The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Harvey Gillman has produced the following thoughtful contribution exploring what our name "The Religious Society of Friends" means to us. Quakers often refer to themselves and to other Quakers as Friends.
I have been asked at times where does the uniqueness of Quakers lie. Indeed is there anything that is unique amongst us?
In order to respond to these questions, I found it helpful recently to reflect upon our name, The Religious Society of Friends, and how the ideas of religion, society and friendship illuminate each other.
The world's supermarket is full of religions. Each religion has its adherents. Some believers are convinced that their product is the only true solution to the world's problems. Many other people however refuse to browse among these shelves, sometimes seeing the product as aggravating the problem.
Quakers claim to be a religious society but one which does not have all the answers; a spiritual path whose very institutions arise out of a friendship with Spirit and each other; a religion or form of spirituality which is not a hierarchy but a society of equals whose relationship with each other is one of friendship.
There are many societies and institutions for the public good. There are thousands of groups of people working for peace, justice, equality, for a society which acknowledges the worth of all its members. Quakers belong to many of them.
As the Religious Society of Friends, we come together to attempt to live out amongst ourselves the values we proclaim for the world; a society informed by the workings of Spirit, waiting to be led by its discernment of what a spiritual life is all about; a society made up of friends linked by values, which we dare to call testimonies as they witness to life in Spirit.
Human beings cherish friendship. It is one of the gifts of being alive. Quakers are sometimes thought of as a nice bunch of thoughtful middle-class people with a conscience – friendly with like-minded people, but finding others rather difficult to get on with. We have been described as a pleasant club of vaguely anarchistic religious seekers. But we are constantly challenged by Spirit which is beyond cultures to form institutions in order to nurture the seeds of the divine commonwealth which is already amongst us.
As Quakers, we claim to be on a spiritual path, a path of peace, equality, truth, and simplicity, and care for the earth on which we live. We are friends with each other. We create out of this spiritual friendship a society with a vision, one which involves the larger society in which we find ourselves.
We are human and often fail. Our institutions do not always serve their purpose. Our discernment is sometimes to be questioned. Our dreams are high and noble and not always practical. But we recall the dream of William Penn in founding Pennsylvania: to be a holy experiment, to be faithful to our spiritual insights and remain pragmatic women and men with our feet on the ground, seeking inwardly how we are to live outwardly.
Our vocation is to be a religious society of friends: a society where individual friends are brought together in the embrace of Spirit.