Friends General Conference

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Historic Roots: Where Quakers come from

We, who are called Quakers or Friends, are members of the Religious Society of Friends. The Quaker movement began in mid-seventeenth century England. With the advent of printing, the Bible was becoming widely known.  It appeared to many who read it that the early Christian church depended very little on a complex structure, elaborate rituals and formal creeds. Instead, it greatly depended on experiencing the Spirit in the midst of the worshipping group.

In the 1600's the Religious Society of Friends was one of the most radical new Christian sects emerging during the Reformation. It was among the new religious groups seeking to separate themselves from the established church (of England) and from each other.  They shed traces of the religious authority, ritual, creeds, icons and symbols of the formal Christian church. Friends have “taken out everything except dependence on the Divine Spirit for guidance and power.”  To learn more about Quakers and the Puritans, click HERE for a short video.

Quaker Testimonies

"Testimonies" are the ways Quakers have found to live and act based on our trust in the Inward Teacher. It is not a 'creed' that must be believed, but a way of living based on the experience that there is “that of God in everyone” and that all life is interconnected. 

Testimonies are not fixed, but a gathering of what Friends have learned over the centuries. Here is one list of the testimonies from the Friends General Conference. There are many other formulations of the same basic ideas from other Quaker sources.

  • SIMPLICITY-- focusing on what is truly important and letting other things fall away.
  • PEACE --seeking justice and healing for all people; taking away the causes of war in the ways we live.
  • INTEGRITY -- living as whole people who act on what we believe, tell the truth, and do what we say we will.
  • COMMUNITY -- supporting one another in our faith journeys and in times of joy and sorrow; sharing with and caring for each other.
  • EQUALITY -- treating everyone, everywhere, as equally precious to God, recognizing that everyone has gifts to share.
  • SUSTAINABILITY -- caring for the earth, valuing and responding to all of God's creation; using only our fair share of the earth's resources; working for policies that protect the planet.

(An easy way to remember these testimonies is by the acronym "SPICES"  -- simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, sustainability.)

The testimonies may sometimes lead to action that runs counter to practices currently accepted in the society at large. Being in community with other Quakers helps each of us as we strive to live according to these testimonies. Perhaps because of Friends' faith and behavior over the centuries, and their willingness to act sometimes in ways they think are right regardless of the personal risk, Quakers have influenced history and society out of all proportion to their numbers. 

Structure of the Religious Society of Friends

Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings 

It was the genius of founder George Fox and the early Friends to develop the structure of monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings, which has provided cohesion at local and regional levels for over 350 years. A monthly meeting is one that usually worships together weekly and holds a meeting for business once a month. Several monthly meetings make up a "quarterly" (small regional) meeting, which meets three times a year. Two or more quarterly meetings in turn make up a yearly meeting, which has staff and gathers annually. 

New Haven Friends (Monthly) Meeting is one of nine monthly meetings and three worship groups constituting the Connecticut Valley Quarterly Meeting and including western Massachusetts and most of Connecticut. The Connecticut Valley Quarterly Meeting usually gathers for a weekend, either at one of the monthly meetings or at Woolman Hill, a beautiful Quaker retreat in western Massachusetts.

There are eight quarterly meetings (consisting of 68 monthly meetings) which form New England Yearly Meeting ( Beginning on the first Saturday in August New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) gathers for six days of worship, business, fellowship, workshops and communal life. It is held on a college campus, sometimes with options for camping. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet Friends from our region of the country. Many young Friends especially enjoy attending and meeting other Quaker youth; there is always an outstanding children’s program.

There are many other yearly meetings around the country and the globe, each composed of quarterly and monthly meetings (see These monthly and yearly meetings come in many different varieties or “flavors” of Quakerism, ranging from very liberal to very conservative, from universalist to Christ-centered, from fundamentalist to evangelical. Common threads that tie all Quakers together, regardless of theology, are that all are derived from the concepts formulated by George Fox, all adhere to some form of the testimonies, and all are self-governing within the framework established by their yearly meetings and make corporate decisions by gathering a “sense of the meeting” “in the Light” rather than by majority vote

The Wider Quaker World

In the United States and Canada, there are a wide variety of Friends in 31 yearly meetings. Yearly meetings choose to associate with one or more of the following Friends organizations. The diversity within Friends is evident from this listing. Nevertheless, there is something at the core of each of these traditions that can find unity in the heart of each of the others. New Haven Friends Meeting belongs to both Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting through our membership in New England Yearly Meeting, which also belongs to both groups.

FUM - Friends United Meeting: Formed in 1966, from 1902 to 1966 it was called Five Years Meeting. Five Years Meeting was formed from the 1887 Richmond, Indiana, Conference of meetings subscribing to the “Richmond Declaration of Faith.” Most of the meetings have pastors and are “programmed,” with hymn singing and a sermon, but some FUM meetings are silent. Here is the mission statement of FUM: “Friends United Meeting commits itself 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.” FUM has partnerships with churches and Yearly Meetings in Belize, Cuba, Jamaica, Kenya, Palestine, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as the United States and Canada.

FGC - Friends General Conference: An association of 14 Yearly Meetings and some monthly meetings in the United States and Canada. It began in 1900. Most of the meetings in FGC are “unprogrammed” or silent meetings, where Friends wait until led by the Spirit to speak. From FGC: “Friends General Conference, with Divine guidance, nurtures the spiritual vitality of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) by providing programs and services for Friends, meetings, and seekers.” The emphasis of the meetings associated with FGC is on the authority of the direct leading of the Inner Light or Christ Within. Meetings associated with FGC typically not only tolerate but encourage diverse theological perspectives. FGC organizes a week-long annual Summer Gathering around the beginning of July, and also offers a variety of other programs and services to Friends, including their Quaker Bookstore and Press, the Quaker Quest program of outreach,  and resources for  religious education, education on racism, couple enrichment, and strengthening meetings.

Conservative Friends: A small number of meetings in Iowa, Ohio, and North Carolina that have split from both of the major streams of U. S. Quakerism. Conservative Friends worship in silent meetings and have an explicitly Christ-centered theology. A website from a Conservative Friends Meeting describes the “original Quaker witness” as “a balance between relying on the Inward Light, identifying the historical Jesus as the eternal Christ, commitment to mending the world, and focusing on evangelizing the Quaker revelation.” 

Evangelical Friends Church International: Consists of six yearly meetings in North America which have organized to work together on publications and evangelism, founded in 1965. Their worship is programmed, and their meetings or churches have pastors.  From their website: “We are drawn together through our clear commitment to Jesus Christ and a common desire to change our local and international worlds for Christ.” They have missions, meetings or churches in many countries around the world, particularly in Guatemala, Bolivia, Burundi, Rwanda, and Congo.  

Service Organizations Founded by Quakers 

As part of their commitment to service and education, Friends have founded many organizations that work in the U.S. and abroad. Here is a very partial listing. For a more comprehensive overview of Quaker organizations and all things Quaker, go to

AFSC- American Friends Service Committee: Founded in 1917 to provide U. S. conscientious objectors with opportunities to aid civilian victims of World War I. AFSC instituted a major child-feeding program in Germany in 1919. The AFSC and its British counterpart, the Friends Service Council, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 on behalf of all Quakers, for their work in post-war Europe. Today, AFSC works to end poverty in the U.S., to resist militarism worldwide and promote peace, human rights, and reconciliation. Currently, AFSC runs over 200 separate programs in more than 20 nations. Although Quaker in origin and administration, most of AFSC’s funding comes from outside the Religious Society of Friends. 

ACFIA - Associated Committee of Friends for Indian Affairs: Oversees and supports work and Friends Centers with Native American tribes in Oklahoma, Iowa and Alabama

CCCO - Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors: An agency for military and draft counseling that provides materials, counselor training and outreach to all who need information about the draft and the military. Based in California.

EQAT - Earth Quaker Action Team: Founded in 2009, EQAT has engaged in an ongoing and escalating series of nonviolent direct actions aimed at forcing PNC to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining.

EFCI - Evangelical Friends Church International: Runs Barclay Press and other services for evangelical Friends. 

FCNL - Friends Committee on National Legislation: Founded in 1943, it is the oldest religious lobby in Washington, D.C. It seeks to influence Congress and the President on matters of concerns to Friends, and while it recognizes that it cannot speak for all Friends, it does an excellent job of speaking truth to power, especially regarding protecting human rights and opposing militarism.

FLGBTQC - Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Concerns: Supports issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer Friends.

FDS - Friends Disaster Service: Responds to natural disasters (floods/tornadoes, etc.) by sending in trained work crews.

FCE - Friends Council on Education: Runs conferences and support of Friends schools and Friends teachers.

FWCC - Friends World Committee for Consultation: Formed in 1937, FWCC includes all types of yearly meetings, FGC, FUM, etc. Its goals are to foster understanding among the various groups of Friends around the world. FWCC is divided into three sections: Europe and East Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Representatives gather for meetings of these sections once every three years. FWCC is a recognized non-governmental organization at the U. N.

Quaker Earthcare Witness: An organization of Friends “taking spirit-led action to address the ecological and social crises of the world from a spiritual perspective, emphasizing Quaker process and testimonies.”

QUNO - Quaker United Nations Office: Since 1947, this office has provided a link between the UN and Friends. Friends maintain Quaker Houses in both New York and Geneva, where diplomats can meet in a neutral space, thereby making progress toward reconciling differences.

Pendle Hill Conference and Retreat Center: Quaker conference center near Philadelphia, PA. Provides adult education, publishes pamphlets, sponsors personal and group retreats.

RSWR - Right Sharing of World Resources: A program that encourages personal and local action to practice simplicity and eliminate poverty.

USFWI - United Society of Friends Women International: Supports Friends women’s groups and mission work worldwide


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