Welcome to the Open Quakers Website
The Quaker Legacy
Since its foundation in the seventeenth century, the Quaker movement has played an important spiritual and social role in the lives of many people, both here in the UK and abroad. The legacy of three hundred and fifty years of Quakerism is huge in terms of changes to the law, the establishment of banks and schools, good quality social housing, attitudes to human rights . . . . . . the list is a long one.
The Decline of the Quakers
But the Religious Society of Friends, to give the Quakers their proper collective title, appears to be in terminal decline, most obviously in terms of the numbers of people involved. At the moment there are about 16,000 registered members and it is clear that numbers are falling. Meeting houses around the country are closing every year as a process of managed decline rolls on from London, through Sheffield, to Cumbria and beyond.
In public life, many individual Quakers are active in the peace movement, education, homelessness and the relief of poverty, but there is a widespread impression that those involved are working for the most part as individuals within secular or multi–faith organisations. However, the Quakers as a body, as an institution, now seem unable to move other than at a snail's pace. Like an ocean–going ship that has lost the power of its engines, Quakerism keeps moving forward with historically acquired momentum, but ever more slowly.
Religious attendance is in general decline in Britain, but for many the decline of the Quakers, both in terms of numbers and in terms of purpose, is particularly distressing.
Quakerism appeals to people for many different reasons. Within Quaker meetings there is usually a very real spirit of both enquiry and respect. One can often find not just a tolerance of religious and spiritual differences within a meeting, but a genuine sense that they are to be welcomed. Furthermore, Quakers are rightly renowned for the way they have interpreted, and taken to heart, those words ascribed to St. Paul, that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
Most importantly perhaps, Quakerism gives one an opportunity to be silent, to reflect, to open one's soul to the 'still small voice of calm'. To borrow an expression from mainstream Christianity, a Quaker meeting allows one to 'let go and let God'.
The Need for Change
So, with all its appeal, with all its virtues, why is Quakerism so in decline today? Can anything be done to prevent this generation of Quakers being the last?
I may be quite wrong, but I think that Quakerism can be saved. But it needs to be saved from Quakers. It needs to be saved from the way Quakers see themselves, and it needs to be saved from the way in which Quakers in Britain manage their affairs.
If Quakerism is to have any meaningful future, then Quakers need to do three things. They need to rediscover the joys of plain English; they need to make radical changes to the way they make decisions; and above all else, they need to radically reassess their approach to membership.