Our formal name is The Religious Society of Friends. Our founder, George Fox (1624-1691) recorded in 1650 that “Justice Bennet of Derby first called us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God.” Originally derisive, it described members of the Religious Society of Friends who trembled with emotion in their worship and testimony. Fox accepted the word as readily as he rejected the traditional churches in England. “The Lord did let me see that there was none that could speak to my condition but only Jesus Christ who enlightens and gives grace, faith and power.”
George Fox and his wife Margaret Fell dedicated their lives teaching that gifts of the Spirit come to all who yearn to join with God as F/friends. Priests were not necessary. Quakers discovered that worship in silence opened their hearts and minds to inward direct experiences of a divine-human friendship, which can expand into a mutual longing for the welfare of the world. Quakers’ practice of religious freedom was hugely appealing in Britain and abroad. In response, the State reacted with persecution of Friends. Quakers opposed violence with peaceful witness for spiritual equality.
In 1931 Canadian Friends Service Committee became our national peace and social justice agency. CFSC initiates and oversees local, national, and international programs for human rights, justice, and prevention of violence and war. In 1947 Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their medical support offered to all sides in war. A Nobel comment: “The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them...”
Fox advocated for prevention: “in taking away the occasions for war.” CFSC published a recent book Are We Done Fighting? Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division which has been widely recommended as a “road map to transform our deepest conflicts” with nonviolent solutions. With the spirit of God as my counsellor in our business meetings, I worship to be “gathered” with others to act with compassion. In my own life, I seek answers to the eternal question: What would love have me do?
Our local Meeting has responded to the call to support Indigenous peoples seeking to regain their traditional lands, to receive meaningful compensation for loss of political power and to retain their traditional practices, artifacts, and laws. Quakers in Victoria and our national organization endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. CFSC is invited annually to send Quakers to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as observers and allies for Indigenous peoples in Canada and the world. CFSC is also in coalition with Indigenous peoples promoting the implementation of the Declaration.
In Victoria we supported local Truth and Reconciliation gatherings sponsored by civil society and governments. We also enjoy Indigenous cultural events, powwows, and Indigenous art. We share friendship and lunch on Fridays at Victoria’s Native Friendship Centre. For actions against injustice, we support movements and causes with education, peaceful demonstrations, letters to politicians and boycotts. Life on Earth requires urgent action to restore our degraded natural systems. This “leading” gives me joyful opportunities to contribute labour and money for the preservation of local forests, streams, and wetlands. In our personal lives we try to live more lightly on the land. We continue to wrestle with everyday questions: Do we need cars? Should we limit air travel to business and family?
What does love for all life on Planet Earth require us to do?
* October 1 is World Quaker Day. https://fwcc.world/worldquakerday/
Lynne Phillips is a member of the Quaker Meeting in Victoria. She joined Quakers 51 years ago in Argenta, BC, while teaching at the small Quaker high school. Wilderness hiking, canoeing, botany, music, and writing are her passions. She retired early to dedicate her life to projects that are creative, gratifying, and helpful. Giving service to Quakers has met that criteria.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, at https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, September 30th 2023