The Religious Society of Friends had its beginnings in mid-17th century England, during a time of great religious and political upheaval.
They broke away from the Church of England and espoused the belief, as expressed by George Fox based on his own experience of God, that "Christ has come to teach his people himself." They believed in a universal priesthood of all believers, and stressed the individual's direct relationship with God. Many Friends meetings, such as our own, practice unprogrammed or "silent" meetings with no formal pastor or liturgy. Meetings in some other branches of the society have more formalized services lead by a pastor. It may, however, be misleading to call our meetings silent or to say that there is no minister. In fact, any Friend may be called by the spirit, to take up the work of spoken ministry. Under the weight of the spiritual motion anyone present in meeting for worship may rise and speak the words that God has given them to share with those present. This can occasionally even take the form of song.
We believe that this experience is universal to all religions and spiritual practices. John Woolman, a beloved Quaker known for his work in the 18th century to end the institution of slavery, put it this way:
"There is a principle which is pure placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names; it is, however, pure, and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion, nor excluded from any, when the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, they become brethren."
While we find deep sources of inspiration in the Christian and Hebrew scriptures, we look to the direct experience of the Spirit as our primary spiritual guide. We also find great wisdom and encouragement in the writings and teachings of other religious traditions.
Friends believe that the evidence of the workings of the Divine Spirit must be seen in daily behavior and practices of Friends. We call these active expressions of God's love "testimonies". Historically and presently this commitment has called Friends to be active in worldly movements for peace and social justice, notably our work against slavery and institutional racism, for gender equality, for economic justice and for world peace. Friends are perhaps best known for the Peace Testimony which has called many Friends to refuse to bear arms in any conflict.