What’s a Quaker?



What’s a Quaker?


Singer songwriter, Evalyn Parry, speaks my mind in her spoken word piece, “Quaker Flavour” “ A QUAKER? “Really?  Wow, huh.  I’ve never met a QUAKER before.  You seem so…I mean, you dress so norma – I mean, I thought you guys all lived – sort of like the Amish or something?  But you drive a  — I mean you’re – okay, wow, cool!  I guess I have no idea.  So tell me, what IS a Quaker?”


A Quaker is a member of the Religious Society of Friends. Today, both words, Friend and Quaker are used. I prefer Friend but even fewer people would know what I was talking about if I said I was a Friend.


Quakerism is a religious, spiritual, experience. As soon as the topic of religion comes up, people worry that there is an attempt at conversion or some equally underlying negative reason for discussing it.  There are only about 1200 Quakers in Canada – that piece of info should be proof enough that we don’t go around trying to convert.


There isn’t a minister or leader who individually holds power within the Society of Friends. The belief that there is that of God in everyone acknowledges responsibility of  each individual within the group and confirms that each person has the potential to experience God directly.  (The definition of God varies individually)


I tend to feel more comfortable speaking about an inner light and believe that the guides me in my life and within the Society of Friends.


Sometimes our individual involvements in social justice issues makes us seem like a protest group. But I don’t live a certain way or participate in activist groups because I am a Quaker. It’s closer to the other way around – because I have certain values, I fit in closest with the Quakers.



What is the Quaker experience?


It is a personal answer and would not be the exactly the same if you asked another Quaker. We don’t go to church but to Meeting for Worship,, a slience based gathering. Sometimes there is a Meeting House but more often in Canada (because the numbers are so small) the Meeting for Worship will take place in a home.  Some of my most memorable Meetings were at sunrise on a beach or around a campfire.


For me, a silent meeting for worship, without a minister or anyone offering guidance is a group experience. Sometimes Quakers will say that the meeting was “gathered” or had “unity”. This is when the feeling, the sense of the meeting, is spiritually close, that something happened in the silence, something that can’t be measured brought us closer spiritually.


For me, meeting for Worship is somewhere between waiting and  listening, but listening to an inner voice or, if someone speaks aloud to their voice.

The meetings – for worship, for marriage, for funerals, for memorials and for business are silence based. If someone is moved to speak, it should be an expression of their spirituality. It is closer to a concept of patient waiting rather than meditation.


A friend of mine asked how you could tell the difference between a wedding and a funeral. The collective sense of the meeting changes depending on the purpose of the gathering.  More people are moved to sing or play an instrument at a wedding. A funeral includes a biography which is read aloud. A business meeting is more likely to have long pauses of silence, like a worship sharing discussion while a meeting for worship may have no speakers or many speakers. Each meeting experience is different but the feeling of gathering together to worship often feels like a united experience. Something happens but it isn’t something that is measurable.


Now, that I have probably confused my reader, I shall explain my path to Quakerism. Don’t worry, I am not trying to convert anybody.


Friends who I have taken to Quaker Meeting  have told me they see nothing happening yet I feel the silence and the group experience is different each time.


Quaker silence is not a dead silence, not a remain in one position and block out the world. It is a silence connected to God within us and connected to the world.

Years ago,  my first grandchild, who was learning to walk, broke the silence by scraping a chair across the meeting room floor.  Quaker, Nancy Pocock (refugee activist), came up to me and said “if anyone complains, send them to me. “ She saw  the  squeeking chair in a positive light, as a tiny mighty Quaker being heard.






Having started on this piece about Quakerism, I became curious about what has been written about Canadian Quaker women. There is information about individual Quaker women but the only writing I could find about Quaker women and feminism was one 51 page pamphlet called Feminism, Women, Peace, and Power written by Jo Vellacott more than 20 years ago. It’s published by Argenta Friends Press in British Columbia.


Quakers are very connected to the world and sometimes recognized for their life’s work. Quaker Ursula Franklin, physicist, peace and justice activist has received the Order of Canada.