Frequently Asked Questions
On this page, you can find questions and answers on:
- Quaker Beliefs
- Quaker Worship
- The Quaker Way of Life
- Quaker Practices
- Quaker Organisation
- Quakers throughout the World
- Quaker History
Q. Are Quakers Christian?
A. Some are, some are not. While early Quakerism was deeply grounded in Christianity, today there are Quakers from all of the major and minor religions, and many who have no religious faith at all.
Q. So can Quakers believe anything they want to?
A. Quakers don't have to 'sign up' to any statement of belief and are free to develop their spiritual understanding as their experience suggests. There are longstanding Quaker beliefs which you can read about on the Explore pages, which Friends are free to accept or not. Nevertheless, we value the spiritual experiences of generations of Quakers writing in their journals, pamphlets and books, and are open to learning from the experience of people of all faiths and none, including each other.
Generally, we believe in the ongoing revelation of spiritual truth, rather than fixed beliefs which are held as true for all time.
In the silence of Meeting for Worship we listen for the inner guidance of Spirit or conscience, and to the ministry of friends, often receiving wisdom and insights greater than we ourselves possess. We are tested and strengthened in our individual journeys as part of belonging to a supportive, nurturing and sometimes challenging Quaker community.
Q. How can you be an atheist Quaker?
A. There is great diversity of belief among Quakers. Humanist or atheist Friends, part of Quakerism from the early 20th century, find in the Testimonies of integrity, simplicity, equality, peace and sustainability the moral framework for Quaker living. Through silent contemplation we search for the inner light of conscience in the stillness of Meeting for Worship. We value the peace and guidance and healing we find in our Quaker Meetings and communities. Read more on Quaker beliefs here.
Q. What happens in a Quaker Meeting for Worship?
A. In Aotearoa NZ Quakers do not have ministers or any form of service. We simply gather in silence, usually for an hour. During that time, anyone in the meeting is free to offer ‘ministry’ speaking from their heart as they are prompted by the Spirit within them. Such ministry often leads others to speak but in a Quaker meeting we allow time for what has been said to settle in our hearts and minds before speaking ourselves. Learn more about the Quaker form of worship
Q. How will I know that the meeting is over?
A. At the end of the meeting people shake or join hands. This is initiated by a designated person in the meeting.
Q. Can anyone go to a Quaker Meeting?
A. Yes. Find the nearest Quaker Meeting and times by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page or 'Local Pages' at the top.
Q. Are children welcome in Quaker meetings?
A. Yes. Some meetings have special arrangements for children to allow their parents to share in the silence of the meeting. It is a good idea if you are bringing children to meeting to bring things for them to do quietly.
Q. Is there a dress code?
Q. How do Quakers get married?
A. During a designated meeting for worship, the couple stand and face each other. They then make very simple promises in words that they have chosen, taking each other in marriage. They sign a special certificate of marriage containing the words of their promises. This will be signed by everyone present as witnesses. Quakers in Aotearoa support same sex marriage.
Q. What happens at a Quaker funeral?
A. Quaker funerals are arranged according to the wishes of the person who has died and their family. There is no set form. Often a member of the Quaker community will take responsibility for opening and closing the funeral service but this will be done wholly by arrangement with the family. Some Quaker funerals are silent with spontaneous contributions from those present, others have a pre-arranged programme which may or may not include times of silence, music and readings and times when others are given the opportunity to speak.
What are Quaker Testimonies?
A. As we strive to be true to ourselves and to ‘that of God’ within us our spiritual understandings lead to social principles (Testimonies) on which we aim to base our lives. We understand that everyone is precious and worthy of love, that every person has “that of God” and the potential for goodness in them, and that every action can be an act of devotion and respect. Our current Testimonies to Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Equality and Sustainability prompt us to live our lives according to these spiritual values, to oppose violence in all its forms, to call for political, social and economic systems that are fair for all, to challenge social injustices, exploitation, oppression and greed, and to care deeply for the Planet. You can learn more about our Testimonies on the Explore and Deepen pages
Q. Do I have to be a pacifist to be a Quaker?
A. There are no rigid requirements. While a commitment to peace is fundamental to Quaker belief, the decision to become a pacifist is left to the individual as conscience dictates. For many, this has led to conscientious objection and a refusal to participate in war in any way, while others have served as ambulance drivers and in other civilian roles to help those affected by war. For others, it has meant an active commitment to working for nonviolent solutions to conflict wherever it is found.
Quaker Meetings generally hold to a pacifist position. Peace has been a very important principle for Quakers since 1660 and Quakers are known as peace-builders for their international mediation and as peace activists, challenging war, preparations for war, and militarism. Learn more about the Peace Testimony on the Explore and Deepen pages, and Peace activism under Engage/ Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa New Zealand (QPSANZ).
Q. Are people of diverse gender identification and sexuality welcome in a Quaker meeting?
A. Yes. Quakers have a long tradition of inclusivity and for many years have fought for the rights of the LGBTQI communities both in civil and religious communities throughout the world. Quakers believe in the equality of all people and were among the first of the recognised religious groups to recognise and support same sex marriage in their communities. In some parts of the world, particularly in Africa, and in very conservative communities where there is less openness Quakers are still working to ensure that inclusivity becomes part of Quaker practice everywhere.
Q. What do Quakers think about science?
A. Throughout our history, Quakers have been leaders in scientific exploration and discovery, including some who have won the Nobel Prize in a variety of fields. Because we do not have a creed there are Quakers with all shades of understanding and opinion, but most would see no conflict between acknowledging and developing spiritual awareness and a desire to understand the workings of the natural world. Many Quakers are actively involved in helping to protect and heal the world that we inhabit. Read our Statement of Environmental Sustainability here, and about the work of the Futures Correspondent here.
Q. How do Quakers feel about technology?
A. Most Quakers welcome advances in knowledge and technology, so long as they are used for the peaceful enhancement of all life.
Q. How do Quakers feel about employing other people and the minimum wage?
A. Quaker commitment to integrity and equality leads us to concerns for the right sharing of resources and the alleviation of poverty. Our national organisation, called Yearly Meeting, is a member of the Living Wage Campaign, and individual Meetings have resolved that when they engage services such as cleaners or builders, they and any staff they employ are paid at least the Living Wage, rather than the legislated Minimum wage which is substantially less.
Q. Why don’t Quakers advertise themselves, because lots of people believe in equality, peace, simplicity, and integrity, and are looking for something?
A. Quakers welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about the Quaker way. We are proud of our history and of the simple, radical and contemporary spiritual path we follow. However, we’re not big on pushing ourselves into the limelight, except when standing up against oppression and exploitation – and even then, a lot of our work is done quietly and behind the scenes. We have never encouraged or practised ‘branding’ or overt advertising, believing that our lives will speak and encourage others to want to know more.
Q. How do Quakers live today?
A. In Aotearoa New Zealand, there are Quakers of diverse ages, religious backgrounds, races and ethnicities, education, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and classes who can be found in various walks of life. We try to live and act in ways that are consistent with our religious understandings and Testimonies of Integrity, simplicity, equality, sustainability and peace, recognising the intrinsic worth (‘that of God’) in everyone.
Explore the Testimonies further, and how we put our faith into action on the Explore pages.
Q. How do Quakers celebrate Christmas and Easter?
A. Traditionally Quakers did not recognise any day of the calendar as more important than any other – rather, we believe that every day is a ‘holy day’. Nowadays, many Quakers celebrate a low-key Christmas, and sometimes Easter, as part of the wider culture in which we live. At Christmas there are no special services while on Easter Sunday, the Sunday Meeting for Worship is held as usual. Some meetings might have an extra period of reflection or discussion over the Easter weekend.
Q. Why do Quakers refuse to take oaths or swear on the Bible?
A. Quakers believe that there are no ‘shades’ of truthfulness and that we should speak the truth at all times. If we swear an oath on the Bible we imply that there are two standards of truth – which goes against our testimony of integrity and truthfulness in everything we do and say.
Q. How do Quaker meetings make decisions?
A. Decisions are made without voting or trying to reach a consensus. Instead, participants discuss matters and listen deeply for a sense of unity among those present. When the person facilitating the meeting (the clerk) recognizes that unity either has been reached, or cannot be reached, they write a succinct statement for the meeting to consider. If those present agree with the clerk’s statement then the decision is recorded in the minutes. Learn more about decision-making on the Explore page.
Q. Do you have a hierarchy or ‘guru’? If not, how do Quakers organise without a leader?
A. There is no hierarchy in Quakers and no paid leaders or preachers. In practising our testimony of equality everyone is responsible for sharing ministry as it is revealed to them. In the same way, everyone is able to play a part in the structure of the organisation.
On a practical level we function by appointing local Friends to take care of things like spiritual and pastoral nurture and care, programmes for adults and children, planning special events, maintenance of a meeting house - all the many things that Meetings need.
Local and area meetings appoint a “clerk” who chairs business meetings and handles communications. When the clerk’s 3year term expires, a new clerk is appointed. Similarly, we have a national clerk whom we call the Yearly Meeting Clerk. They also serve a 3 year term. Read more about our organisation on the Explore page and explore Quaker Practice and Procedure here.
Q. Do Quakers own land and buildings as some other churches do?
A. There are Meeting Houses owned by Quakers on Waiheke, in Auckland, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin. In other centres Friends meet in rented spaces or in individuals’ homes.
Q. Is there an annual subscription or do you pass the plate?
A. Friends are invited to make donations on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis for the maintenance of the local and national organisation, but any contribution is voluntary, and its amount is at the individual’s discretion. We do not ask for donations at Meetings. Some Meetings provide a box and invite donations for a cause their Meeting supports, but again giving is voluntary.
Q. How do I become a member?
A. Quakers encourage newcomers to spend some time getting familiar with the Quaker way and with the community before making the decision to become a member. You can spend anywhere from a few months to many years as an "attender," participating in worship and other meeting activities before deciding to take that step. Many Friends choose to be non-members but active attenders for a lifetime.
Quakers are often reluctant to make someone feel pressured to become a member but when you feel that the time is right, the first step is to write a letter to the clerk of your Meeting expressing your wishes to apply for membership. The clerk or a member of the appropriate Meeting committee will be pleased to explain the membership process to you. You can read about the membership process in Quaker Practice and Procedure here.
Q. Are all Quaker Meetings alike?
A. Over more than 360 years, Quakers have evolved and diverged into several different forms. Some branches of Quakers in the US and Africa have pastors and structured worship with a Bible-centred emphasis in their beliefs. These are called “programmed” or “pastoral” Meetings or Churches. Meetings where Friends worship in silence such as those throughout Aotearoa NZ, are often called ‘liberal’ or ‘unprogrammed’ and their communities are known as ‘Meetings’. You can explore Quaker diversity here
Q. How many Quakers are there? How many in Aotearoa New Zealand?
A. In 2017 there were approximately 400,000 adult members of Quaker meetings in the world, with about half of them in Africa. In Aotearoa New Zealand in 2017 there were 456 members and a similar number of non-members who attend Quaker Meetings, a total of about 1,000.
Q. Is there an international leader? Where is the Quaker “central office”?
A. We have no international leader. You could say that our “central office” is everywhere and nowhere. There are many Quaker organizations with different functions and which relate to different parts of the larger Quaker movement. Friends World Committee for Consultation is a worldwide organization, headquartered in London, that promotes fellowship among the various branches of Quakers, but it does not speak on behalf of all Quakers or have authority over them.
In Aotearoa NZ there are no salaried staff and no national office.
Q. How did the Quaker movement begin?
A. It began during a period of much religious upheaval in England during the mid-1600s, as people questioned the established church and sought new ways to understand Christianity. The emerging faith community gathered around the leadership of George Fox and others who encouraged people to be guided by a direct, first-hand encounter with the Spirit. These Quakers were seeking an authentic return to “primitive Christianity,” as practiced by the followers of Jesus in the first century. For more on early Quaker history, see the Quaker Speak video How Quakerism Began, and explore more here.
Q. Why are you called “Quakers”?
A. In 1650 when George Fox was on trial for blasphemy, a judge mocked him when he said that the judge should ‘tremble (quake) at the word of the Lord’. The term ‘Quakers’ became a common insult used against early Friends by their opponents, but it stuck. The full name of Quakers is The Religious Society of Friends and we often use the term Friends to refer to members of the Quaker community.
Q. Are Quakers the same as the Amish?
A. No. Although they are both ‘Peace Churches’ they have quite different roots and practices. Quakers started in England and the Amish in Switzerland at about the same time but that’s where the similarity ends. Twenty first century Quakers are very much part of the 21st century world in which they live. For more information see a Quaker speak video setting out the differences here.
Q. Do Quakers own Quaker Oats?
A. No – and they never have. The Quaker Oats Company was founded in Pennsylvania in 1901 in an area where a lot of Quakers lived. The Quaker reputation for honesty gave such a positive image that the company saw it as an opportunity they could capitalise on. The truth is that Quaker Oats – other than the ‘man with the Quaker hat’ and the name, had no connection with Quakers whatsoever and the company was not founded on Quaker business practices or principles.