Old Kennett Meetinghouse

Celebrating 300 years of religious freedom

Who are the Quakers?

     In England in the mid-1600's, George Fox could not find peace in his spiritual quest. He met with numerous priests from the Church of England, and with preachers from many of the independent, or separate, churches that were springing up at the time. But none of them could satisfy his inner spiritual longings. George Fox wrote in his Journal:

               But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, 
          and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none
          among them all that could speak to my condition. When all my hope in them 
          and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor 
          could I tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, 'There is 
          one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condiion: and when I heard it, 
          my heart did leap for joy. 

      The Quaker movement began with the strong conviction that every person can hear from God directly without the need of human mediation. This foundational belief led them to also conclude that God reaches out to everyone, not just a select few, and that any person can be a minister. 
      They chose the name "Friends" for this movement from the verse, John 15:14, where Jesus says, "You are my friends if you do what I command." "Quakers" was a nickname given to them because they told people that they quaked before the spirit of God. The nickname stuck. "Friends" has always been the official name - but the terms "Friends" and "Quakers" are often used interchangeably.

      Other emphases or testimonies of the Quakers include:

 Equality. Friends believe that God views everyone the same regardless of social station, race, gender, etc., and that God can use anyone for ministry.
 Peace. Friends have felt since their beginning that war is wrong, and is contrary to the teaching of Christ. They maintain a strong witness for peace.
Simplicity. Early Friends attempted to live a simple, or plain, lifestyle without personal extravagance. Their theology and style of worship were also simplified compared to other groups. 
Truth. Friends took the words of Jesus to "let your yes be yes, and your no be no" literally. They would not take oaths and tried to be completely honest in all their activities and in their personal business dealings.


Quakers - the Religious Society of Friends

Historical painting of a Quaker meetingQuaker meeting at Gracechurch Street ©

Quakers are members of a group with Christian roots that began in England in the 1650s.

The formal title of the movement is the Society of Friends or the Religious Society of Friends.

There are about 210,000 Quakers across the world.

In Britain there are 17,000 Quakers, and 400 Quaker meetings for worship each week. 9,000 people in Britain regularly take part in Quaker worship without being members of the Religious Society of Friends.

The essence of the Quakers

Quakers believe that there is something of God in everybody and that each human being is of unique worth. This is why Quakers value all people equally, and oppose anything that may harm or threaten them.

Quakers seek religious truth in inner experience, and place great reliance on conscience as the basis of morality.

They emphasise direct experience of God rather than ritual and ceremony. They believe that priests and rituals are an unnecessary obstruction between the believer and God.

Quakers integrate religion and everyday life. They believe God can be found in the middle of everyday life and human relationships, as much as during a meeting for worship.

What Quakers believe

Among key Quaker beliefs are:

  • God is love
  • the light of God is in every single person
  • a person who lets their life be guided by that light will achieve a full relationship with God
  • everyone can have a direct, personal relationship with God without involving a priest or minister
  • redemption and the Kingdom of Heaven are to be experienced now, in this world

Quakers want to make this a better world

Quakers work actively to make this a better world. They are particularly concerned with:

  • human rights, based on their belief in equality of all human beings
  • social justice
  • peace
  • freedom of conscience
  • environmental issues - Quakers seek to live simply so as to reduce the burden on the world
  • community life

Holy Books

Quakers do not regard any book as being the actual 'word of God'.

Most Quakers regard the Bible as a very great inspirational book but they don't see it as the only one, and so they read other books that can guide their lives.

Holy Days

Quakers do not celebrate Christian festivals such as Easter andChristmas.


Quaker communal worship consists of silent waiting, with participants contributing as the spirit moves them.

Are Quakers Christian?

Although outsiders usually regard the movement as a Christian denomination, not all Quakers see themselves as Christians; some regard themselves as members of a universal religion that (for historical reasons) has many Christian elements.

Tolerance is part of the Quaker approach to life, so Quakers are willing to learn from all other faiths and churches.

Where the names come from

One story says that the founder, George Fox, once told a magistrate to tremble (quake) at the name of God and the name 'Quakers' stuck.

Other people suggest that the name derives from the physical shaking that sometimes went with Quaker religious experiences.

The name 'Friends' comes from Jesus' remark "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). 



Quaker worship

Worship is our response to an awareness of God. We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God's presence.

Advice and Queries


Old drawing of Quakers sitting in a circle of chairsQuaker meeting for worship ©

Quaker worship is designed to let God teach and transform the worshippers.

Quakers call worship eventsmeetings for worship rather than services.

In a Quaker meeting for worship a group of people sits in a room in silence for an hour. From time to time someone may speak briefly, but sometimes the entire hour may pass without a word being spoken.

Quaker meetings for worship are open to everyone. Children are specifically welcomed.

No liturgy

Quaker worship is very different to the worship of most Christian churches in that it doesn't follow a set liturgy or code of rules - a service has no structure, and no one leads it.

Quakers do without a liturgy because they believe that worship happens when two or three people come together to worship - nothing more is needed.

This belief comes from Jesus' statement that "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

Meeting for worship

Quakers sitting in silence at a meeting for worshipMeeting for worship in Lincoln ©

Quaker meetings for worship take place in meeting houses, not churches. These are simple buildings or rooms.

A meeting begins when two or more worshipers come together to be in the presence of God.

They usually sit facing each other in a square or a circle. This helps them to be aware that they are a group together for worship, and puts everybody in a place of equal status.

Everyone waits in shared silence until someone is moved by the Spirit (i.e. has a strong religious feeling) to do something as part of their worship.

A person will only speak if they are convinced that they have something that must be shared, and it is rare for a person to speak more than once.

The words spoken are usually brief and may include readings (from the Bible or other books), praying, or speaking from personal experience. Each speaking is followed by a period of silence.

Quakers believe that God speaks through the contributions made at the meeting. Some people say that there is often a feeling that a divine presence has settled over the group.

The words should come from the soul - from the inner light - rather than the mind. Quakers know that even if the words they feel moved to speak have no particular meaning for themselves, they may carry a message from God to other people.

There may be no outward response to the contribution from other people, but if there is it will be something that builds positively on the previous contribution. Discussion and argument are not part of the meeting.

The meeting ends when the elders shake hands.


If pressed to say what they are actually doing in a meeting for worship, many Quakers would probably say that they are waiting - waiting in their utmost hearts for the touch of something beyond their everyday selves. Some would call it 'listening to the quiet voice of God' - without trying to define the word.

Others would use more abstract terms: just 'listening' (though no voice is heard), or 'looking inward' (though no visions are seen), or 'pure attention' (though nothing specific is attended to). The word 'inward' tends to recur as one gropes for explanations.


Richard Allen

Quakers and silence

The silence in a meeting for worship isn't something that happens between the actual worship - the silence itself is part of the worship; it provides a space for people to separate themselves from the pressures and events of daily life and to get closer to God and each other.

The people who are present try to create an internal silence - a silence inside their head. They do this by stopping everyday thoughts and anxieties.

Quakers believe that if they wait silently for God in this way there will be times when God will speak directly to them.

Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts

George Fox

True silence ... is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.

William Penn, 1699

A Quaker service is not a time of individual meditation, although the description above may make it sound like that.

It is important that the waiting in silence and the listening are done as a group. The people taking part are trying to become something more than just a collection of individuals; they want to become aware of being part of a 'we', rather than just a solitary 'I'.

Pastoral or programmed worship

Some Quakers have adopted many of the practices of mainstream churches, and have pastors and use hymns in their worship. Their services are usually like Methodist or Baptistservices.

There is a Quaker hymn book, called Worship in Song, A Quaker Hymnal.


Quaker history

Contemporary drawing of George FoxGeorge Fox ©

Like many Christian groups, Quakers never intended to form a new denomination. Their founder, George Fox, was trying to take belief and believers back to the original and pure form of Christianity.

Fox was born in July 1624 in Leicestershire, England, and died in 1691, by which time his movement had 50,000 followers.

As Fox grew up he was puzzled by the inconsistency between what Christians said they believed and the way they behaved. He became a religious activist at the age of 19, and was imprisoned eight times for preaching views that annoyed the religious and political establishment of his time.

Fox and social issues

Fox got into political trouble because of his idea that there was something "of God in every person".

This was a revolutionary attack on all discrimination by social class, wealth, race and gender and it had worrying implications for the social structure of his time.

The political establishment did not take this lying down. Quaker refusal to take oaths and to take off their hats before a magistrate, and their insistence on holding banned religious meetings in public, led to 6,000 Quakers being imprisoned between 1662 and 1670.

Fox and religious issues

Fox's aim was to inspire people to hear and obey the voice of God and become a community "renewed up again in God's image" by living the principles of their faith.

Fox believed that everyone should try to encounter God directly and to experience the Kingdom of Heaven as a present, living reality. He objected to the hierarchical structure and the rituals of the churches of his time, and rejected the idea that the Bible was always right.

But Fox went even further. He argued that God himself did not want churches. Churches were either unnecessary to get to God, or an obstruction (Fox often referred to churches unkindly as "steeple-houses"). Since believers should have a direct relationship with God, no one (priests, for example) and nothing (like sacraments) should come in between.

Not surprisingly, these views infuriated the mainstream churches, and Quakers were persecuted in Britain on a large scale until 1689.


Quaker missionaries arrived in the USA in 1656. They were persecuted at first, and four were executed.

However the movement appealed to many Americans, and it grew in strength, most famously in Pennsylvania which was founded in 1681 by William Penn as a community based on the principles of pacifism and religious tolerance.

Quakers and slavery

The origins of Christian abolitionism can be traced to the late 17th Century and the Quakers. Several of their founders, including George Fox and Benjamin Lay, encouraged fellow congregants to stop owning slaves.

By 1696, Quakers in Pennsylvania officially declared their opposition to the importation of enslaved Africans into North America. Along with the Anglican Granville Sharp, Quakers established the first recognised anti-slavery movement in Britain in 1787.


Famous Quakers

Plaque at Cadbury company headquartersChocolate manufacturers Joseph Rowntree and George Cadbury were both Quakers
  • George Fox (1624-1691) - founder of Quakerism
  • William Penn (1621-1670) - friend of George Fox, founder of Pennsylvania
  • John Woolman (1720-1772) - an American Quaker involved in the abolition of slavery
  • John Dalton (1766-1844) - British scientist who invented the atomic theory of matter
  • Edward Pease (1767-1858) - first Quaker member of Parliament
  • Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) - British prison reformer
  • John Bright (1811-1889) - British politician
  • Joseph Rowntree (1837-1925) - Chocolate manufacturer
  • George Cadbury (1839-1922) - Chocolate manufacturer
  • Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) - physicist
  • Paul Eddington (1927-1995) - actor
  • James Dean (1931-1955) - actor
  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born 1943) - astronomer, discoverer of pulsars
  • Bonnie Raitt (born 1949) - popular musician
  • Tom Robinson (born 1950) - popular musician