Over the centuries Quakers have tried to live out their lives with deep honesty. Four "testimonies" have emerged as guides to living.
The Quaker tradition of being guided by the spirit, of testing our leadings, openings and concerns, of seeking clearness and "right ordering", have all shaped the testimonies over time.
Truth and integrity
It has been suggested that integrity is our most fundamental testimony.
Quakers try to build personal integrity into everything: a Quaker's word is their bond.
Quakers value spiritual authenticity, exploration and honesty, even when that is uncomfortable.
Quakers are encouraged to seek the truths at the root of what is said and done rather than being satisfied with popular opinion.
Quakers try to avoid polarising divisions, knowing that there are many perspectives, each with some merit.
Traditionally, Quakers do not swear oaths because we try to tell the truth at all times, not just when an oath is given. But we also know that truth must be told with compassion and kindness.
Quakers work to promote truth and integrity in public life and in our media.
Equality of all
From the beginnings of Quakerism in the mid seventeenth century the spiritual equality of everyone has been practised. All people, whether long standing or newly among us, are equally capable of being moved to minister in our meetings, to speak the truth. All should be listened to with deep respect.
This has led to Quakers being among the first to promote women's ministry and involvement in our governance, and to have children's and young people's meetings on an equal footing with those of adults.
It led to Quakers playing a significant role in the anti-slavery movement, and engaging with anti-racism these days.
Also Quakers were amongst the first in Britain to celebrate same sex / equal marriage.
Peace and peaceful living
Our practice of "silent waiting" – which is deeply meditative, contemplative and prayerful – opens us to that place of stillness and calm in which our tradition is rooted.
Our Quaker ways encourage peaceful interactions with everyone we encounter. We try to live peacefully in the world, and encourage others to do so, promoting non-violent methods.
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand. Isaac Penington, 1667
Our refusal to take part in wars, but instead to focus on providing relief, refuge and promoting reconciliation, is the best known aspect of our testimony, and the one for which we were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.
Simplicity, sustainability and stewardship
Simplicity played a large part in the way Quakers lived in the early years; plain speech, plain dress, "letting your yes be yes and your no be no" and not accumulating frivolous goods or property. It was a direct consequence of living with integrity.
Questioning what you consume and how much you consume, how you live and what the consequences are of the choices you make, are still important, as is how you invest or are employed.
In light of the climate crisis the idea of living simply has once more come into focus. We are encouraged to reduce our carbon footprint and to make sustainable choices. In 2011 Quakers agreed the Canterbury Commitment to build a low carbon, sustainable community. In South Wales we are partners with Climate Cymru.
The stewardship of what you have and have inherited, individually, and collectively as the Society of Friends, has also become of greater concern. We think not only of how we live, but what we will pass on to those yet to come. This ranges from ethical investment, to preserving what is best so that it will be there for others.
The produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age.
John Woolman, 1772
Centuries of silent waiting for inspiration, connecting with that which is eternal, which is deeper and wider than we can see, has led to a way based on experience, not on doctrines, beliefs or creeds. As George Fox said "And this I knew experimentally." (Quaker faith and practice 19.02) an extremely radical claim, one which Quakers still live by.
The Quaker educators, Wilmer A Cooper (Professor of Quaker Studies, Earlham School of Religion, 1959-85) and Max Carter (Director of Friends Center at Guilford College, 1990-2015) suggested that Quakers have four profound spiritual insights won by experience. Ben Pink Dandelion, the British Quaker sociologist and theologian, holds that Quakers should be open to transformation as a result of such insights.
Direct and immediate experience
It is suggested that the fundamental practice of Quakerism is opening to the inner light, the inward light, the seed, that which is of God within, the inner Christ, that which speaks to your condition, that which moves your soul, the holy spirit… Quakers have always been fuzzy about how to express this because it is about a mystical experience which is felt, not discovered by reason or learned from dogma. Words can be misleading, drawing people away from experience. As George Fox said in his Journal, people can be "tossed up and down with windy doctrines". It is the practice of silent waiting which leads to direct and immediate experience.
"… But I told them what it was, namely, the Holy Spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the scriptures, whereby opinions, religions and judgments were to be tried; for it led into all Truth, and so gave the knowledge of all Truth." (George Fox, 1649: Quaker faith and practice 19.24)
Perception of what is experienced in that deep silence may change. That is why there are both theistic and non-theistic Quakers. That is why, as we become seasoned by the experience, we may profoundly and radically alter our understanding: it is a mystical experience which is beyond words.
The Bible was felt by many Quakers to be a secondary source, being the words of fallible men inspired by their direct experience as best as they were able, having only the measure of truth that was given to them at the time.
It seems that very few words of the Bible were written by women, and probably none at all in the New Testament. Many words in Quaker faith and practice are by women. Quakers have always accepted that revelations can come to women just as much as to men.
Seeking revelation is at the heart of the Quaker process of discernment – the process of decision making used in many Quaker contexts through seeking clearness, to our regular business meetings. This is why our business meetings are called Meetings for Worship for Business, because we are seeking for continuing revelations as to the way forward.
Direct experience is there for everyone, not just those in the past, and may contain new revelations which could be sparked by many different encounters in many different places or contexts, or with many different people.
That is why Quakers have no difficulty accepting the discoveries of the sciences or developments in other disciplines: these may all lead to new revelations.
Revelations might come from outside the Christian tradition. That is why many Friends, such as Quaker Universalists, are inspired by the texts and teachings of other religions. Revelation may also come from within the texts and teachings of all the different Christian traditions.
The sacredness of everything
Everywhere, at all times, there is the potential for a deep communion. Our everyday actions may become sacred by being invested with love, kindness, awe or wonder.
Equally, the actions of others, regardless of whether they are Christian or not, may be sacred because they too are invested with love, kindness, awe or wonder.
Every person is a unique creation. The simplest and most mundane deeds can be vehicles of grace. Any time or place can be full of wonder. In life, and within ourselves, there may well be an ocean of darkness, but over it there flows an ocean of light.
Artificially "sacred" times and places are the inventions of people, which is why Quakers do not celebrate religious festivals or follow the liturgical calendar: all times and places are sacred.
Quaker Meeting Houses are simply places where it is convenient to meet and which may be of service to the community. They are not imagined to be consecrated in the way churches are. Quaker Meeting Houses often had their own burial grounds because Quakers were not permitted to be buried in church graveyards but they are not “holy ground”
We come to Meeting to collectively centre ourselves by the practice of silent waiting, and to prepare ourselves for the sacred encounters we may have in our everyday lives in the days that follow.
Following spiritual leadings
As the early Quakers found, being rooted in experience, not in doctrines or beliefs, can lead to profound "openings". These can include "leadings" that compel us into action, which is why Quakers have often felt "moved" to take part in protests, charity work, or acts of conscience. Most famously anti-slavery, prison reform, conscientious objection and peace work.
Quakers have been involved in the founding of many charities because of their "being under a concern". (Save the Children, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Extinction Rebellion, and many others). In such work we unite with people who share our "concern" whatever their religious background. Quakers acknowledge that others are also being "obedient to their light", how-so-ever they experience it.
Quakers are encouraged to live up to the "measure of light you have"; to responding to callings; to live by the testimonies; to be of service; to attend to what love requires. We try to conduct our affairs in "right ordering".
Wire dove image is part of a 2012 gold medal winner at RHS artwork, commissioned for Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture. It is in the garden of the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre
Banner image shows children gathered on the floor around a tray of candles