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Frequently Asked Questions About Friends

1. What is Quaker worship? 
2. What do Friends believe?
3. What is Friends United Meeting?
4. Are there other groups of Friends?
5. Are the “Quakers” different from the “Friends”?
6. What are the “Quaker testimonies”? 
7. Do Friends practice the sacraments? 
8. Do Friends have pastors?
9. What’s with the guy on the oats box? Do Quakers really dress like that? Are Friends like the Amish?
10. How do you become a member
11. I don’t see the question I want to ask. What should I do?

1. What is Quaker worship?

Friends usually gather for worship for an hour on Sunday morning. “Unprogrammed” meetings are grounded in silent, expectant waiting upon the presence of God. Any participant may feel led by the Holy Spirit to share a message and is welcome to speak out of the silence. In “pastoral” Friends meetings, worship often include hymns, Scripture reading, a children’s message and a sermon. Usually there will be a period of “open” or “unprogrammed worship” lasting between five and twenty minutes, either before or after the sermon. We generally close our worship by shaking hands and exchanging greetings. Programs for children and infant care are usually provided. Children are also welcome to join meeting for worship. We warmly invite you to join this exciting experience of direct communion with God.

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2. What do Friends believe?

Friends have no creeds—no official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. These unofficial statements give a general sense of Friends’ faith.

  • God is love and wants to communicate inwardly with everyone who is willing.
  • Worship is spiritual and must be Spirit-led.
  • All people are equal before God and may minister as they are led by God.
  • Jesus Christ is our present Teacher and Lord, and we seek to conduct church affairs in unity under his guidance
  • The Spirit of God gives guidance that is consistent with the Bible.
  • As people respond to the Light of Christ within, their lives begin to reflect Jesus’ peace, integrity, simplicity and moral purity.

(From the pamphlet “You Are Welcome Among Friends.”) For short treatments of the beliefs and history of Friends, read the pamphlets, “Children of Light” and “Christian Faith of Friends.” These may be ordered through our website. Or check out the many Quaker resources at the FUM Shopping Center.

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3. What is Friends United Meeting?

Friends United Meeting is a cooperative program of thirty Friends Yearly Meetings in Canada, Cuba, Jamaica, Kenya, and the United States. Friends United Meeting’s purpose is to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord. Our priorities are evangelism, leadership training, global partnership, and communication.

As well as being a program with a central office in Richmond, Indiana, Friends United Meeting is a movement of Christians. We celebrate the wonder of God’s love and seek to reflect that love in service to others. We rely on Jesus Christ for salvation and emphasize the importance of listening inwardly to the living word of God. The peace, simplicity, equality, moral purity, and integrity that result offer hope to a broken world. It is our joy to share the love of God and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit with all people everywhere.

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4. Are there other groups of Friends?

Because Friends insist that each person can know God directly, there is a lot of freedom and diversity among Friends. Local Friends meetings (churches) are organized into regional associations called “Yearly Meetings.” These Yearly Meetings are the highest authority for Friends in expressing the Quaker faith and practice of their local Meetings and churches.

In the United States in the 19th century, Friends divided into several groups, each emphasizing different aspects of Quaker faith and practice. The major groups that resulted are Friends General Conference which is mostly unprogrammed and liberal in outlook, Friends United Meeting, which includes both unprogrammed and pastoral Friends meetings and is broadly Christian, and Evangelical Friends International, which is mostly pastoral and evangelical. There are also independent Yearly Meetings (both liberal and fundamentalist) and a few Yearly Meetings in the conservative tradition.

Wilmer Cooper, A Living Faith, provides a helpful discussion of the different theological approaches of different groups of Friends in the United States.

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5. Are the “Quakers” different from the “Friends”?

No – “Quakers” is just a nickname for Friends. The Friends movement began in mid-17th century England. The name “Friends” comes from Jesus statement, “I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (John 15:15) Early Friends also called themselves “The Children of Light,” and “Publishers of Truth.” Others nicknamed the Friends, “Quakers,” because they “quaked” (or trembled) in the power of God. They later adopted the name, “The Religious Society of Friends,” and more recently, “the Friends Church.”

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6. What are the “Quaker testimonies”?

Friends believe that listening to Christ and following the leading of the inward Light will result in lives that look more like Jesus. The “testimonies” are the ways that Friends have tried to corporately demonstrate God’s power to overcome sin. There is no definitive “list” of testimonies, but we often speak of peace, simplicity, truth speaking, gender and racial equality, personal integrity, fidelity, chastity and community.

The testimonies challenge ungodly aspects of contemporary culture. From the earliest days of the Quaker movement, Friends have tried to live nonviolently and most Friends have been conscientious objectors to participation in war. In the United States, Friends were among the first to denounce slave-holding and make freeing slaves a matter of church discipline. Friends have always practiced the equality of women and men. In contemporary society, Friends seek to find ways to live free from the dominant culture of materialism, violence, and sexual immorality. There are no rigid, legalistic answers to these problems, but we seek to create communities of faith where individually and together we follow conscience fully informed by the Light of Christ.

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7. Do Friends practice the sacraments?

One of the crucial testimonies of Friends is that the grace of God can be received directly by any person without the need for any human intermediary such as priest or pastor. Friends believe that Jesus Christ baptizes his followers directly with the Holy Spirit. Friends also believe that it is important to live in daily, inward, communion with God. No outward ceremonies can substitute for the inward reality of these experiences.

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8. Do Friends have pastors?

Friends believe that all Christians are called to lives of ministry and service. All Friends meetings have elders who have a special responsibility to care for the spiritual life of the meeting. Traditional “unprogrammed” Friends do not have paid pastors, but the majority of Friends meetings have adopted the practice of calling pastors to either fulltime or part-time service.

Friends recognize that God gives certain people a special gift and calling for public preaching. Friends “record” this gift of ministry, and sometimes release “recorded ministers” for service as pastors. Pastoral ministers serve the meeting by visiting and preaching, but their major responsibility is to help equip the other members of the meeting for the service to which God is calling them.

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9. What’s with the guy on the oats box? Do Quakers really dress like that? Are Friends like the Amish?

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Friends wore what is called “plain dress” as a way of testifying against the vain fashions of the world. In the last hundred and more years, Friends have tried to maintain a simplicity of life without being legalistic about dress codes, etc. The oats-box guy is “old hat” as far as Quakers are concerned!

The Amish and the Friends are both Christian denominations, and both “peace churches.” However, they have different roots and different ways of faith and practice.

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10. How do you become a member?

Membership is held at the Monthly Meeting (local church) level. After you have attended worship and begun to get acquainted with the faith and practice of Friends, you are welcome to apply for membership. Usually, this is done by writing a short letter to the pastor or to the Committee on Ministry and Oversight stating your interest.

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11. I don’t see the question I want to ask.
What should I do?

Many books and pamphlets on the beliefs, practices, social witness and history of Quakerism are available through Friends United Press. If you have a specific question, feel free to give us a call or write: