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Introduction, History, Questions & Counsel

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1.1.1  This 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  The historical basis of Friends' practices lies in 17th-century England. George Fox, who became the 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 othersThen 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  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.




1.2.1  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 — it 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").

In 1853 a section of land was purchased in Nelson (the 'town acre' which had belonged to J. Silvanus Cotterell, a Friend and surveyor, who had been killed at Wairau). The cottage on this site 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 in the 1890s, 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. Subsequently buildings have been inherited (in Wanganui and Nelson), purchased (in Palmerston North) or built (on Waiheke Island). Christchurch Meeting moved to newer buildings in 1990. Since the 1960s, the trend has been towards smaller groupings of Meetings and worship groups uniting to form Monthly Meetings. In 2000 there were 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 Wanganui, and New Zealand Friends' School was opened in February 1920.  It expanded and developed under the care of devoted committees and capable, dedicated headmasters; but the children of Friends were always a minority of the pupils. In December 1969, New Zealand Yearly Meeting decided to close the school, 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 a residential community. This is the Quaker Settlement (nicknamed "Quaker Acres"). Settlers purchase a lease to occupy one of the private dwellings. Conferences, seminars and retreats are held in the communal buildings. Friends at the Settlement arrange a programme of seminars for members and attenders of the Society.

1.2.4 Peace and Service

Friends in Aotearoa have maintained the Quaker testimony against all war, 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, but few members in the Second World War (or thereafter) were denied exemption on grounds of conscience. The Religious Society of Friends in Aotearoa/ New Zealand has been publicly identified with opposition to war, to preparation for war, to conscription, and particularly to 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 NZ 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 (see 5.10.7). Since the 1980s, Friends' concerns in the fields of peace and service are given practical expression through the committees of Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa New Zealand (QPSANZ - see 5.7.6  .

1.2.5 Ecumenism

The Society was one of the original constituent bodies of the National Council of Churches in New Zealand, established in 1941, and some notable Friends took an active part on its national and local councils. From 1987 the ecumenical body, with a new administrative structure, has been the Conference of Churches in Aotearoa  New Zealand (CCANZ). The Society is a full member, and individual Friends have held office in this body, assisting in its efforts to find its role and meet the needs of the times.





1.3 Te Hähi Tühauwiri

Also spelt Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri, this has been our Maori name since 1993. It is not a translation of the words "Religious Society of Friends", which would apparently sound too much like a Friendly Society. Rather it is a name devised for us by the Maori Language Commissioner. "Hähi" is a word meaning church or religion; and "Tühauwiri" 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."

The name is an acknowledgement that Maori are the indigenous people of this country, and that English has never been its only language.




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

From the beginning, however, 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 recognise no religious ingredient in their experience of spirituality.

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 not based on explicit doctrines or creeds, but on a trust in the truth of experience, following the leadings of God or the Spirit. The Meeting offers us a home in which we each have freedom to seek and grow. This freedom lays on us the responsibility to respect one another's various journeys and discoveries, and to celebratewhat is precious to other Friends. We find unity in worship, in our testimonies, in the friendship of the Meeting, and in patient waiting on the Spirit.

Friends' involvement with ecumenical bodies is an opportunity to offer our insights and traditions to the various churches and to learn from theirs. Interfaith activities also offer mutual friendship and learning.




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