quaker fencer

kathz isn't quite my name. I may be a Quaker. If I'm a fencer I'm a bad one and I don't do sabre. If I'm a Quaker I'm a bad one - but you've worked that out already. Read on. Comment if you like. Don't expect a reply.

Location: United Kingdom

Saturday, May 13, 2006

so what's a quaker?

I've written quite a lot abouit fencing but have avoided the other part of my blog's name - being a Quaker. It's not something I talk or write about very much but I couldn't resist putting the two words "quaker" and "fencer" together, especially since my son and I joke about having a special banner reading "Quaker Fencers for Peace" when we go on anti-war demos. Although Quakers almost all believe in non-violence, we are not the only Quaker fencers - and most Quakers are characteristically tolerant of our sport, perhaps thinking we'll grow out of it one day.

I'm only going to put a couple of points about Quakers here.

First, history. Quakers (officially the Religious Society of Friends) started in the mid-17th century in England, during the Civil War, when lots of people were questioning usual interpretations of religion, the Bible and state power. Quakers believed that there was that of God in everyone and that everyone had an inner light to guide them. (I'm simplifying a lot here.) They denied the authority of the church and thought it their duty to "speak truth to power". This landed them in a lot of trouble However, over the centuries they were accepted and became, sadly, more conventional and less questioning.

Second, Quakers go to Meetings (like religious services) but in Britain they don't have priests or any programmed worship. Most of the Meeting is usually silent listening, but sometimes people are moved to speak. Sometimes people fall asleep or babies chatter. It's a good chance for a rest too!

Third, Quakers don't have any set beliefs - there is no creed. There's a shared way of worship and there are "advices and queries". These are agreed and adopted by all the Quakers in Britain (through a yearly meeting which every member can attend; decisions need agreement rather than a majority so deciding anything can be a long process) but they advise and question rather than giving orders. Quakers began as Christians but not all Quakers in Britain are Christians now. We are advised to "be open to new light, from whatever source it may come" and look on our religion as a journey rather than a set of doctrines.

Fourth, Quakers tend to be engaged in social and political campaigns. The British Quakers have shared "testimonies", as they are known, on subjects like equality, peace, social justice, integrity and concern for the environment. This enables Quakers to act on such concerns with the support of the Quakers as a whole, even when breaking the law (for instance campaigning for peace or trying to protect refugees). But Quakers can also get a bit smug and self-righteous about this, and I have mixed feelings about their record as employers in the 19th century, when they were rather too paternalistic.

Some of my favourite Quakers from history are: Margaret Fell (also known as Margaret Fox), Gerrard Winstanley (although he was most interesting as a Digger and pretty dull by the time he became a Quaker), John Woolman and Lucretia Mott. Interesting British Quakers today include the poet U.A. Fanthorpe, the actor Judi Dench and the astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell. (Hmm - all my examples of famous living British Quakers are women - I think there are some men too.)

Lots - probably far too much - about Quakers in Britain here.


Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

I have always been thankful for the Quakers in thier early stands on social equality and conscencious objection in war time - often paving the way for other religions.

10:17 pm  

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