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day will come when a canon will be exhibited in public museums,
just as an instrument of torture is now, and people will be astonished
at how such a thing could have been." Victor Hugo, 1849
following was written by Margaret Springer of Waterloo, Ontario,
and was originally printed at the Argenta Friends Press, Argenta,
British Columbia, V0G 1B0, August 1978. Rev. 1992 & 1996.
is the fall of 1972. We've already driven around the block, but
now we're sure this is the right house. There are other cars pulling
up outside, and people talking on the lawn. As we get out, someone
comes to us with hand outstretched and introduces himself. We
all walk around to the back, the children clinging. I notice with
some relief that people are dressed rather casually. We settle
ourselves into an assortment of garden furniture, arranged amid
wobbles and squeaks in a circle. And then we sit silently together.
first I am most aware of the beauty of this place. The warmth
and sunshine of a glorious fall day; the dappled shade in which
we sit. I hear the rustle of leaves, the sound of neighbours discussing
their garden, a screen door banging, and the far-off shouts of
children at play. But gradually the silence deepens. I am less
aware of my surroundings. I hardly notice when someone rises and
beckons to the children. A shuffle of feet on the grass. A murmur
of voices. Time seems suspended.
someone speaks, about looking for God in our lives. Again there
is silence. Sometimes I sense a feeling of deep peace and timelessness,
and catch a glimpse of a profoundly moving religious experience,
of God in our midst. At other times I am too aware of the distractions,
and of the length of the silence. Another person speaks, about
what being in this group has meant to him. More silence. Then
suddenly the hour has passed. We are all shaking hands with those
on each side of us, introducing ourselves, talking, stretching,
collecting the children, or going to the kitchen to start lunch.
The spell has broken. My first Quaker Meeting for Worship is over.
you've already been to a Quaker Meeting, much of this will be
familiar to you. You might have been indoors instead of out, or
at a Meeting House instead of a home, but I suspect that the emotional
impact of that first experience was similar, and has stayed with
you as it has stayed with me. If you have not experienced a Quaker
Meeting, perhaps this has given you some idea of how it might
are the Quakers? What do they stand for? How do they operate?
Officially we are called the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
Unofficially, we call ourselves either Quakers or Friends. To
begin with, we are a religious society.
Leacock once wrote wryly: 'Anybody can start a movement by beginning
with himself.' George Fox did just that. His place and time was
England in the mid-17th century. He grew up surrounded by social
and political ferment, and besieged within by religious unrest.
He was a deeply committed Christian, who did not intend to start
a movement, a sect, or a church. But he attracted followers as
other seekers heard of his ideas.
were those ideas? Simple but radical. A human being can have direct
communion with God, without the intervention of another human
being (a minister), an institution (the church), or a book (the
Bible). Ordinary people sit together anywhere in silent worship,
without clergy, liturgy, or sacraments (all of life is sacred).
There we can feel a Presence and listen for the voice of God in
our own lives. We are seekers of Truth, and that Truth is based
on direct experience. Each of us has 'that of God' within us -
the indwelling spirit of Christ, the Light within - which links
us to God and to each other. Rank, race, religion, political persuasion,
all these things become unimportant. We are equal, and can speak
to 'that of God' in others.
of this led George Fox and his friends into a lot of trouble.
The implications of these ideas were - and still are - far-reaching.
The concept of 'that of God within' for example, meant that Friends
would not bear arms against another person, or pay tithes to help
support armies. George Fox once wrote that he 'lived in the virtue
of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars.'
The early Quakers acted on the premise that love will work as
a way of life, and championed the cause of the less fortunate.
Their sensitivity to the plight of the poor, imprisoned and oppressed
made them tireless workers for justice and equality.
was an important issue. In those days the custom was to take off
one's hat, and bow, and use the respectful 'you' instead of the
familiar 'thee/thou' with those of higher social rank. This Quakers
refused to do. Nor would they use titles in addressing or referring
to others. Rich, poor, old, young, men, women, educated, uneducated,
privileged, oppressed - all were treated equally and simply called
by their full or first names. There was an emphasis on simplicity
and plainness of speech and dress, which became rigidly entrenched
as time went on.
only did early Quakers reject the established church and ministry,
they also actively stirred people against it, and were often arrested
for interrupting sermons or causing disturbances in village squares.
When brought to court, they refused to swear oaths on the Bible,
stating firmly that there are not two standards of truth, and
following literally the biblical commandment to 'swear not at
is hardly surprising, then, that the authorities considered Quakers
dangerous heretics, and imprisoned many of them. George Fox himself
was in prison many times. But always on his release he travelled
around the country again with his fervour undiminished. He even
visited friends in Barbados, Jamaica, and the American colonies
late in his life.
the 'testimonies' of those early Friends are still at the centre
of Quaker work and witness. To begin with, the tradition of pacifism
remains. In times of war, some Friends have taken non-combative
roles such as in Friends' Ambulance Units, and others have gone
to jail for refusing to accept the draft. In peacetime, many are
refusing to pay the military portion of their income tax.
our social concerns we have continued to work with unpopular causes.
Whether sending medical aid to all sides during the Vietnam War,
taking a stand against capital punishment, working toward the
abolition of prisons, seeking the spiritual roots of the environmental
crisis or championing the rights of native people, we find as
much to commit ourselves to now as 300 years ago. And these actions
arise from the same religious convictions.
still do not use titles. We still espouse simplicity, though we
no longer dress differently than anyone else. We 'affirm' rather
than take an oath in court. But perhaps we have mellowed, and
the authorities have mellowed, for we no longer seem to be so
often put in jail.
Friends co-operate with other religious groups, especially in
working on common social concerns, and we hold membership in the
Canadian Council of Churches. We in Canadian Yearly Meeting still
do not go to church or have a paid ministry. But we do pay attention
to the ministry of others, to the teachings of other religious
groups, and to recorded religious experiences, biblical or otherwise.
Our own experience is basic, but in our search for Truth we accept
insights from many sources.
A Bit about Quaker History in Canada
first Quakers in Canada came from the American colonies in the
late 18th century. They settled in the Maritimes, and in many
of the counties of what is now southern and south-eastern Ontario.
More Friends came from Britain in the 19th century, and by the
1870s there were 7,000 Quakers in Canada, mostly in rural areas
of Ontario. Then our numbers declined. We were weakened by schisms
that divided rival Quaker groups, by evangelical revivals that
wooed many away, and by the fact that the close pioneer communities
began to be diffused as the shift to urban centres began.
this century, Friends have tended to be urban, educated, and middle
class. Most of our members are 'convinced' Friends (added by request),
rather than 'birthright' Friends (born to Quaker parents). Since
World War II, Quakers have come to Canada from many countries,
especially the United States and Britain. New groups have appeared
in Western and Eastern centres. During the Vietnam War we welcomed
some American Friends who left their home-land in their anguish
over the U.S. involvement in South-East Asia.
December 1995, there were 1,129 Quakers in Canada and twenty-two
different Meetings (or Groups.) Monthly Meetings in Canada are
also constituent parts of a Half-Yearly Meeting or Regional Gathering,
and of Canadian Yearly Meeting. Once every spring and fall, for
example, my Meeting (Kitchener Area) gets together with three
other Meetings in Ontario to meet as Pelham Half-Yearly Meeting.
There is worship, business, some sort of programme, and Friendly
fellowship. Then, in summer, we all have the opportunity to meet
with Friends from across Canada for the week-long sessions of
Canadian Yearly Meeting, the location varying each year. Canadian
Yearly Meeting maintains a year-round office, which provides the
thread that links our Meeting beads together.
Prince Edward Island, a Quaker Meeting Group has been operating
continuously since 1991 meeting every Sunday for worship. To learn
more about the Quakers in PEI, contact Daphne Harker Davey at
675-3501 or visit their website at www3.pei.sympatico.ca/john.clement/quaker.htm.
can also visit the Canadian Quaker site at: www.quaker.ca
Peace Testimonyof the Religious Society of Friends ( Quakers )
actively oppose all that leads to violence among people and nations,
and violence to other species and to our planet. Refusal to fight
with weapons is not Surrender. We are not passive when threatened
by the greedy, the cruel, the tyrant, the unjust. We will struggle
to remove the causes of impasse and confrontation by every means
of nonviolent resistance available. We must start with our own
hearts and minds. Together, let us reject the clamour of fear
and listen to the whisperings of hope.
A Statement on Peace
issued by New Zealand Quakers, 1987
in a series of seven quotations from Quaker corporate statements.
Issued by QUAKER PEACE & SERVICE
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