland, who follow Ohio Yearly Meeting's Book of Discipline.
Evangelical Friends Central Europe Yearly Meeting has 4,306 members across six nations, including Albania, Hungary and Romania.
Ireland Yearly Meeting is unprogrammed and is more conservative than Britain Yearly Meeting. They have 1,591 members in 28 meetings across the Republic of Ireland, and in Northern Ireland.
German Yearly Meeting is unprogrammed and liberal, and has 340 members, worshipping in 31 meetings, in Germany and in Austria.
Small groups of Friends in Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, and Ukraine attend meetings for worship there.
Middle East Yearly Meeting has meetings in Lebanon and Palestine. There has been an active and vibrant Palestinian Quaker community in Ramallah since the late 1800s. In 1910 this community built the Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse and later added another building that was used for community outreach.
The Ramallah Friends Meeting has always played a vital role in the community. In 1948 the buildings and grounds became the home to many Palestinian refugees. Throughout the years, the members of the Ramallah Friends Meeting organized numerous community programs such as the Children’s Play Center, the First Day School, and women’s activities.
By the early 1990s the Meetinghouse and Annex, which housed meeting rooms and bathroom facilities, fell into disrepair as a result of damage inflicted by time and impact of conflict. So serious was the deterioration of the meetinghouse that by the middle 1990s it was impossible to use the building at all.
A further blow to the Friends and the wider Palestinian community was the high level of emigration brought on by the economic situation and the hardships arising from the continuing Israeli military occupation. The Meetinghouse, which had served as a place of worship for the Friends in Ramallah could no longer be used as such and the Annex could no longer be used for community outreach.
In 2002 a committee consisting of members of the Religious Society of Friends in the US and the Clerk of the Ramallah Meeting began to raise funds for the renovations of the buildings and grounds of the Meetinghouse. By November, 2004 the renovations were complete, and on March 6, 2005, exactly 95 years to the day after the dedication, the Meetinghouse and Annex were rededicated as a Quaker and community resource.
Friends meet every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. for unprogrammed Meeting for Worship. Everyone is welcome to attend.
North and South America
Quakers can be found throughout Canada. Some of the largest concentrations are in Southern Ontario.
Friends in the United States have diverse worship styles and differences of theology, vocabulary, and practice.
A local congregation in the unprogrammed tradition is called a meeting, or a monthly meeting (e.g., Smalltown Meeting or Smalltown Monthly Meeting). The reference to "monthly" is because the meeting meets monthly to conduct the group's business. Most "monthly meetings" meet for worship at least once a week; some meetings have several worship meetings during the week. In programmed traditions, local congregations are often referred to as "Friends Churches."
Monthly meetings are often part of a regional group called a quarterly meeting, which is usually part of an even larger group called a yearly meeting; with the adjectives "quarterly" and "yearly" referring specifically to the frequency of meetings for worship with a concern for business.
Some yearly meetings belong to larger organizations to help maintain order and communication within the Society. The three chief ones are Friends General Conference (FGC), Friends United Meeting (FUM), and Evangelical Friends Church International (EFCI). In all three groups, most member organizations, though not necessarily members are from the United States. FGC is theologically the most liberal of the three groups, while EFCI is the most evangelical. FUM is the largest. Friends United Meeting was originally known as "Five Years Meeting." Some monthly meetings belong to more than one larger organization, while others are fully independent.
Many Quakers prior to the 20th century, considered the Religious Society of Friends to be a Christian movement, but did not feel that their religious faith fit within the categories of Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. Many Conservative Friends, while fully seeing themselves as orthodox Christians, choose to remain separate from other Christian groups.
Many Friends in Liberal Friends' meetings are actively involved in the ecumenical movement, often working closely with other Mainline Protestant and liberal Christian churches, with whom they share common religious ground. A concern for peace and social justice often brings Friends together with other Christian churches and other Christian groups. Some Liberal Quaker yearly meetings are members of ecumenical pan-Christian organizations, which include Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican churches—for example Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is a member of the National Council of Churches. Britain Yearly Meeting is a member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and Friends General Conference is a member of the World Council of Churches.
Guerneyite Friends would typically see themselves as part of an orthodox Christian movement and work closely with other Christian groups. Friends United Meeting (the international organization of Gurneyite yearly meetings) is a member of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, which are pan-Christian organizations, which include Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican churches.
Evangelical Friends work closely with other evangelical churches from other Christian traditions. The North American branch of Evangelical Friends Church International is a member church of the National Association of Evangelicals. Evangelical Friends tend to be less involved with non-evangelical churches and are not members of the World Council of Churches or National Council of Churches.
The majority of other Christian groups recognize Friends among their fellow-Christians. Some people who attend Quaker Meetings assume that Quakers are not Christians, when they do not hear overtly Christian language during the meeting for worship.
Relations with other faiths
Relationships between Quakers and non-Christians vary considerably, according to sect, geography, and history.
Early Quakers distanced themselves from practices that they saw as pagan, such as by refusing to use the usual names of days of the week, since they derive from names of pagan deities. They refused to celebrate Christmas because they believed it was based on pagan festivities.
Early Friends attempted to convert adherents of other world religions to Christianity. For example, George Fox wrote a number of open letters to Jews and Muslims, in which he encouraged them to turn to Jesus Christ as the only path to salvation (e.g. A Visitation to the Jews, To the Great Turk and King of Algiers in Algeria, and all that are under his authority, to read this over, which concerns their salvation and To the Great Turk and King of Algiers in Algeria. Mary Fisher attempted to convert the Muslim Mehmed IV (the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire) in 1658.
In 1870, Richard Price Hallowell argued that the logical extension of Christian Quakerism is a universal Church, which demands a religion which embraces Jew, Pagan and Christian, and which cannot be limited by the dogmas of one or the other.
Since the late 20th century, some attenders at Liberal Quaker Meetings have actively identified with world faiths other than Christianity, such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Paganism.