What is it that attracts someone to join the Religious Society of Friends, or just to come along to attend their Worship and join in their activities without actually becoming a Member, as many people do?
Essentially one supposes it comes about because people are attracted to the basic principles which they can see Quakers living out in their everyday lives: that conspicuous and wasteful consumerism does not make us happier, that violence does not actually make problems better, that making a point of being always truthful and honest really does simplify life as well as avoiding a great deal of unpleasantness, and so on. All of which derives ultimately from the one great Truth at the heart of Quakerism that lies behind behind all of these others: that we are all made in the image of God so that every one of us is equally precious, equally valuable, and that we all have the ability to find the Light and the Truth of God within ourselves and need to to let this shine out in whatever form it takes from our own unique and particular experience of it.
Of course just as everyone’s experience of the Inward Light is different, so everyone’s experience of belonging to the Quaker community is unique to them, and it will be felt and described in all sorts of different ways. Here are a few examples from Quakers past and present, of how coming into contact with the Quakers affected them.
ROBERT BARCLAY – a Scot, one of the first generation of Quakers, who knew George Fox and William Penn. His “Apology for the True Christian Divinity” written in 1676 is often described as the first book of Quaker theology. In a famous passage Barclay says:
“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; and so I became thus knit and united unto them.”
JOHN PUNSHON – a contemporary writer and academic from the east end of London who became a Quaker while studying at Oxford University and subsequently worked for a while as a teacher and then as a trade-union lawyer. In his 1987 book “Encounter With Silence” he recalls:
“Ever since I first came among Friends I was attracted to the testimonies as an ideal. I wanted to belong to a church which made the rejection of warfare a collective commitment and not just a personal option. I admired a simplicity, a devotion to equality, and a respect for others which reflected what I already knew of Christ. In a deceitful world, I warmed to those who did not swear oaths and strove to tell the truth in all circumstances.”
GIAMPIERO ZUCCHELLI – an Italian by birth who emigrated to England as a child and now lives in Somerset. In the Quaker weekly magazine “The Friend” in April 2016 he wrote this account of his first impressions of Quakerism:
“One Sunday morning I happened to walk by the Friends Meeting House in Bath and remembered that a friend had mentioned the Quakers and had commented that “you can always trust a Quaker” and that their practice was simple and uncluttered by the need for leadership. I decided on an impulse to go in, and found myself captivated by the lack of rituals, the absence of symbols, and the total commitment to democratic decision-making. I felt it was refreshing not to be surrounded by expensive ornaments and icons, only to focus on simple and quiet worship, as Friends faced each other in a circle, joining in a spiritual quest. I knew I had found my spiritual home.”
A PRISONER (anonymous) – the following extract was published in the Journal of “Quakers in Criminal Justice” in May 2016
“I was introduced to Quaker worship by going along with my friend who would otherwise be attending his Meeting alone, he being the only registered Quaker in the prison. He opened my eyes to a whole new way of experiencing God. It did not replace my chosen method of connecting with God but certainly enhanced it. I found a peace and serenity and connection with my friend, his chaplain and volunteer visitors that I had not expected inside a chapel usually buzzing with the sound of singing and sermons. With all the quotidian hustle and hassle of prison, I found myself looking forward to the contemplative moments listening to my heartbeat, my breathing, and God flowing through me.”