Quakerism in the 1990s
Over the past three hundred years (and more) Quakers have changed in many ways, but the basic foundations remain the same. The guiding principles of truth, equality, simplicity and peace are still present.
Quakers no longer address people as “thee” and “thou” and no longer dress in readily identifiable clothing, though they tend to dress simply. Quakers still do not swear oaths. The right to “affirm” has now been enshrined in the law.
Quakers still stress the equality of men and women in all aspects of life. We still do not use titles, calling each other by first name and surname only. We tend not to spend money on clothes and luxuries and are aware of poverty and oppression in society at large. On the other hand we enjoy life and appreciate the good things it has to offer.
Peace is still a central concern for Quakers. But peace is not just the absence of war. It is about our day to day relationships with our families, our neighbours, people in our towns and cities and in other countries. Peace is also about how we cope with people we may find difficult and different from ourselves. It is about accepting that there are different cultures and ways of doing things and that different does not mean worse. There are many ways of demonstrating commitment to peace. Each Quaker will follow his or her conscience and do what it feels right to do.
Today’s Meeting in Tottenham
Quakers continue to worship in Tottenham on the site where a Meeting House has stood since for nearly 300 years.
We are a small gathering, but growing. Each Sunday Friends come together for Meeting for Worship, fellowship and tea.
Children and young people are always welcomed at Tottenham Meeting. On the first Sunday of each month they have their own meeting for worship in their own room, while the adults worship in the room next door. Through stories, crafts, discussion and worshipful silence, they explore a variety of issues relating to Quaker life. These have included topics on friendship, families and special friends, feeling different, peace, being homeless.
The meeting continues to grow, and plans are now being made to build a new, larger meeting house with space for community groups to meet and perhaps a play group or nursery to be accommodated.
How do we let our lives speak, today?
Quakers often say there is little to distinguish between spiritual and everyday life. Our faith is often best expressed through what we do and how we live our lives. Some of the ways that we in Tottenham “let our lives speak”, include:
- membership of a Quaker healing group
- volunteer in a Quaker run soup kitchen for people who are homeless
- serving on the Family Welfare Association committee supporting elderly people in the local community
- volunteer work with women and children in a local domestic violence refuge
- campaigning against racism and working for peace
- serving on the Quaker Peace and Service United Nations Committee and working in the Quaker United Nations Office in New York
- volunteering in a cross-community project with children and families in Northern Ireland
- co-founding the Quaker Lesbian Group
- being involved in the Quaker Youth Theatre and Quaker Festival Orchestra
- tending to the meeting house garden
- volunteering for a national mental health charity
- working with refugees in former Yugoslavia
You ask what is it to be a Quaker,
… some Tottenham Friends respond
When I talk to people about Quaker faith, I tend to say that all good religions lead to the same God.
We are basically Christian but not all Quakers believe in God. We have not set dogma or creeds. We believe everyone has a direct relationship with God, so we don’t need priests. We believe everyone has that of God within them and try to act on that basis.
Quakers believe in looking for God in all people and in living a life that minimise harm. Thus the fundamental starting point for Quakers is how we live our own life. The emphasis is on seeking truth and understanding, equality of all people, simplicity and promoting peace. For most Quakers, this implies a commitment to non-violent resolution of conflicts. Quakerism grew out of Christian theology in the 17th century. Many of the principles have a Christian foundation and most Quakers recognise the link with Christianity, but the principles are much broader than Christianity and thus some Quakers do not consider themselves to be Christian, but draw teaching from other religions.
Being a Quaker is a way of life based upon our testimonies: truth, simplicity, equality and peace. I share the die of “God in everyone” that no matter how terrible a person may appear to be, God resides in them too. For those still interested in hearing more, I would describe our (i.e. in Britain) way of worshipping, waiting upon the silence to move one to speak.
I describe a meeting for worship in silence and hope that the seed will sprout.
…. A thought from a Tottenham Quaker
The living silence of meeting for worship; the comfortable hubbub of the kitchen afterwards; the loving concern in meetings for business; the cheerful teamwork at events; the quiet times of sharing. This community teaches, inspires and supports me on my Quaker journey.