Thursday, February 11, 2010

Principles and Testimonies

Do Quakers have any principles or testimonies? Of course we do.

These Quaker Principles as defined by George Fox, an early Quaker:

* God is directly accessible to all persons without the need of an intermediary priest or ritual;
* There is in all persons an in-dwelling Seed or Christ or Light (early Quakers used all these metaphors) which is of God and which, if they will but heed it, will guide them and shape their lives in accordance with the will of God;
* True religion cannot be learned from books or set prayers, words or rituals, which early Quakers called "empty forms," but comes only from direct experience of God, known through the Seed or Christ or Light within;
* The Scriptures can be understood only as one enters into the Spirit which gave them forth;
* There is an ocean of darkness and death--of sin and misery--over the world but also an ocean of light and love, which flows over the ocean of darkness, revealing the infinite love of God;
* The power and love of God are over all, erasing the artificial division between the secular and religious so that all of life, when lived in the Spirit, becomes sacramental. The traditional outward sacraments, again characterized as empty forms, are to be discarded in favor of the spiritual reality they symbolize.

Basically, from these general Quaker principles, these principles have grown some specific applications which Friends call their 'testimonies'. These change in a variety of ways, but the basic testimonies are basically are simplified to only four:

* Equality * Peace * Simplicity * Community *

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Do Quakers Believe?

It’s actually pretty hard to write a description of what Quakers beliefs are that would actually be acceptable to all the Quakers in the world today.

Due to the unclear description of Quaker beliefs, it has

sometimes led to the misconception that Quakers do not have any beliefs at all or that one can believe anything and still be a Quaker. Most Quakers actually take the absence of a belief system, as an invitation to exercise an extra measure of personal responsibility for the understanding and articulation of the Quaker faith.

Rather than rely on priests and ministers, Quakers are encouraged to take seriously the personal disciplines associated with their own spiritual growth. We do this by reflection, prayer, faithfulness, and service. Our beliefs are in words and action.

So With that said, Quakers all share common roots in the Christian faith. In general, Quakers still believe in certain essential principles:

  • A belief in the possibility of direct, unmediated communion with the Divine (historically expressed by George Fox in the statement, "Christ is come to teach his people himself"); and
  • A commitment to living lives that outwardly attest to this inward experience.

However, today’s Quakers do exhibit significant variations in the ways we interpret our traditions and practices in our beliefs.

Some Quakers go to ‘programmed services’ and it’s led by a pastor, similar to many Protestant churches. These type of Quakers place most emphasis on the teachings of Christian Scripture.

Some Quakers, this is where I go, we practice ‘unprogrammed meetings’ with no formal minister or liturgy. Here we give great importance to the Inward Teacher, due to the belief that God is in everyone. This actual allows a wide range of religious perspectives.

For many Quakers (especially the unprogrammed, "liberal" branch) it is really not that important that we all have the same beliefs. These Quakers would say that is not one's beliefs that make one a Quaker, but rather it’s the participation in the Quaker community, the deep search for Divine Guidance, and the attempt to live faithfully in harmony, and that ‘Guidance’ is what make a person a Quaker.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What happens at a meeting?

A lot of people have asked me "whats a quaker meeting like?" Well, to start off, we walk into the room of worship, which is usually very bare. You probably won't see any pictures on the wall as the Quakers live a simple life. Then you quietly take a seat on a bench. Don't worry, you will not be seating in any ones seat, no seats are reserved.

People continuing to come in and the benches start to fill and the meeting starts too fill with people. No one says a word.

This type of meeting, in which I go to, is an "unprogrammed" Quaker meeting. There are no hymns, no sermons, no set prayers, no responsive reading, no ceremonies, no rituals and no designated ministers. Each person brings their own thoughts, insights and prayers, while being part of the community of seekers.

Sometimes the silence is broken when someone feels the need to offer a message, it is usually brief, easy to understand, and always spiritual in nature. People have even told stories, sung a song, or read a passage from the bible. Whatever you feel are called to say.

After someone finishes their 'vocal ministry', there is a silence again until someone has the 'call' to add to the vocal ministry. The messages may keep to the theme of the earlier message or it may be entirely a different subject. No message is planned or rehearsed, but arises spontaneously from the meeting.

The meeting usually lasts an hour and at the end, a member who is appointed, stands up and greets the meeting and then everyone shakes hands with everyone nearby. The hand shaking passes from person to person and then the meeting is over. Then the appointed person asks if there are any new comers to introduce themselves so that we can welcome you.

Just too make this clear, this is how my meeting or worship is, if you were to ask a number of friends on what happens at their meeting, you may get different answers. But most would agree that a Meeting of Worship is a period of intense listening, listening to others, listening to that small inner voice in each of us, listening to whatever ways God speaks to you.