The Religious Society of Friends is a group with Christian roots that began in England in the 1650s. The formal title of the group is the Society of Friends or the Religious Society of Friends.
People in the Society of Friends are called "Friends" or Quakers - both mean the same thing. Most Quakers are Christian but the group today includes a few other people. They live all over the world, but the largest groups are in Kenya, the United States of America, Bolivia, Guatemala, the United Kingdom (England), and Burundi.
The Society of Friends began in the 1650s in England. A man named George Fox spent several years struggling to figure out how to be a good Christian. He finally heard God's voice telling him that Christ would make it clear to him what he should do. Fox went around preaching to people. He told them they could talk to God themselves - that they did not need a priest or minister to do it for them. He told them that if they listened within themselves they would hear Christ telling them what to do. Fox found other people who had similar experiences. Together they started a religious movement that later became the Religious Society of Friends.
The government of England did not like this new group; at the time it was against the law not to belong to the Church of England. They put a lot of Friends in jail, or made them pay money as a punishment. At first, the word "Quaker" was a name used to make fun of Friends, but after a while those people came to like it and use it for themselves.
Seeking freedom of religion, some Quakers moved away to places like America. A young Quaker named William Penn started a new colony there. He got the land because King Charles II of England owed his father a lot of money. This new colony was called Pennsylvania, and it was a place where people could belong to any religion. Penn wanted people to be fair to each other, and he called the biggest city in his new colony Philadelphia, which means "The City of Brotherly Love." Soon there were many Quakers in America.
The Quakers were very active in America in the nineteenth century (1800s). Many of the leaders of the abolition and women's rights movements, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, were Quakers.
Today there are about 375,000 Quakers in the world. This number is very small compared to other religious groups. Even so, a lot of people have heard of the Quakers, because they have worked hard to make our world more fair and just.
Quaker worship services are called "meetings for worship". They start with everybody sitting quietly. This is because they are trying to listen to God. Sometimes, a Quaker will feel that God wants him or her to say something. When this happens, the person stands up and tells everyone. Then they all sit quietly again. At some meetings, a many people will speak. At other meetings, nobody speaks. Quakers feel that a meeting for worship helps them to understand what God wants. Usually, worship lasts about an hour.
Anyone can go to a Quaker meeting.
Quakers also have meetings for worship for weddings and funerals—when two people get married, or if someone dies. When two people get married, the meeting is about them and the life that they will live together. When someone has died, the meeting is about remembering things about the person and the life they had.
Many Quakers in North America, South America, and Africa have a different kind of worship service, like other Christian services. They sing hymns and a pastor gives a sermon. They also have a quiet time, but it does not last as long. These Quakers often have strong Christian beliefs.
And at other times these meetings also decide what Quakers should do - these meetings can be called "meetings for business", but other people call them "meetings for worship for business", because they include parts of both worship and business.
Way of Life
Quakers seek religious truth in their inner experiences. They rely on conscience to guide what they do. They emphasise direct experience of God rather than ritual or ceremony. They believe that priests and rituals are unnecessary and can get between the believer and God. What Quakers say matches what they do.
Almost all Quakers share these beliefs:
- There is a piece of God in everybody, so each person is important. This is why Quakers value all people equally, and oppose anything that may harm or threaten them.
- God can be found in everyday life as much as during a meeting for worship.
- Everybody has an "inner light" that tells them what they should do. The inner light comes from God.
- Everybody should try to do what God wants.
- We should try not to hurt other people.
- We should tell the truth, and not lie. Quakers think that the truth is very important.
- We should not spend a lot of money on ourselves, or wear clothes that make us look rich.
- We should take care of the world around us—animals, plants, and our planet—so that it is healthy and can be used by people in the future.
Images for kids
George Fox, an early Quaker
Friends' Syrian Mission, 1874, built this mission house in Ramallah
Sugar Grove Conservative Friends Meeting House, built in 1870 in Indiana, with an openable partition between male and female sections
Conservative Friends worshipping in London in 1809. Friends are in traditional plain dress. At the front of the meeting house, the Recorded Ministers sit on a raised ministers' gallery facing the rest of the meeting, with the elders sitting on the bench in front of them, also facing the meeting. Men and women are segregated, but both are able to minister.
Sign at entrance of Phoenix Friends Church
Quaker Business Meeting in York
Religious Society of Friends Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.