The Congregation at Duke University Chapel


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presentation at Adult Forum by
Edward M. Arnett
R.J. Reynolds Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus
January 4, 2015

the Religious Society of Friends

The friendly, honest face of Quakerism note the “plain dress” image of portion of Quaker brand oatmeal container

Personal History

  • Born into an Episcopalian family, seriously Christian pacifist
  • I was Christened as an Episcopalian infant in the Quaker city in the Quaker state
  • Went to an excellent Quaker school
  • Joined the Religious Society of Friends at age 12
  • Following the Quaker Peace testimony, I was a Conscientious Objector in WWII
  • Active in Durham Quaker meeting until 1985
  • Joined emergent non-denominational Congregation at Duke Chapel

What’s lacking in most kinds of Christian church worship?


Quaker Meeting for Worship is founded in silence in order to “wait on the Lord”.

There may, or may not, be vocal ministry

if this seems difficult

note that in Friends School, 300 children would worship in silence every Fourth Day (Thursday).

What’s lacking in Quaker Meeting for Worship?

Everything - All the usual church stuff: which may distract from true spiritual experience or enhance it

  • Clergy - the sermon
  • Liturgy “the means of grace”, communion
  • Reading scriptures - lectionary
  • Music - hymns
  • Confession - Assurance - Peace
  • Offertory - Collection
  • Theology - Sacrements -

A decorated, dedicated “church” building belonging to a denomination separated by its dogma, doctrine, and polity from other Christian denominations.

Note that

each Meeting (Quaker congregation) is basically autonomous

Silence - Waiting on the Lord

  • Quaker worship as "corporate mysticism"
  • "Mysticism is a religion based on the spiritual search for an inward immediate experience of the divine", Howard Brinton Friends for 300 Years

“Mysticism is the practice of the presence of God.” Brother Lawrence

  • “Secularism is the practice of the absence of God.“ Aldous Huxley

Quaker an insulting term referring to charismatic worshippers quaking from the presence of the Holy Spirit, but no record of pentacostal-type speaking in tongue

Historical background of Quakerism

1450 - Gutenberg’s first printing press makes The Bible accessible to everyone.      Too bad!

No wonder the medieval church discouraged bible reading!

The shocking contrast between the kingdom of heaven in the gospels and early church compared to the observable “Christian” world leads to Protestant, anabaptist, and puritan revolutions and religious seekers. Some seekers "wait on the Lord " in silence.

  • English Civil war (1641-1652) Charles I beheaded (1649)
  • Thirty years war (1618-1648) Horrendous wars of religion

George Fox’s revelation (1656)

William Penn’s "Holy Experiment" 1681 Peaceable Anarchy 5 years

The Hanging from the 30 years War from The Miseries of War by Jacques Callot - note priest administering last rights a few dozen human bodies hanging from the limbs of a large tree

Persecution of Quakers

In the Church–centered world of the 17th Cent. the Quakers and other extreme Spirit-centered groups looked the way ideological political extremists look now.

In a violent world non-violent peace-makers threaten the established rule of law, order, and salvation.

  • Conventicle Act (>5 people)
  • Ruthlessly persecuted in England and Boston (four Quakers hanged on Boston Common), transported to Barbados and Jamaica prison colonies as slaves
  • Persecution enormously enhanced evangelism. 10% of England became Quaker for a few years

Quakerism became the predominant faith in Pennsylvania and North Carolina by 1800

The beginning of Quakerism, a religion for seekers

Statement of 1656, from The Journal of George Fox

I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition"; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let [hinder] it? and this I knew experimentally [through experience].

Contemporaries of George Fox in 1650
Sir I. Newton, J.S.Bach, LouisXIV, Rembrandt

Some original Quaker beliefs
in primitive Christianity revived

  • 1000 years of church history "is mostly about apostasy" from the pure Life in the light described in the Bible and early ( pre-Constantinian ) church fathers.

Nothing could be better than living in the light. Why waste your precious life on idle (or evil) worldly nonsense.

  • Searchers waited on the Lord to Serve him by Walking in the light Simplicity, freedom, integrity, equality, openness
  • Anti-establishment, anti-violence, anti-slavery, anti-war, anti-capital punishment, anti-alcohol,
  • Anti-Christmas and other "worldly" celebrations of special days Suspicious of the arts or entertainment as "distractions".

Puritans as anti-fun

  • Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?

Sir Toby to Malvolio

  • The puritan hated bear baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

Lord Macauley

Quakers and The Bible

Important as "the words of God" but less authoritative than "the inner light of Christ"

Some favorite proof texts

"Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him" Ps 37:7

"That was the true light that lights every man
That comes into the world" John 1:9

"You shall know the Truth and the Truth will make you free" John 8:32

"He gave himself for us that ….he might purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works" Titus 2:14

Meeting for Business

  • As serious as Meeting for Worship
  • attendance is expected
  • conducted with waiting for the Lord’s guidance
  • minutes are recorded and checked during the meeting
  • No voting; decisions are expected to be made in unity

Quaker Virtues

  • Speak THE TRUTH - honesty, integrity – a serious commitment to keeping in touch with The Light Within --- "walk in the light"
  • Answer "that of God" in every person regardless of rank, race, gender - women preachers
  • Keep things simple - free of ostentation or unecessary complexity, plain clothes, plain language, no alcohol, no drugs (color TV?)
  • Traditionally negative attitude to arts and entertainment (my Grandfather Edward G. McCollin read out of meeting) puritanism? This has changed a lot.

Faith and Practice

of the Religious Society of Friends
a book of Christian Discipline
adopted 1955 by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting revised 1972




Historical Statement


The Inward Light


Value and Use of the Bible


The Meeting for Worship

The Sacraments




The Meeting for Business

Simplicity and Integrity




Home and Family



Social Customs and Individual Responsibility

God and Human Diversity


Human Relations

The Peace Testimony

The Individual and the State





Spiritual Experiences of Friends

The Scriptures


Worship and Ministry


Meeting for Business





Individual and State


Stewardship of Our Means



Death and Bereavement





Meetings for Business


    Business Procedure

    The Monthly Meeting

    The Quarterly Meeting

    The Yearly Meeting

    Representative Meeting



Changes in Status of Meetings

Worship and Ministry

Committee of Overseers

Religious Education


Marriage Procedure

Funerals and Memorial Meetings

Funds, Property, Records

Cooperation with Other Religious Groups

Revision ofFaith and Practice


Supplementary Queries