Worship is at the heart of what it means to be a Quaker. Meeting for worship brings Quakers together in stillness so we can quiet our minds and open our hearts and lives.
Being a Quaker
- Quakers believe that everyone has a direct connection with God, which some call the 'inner light' or ‘Spirit'.
- Each Quaker seeks their own path with the support of the group. We try to clarify our beliefs by careful consideration, listening to the Spirit within us, listening to others and reading the wisdom of others.
- Although our origins are Christian we are open to many ideas. We are committed to working for equality and peace and believe firmly in religious tolerance.
- All are welcome to join us.
Faith & Values
Quakers work for peace in all aspects of life – locally, nationally and internationally – and we believe that working for peace begins in our own hearts. We do this both individually and collectively.
Quakers try to live simply and to find space for the things that really matter: the people around us, the natural world, our experience of God.
Quakers believe everyone is equal. This means working to change the systems that cause injustice and hinder true community. It also means working with people who suffer injustice, such as prisoners and asylum seekers.
Quakers try to ensure their beliefs, words and actions are consistent. This means speaking the truth to all, including people in positions of power.
Quaker communities are often led to support other communities and groups that work for social justice, equality and peace. As individuals and as a group, we add our voices and actions towards change for those in need.
Quakers are deeply concerned about the excesses and unfairness of our consumer society and the unsustainable use of natural resources.
Quakers recognise that people contribute in many ways at all ages and stages to enrich our communities – as children, young adults and older folk.
Quakers offer an experience that is distinctly different from other churches. You won't be told what to believe...
Quakers began in the 17th century, during a time of great unrest and change in England. Quakers were one of several groups who challenged many of the beliefs and ideas of the time and continue to do so today.
The Quaker method of conducting meetings for business and arriving at decisions is quite different from that of most groups and yet the method can be used in other organisations.
Quakers have a tradition of welcoming other Quakers, even when they have not met before. This results a strong sense of a global Quaker family. Such networking promotes cooperation on global causes and actions.
Quakers believe that faith is lived through action. Meet three Quakers who express their faith in different ways - Susan Hill, Roger Sawkins and David Carline.
"In our efforts to live life more simply and consciously of the environment, our family gave up plastic in January 2013. It opened our eyes to the large amount of plastic we acquire on a weekly basis. "
"Quakerism was a revelation. A religion with no artificial structures and no authoritarian system of required beliefs fitted me well.
Quakers have helped to challenge me, not only to listen and understand other people’s ideas and cultures, but also to examine my own."
Frequently Asked Questions
If you want to explore whether Quaker worship is for you, you are welcome to come to a meeting for worship, which normally lasts for an hour. We enter and sit in stillness and waiting. This stillness gives us space and time to listen and reflect. We don't have songs, set prayers or talks. Quaker meetings are open to everyone. You will not be put under pressure to become a Quaker.
Yes! You are welcome to attend Quaker worship. There are Quakers of all ages, religious backgrounds, races and ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and classes. All are welcome.
Quakers are pretty casual. They do not dress up for Quaker activities. Come dressed as you feel comfortable.
Certainly. Some Meetings run a program for children (like a Sunday School). Some run them on particular weeks of the month.
Quakers encourage parents and carers to leave children with the special program so the adults can benefit from Meeting for Worship. Children are encouraged to spend a little time in quiet reflection as part of the program - they learn to do that quite quickly.
We take due care that those who care for children provide a safe environment for them.
You know your child, and what will help them feel comfortable. Arriving a bit early, bringing a favourite quiet toy might help.
If you are in Meeting for Worship and your child makes a noise, Quakers will respond kindly. A little noise will not be a problem. You might reach a point where you feel uncomfortable—you can quietly take your child outside.
Quaker Meetings have individuals, couples and families. All are welcomed. Sharing the experience with your partner might be nice. Or it might not be what you want to do.
There is no problem with getting up and quietly walking out - and coming back in. If where you are sitting is uncomfortable, it’s OK to change seats.
Some of our Meeting Houses have hearing assistance equipment. Because Quakers sit in circles, the person speaking may be behind you, or may speak quietly. You might miss their words. You might gain a sense of what they are saying anyway. It’s OK to ask someone after the meeting to tell you what they said.
All Australian Quaker groups hold Meeting for Worship (their service) on Sundays. But some hold another one at a different time, possibly mid-week. Contact the Meeting you are thinking of going to and they will let you know.
You could contact the Meeting if you want help with transport. It may be possible for someone to pick you up.
Yes, it might. You might get fidgety, or start to clock-watch. You might start to count the bricks in the wall.
Nonetheless, you might gain from being there, and choose to return. You might have a different experience next time. All Quakers will tell you they have some days when they can’t still their thinking brain, or their worrying, or the tune that’s running round in their head.
Even so, you might gain from sitting quietly. You might get better at stilling your mind.
Faith and Values Card List
Some people understand God as a being who is outside of them. Some Quakers, but not all, would see God in this way. Other Quakers understand the Spirit as being as much inside as outside them - something which connects to everyone, and to the wisdom of the universe.
Whatever their understanding of the divine, when Quakers take time for silent worship, they are seeking guidance. They may give thanks, feel awe, worship God, pray, be humble and reduce their own ego. They may give praise, feel reverent and reach for connection with others.
Quakers worship mainly in silence - expecting that we will hear and gain guidance that we need. It might come in a flash. It might be just one’s own reflecting. It might come through words offered by someone who speaks from the silence. It might be that the words have been uncomfortable, but have helped the hearer sort something out.
A Meeting for Worship usually lasts an hour, sitting in a circle. The silence may be broken by spoken (or sung) ministry from anyone. There is a period of silence between spoken ministry, to give time to ponder what has been said. The Meeting closes with shaking hands. There is no Order of Service, no pastor. There are books of wisdom on the central table - the Bible, some Quaker books, old and modern.
Following the Meeting is community time, when Friends tell of their activities and chat with each other over a cuppa.
Some find it takes time to become centred into the worship. Some report a great peace. Some feel challenged. Some report a sense of “coming home”. Some take a long time to get into it. It’s a heart thing as much as a head thing.
Why do Quakers need to get together to do this? It sounds a lot like meditation or reflection, or a mindfulness activity. When one sits with other people their presence is supportive. You know that others are also seeking. You may remember a comment or smile you received earlier, and it may help your contemplation or cheer your soul.
Quakers believe that there is a spirit within each of us that joins us all together – some call it 'that of God'. It follows that we cannot deliberately harm or kill another person without damaging that spirit. That was as obvious to 17th Century Quakers as it is to us today.
But pacifism is not just ‘thou shalt not kill’. It is an active process of removing situations where violence and war may occur. It is also a complex process of understanding how different forms of violence are related and of accepting that peace does not come overnight.
If one person tries to dominate, control ordamage another person it is no different from a country trying to dominate, control and damage another country. So stopping domestic violence is as important as stopping wars.
How I treat my family, friends, colleagues and the people I meet in the street or on the bus can help the world become a peaceful and safe place.
The food, clothing and other things I buy affect other people’s lives – particularly those who have made those products.
My purchases also have environmental consequences and can result in a lack of resources available in other parts of the world. This in turn can lead to competition for resources and on a global scale can lead to war.
Violence also comes from individuals who are afraid, lack confidence or feel their lives are not under their own control. Hence, social justice systems where people know their concerns are being heard and taken into account are essential.
Even without environmental change there are millions of people in the world who do not have fresh water and/or adequate food and shelter. Inadequate sharing of the world’s limited resources leads to mass movements of people desperate to find their basic needs. Hence the refugee crises affecting millions in many countries.
So for Quakers pacifism is working at all levels of society - personal, national and global. Some individuals are involved in their local or national communities; others work internationally at the Quaker United Nations offices in New York and Geneva.
But there is also a danger in being pacifist. The scale and complexity of the problems can become overwhelming. So we concentrate on our own skills and abilities and our own world. If we are each doing even small things to make the world a more peaceful and safe place, then we are moving in the right direction.
If you would like to explore our peace activities and attitudes further you could look at our recent public statements, some of the investigations by our Peace and Legislation Committee, our World War I Exhibition and other groups and organisations we are in contact with.
In many respects, simplicity is at the heart of all Quaker aspirations.
Early Quakers felt they should live simply, tending to real needs and avoiding luxuries. They were aware of the poverty around them and that resources needed to be shared.
For Quakers in the affluent West today, simplicity of lifestyle is challenging. Quakers value the spirit over material objects. This is demonstrated in the way Quakers worship in a simple room undecorated with symbols. Our worship is based on silence in which any may speak which invites a direct, uncluttered experience of the spirit.
The earliest Quakers demonstrated visible forms of simplicity through what was known as Plain Dress; the clothes they wore were plain, unadorned, usually grey or black, and without showing expensive jewellery or other ostentatious displays of wealth. Later on, when many Quakers entered the milling and weaving trades it was noticed that their clothes tended to be of the best quality! So the practice of Plain Dress was dropped, but the spirit carried on.
Today, Quakers will often buy cheaper, fairly traded clothing or support charity shops rather than buy expensive designer labels. Many Quakers still don’t wear jewellery at all, but of those who do, the jewellery is chosen for its sentimental meaning or its aesthetic value rather than how much might be paid for it in the shop. We try to follow Mahatma Gandhi's call to ‘live simply, that others may simply live’.
It is not true that Quakers don’t usecomputers, mobile phones, cars, or other forms of technology; what is true is that they always try to consider the impact that lifestyles and other choices might have on themselves, on other people, and on the Earth itself. Quakers consider whether the benefits of these choices might be outweighed by the harm of them.
You may also be interested in an article by Jenny Spinks.
Integrity starts at the personal level, seeking to be honest with ourselves and others. Integrity in our thoughts and actions arises from accepting that each person is of equal value.
Integrity links our beliefs to our words and our actions. It requires us to find the places where we do not live according to our principles and to review our behaviour.
Usually there are no simple answers to how we might act. Quakers do not have a book of rules about these things. But there are Quaker Queries that help us focus our consideration of how we act.
John Woolman (a Quaker born in New Jersey in 1720) came to realise that to own a slave was inconsistent with Christian understanding and his conscience. Tricky, because America’s main industry depended on the toil of slaves. Woolman’s campaigning was mostly gentle. When visiting, he would insist on paying the slave who had looked after him. He and others who felt this way also preached and spoke persuasively. It took him and others 12 years to convince Quaker Meetings to ban slavery.
We may become aware of corrupt business practices, deliberate deception by lying, secret deals and bribes, coercion and unfair work practices. Integrity may suggest that we should withdraw from many institutions. Yet integrity also requires that we become involved to work for change.
Perhaps we become aware of enslaved workers who make our favorite products. How should we act on this knowledge? Finding the path that allows us to act with integrity can also resolve our internal contradictions, and reduce stress.
The Quaker approach to integrity gives principles, and asks questions. Each person responds in the way they feel appropriate for them and applies the amount of energy that is realistic toward bringing about change. But we must apply the integrity test to how we pursue change - so Quakers are unlikely join in violent actions because violence always promotes more violence.
Integrity is one of several Testimonies developed by Quakers over the years, which can be seen here.
When you come to worship with Quakers you are joining with a community that encourages individuals in seeking their own true path. But the essence of its practice is the power of a ‘gathered community’.
When Quakers gather in silent worship that collective seeking helps to deepen the individual experience.
Quaker decision-making is grounded in the belief that when people come together to make a decision they can find an outcome that is supported by the whole group. It is greater than the decision of an individual or majority, or one that might be influenced by the strongest voice. Seeking the decision that comes from the ‘still small voice’ within is central to the ways Quakers work as a community.
When a Quaker community is working well, it encourages trust and creates spaces for dialogue and cooperation. The community provides a place for people to develop their strengths, vision, wisdom and creativity through acceptance and support.
Quakers aim to be tender with themselves and with others; when they fall short of their ideals, they aim to accept their humanity and try again. However, in all communities, it’s easy for a word or gesture to cause hurt or division, even when this is unintended.
Through experience, Quaker communities have developed strategies for healing rifts and resolving conflict. Sometimes the community finds they have been strengthened by these challenges. At other times no healing can be found and the community is saddened by the loss of a member or members. As a community, the group wish these individuals well and trust they will find new ways to support their spiritual needs.
Quaker communities are often led to support other communities and groups that work for social justice, equality and peace. As individuals and as a group they add their voices and their action towards change for those in need.
Like other thinking people, Quakers are concerned about the impact that runaway wasteful and greedy activity of humans is having on our living world. We are very exercised by the threats posed by climate change.
This damage effects all living organisms. They also have a huge impact on humans. A peaceful world, equality between peoples, living in integrity and the benefits of community move further out of reach as the environment deteriorates.
We are bombarded with belief in continuous growth and the power of wealth. Fear of all sorts is promoted by our politics. These stifle human willingness to change our tastes and our behaviours.
Quaker John Woolman (1720-1772) reminded us that "the produce of the Earth is a gift from our gracious Creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the Earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age."
Quakers strive to meet these challenges. Like many others we easily feel overwhelmed by the facts, the science and social inertia. We try to find a contribution that embodies our spiritual concerns and our Quaker commitments and will help progress social and economic change.
We look for positive, life-affirming contributions we can make. We are still struggling with this and seek to develop more to offer others and to expand our own thinking, especially as we know the urgency of the need.
Recently Australia Yearly Meeting agreed to include Earthcare as one of our fundamental policies. For more information see the Quaker Earthcare Committee.
Quaker testimonies to equality and community help us to recognise the contributions that are made by young, middle and old ages.
Many elderly Quakers remain active in their meetings and their input remains valued. For some, aging can mean a diminishing of capabilities yet their presence in our community remains a blessing and they remain loved and enjoyed.
Children’s presence and ministry also adds to our Meetings. Children can learn to sit quietly in a silent meeting relatively easily. They may find it difficult at the start, but quite quickly learn to be quiet amid others who are being quiet. Many report that they value being able to be quiet and still in their lives.
Some Meetings hold all-age worship regularly, striving to provide an experience that reduces age barriers in spiritual sharing.
Quakers appreciate children in their midst. Many of our meetings run programs for children. Some other adults will be with the children, so that parents can worship knowing that their children will enjoy the time, will do some appropriate activities, and be with caring, interesting people.
At national gatherings there are programs for children so they gain a sense of connection with others from other meetings They also have a great time and learn some Quaker stories and ideals.
Our teenage groups (Junior Young Friends) provide local and national activities which are educational and community-building. There is more information about them here.
Above 18, Young Friends meet in self-directing groups where they explore life and how Quakerism is relevant to them. Thus, they have association with their local Meeting and a community of their peers, nationally and even globally.
Quakerism was founded in the Christian tradition. Liberal Quakerism has focused on particular Christian teachings, giving it an emphasis distinct from other churches.
Here are some differences from other church experiences we think you’d notice:
- You won't be told what to believe.
- You won't be required to hold particular religious beliefs. There are many paths. There are underlying principles of Quakerism which help bind us together.
- We meet together in quiet reflection, to listen for wisdom, comfort and challenge from wherever it may come. No preaching.
- We believe in the Inner Light. You will be encouraged to trust and value your own experience.
- You will be encouraged to work it out for yourself, supported by other people who are pursuing a similar quest.
- You won’t hear a lot of talk of sin.
- Quaker Advices and Queries give us open-minded guidance on how we might seek truth about some issues in life.
- We are people who accept living with uncertainty.
- We recognise that things change. We know that new understanding may come from new questions, as much as from new answers.
- No pastors, no bishops, but shared leadership.
- Quakers appointed to responsibilites generally hold that role for about three years.
- Quakers asked to take on responsibilities may be male or female, gay or straight – gender and sexuality are not relevant.
- A unique form of decision-making - no voting, but listening to all seeking the agreement of all.
- We recognise the value and wisdom of ancient texts. With a changing world comes changing wisdom, responses, morality, and new texts.
- There are Quakers who are inspirational amongst their ordinariness and accessibility.
When the bible was translated into English in the 17th century it became available to a much wider audience. People realised that the practices of the established church were not what was in the bible. It does not say anything about churches, cathedrals, clergy, popes, consecrated ground, fixed forms of service, hymns, etc.
One of those people was George Fox who travelled around England pointing out that Jesus said “when two or three are gathered together there am I” (Matthew 18:20).
Supported by a friend Margaret Fell they formed the Religious Society of Friends of the Truth - later shortened to the Religious Society of Friends and subsequently given the nickname Quakers.
Quakers effectively did away with the whole structure of the conventional churches and went back to that basic belief. We all have something within us, which many call God, that we can access and share with others.
Religious turmoil in 17th century England resulted in large numbers of Quakers ending up in prison and also many emigrated to America. Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers.
We are not connected with the Puritans or the Amish - a common assumption by people who don’t know us.
Many of the earliest British settlers in Australia (including convicts) were Quakers. In 1832 two prominent English Quakers, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, came to Australia with the support of their local congregations.
Although their main concerns were the treatment of the convicts and of the Aborigines, they also travelled around Australia contacting as many Quakers as they could. This resulted in the formation of a formal Quaker group in Hobart, where they were mainly based, and later, groups in other States.
Quaker congregations are called Meetings and, confusingly, the word can refer to the act of meeting together (for worship or business) as well as the organisation. We have seven Regional Meetings in Australia - which conduct business, normally monthly, in relation to their area, and Australia Yearly Meeting, which meets for business for the whole of Australia once a year.
For many years Quakers were associated with their home Meetings in England and it was not until 1964 that Australian Quakers became independent of Britain and formed their own Australia Yearly Meeting.
There are about 2,000 Quakers in Australia, about half of whom are Members and the other half regularly attend our meetings. There are many others who come occasionally, and we welcome them all.
What do Quakers need to make decisions about? Matters of governance, campaigns and actions they will get involved in - and more.
How do Quakers make decisions? A little differently. Quakers extend their worship into listening for the guidance of the Spirit. Each person in a business meeting has a glimpse of that guidance. So it’s important to listen carefully to each person who wants to contribute. Some silence surrounds each spoken contribution.
Decisions are made without voting. The clerk of the meeting, after listening, proposes a minute that summarises the sense of the meeting. Anyone may suggest a change to the minute. If the minute is agreed it becomes the completed minute of that topic - confirmed by those present.
Often, the decision is a lot different from the direction at the start. Because everyone could contribute to the minute there is usually a high level of commitment to the action that’s been agreed.
If we cannot agree we may defer the matter to a later meeting to discuss it and perhaps come up with fresh insights. Or we may ask a small committee to come back with a recommendation.
If there is not agreement the clerk will minute that there is not agreement. The decision does not go forward into action.
When this process works well, there is a strong sense that the Spirit has guided the meeting. It is uniquely Quaker and yet the method can be used in other organisations. It may be slow - sometimes the process calls for a lot of patience. Sometimes it is remarkably quick. It takes individual discipline and commitment.
George Fox was a principal founder of Quakerism in England in the mid 1600s. This new movement soon spread round much of England. When the Pilgrims went to found the American colony, many were Quakers escaping persecution.
Different groups developed different emphases. Liberal Quakers kept an emphasis on the inner light, and retained silent worship. Evangelical Quakers emphasised the teachings of Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Evangelical Quaker churches have pastors and their worship is more like other Christian churches. They sent missionaries to developing countries.
Quakers in Australia have always followed the liberal tradition with silent worship and no pastors or missionaries. However, these two styles, and others, continue in other countries. There is increasing respect for the value and importance of each other's traditions.
Quakers have a tradition of welcoming other Quakers even when they have not met before or come from different traditions. This develops into a strong sense of a global Quaker family. Such networking promotes cooperation on global causes and actions.
The Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) links many Quaker groups in the world, providing opportunities for increased understanding and cooperation amongst Quakers from different backgrounds. Both Evangelical and Liberal Quakers belong to FWCC and it underpins the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), which is a recognised non-governmental organisation at the UN. QUNO has offices in New York and Geneva and does a lot of quiet diplomacy with UN delegates.
QUNO often works for peace behind the scenes, inviting diplomats and others who may influence decisions to a simple meal. This encourages conversation at a personal level and allows exploration of ideas that may not be heard in more formal settings. Such events can have significant influence on world agreements.
QUNO’s effective organisation structure keeps the staff who meet the diplomats in close contact with ordinary Quakers from around the world.
There is more information here about Quakers around the World.
Quakers Speak Card Set
As a regular attender at Fremantle Quaker Meeting, I find that in reading the Australian Advices and Queries I usually find one that speaks to my condition at the time. My favourites are:
- Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment? (No. 45)
- Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one. (George Fox)
In our efforts to live life more simply and consciously of the environment, our family gave up plastic in January 2013. We tried not to acquire any new plastic for a month, in the hope that our efforts would also encourage others to be more conscious of their own plastic consumption.
WHO ARE WE AND HOW DO WE LIVE?
We are a family living in Fremantle, Western Australia: Peter, Susan and young son Caleb. We have a 25-year-old Volvo car and no animals aside from our worm farm. Walking or riding is our main mode of transport; however, we use our car to visit family or friends and on excursions approximately once a week.
We try to buy organic food at local independent shops from bulk containers as much as possible. Our cleaning products are environmentally friendly, we recycle our rubbish, worm farm our food scraps, and try to conserve our water and energy. However, we still seem to acquire a lot of plastic each week, mainly in the form of food and body care packaging.
OUR GUIDELINES FOR OUR PLASTIC FREE JANUARY:
ONE MONTH PRIOR:
- Plan where food and body care products will be bought to lighten the burden
- Collect and record all the plastic acquired for one month prior to starting (Exceptions: medication);
- Start looking for alternatives to products consumed on a regular basis (learn how to make own yogurt, oatcakes, bread, hummus, brownies using ingredients that don’t come in plastic)
DURING THE MONTH:
- Try not to buy or accept anything made of plastic or that is packaged in plastic, collecting and recording any plastic that slips through;
- Shop locally at bulk supply and health food stores or from farmers markets;
- Take own plastic or glass containers to the shop;
- Look out for products that come wrapped in paper, in waxed cardboard cartons and in glass jars or tins.
- Consider not using petrol for a month as most plastic is made from petrochemicals.
Giving up plastic for a month was an exercise in plastic awareness. It was a bit more expensive and it was more time consuming; however, it opened our eyes to the large amount of plastic we acquire on a weekly basis. I am slowly finding alternatives to the products we use regularly and making little changes. For suggestions go to www.plasticfreejuly.org
AND REMEMBER: THINK BIG, START SMALL.
For more information about the Australian Quaker Advices and Queries, click here.
I came to Quakers by marrying one (and she came to Quakers by answering an advert in the personal column of The Times of London). I had a largely agnostic upbringing and my contact with religion – through school assemblies, scouting, etc. – had left me distinctly unimpressed.
So Quakerism was a revelation. A religion with no artificial structures and no authoritarian system of required beliefs fitted me well.
And I found Quakers gentle, understanding people who respected me even as a young person. My only problem was getting used to calling octogenarians by their Christian names!
My natural and adopted children were welcomed into the Meeting and provided with a gentle education which they probably didn’t realise was ‘religion’.
Back in 1973 my wife and I had become involved in supporting various gay organisations, and our local Quaker Meeting helped finance a visiting Quaker from the UK to come to Brisbane and give a talk on gay issues. Subsequently the Meeting agreed to support changes to the law, and a couple of years later Quakers in Australia made a public statement calling for the law against male homosexual acts to be repealed.
Quaker open-mindedness became even more apparent later. When my marriage came to an end after more than 10 years their support helped me through a very difficult period. A second marriage (to another Quaker) was also welcomed, and another divorce, again over 10 years later, was accepted and understood, although with sadness.
My second wife and I continued to support the gay community, became involved in the gay counselling service and hosted meetings of gay groups in our house. Quakers also continued their discussions of gay and other relationships. This culminated in statements in the 1980’s supporting de facto relationships, both straight and gay. Later of course Quakers have celebrated same-sex unions and called for marriage equality.
No doubt it was no surprise to Quakers who knew me that I developed a gay relation