.Home > Deepen Ako Atu Anō ▼ > Quaker Guides > Quaker Handbook > Introduction, History, Questions & Counsel

Introduction, History, Questions & Counsel

Section 1: Introduction

1.1 Context

1.1.1 Purpose of the Quaker Handbook

The Handbook is a practical and informative guide to Quaker practice in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is not a rigid set of rules and regulations but a description of what has evolved as a result of our experience of working and seeking together.

It is intended variously for use as a "how to" manual; as a reference book; and as a guide to deepening one's understanding of the Religious Society of Friends. We hope that all will find it useful, particularly those who:

  • are new to the Society,
  • have been newly appointed to a committee,
  • have been entrusted with a task rarely performed,
  • want to find out more about Friends' practices,
  • wish to reflect more deeply on Quaker life.

1.1.2 Grounding of Quaker faith

The historical basis of Friends' practices lies in 17th century England. George Fox, who became a major leader of the Quaker Movement, sought religious truth through prayer and Bible-reading, and was grieved by what he saw as the failures of professing Christians of his time. After much travelling and listening to priests and preachers, he lost all hope of help from others. Then one day, when sitting alone, he heard the words “there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.”

This revelation answered Fox's questioning about faith, giving him hope, power, and understanding. This insight was also expressed by Fox as “assurance of the Presence”, “the indwelling Christ”, “the Light”, “the Seed”, and “that of God in everyone”.

When he spread this message that the divine Spirit was active within all human beings, his words spoke to the experience of other seekers. With their keen response, the Quaker movement took form in the 1650s.

1.1.3 Origins of Quaker practices

From these insights the early Friends developed their form of worship, their religious and social testimonies, and their organisation.

In worship they rejected all material aids, waiting silently together in fellowship for an inner awareness of the presence of God.

Business meetings were held in the same manner, with Friends seeking to speak as they were led by the Spirit within them, and decisions being made in accordance with the sense of the meeting.

1.2 Some History of Quakers in Aotearoa New Zealand

1.2.1 Beginnings

The earliest Quaker settlers in this country arrived from Britain in about 1840. The first record we have of a regular Meeting for Worship was in December 1842, which was established by Samuel Strong soon after his arrival in Nelson. However, we know of some Friends who visited earlier (the first, Sydney Parkinson, was a botanical artist on Cook's "Endeavour").

Several other Quakers arrived in Nelson in 1842 having been appointed to the staff of the New Zealand Company to survey the proposed settlement there. These included Frederick Tuckett, Samuel Stephens and John Sylvanus Cotterell who were also responsible for surveying beyond Nelson into the Marlborough area. John Sylvanus Cotterell was killed in this area in what has become known as the Wairau incident. His survey party became embroiled in a conflict with tangata whenua, led by Te Rauparaha, who objected to the surveying of the land. Several others from the surveying party, and a number of tangata whenua were also killed. John Sylvanus Cotterell had always refused to carry arms and the circumstances of his death are not well understood but it is likely that he had been hopeful of, in some way, preventing the conflict.

John Sylvanus Cotterell had purchased a piece of land, called the ‘town acre’ in Nelson and built a cottage on it. In 1853 this section of land was purchased and the cottage became Aotearoa's first Quaker Meeting House. That Meeting was discontinued in 1885, but the land remained Friends' property until 1921. Part of it, containing a grave, is now public property in the care of the Nelson City Council, its maintenance being endowed by Friends.

1.2.2 Growth of Friends' Meetings

Before the railways were developed, most journeys between towns were by coastal steamer. Overland travel was on horseback or in horse-drawn vehicles over poor roads. Visits between isolated families of Friends were therefore infrequent, but greatly valued. Noteworthy among them were the many journeys in the ministry undertaken by Ann Fletcher Jackson of Auckland, accompanied by members of her family, or accompanying some other visiting Friend willing to share in the hardships.

Meetings were held in Auckland in the 1880s, and in 1890 the first Meeting House was opened there. The present one was built in 1913. Meetings were established in Dunedin by 1886, and soon afterwards in Wellington and Christchurch. In smaller centres, Meetings were held regularly for periods of time and then discontinued as Friends moved away. The Wellington Meeting House was built in 1929, and the Christchurch Manchester St Meeting House in 1951, while in that same year a property was bought for a Meeting House in Dunedin. A new Meeting House replaced the existing building in 1969. Subsequently, buildings have been inherited (in Whanganui and Nelson), built (in Palmerston North and on Waiheke Island).

Christchurch Meeting moved to newer buildings in 1990 and when those were damaged in an earthquake in 2011 the Meeting later moved to a building on land at Ferry Road. Since the 1960s, the trend has been towards smaller groupings of Meetings and Worship Groups uniting to form Monthly Meetings. Since 2019 there have been nine Monthly Meetings.

The first annual gathering of Friends to conduct the business of the Society took place in Wellington in 1909, and from that time onwards there have been regular meetings. From 1914-1963 this annual meeting was recognised as a General Meeting (with the status of a Quarterly Meeting of London Yearly Meeting). In 1963 New Zealand Friends decided to become an independent Yearly Meeting, as from January 1964.

1.2.3 Education

In 1907, London Yearly Meeting's Australasian Committee, concerned that something should be done for the children of Friends in New Zealand, sent Sarah Jane Lury and Elizabeth Rutter to the Dominion, where they founded a hostel in Kelburn, Wellington, where children of Friends could live while attending secondary school. As few secondary children required accommodation, the hostel was used for students from the teachers' training college and the university, and later for dental nurse trainees. Although it was a financial success, Friends sold it to the Government in 1945.

The establishment of a school in keeping with Quaker traditions had long been in the minds of Friends. In 1919 a property was bought on St John's Hill in Whanganui, and New Zealand Friends' School was opened in February 1920. It expanded and developed under the care of devoted committees and capable, dedicated principals; but the children of Friends were always a minority of the pupils. New Zealand Yearly Meeting decided the school would close in December 1969 partly because of the decline in numbers since 1964. The school served for fifty years.

The land where the school buildings stood was sold to the Government, while land across the road was retained in Friends' ownership. In 1975 the Wanganui Educational Settlement Trust (WEST) was legally incorporated, and several dedicated Friends began the process of developing the site as an intentional Quaker community with a focus on education. This is the Quaker Settlement. The original Settlers purchased a licence to occupy by paying for the building of their house. Current residents at the Settlement include some who have purchased a licence to occupy and others who rent from WEST.

Seminars, conferences, and retreats are held in the communal buildings. Residents at the Settlement host a programme of seminars for the Society.

1.2.4 Peace and service

Friends in Aotearoa have maintained the Quaker peace testimony, and ever since the Defence Act of 1909 have made known to successive Governments their opposition to conscription and to acts of war. Support has been given to Members and non-Members who, through refusal to train or participate in warfare, have been punished by imprisonment or loss of rights. Many Friends suffered in this way in the First World War, and a few Friends suffered in detention camps for their conscientious objection in the Second World War.

As Quakers in New Zealand steadfastly opposed conscription and then compulsory military service, it became less likely for individual Friends to be refused exemption based on conscientious objection, although some Young Friends insisted on appearing before the Conscientious Objection Committee, in order to make clear why they were refusing. Friends have also witnessed to peace in wartime by service in bodies such as the Friends Ambulance Unit. The Religious Society of Friends in Aotearoa New Zealand has been publicly identified with opposition to war, preparation for war, conscription, and nuclear weapons.

From the earliest days, Friends here have shared the Society's worldwide concern for the relief of distress. During the years of New Zealand General Meeting (1914-63) a Committee collected funds for the Friends' Service Council, London, and generally supported and publicised its work. The Society was active in the setting up in 1944 of the Council of Organisations for Relief Services Overseas (CORSO). After 1964, New Zealand Yearly Meeting continued to assist the Friends Service Council in London, through the New Zealand Friends' Service Committee, which also initiated local projects.

In the 1970s the Yearly Meeting Peace Committee was instrumental in setting up the NZ Foundation for Peace Studies. In 1992 Yearly Meeting set up the Alternatives to Violence Project. Since the 1980s, Friends' concerns in the fields of peace and service are given collective and practical expression through the Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa New Zealand Committee (QPSANZ - see 5.6.2, 5.7.3). In addition, Monthly Meetings and individual Friends are actively involved in a wide variety of service activities often with organisations such as the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society, Child Poverty Action group, Greenpeace, and Peace Movement Aotearoa to name but a few.

1.2.5 Inter-church cooperation

Friends have taken an active part in inter-church cooperation both locally and nationally. The Society was one of the original constituent bodies of the National Council of Churches in New Zealand, established in 1941. From 1987 the ecumenical body, with a new administrative structure, became the Conference of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand (CCANZ). When this body was disestablished the Society became a member of the National

Church Leaders Aotearoa New Zealand (NCLANZ), and the Yearly Meeting Clerk attends its meetings. In 2021 the Yearly Meeting became a member of the National Dialogue for Christian Unity (NDCU) (5.10).

Friends' involvement with ecumenical bodies is an opportunity to offer our insights and traditions to the various churches and to learn from theirs.

Friends in some Meetings have become involved in inter-faith activities for mutual support, friendship and learning.

1.3 Our Response to Te Tiriti

1.3.1 Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Yearly Meeting recognises Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) as a living document fundamental to the life of Aotearoa New Zealand. In signing Te Tiriti, iwi and hapū agreed to the British Crown establishing kāwanatanga (government) in Aotearoa, whilst protecting their tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty) as the indigenous peoples. Te Tiriti also established that Māori would additionally have the rights and duties of citizenship enjoyed by the people of England.

Te Tiriti therefore provides a framework for the ongoing negotiation between iwi and hapū and the Crown over the application of their respective rights and duties. Friends have long been concerned about the Crown’s ongoing failure to act in accordance with Te Tiriti, which has led to countless breaches and major injustice.

In accordance with our longstanding commitment to social equality and peaceable cooperation we have committed to doing what we can to ensure that the vision encapsulated in Te Tiriti, and the rights established by it, are honoured.

For more information about Friends' position regarding Te Tiriti, see the statements in Appendix 1B.

1.3.2 Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri

As an acknowledgement of the place of te reo Māori as the language of the indigenous peoples of this land, Yearly Meeting agreed in 1988 to change its name from New Zealand Yearly Meeting to Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand, Aotearoa being one of the accepted Māori names for this land.

In 1993 we added a Māori name for the Religious Society of Friends; Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri. It is a name gifted to us by the Maori Language Commissioner. "Hāhi" is a word meaning church or religion; and "Tūhauwiri" distinguishes us from other churches by including the notions of "hau" (wind or vital essence) and "wiri" (to quake or quiver). The whole name could be translated back into English as "The faith community that stands shaking in the wind of the Spirit."

1.4 Diversity

The origins of the Religious Society of Friends lie in Christianity, which has shaped our tradition, practice, language and stories. Today, most Friends worldwide count themselves as Christian.

From the beginning, Friends have given primacy to direct religious experience over church doctrine and rituals. So it was that they came to recognise "that of God" in the religious experience of people of all faiths and to acknowledge the validity of diverse spiritual insights.

Within the Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand, Friends are certainly diverse. Some live by a Christian commitment; some have a faith shaped by Christian tradition, while not holding particular Christian doctrines; some find that their religious experience makes sense in terms of the tradition of another faith; some draw from varying religious traditions as paths to the same truth; and some do not describe their experience of spirituality in traditional religious language.

The language which individual Friends use will reflect their spiritual experience, and indeed some find that their experience is best expressed in language which is not obviously religious. We acknowledge that words are inadequate to describe fully our individual or shared spiritual experiences.

As a Society we recognise the diversity of one another's gifts and insights and accept that each of us may change as we become open to new light.

Quaker worship and practice are based on some beliefs and understandings such as there being “that of God” in everyone. These are offered as guidance rather than as doctrine or creed, in recognition that ultimately, we must trust in the truth of gathered experience. The Meeting offers us a home in which we each have freedom to seek and grow in community. This freedom lays on us the responsibility to respect one another's various journeys and discoveries, and to celebrate what is precious to other Friends. We come together to worship, to follow our testimonies, to share the friendship of the Meeting, and to wait patiently on the Spirit.

1.5 Advices and Queries (2013)

(see separate document)