Got Questions? We'll try here to give you some answers!
can you be Quaker? Didn’t they all die out (from not having kids)?
- No, actually – that’s
the Shakers. We Quakers – or Friends – are still around and have been since the 1600s. We’re not a very
large denomination though – there’s more Baptists in Tennessee than Quakers in the whole world – so it’s
easy to understand how we get overlooked. Despite our small numbers, Quakers have had a disproportionately large impact on
United States history - we feel like we make up in Spirit what we lack in numbers. In East Tennessee alone, we’re affiliated
with five other Quaker churches and there’s two or three Quaker meetings we’re not affiliated with.
- Sorry, no. that’s another popular misconception. This confusion often comes
up because people have a picture of the Quaker Oats man in their head, but most Quakers haven’t dressed like that in
a very long time. We dress and talk just like anybody else, and we’re very comfortable using technology and driving
cars – hence this website!
Sometimes you call yourselves “Quakers”
and sometimes you call yourselves “Friends” – which is it?
- Both, depending
on how formal we’re being and, more importantly, personal preference. Officially we’re called “The Religious
Society of Friends,” or “Friends” for short, but “Quakers” was an early nickname that became
so popular that it stuck and became our unofficial name. It’s kinda catchy, so either one is perfectly fine –
but officially we’re called “Friends.”
Why are you called Friends?
name “Friends” comes from the Gospel of John – specifically, John 15:14-15, “You are my friends
if you do what I command you. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.
Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Quakers
place a high emphasis on the personal relationship that each person has with God, and this is emphasized in these verses.
are you called Quakers?
- There’s actually two accounts for how Friends became known as Quakers, both
stemming from the 1600s in England. The first is that Friends in their worship services became so overcome by God’s
power that they would visibly quake from the intensity of the experience, and thus were informally called “Quakers.”
The second is that when brought to trial for his part in leading a non-sanctioned church, Quaker founder George Fox told the
judge that he should “quake under the power of the Lord.”
Do I have to dress up or wear a funny hat to go
to your church?
- Only if you feel like you want to or like God’s wanting you too. The overwhelming
majority of Quakers dress normally, and at worship services we look about the same as other Protestants. Some folks come in
their “Sunday best,” some get a little nicer looking than normal, and some just wear their regular everyday clothes.
It’s about what brings you closer to God, not trying to impress your fellow worshippers. If you can worship more easily
in nicer clothes, go for it! But if you feel more comfortable before God in your regular clothes, that’s just fine too.
And if you feel like wearing a bonnet or a funny hat, feel free but it’s not expected!
Do you really sit around in the
quiet where nobody talks or does anything during church?
- Well, sort of. What you’re referring to is
called “Open Worship” or “Waiting Worship” or “Silent Worship.” Up until 150 years ago
(more or less), Quakers didn’t have organized worship services with congregational singing or a specific preacher or
many of the elements that would be familiar to most Christian worship services. Instead they would get together every Sunday
morning and “wait” – wait for one of them to be inspired to give a message from God, which could be something
as simple as a short verse or prayer or something as elaborate as a full-on sermon. Sometimes this would in fact mean an hour
of silence; other times it could be very lively.
Without going too much into the history, many Quakers began adapting their worship services to be more like other
Protestant services, such as instituting congregational singing, designating one person to be the “regular” preacher,
etc, while still maintaining a time during the service for traditional Quaker worship when anyone could bring a message. Not
all Friends did this, with many maintaining the traditional style, but this is the tradition which Maryville Friends uses.
Our Open Worship time usually lasts about 5-10 minutes, depending on how long-winded the preacher’s feeling that day.
Why don’t you believe in Baptism or Communion?
is one of the most unique, misunderstood, and universal things which Quakers (of any stripe) do. It’s true – Friends
don’t practice water baptism or communion/eucharist/Lord’s Supper with the elements. But that doesn’t mean
we don’t believe in them. To explain, it’s important to keep in mind the context out of which this Quaker distinction
arose. In 1600s England, baptism into the state Church (the Church of England) as an infant was explicitly tied up with the
state and had more to do with temporal authority and state power than any spiritual practice; certainly the concept of “believers
baptism” didn’t enter into things. Likewise the practice of communion, the practice and method of which had more
to do with creedal authority and the ongoing bloody religious conflicts than it did any actual connection with God.
So George Fox and
other early Quakers decided to reject both practices entirely, focusing instead on the inward, spiritual reality which these
practices were meant to represent. Spiritual baptism, the “baptism of fire” which John the Baptist spoke of, is
important to Friends. Likewise spiritual communion, the spiritual connection made between the believer and God, which can
and should happen at any meal or gathering, not simply set-aside times. While we recognize that for many people the physical
acts of water baptism and communion with the elements are lifegiving and vital to spiritual life, we consciously reject their
inclusion in our regular worship practices. Here at Maryville Friends, we call our Open Worship time “Communion After
the Manner of Friends” to emphasize our belief that the spiritual reality is important and valuable.
Are Quakers Christian?
Friends Church, and the Quakers we’re directly affiliated with (Friendsville Quarterly Meeting, Wilmington Yearly Meeting,
and Friends United Meeting), are most definitely Christian, with a welcoming attitude towards various Christian theologies
– you’ll find folks among us who would be at home in Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Brethren, Catholic, Episcopal,
Pentecostal, and various fundamentalist churches. To give an encyclopedia-like answer for other Quakers, the Society of Friends
is a traditionally Christian denomination but is noncreedal and has no binding statement of faith for its membership. This
means that there are some Quakers who have other beliefs, but the great majority of Quakers are in fact Christian. Or in other
words, “Yes, but…” If this seems confusing, I apologize – it’s part of our heritage that there’s
no creedal test or statement of faith required, so you’ll find a few people who won’t agree with everything that’s
been written here.
Where can I find out more about Quakers?
- If you don’t
mind some reading, there have been several books written that explain many of our origins and beliefs. The Journals of George Fox and John Woolman, for example, were written a long time ago and may be somewhat difficult for a modern reader, but are worth checking out.
Barclay’s Apology, while an excellent explanation of early Quaker theology, is extremely dense and heavy reading for a modern reader - there's
a version with more modern language available which helps somewhat. The website of Friends United Meeting and especially their publication Quaker Life are very good modern sources of information and illumination about Quakers today. Of course, the best way to get to know
Friends is to get to know them – come by and visit on a Sunday morning, see what you think!