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I am a Friend ...

I am a Friend, a member of the Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers.  I hope you are not surprised to know that Quakers are still around, but I will not be surprised if you are. 

Beginning in England in the 1650s, Quakerism grew out of the Protestant Christian tradition, and spread to the American colonies soon after. Known for our testimonies of pacifism, equality, and simple living, we are sometimes considered to have a contrarian point of view on matters of foreign policy and social justice issues.  When I was growing up, we were sometimes confused with Amish, Puritans, Shakers, and oatmeal makers and I thought that we were an odd group far out of the mainstream.

What I have learned as I have gotten older and more deeply confirmed in my faith is the many ways that we are similar to other religions, in our beliefs and in what we value.

I think you will find that some Quaker beliefs will resonate with you, whatever your spiritual language or orientation:
- We believe that there is in every person a Light (sometimes described as “that of God”) that can guide and strengthen us to do right and help us to avoid doing wrong.
- We believe in living our lives in keeping with the testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship.
- We believe that we are to be open always to God's guidance and to listen always for God's call into service, and to answer the call faithfully when it comes. This call may come as something as simple as accepting responsibility for cutting the grass at the meeting house or as complex as a leading to engage in civil disobedience as a witness against social injustice.

Some Quaker practices may seem very different:
- We usually refer to a meeting, rather than to a church or congregation.
- Many of our meetings worship in expectant silence, turning our full attention toward God without any outward liturgical forms like Bible readings, collective vocal prayer, hymn singing, or prepared sermons.
- We address business matters in “meeting for worship with a concern for business,” following the leadings of Spirit, and the worshipping body as a whole reaches decisions by naming the “sense of the meeting”, rather than by voting.

Quakers around the country and the world may differ from one another.  Here are some examples:
- Some meetings have pastors and some do not.  (No meetings on Long Island currently have pastors.)
- Some Quakers define themselves as Christian and some do not.
- Some Quakers do not believe in God, but may use other terms and concepts to describe that which is eternal or unknowable.
- Some Quakers refuse military service and some do not.

It may seem unusual that I am a member of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, as I am not a recognized member of the clergy.  However, even though I am among those Quakers who attend a meeting that does not have a pastor, I am also among the majority of Quakers who believe that we are all ministers and that we are called to minister in many different ways.  My call includes involvement in the broader religious community and I welcomed the invitation to participate in the Association.  I look forward to sharing a Quaker perspective in this joint blog. 

- Elaine Learnard

Note: You may also wish to visit the website of the New York Yearly Meeting,, from which some of the language in this post was drawn.


  1. This is a great introduction to Quakerism, Elaine - thanks for posting!


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