The Religious Society of Friends is not the easiest of denominations to describe in a few words: since there is an absence of priests, creed, or order of service.
It is a gathering, waiting in silence to be guided by the Holy Spirit. If anyone feels they have something to say, they stand and speak to the Meeting. This, in turn, often inspires other Friends to say something on the same subject or even another matter altogether.
Sometimes a whole hour may pass without a speaker, but in the silence the benefit of the stillness and peace can still be beneficial. We have a member of another church who comes occasionally, as he says, ” sit in Gods silence”.
Our four tenets are Peace, Truth, Equality and Simplicity – all carry a powerful meaning and have been used since the founding of Quakers in the 1650’s – a time of great turmoil, following the English civil war.
The ideas moved many people looking for religious security at this time and by the late 17th century around a quarter of the population were Quakers. However, due to religious influences, the Quakers were considered heretics and prevented from holding public offices, such as civil service, or standing for parliament. Friends also would not swear an oath to the Monarch, saying “Our allegiance is only to God”.
In 1783 a Quaker committee called on Parliament to abolish slavery. It was ignored at the time.
But four years later, another committee, which included two Anglicans, were heard by Parliament and this started the process which culminated in William Wilberforce getting the Bill passed in the early 19th century.
Later. Quakers, like Elizabeth Fry, (who, until recently, featured on the back of. The £5 note) did much to improve the dreadful conditions for women in prisons.
In 1872 Following the Reform Bill, the first Quaker MP took his seat in parliament. This Bill also allowed Quakers to attend University.
Friends helped save many lives in the Irish famine; played a part in the formation of Oxfam in 1942, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their post-war work. They went on to co-found Amnesty International.
Friends continue to work promoting Peace, Truth, Equality and Simplicity to this day.
Martyn Towel on behalf of the Wokingham Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) and Churches Together in Wokingham