Written Word

Ideas that are now associated with Quakers first came together at a time in British history when literacy was starting to rise rapidly, and the social and political turmoil surrounding the English Civil War created an environment that was awash with pamphlets. As a result, Quakers, both individually and as a body, have always taken the written word seriously, and the history of the Religious Society of Friends is replete with Quakers who have recorded aspects of their spiritual and religious experiences and thoughts. A concise selection of extracts of Quaker writings is periodically gathered into a new edition of a book now entitled Quaker Faith and Practice. This book is typically available for use during Meeting for Worship.

Quaker Faith and Practice, showing an example of Quaker writing.
Quaker Faith and Practice, showing an example of Quaker writing.

One section of Quaker Faith and Practice is called ‘Advices and Queries’. In this section searching questions are asked about the manner in which one is living life, and advice is offered about how to live a life of faith. Parts of ‘Advices and Queries’ are often read out loud as ministry during Meeting for Worship.

Quaker Faith and Practice, showing a section of 'Advices and Queries'.
Quaker Faith and Practice, showing a section of ‘Advices and Queries’.

Most contemporary Quakers take the Hebrew and Christian Bibles seriously, believing that these books speak about humankind’s search for spiritual truth. Few Quakers in Britain believe that the entirety of the Bible is to be accepted literally, although such a position is a little more common among some Quakers in parts of the United States. Many Quakers take especial note of both the example and the teachings of Jesus as written in the Gospels. A copy of the Bible is typically available for use during Meeting for Worship.

Scriptures
Copies of the Hebrew and Christian Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita and the Tao Teh Ching.

Many Quakers in Britain are aware of other scriptures, and some may be familiar with, say, the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita, as well as other religious texts, such as The Cloud of Unknowing, or The Conference of the Birds. For many Quakers, spiritual enlightenment can be sought and found in a variety of written texts.

Many Quaker Meetings, especially those with their own Meeting House, and even some without, have a library of books including Quaker writings, biblical study and other religious writing. At Friends’ House in London there is a bookshop that specialises in carrying Quaker titles.

There is a small magazine called The Friend that is printed weekly, which contains Quaker news, short articles and correspondence.

Copies of example editions of Quaker News and The Friend.
Copies of example editions of Quaker News and The Friend.

Britain Yearly Meeting has an active website which includes news about events, information about Quaker Meetings throughout Britain, and links to other relevant sites. Like Canterbury Meeting, some Quaker Meetings have their own website.

During Yearly Meeting a formal address is given by a Quaker who has been invited to deliver the Swarthmore Lecture. Begun in 1908, and delivered every year (except 1948, but two lectures were delivered in 1920) since, the Swarthmore Lecture is intended both to help Friends to explore what it means to be a Quaker, and also to present an image of Quakerism to the general public. A book is published to accompany the lecture, although given the time constraints of a spoken lecture, the book of the lecture tends to be rather more than simply a transcript. With well over a hundred lectures delivered, the Swarthmore Lecture series constitutes a significant body of Quaker writings.

Copies of printed editions of a small selection of Swarthmore Lectures.
Copies of printed editions of a small selection of Swarthmore Lectures.