Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Next week, around 300 Quakers will converge in Adelaide for their annual national meeting for business, and they will come on planes, trains and bicycles, some will carry laptops, mobile phones and Blackberries.

Because Quakers are not Amish, staying with the ways of a bygone era, nor are they fundamentalist believers with strict rules, preaching evangelical messages.

Spokesperson for Quakers in Australia, retired academic Lyndsay Farrall, says these are some of the common misconceptions unveiled in early December in Britain in the first nation-wide survey of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers.

“The good news was that many in the UK had heard of Quakers,’ Dr Farrall said. “The bad news was that few of those surveyed knew what Quakers believed or how they lived.

‘Some thought we were a closed group, strict and puritanical. Some confused Quakers with the pilgrim fathers.

‘In fact, Quakers, both in Britain and in Australia, are a liberal religious group which believes that everyone can have a direct experience of God and this leads them to take action for change in the world.’

Around 2000 Australians worship in a Quaker Meeting each week. Quaker Meetings are silent gatherings of men, women and children who come together to seek their Truths, and they believe there are many paths to Truth, and that Quakers is not the ‘only way’/

“One reason for people’s confusion about Quakers is that it is easier to say the ways that Quakers are different from other churches — no paid clergy, no order of service, no pulpit, no bells or steeples — than to define the beliefs of this non-creedal church,’ Dr Farrall said.

“I am the Presiding Clerk of the Society in Australia, which means I represent Quakers at heads of churches gatherings, but I am not a member of the clergy, I do this work as a volunteer, and in January when I step down after a four-year term, my successor will be a woman, Maxine Cooper, who is an Associate Professor at the University of Ballarat. Maxine will continue her professional work, and will act as Clerk in a part-time capacity.

“My role when Quakers come together next week in Adelaide will be to discern and record the decisions that are collectively made. There is no voting, no lobbying, just a sincere seeking of God’s will in the matters which we will be discussing.

“Quakes believe there is that of God (goodness) in each person, and this leads to a number of ‘testimonies’ or ways that Quakers have expressed their beliefs over the years.

“Quakers believe ‘a simple life freely chosen is a source of strength’, and seek to reduce their impact on the planet; they tend to be pacifists; they have been renowned for integrity — in business dealings and in giving their word; they worship, make decisions, and support one another as a community, though they live within the larger Australian community; and they believe in the equality of all, regardless of religion, race or sexuality — Quakers held their first gay Quaker marriage in Canberra in 2007.

“These statements about our way of life and our actions tend to say much more about Quakers than any attempt to define our beliefs.”

The Yearly Meeting, an annual gathering that is hosted in turn, state to state around Australia, serves as the Annual General Meeting of the Society, helps to discern the position of Quakers on contemporary issues such as climate change, and to strengthen their community spirit as they live, worship and struggle to find their Way in the increasingly complex dilemmas of modern living.

Caption: Presiding Clerk Lyndsay Farrall (centre) with incoming Presiding Clerk Maxine Cooper, and the Yearly Meeting Secetary, Judith Pembleton, who is the only paid employee of Quakers in Australia. Dr Cooper will become Presiding Clerk of Quakers in Australia at the end of next week’s annual gathering of Quakers in Australia, this year held at Westminster School in Adelaide.

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National gathering in Adelaide brings together Quakers, a little-known Australian religious group.

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