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Quakers in Australia

About Quakers

Frequently asked questions About Quakers

Find out all you ever wanted to know about Quakers here.
If these don't answer your questions, feel free to send a query to our national office.

Origin of the Society

The Religious Society of Friends had its origin in England in the seventeenth century. It sprang from the religious experience of George Fox, but numbers of Seekers had already separated themselves from the churches and were meeting together for worship without any ordained priests or ministers, and without the use of any rites such as baptism or the eucharist. The basis of their worship was silently waiting upon God. Many of the Seekers turned to Fox as their leader, and in course of time the Religious Society of Friends emerged read more about the origin of the Society.

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Quakers in Australia

The first Quakers in Australia

The first Quaker on Australian soil was Sydney Parkinson, an artist employed by the botanist Joseph Banks, sailing with James Cook. They landed briefly in 1770. It was not until 1832 that the Society first took root in Australia, as a result of a visit by two English Friends, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, sent by British friends on a six-year journey around south-east Australia to enquire into the condition of the penal settlements i and the welfare of the Aborigines and free settlers.

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Quakers and Australia's Penal Colonies

Sending convicts to British colonies was introduced by King Charles II of England 'for preventing dangers that may arise from certain persons called Quakers', but very few of the Convicts sent to Botany Bay were Quakers, usually sad cases who would now be treated for alcoholism or mental illness. Two Quakers appear in the NSW muster (census) of 1828.

English Quaker Elizabeth Fry and her helpers visited every convict ship of women prisoners, to provide them with something useful to do on the long tedious voyage to Botany Bay, such as needles and cotton and handiwork. (from Charles Stevenson, in Walking Cheerfully, SA Quaker Newsletter, August 2005 p. 10)

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Development in Australia

The Religious Society of Friends was first established in Australia after the visit in the 1830s of James Backhouse and George Washington Walker from England. These two Friends drew together the few members of the Society in Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales in regular Meetings for Worship.

The number of Friends in Australia increased during the 1850s at the end of the gold rush decade and in 1861 London Yearly Meeting formally recognised the Meetings in Hobart, Melbourne and Adelaide. Later came recognition of the Meetings in Sydney, Brisbane, Rockhampton and Ballarat.

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Quakers in Australian society

By the 1880s Quakers had established the Friends' School in Hobart, the Elizabeth Fry retreat for 'fallen women' in Melbourne, and the Gospel Temperance Hall in Adelaide. The Peace Movement was launched in 1888.

At first, a General Meeting for Australia was established as a Quarterly Meeting of London Yearly Meeting. In 1964, under the Clerkship of David Hodgkin, Friends in Australia became an independent Yearly Meeting with its own Handbook of Practice and Procedure.

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Quakers in Australia today

There are about a half a million Quakers worldwide. In Australia, there are around 1000 members and about 1000 attenders, i.e. people who worship with Quakers regularly but who have not applied for membership.

Quakers continue to take action for peace and the service arm, Quaker Service Australia provides development assistance within Australia, Asia and Africa.

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Other resources for Quaker history

The National Library of Australia holds archives on Australian Quakers. Quaker records in the national archives

University of Tasmania Archives have extensive Quaker holdings. Quaker archives at UTas

"QUAKERS in BRIEF" or "QUAKERISM made EASY" (An over-view of the Quaker movement from 1650 to 1990) David M Murray-Rust Birkenhead Meeting, Merseyside, UK 1995. can be downloaded as a .pdf (252 kb)here.

Quaker Biographies


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Quakers in the Arts

This portal includes Quakers who are involved in writing (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, playwriting, screen writing, etc.), film making, multimedia art practices, music, dance, and performance, as well as all forms of the visual arts. Visit: "Quakers and the Arts" website

Friends in Stitches

Newsletter of the Australian Quaker Narrative Embroidery

previously the "Australian Quaker Tapestry"

New Quaker Narrative Embroidery website being created

Quaker Children

Our Meetings value their children. A child who is an active participant in our Quaker communities may be listed as a 'child or youth of the meeting'.
Australian Quaker Children and Junior Young Friends Page

Child Protection in Quaker Meetings

Quaker Meetings have Child Protection Policy and Procedures and a Child Protection Friend is appointed in each Regional Meeting. To find our more about Child Protection in your Meeting, contact the Regional Meeting Clerk in your state.

Quaker funerals

10.2 It is possible that at the time of death we receive some of our most helpful insights into the meaning of life. While we need to show our loving sympathy for those who are bereaved, sorrow will be tempered by thankfulness for the life of the deceased …

There is no rigid pattern for the conduct of Quaker funerals. It will usually be felt that at the time of the funeral there should be a short Meeting for Worship after the manner of Friends, at the home, at the Meeting House, at the crematorium or at the graveside. It may also be appropriate to hold a Memorial Meeting for Worship at the Meeting House or elsewhere at a time different from the funeral — usually later more about Quaker Funerals

Friends are encouraged to maintain great simplicity in funeral arrangements and in the choice of gravestones. In burial grounds under the control of Friends it is traditional that uniformity should be preserved in respect to the materials, size and form of the stones as well as in the mode of placing them — so that no distinction is made between one person and another. (From Handbook of Practice and Procedure, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) Australia Yearly Meeting, Fourth Edition 2004.)

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Memorial Meetings

A Memorial Meeting may be held at a different time from the Meeting for Worship at the funeral. This may give an opportunity for more friends to meet because it can be arranged outside working hours. It is a further opportunity to rejoice in the privilege of knowing the person who has died. This will be less formally organised and may last as much as an hour. Those who are present will have had more time to collect their thoughts and reflect on the life of the person. A testimony to the grace of God in the life of the deceased may be read at the memorial Meeting.

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Information which may be helpful to others at one's death

In the section on 'Right Ordering of Friends' Personal Affairs' in the Handbook (Section 10.1), Friends are advised 'to face with courage the advance of old age and as far as possible to make arrangements that will avoid laying an undue burden on others. A pamphlet has been developed that allows Friends to provide all the information that is likely to be necessary. You can fill in this pamphlet and give it to the Clerk of your Meeting. Click anywhere in this sentence to download the pamphlet.

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Quaker Worship

The Meeting for Worship is central to the Quaker way of life. Quakers usually hold a public Meeting for about an hour on Sundays but they may gather at any time. The Meeting for Worship begins when people sit together in silence. They settle into a time of quiet worship in which daily preoccupations fall away and stillness gathers all over as they open themselves to the Spirit.

There are no programmed hymns, prayers or sermons during a Meeting for Worship in Australia. Sometimes an individual may feel guided to speak in order to share a particular insight or experience. The words are spoken in a sense of worship, not debate or lecture. Quakers find that during a Meeting for Worship both silence and speech can lead to spiritual renewal and growth.

Australian Quakers do not ordain ministers or appoint pastors. Instead, the responsibility for the quality of worship and pastoral care is shared by members of the group.

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Quaker membership

Becoming a member

3.4.1 General

Membership of the Society is a recognised outward sign of an inner and spiritual commitment to the way of worship and community within the Society. In the early days of the Quaker movement in England, anyone who followed the Quaker Way was considered part of the group. However, relentless persecution of individuals
and small groups, and the need for Friends to care more adequately for each other, eventually led to formal definitions of Membership. British records of who is a Quaker have been kept since 1737.
The experience of Friends is that spiritual growth is enhanced by the formal acceptance of commitment to the fellowship and acceptance of the responsibilities involved.

3.4.2 Requirements

There is no test of doctrine and no outward observance imposed for Membership. Instead, applicants are expected to be open to inner spiritual experience, and be willing to share in the responsibilities of the Meeting. Members try to attend Meetings for Worship regularly, as a joy and a way of spiritual refreshment, as well as a contribution to the life of the Society. Members are expected to attend Business Meetings whenever possible, and to support the Society financially as they are able.

Handbook of Practice and Procedure 6th Ed 3.4 Meaning of Membership

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3.5.1 Reasons for joining

Common reasons for joining the Society are these:
• To affirm publicly one’s support for Quaker principles and community
• To identify more closely with Quaker heritage
• To enjoy more fully the fellowship of the group
• To strengthen the Society’s witness.
The Society offers a spiritual home for people who value freedom from dogma, toleration of diversity, mutual support and the close linking of personal belief and living.

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Applying for Membership

Responsibility for acceptance into Membership lies with the nearest Regional Meeting, after personal application in writing. The letter should be signed by the applicant and addressed to the RM Clerk, who will immediately acknowledge it and bring it to the next Regional Meeting. Most Regional Meetings then follow a similar
procedure to the one described below.
On receipt of an application the RM Business Meeting appoints two Friends, called Visitors, to meet the applicant. In appointing Visitors, the Regional Meeting chooses experienced Friends who will have empathy with the applicant.

Handbook of Practice & Procedure, 6th Ed. 3.6.1 Application

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Quaker faith & practice

Quakers in Australia belong to the 'unprogramed' tradition. They do not have clergy or programmed meetings. They do not preach or proselytise. They do not mark 'times and seasons', instead seeing each day as Holy. The basic Quaker belief of 'that of God' in each person provides challenges enough for each day's actions. Australian Quakers have written of their faith and practice in This We Can Say.

To read more of This We Can Say, click here.

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Quaker testimonies

The word testimony is used by Quakers to describe a witness to the living truth within the human heart as it is acted out in everyday life.
(Quaker Faith and Practice, Britain Yearly Meeting 1994, 23.12)

These testimonies reflect the corporate beliefs of the Society, however much individual Quakers may interpret them differently according to their own light. They are not optional extras, but fruits that grow from the very tree of faith.
(Quaker Faith and Practice, Britain Yearly Meeting 1994, 23.12)

There are a number of testimonies that Friends try to live by — simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. To find out more, about testimonies click here

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Quaker weddings

Weddings — A Special Meeting for Worship

Marriages according to the usages of Friends shall be solemnised at a public Meeting for Worship held at a convenient time or place. The Meeting for this purpose shall be authorised by the Regional Meeting within the compass of which it is to be held. Attendance at such a Meeting by a sufficient number of Friends should be ensured in order that it may be rightly held in accordance with Friends' usages. (From Handbook of Practice and Procedure, Marriage Procedure)

More questions about Quakers?

Click on the question below for the answer. If only life were so simple!

Q: How do Quakers worship?

The Meeting for Worship is central to the Quaker way of life. Quakers usually hold a Meeting for Worship for about an hour on Sundays but they may gather at any time.

The Meeting for Worship begins when people sit together in silence. They settle into a time of quiet worship in which daily preoccupations fall away and stillness gathers all over as they open themselves to the Spirit. You don’t have to be a Quaker to attend a Meeting for Worship. Anyone is welcome to visit.

Sometimes an individual may feel guided to speak in order to share a particular insight or experience. The words are spoken in a sense of worship, not debate or lecture. Quakers find that during a Meeting for Worship both silence and speech can lead to spiritual renewal and growth. Q: What’s different about Quaker worship?

There are no programmed hymns, prayers or sermons during a Meeting for Worship in Australia*. Sometimes an individual may feel guided to speak in order to share a particular insight or experience. The words are spoken in a sense of worship, not debate or lecture. Quakers find that during a Meeting for Worship both silence and speech can lead to spiritual renewal and growth. Australian Quakers do not ordain ministers or appoint pastors. Instead, the responsibility for the quality of worship and pastoral care is shared by every member of the group.

Australian Quakers do not preach or try to persuade others that their beliefs are the right or only ones. Australian Quakers do not mark 'times and seasons', instead seeing each day as Holy

Quakers see the Bible as containing many important truths, but they are there because they are true, not true because they are in the Bible. Quakers also seek inspiration from other sources, including other religious writings.

Australian Quakers worship in the British, non-programmed tradition of silent worship where there are no set prayers, hymns, or order of service. Worldwide, the Religious Society of Friends includes a great diversity of beliefs and ways of worshipping, and programmed Friends in the Americas, Africa and Asia have pastors, song and prayer as part of their worship.

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Q: What do Quakers believe?

Quakers believe that there is good (or it may be said as ‘something of God’) in everyone and that every person is capable of giving and receiving love.

Thus every person is valuable and oppression is never acceptable because it is also oppression of the spirit of God.

The basic Quaker belief of 'that of God' in each person provides challenges enough for each day's actions. It is also the basis for Quaker peace activism. If there is that of God in each person, you cannot do harm to others – the basic ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ is the basis for the Quaker belief that war is against the basic Christian teachings.

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Further reading

Advices and Queries- a traditional distillation of advice on living and helpful questions for self examination.

Quaker Faith and Practice - a British anthology of significant writings by a variety of Quakers spanning three centuries.

These books will be found in Meeting House libraries.

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Views of God

Quakers believe that each person can know God from personal experience and that this spiritual experience is a source of growth, enlightenment and love. Some Australian Quakers are non-theists, that is, they no longer describe their spiritual experiences in terms of a ‘God’ figure.

Quakers began as a radical Christian sect, but they do not believe inspiration is confined to one sacred book or that Truth can be defined by a creed. Many Quakers see Jesus as an example of life guided by God, and find that Jesus can show us how to live and love.

Words cannot convey the essence of spiritual experience, and individual Quakers will express their understanding in different ways. Quakers often speak of the 'Inner Light' and 'the Spirit': by these phrases they mean the divine stirrings within each of us, the promptings of God which illuminate our lives and lead us to make good and loving choices.

How can one be sure that this 'illumination' is indeed divine? Quakers have a variety of ways to share and test their ideas as a group because they find that the insight of a group is more reliable than that of an individual. Valuable sympathy and guidance often comes from the pooled wisdom of the group - in fact a Society of Friends.

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Organisation

Quakers are members of the Religious Society of Friends - the formal name for the group. The Society began with people brought together by George Fox in England around 1650 and has spread world wide.

Each local meeting runs its own affairs with regular business meetings in which all members are encouraged to participate. Each Australian state also has a regular Regional Meeting and there is an annual Yearly Meeting that gathers Friends from around Australia. The meetings support an Australian secretary, currently based in Melbourne. There are also international links through the Friends World Committee for Consultation.

Business meetings are a spiritual exercise to find the will of God. In the process of decision making, the group seeks unity and no votes are taken. Women and men take an equal role in worship and business, as they have done from the beginning of the Society.

Some Quakers grow up in a Quaker family, but many people come to the Society as adults and find it is their spiritual home. Application for formal membership may follow if they find that Quakers provide a spiritual community where they can grow and contribute.

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How Quakers Make Decisions (It's Not Just Consensus!)

The way Quakers do business is a really significant part of our spirituality, our practice, our identity as Friends, and that isn't always something that's easy to understand upfront because I think for most Christians and most people in the world, a business meeting is sort of a tedious thing that has to be gotten through. In my understanding of Quaker spirituality and Quaker theology, a business meeting is an opportunity for sacramental encounter with God.

Sometimes people talk about how Friends make decisions by consensus. That's a secular term that has some kind of meaning that people understand: ok, you've all agreed on something. But that isn't the nature of our spiritual experience and our theological understanding of what we're doing. We're not looking for a place where we all agree, "alright, good enough, let's just do that because nobody is objecting." We are looking for obedience to the will of God.

And so we start from a really strong affirmation and presupposition that God has a will. God has a will for us as individuals. God has a will for us as a spiritual community in the Meeting, and God has a will for this world. And God wants to communicate God's will. We don't have to puzzle it out, it's not that hard. You don't have to have a PhD. to figure out the mind of God, because God by God's nature is making that mind known to the community. All we have to do is get out of our own way. And believe enough to be able to stick with it though all of the ways in which that process exposes our sins and weaknesses and failings to ourselves and to each other, the ways in which we can get ugly with each other. That's a holy process. My experience has been that Friends actually really do stay in it; stick with it.

You can say, "well, God doesn't care what color the carpet is in the fellowship hall. Why does that really matter? Why do we have to seek God's will for color of the carpet? Let's just choose the carpet."

And maybe there's a whole lot of of other issues that get raised up around the carpet that we pick for the fellowship hall. Maybe different colors have different psychological meanings in peoples' lives and you can get into color theory, or maybe there's off-gassing from this brand, or maybe this company uses child labor in Pakistan. A carpet decision can raise all kinds of other stuff. And maybe God does care about the carpet, because certainly God cares about the child laborers in Pakistan and God cares about the toxic waste of the carpet manufacturing processes. And God cares about us as a community walking through that process together, the spiritual fruits that can come from seeking deep unity on the choice of a carpet. It's not about the carpet, it's about the transformation of the world through the choice of a carpet.
So yes, we say that each and every decision facing the Meeting is a holy and sacred and sacramental opportunity. There is no secular work.

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Gay and Lesbian People in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

"Friends' spiritual experience has led us to a concern for personal integrity, social justice and for peace. We try to bring our lives and actions into conformity with our beliefs.

Quakers believe that there is 'that of God' in everyone and that all people have the same privileges and responsibilities regardless of race, age, creed, general or sexual orientation. We value all people and affirm the power and joy of all truly loving relationships. Read more here.

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What if I live a long way from a Quaker Meeting?

In rural areas, often it is more difficult for people to find a Meeting for Worship close by.

If you are interested in starting a Meeting for Worship in your area, the first step is to ask the elders from a larger, established Meeting to work with you to establish a Meeting. New Meetings have begun in a number of states at the instigation of a few people and a public meeting for enquirers.

If you find you are alone in your interest in Quakers, you could write to the clerk of your state, asking whether there is anyone who might meet with you to worship. And you can join in correspondence with other Quakers around Australia.

Isolated Friends can subscribe to The Australian Friend, the national quarterly magazine of Quakers in Australia,

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Q: What is the origin of the name Quakers?

According to William Oats, an Australian Quaker historian who wroteA Question of Survival, Quakers in Australia in the 19th Century, (UQP 1985) the original name by which the followers of George Fox were known as early as 1652 was ‘Friends in the Truth’. They did not look upon themselves as a separate sect. The term ‘Quaker’ was a nickname, coined as the result of a courtroom rejoinder by Fox to the judge, Gervase Bennett, who was examining him on a charge of blasphemy. Fox said that Justice Bennett ‘first called us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God, and this was in the year 1650’./p>

The term ‘Society of Friends’ began to be used towards the end of the eighteenth century. Until the end of the eighteenth century the term ‘People called Quakers’ was in general use. The full descriptive term used now is ‘The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)’. ‘Quaker’ tends to be the more popular usage, the more distinctive, whereas ‘The Society of Friends’ carries an institutional flavour.

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Q: Where do Quakers worship?

A: Quakers have Meeting Houses, not Churches: find a Meeting House near you.

Some Meeting Houses in Australia are purpose built, others are a converted home. As well as the room where Friends meet for worship, the Meeting House usually includes a library, kitchen, offices, children's area and some offer accommodation for travelling Friends

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Q: How are Quakers different from other denominations?

A: Quakerism was founded in the Christian tradition. However, there are some differences from other church experiences you’d notice:
  • You won't be told what to believe.
  • You won't be required to hold particular religious beliefs. There are many paths. There are underlying principles of Quakerism which help bind us together.
  • We meet together in quiet reflection, to listen for wisdoms, comfort, challenge from wherever it may come. No preaching.
  • We believe in the Inner Light. You will be encouraged to trust and value your own experience, recognising that getting it wrong is important as is getting it right.
  • You will be encouraged to work it out for yourself, supported by other people who are pursuing a similar quest.
  • You won’t hear a lot of talk of sin.
  • Quaker Advices and Queries give us open-minded guidance on how we might seek truth about some issues in life.
  • We are people who accept living with uncertainty.
  • We recognise that things change. We know that new understanding may come from new questions, as much as from new answers.
  • No pastors, no bishops, but shared leadership.
  • Friends appointed to any roles within the Meeting generally hold that role for about three years.
  • Friends selected to take on responsibilities for their Meeting may be male or female, gay or straight – gender and sexuality is not relevant in this selection process.
  • A unique form of decision-making—no voting, but listening to all, and the guidance of the Spirit.
  • We recognise the value and wisdom of ancient texts. We also reckon that with a changing world come changing wisdoms, responses, morality, and new texts.
  • There are Quakers who are inspirational, amongst their ordinariness and accessibility.

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© The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia Inc. in ACT
119 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010, AUSTRALIA
Phone 0423 308 550
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