Quakerism started in England in 1652 mainly as the result of the work of George Fox who was convinced that true religion was not about ceremonies and rites performed by a priestly caste or about complex theological arguments, but rather a personal inward experience, a direct link with God and a consequent transformation of everyday life. He acknowledged the ‘Inward Light’ as his authority in religious matters. He reminded us that we can meet ‘that of God’ in every person. The early ‘Friends of Truth’, as they called themselves, met in Silence so that this Inward Voice could speak through them and so that they could share the message it brought.
Quakerism began in a period when Christianity was central to the way of life of the whole of the community, so naturally the early Quakers expressed themselves in similar terms. Today, many Quakers would still see themselves as essentially Christian, while others would say that they look for the truth in many different religious traditions, or none.
Right until the present century, Quakers have continued to meet together in Silence, without priests, ministers, special ceremonies, holy days or beliefs precisely formulated in words, trusting only to the inspiration that is given them in Meeting for Worship, personal spiritual practice and the Quaker way of life.
Quakers often have different ideas and personal beliefs about almost everything, but this diversity is gathered into unity in the stillness of our Meeting for Worship. As an early Quaker said, ‘when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up…’
The Quaker vision that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone has led them to reject violence, discrimination and exploitation in all its forms. The Society of Friends (often described as one of the historic Peace Churches) has long worked for peace and against war; in periods of war, many Quakers have been conscientious objectors. Quakers were some of the first to accept women as equal members of the community (even if they did not always manage to live up to their principles), and to work for the abolition of slavery and the reform of prisons, for the rights of refugees, for education to be available to all and for the mentally ill to be treated as human beings who needed loving care and understanding. We try to continue this work today. There are also new ways to practise traditional Quaker simplicity by living a simple environmentally friendly life style.
We welcome the cultural diversity that modern global society has made possible and do our best to build a tolerant multi-racial, multi-cultural community.
Quakers strongly support the work of international organisations such as the United Nations that attempt to establish and keep the peace and protect human rights. The Friends World Committee for Consultation acts as the parent organisation for the Quaker United Nations Offices in New York and Geneva.
Friends seek to influence European Union policy makers on issues relating to human rights, peace and development cooperation worldwide via the Quaker Council for European Affairs, an organisation with which Belgium and Luxembourg Yearly Meeting has strong links.