Fox, Fell and the early Quakers had found that they didn’t need a book or a church, a degree or especially a priest to form a relationship with God. Instead, through their spiritual experimentation they found that if they were able to centre themselves in stillness, they could become connected to and moved by a force inside themselves and amongst each other. They gave different names to this eternal force they experienced — the Inner Light, the Seed, the Source and yes, God, the Holy Spirit and also Christ Jesus — but names and words were beside the point. What was important was the experience in the moment, the insights it offered and the changes it brought to these people’s lives.
In grounding themselves in an inclusive, egalitarian spiritual practice (what‘s now known as Quaker Meeting) and resisting both dogma and hierarchy, these early Quakers birthed a uniquely pluralistic and perennialist religious tradition all the way back in pre-industrial, agrarian Britain. Their free and open worship grounded in a belief in the equality of every individual anticipated humanist and liberal ideals that would come to define the best of Western cultural aspirations hundreds of years later.
Their commitment to equality and truth led to Quakers’ persecution. It also led them to protest war and fight against poverty, to be abolishionists, anti-racists and peacemakers, as well as environmental activists and advocates for social justice and human rights, and early supporters of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights. While other religious institutions historically have been complicit in some of Western civilisation’s worst transgressions and a contributing force for maintaining repressive traditions, Quakers have consistently been among the first to stand up against societal injustice. Though not immune to the systems and culture of their time, it is common to find Quakers amongst those voices on the right side of history, speaking truth to power and waging peace on behalf of the disempowered, dispossessed, oppressed and mistreated.
If you choose to attend Quaker Meeting, you may also find that the stillness is moving, and that it moves you towards a more integrated version of yourself, and towards working in solidarity for a more just and fair world.
It's my belief that the radical spirit at the heart of Quakerism doesn't in fact belong to Quakerism at all, but to the larger forces of Light that move through the universe spreading connection, cooperation and compassion. Quakers have merely found a way of reaching that Light and allowing it to guide them. But as a Quaker, I don't intend on telling you what you should believe. My hope is that you won't take my word for it, but come to Quaker Meeting, avail yourself of this tradition, and be moved by the stillness yourself.
Sean Jacke – Hampstead Quaker Meeting