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The Religious Society of Friends or Quakers has its roots in the religious and political turmoil of seventeenth century England, when small groups of ‘Seekers’ in towns and villages around the country coalesced around the informal leadership of George Fox. It was not long before these Seekers, or ‘Friends’, became popularly known as ‘Quakers’.
Early Quakers were Christians who rejected the structures and offices of the established church. Believing in the idea of the ‘priesthood of all believers’, they rejected professional priests, and held all life and all places to be equally sacred. They turned their backs on ritual sacraments and on the churches in which they were carried out. Instead they met in each other’s homes, and later in purpose-built ‘meeting houses’ where they waited, as they believed that the first Christians had done, for the Holy Spirit to guide them.
Treatment of Quakers
Not surprisingly, Quakers were not popular with the established authorities. Many were imprisoned and some died from their mistreatment. In the North American colonies a few were martyred for their outspoken beliefs. However, there has never been an occasion when Quakers have killed others for holding opposing religious views.
The spread of Quakerism
Quakerism was spread to many other parts of the world, most notably North America and Africa. Over the years very diverse forms of worship have evolved in different regions. Here, in Britain, Quakers hold ‘silent meetings’, during which one or more worshippers may feel led to speak, or ‘minister’. From the very beginnings of Quakerism in the seventeenth century, ministry has been welcomed from both men and women, and also from children.
A more peaceful society
Quaker faith has often led Friends into different ways of looking at life, work and the world. Quakers were among the first and foremost in campaigning for the abolition of slavery. Over the years Quakers have been active in promoting responsible business, better educational opportunities for children and adults, improved housing conditions, prison reform and, most famously, peace.
For more information about Quakers in Britain please visit www.quaker.org.uk.