Why I am a Quaker

These articles are by Quakers of Northamptonshire Area Meeting. The articles provide an insight into why these individuals are Quakers.

Kingsley Belton

I'm a Quaker because many years ago, out of a sense of curiosity, I visited Wellingborough Meeting. The welcome I received there was loving and accepting. After Meeting, there would be no loaded questions, no expectations laid on me, just open hospitality and respect for me as an individual. I soon became a regular, if very intermittent, attender.

For many years I would turn up at Meeting on a rather 'ad hoc' basis and sink gratefully into the silence, finding within it a retreat from the hurly burly of life and the daily demands. A space in which to be gathered. I was then a young mum juggling, as we all do, family and working life. Sometimes my young daughters would come with me and loved their special time in the children’s group. They were not given doctrines, just stimulating activities and stories. I attended a number of discussion groups over the next few years and began to make lasting friendships.

Meanwhile most Sundays we would worship together as a family in a local Anglican parish. Over the course of time I found I could no longer believe the doctrines preached, could not recite the creed; finally I could no longer manage to receive communion. My beliefs were changing as I continued to question and doubt and learn about new spiritual pathways. I felt hypocritical, yet still it did not occur to me to switch allegiance. I felt it was something I needed to correct within myself in order to conform.

Being in Meeting for Worship, amongst loved and wise friends in our very small Wellingborough Meeting provided me with a refuge and a challenge. I realised that whilst my beliefs were dwindling my core faith need not. I didn't need to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'.

As the children grew up I started attending more regularly and learnt about the Quaker way of being. I discovered that though Quakers appear peaceful and worship in silence they are very busy people! I began to appreciate that I was involved with a small but vibrant community. These Quakers were seeking to live out their testimonies. So, after twenty odd years, I considered applying for membership. I wanted to play my part, however falteringly.

Around that time I was asked by a Friend why I hadn't applied for membership and I replied that I was terrified of once again feeling hypocritical as I had done for years, with increasing pain and unease. "Look at us" she said "We haven't arrived; we are still questioning and stumbling along!" From then on my question to myself changed to: 'why not become a Quaker?'

I was accepted into membership and I remain a Quaker because here I am allowed to doubt, to question, to grow, to be challenged and yet can feel rooted in a community with a strong identity, an amazing history and a forward looking attitude. It is a Religious Society of Friends that strives to be inclusive not exclusive.

Since becoming a member I have of course continued to change. I find I 'know' less and less and my previous Christian faith no longer 'fits'. I often feel unworthy of the name Quaker and yes, some of the old anxieties return about not being 'good enough' and about my lack of a clearly definable set of beliefs. What keeps me a Quaker at these times is the same as that which initially drew me in: the deep core of our worship; the quest to keep attempting to live out our testimonies and the ongoing sense of spiritual hospitality and welcome.

Kingsley Belton

Peter Butler

I think my spiritual pilgrimage started when, as a young pre-teenage boy, I was invited to attend a small gathering of a group from ‘Christian Endeavour’. During that meeting we sang, “Jesus shall reign, where e’er the sun…” Even at that early age something in me was made to feel uncomfortable. It was to be the start of a spiritual pilgrimage that is still going on today. Then came the Billy Graham Crusades, which I attended out of a sense of duty. More embarrassing moments when I didn’t go forward to be saved.

All this time I had been attending the local Methodist Church. One day a friend asked if I would like to go to the local Baptist Church. Their new Minister, they felt, I might like to hear preach. It was to be a turning point in my spiritual life. This man, in the following years, was to give me, as I have said many times since, the University education I never had. What did he do? He taught me to think!

At the same time in my life I had fallen in love with another Baptist Minister’s daughter and when we married it seemed that the most natural thing to do was to attend my mentor’s church. This we did until he left. The Church had been disturbed too much by this man, and so they chose a new Minister who would not challenge them. By then we had two youngsters who joined the Brigades at the Methodist Church. Consequently on the monthly Brigade parades and services we went to the Methodist Church. Slowly we began to realise that our spiritual home lay with the Methodists and, in due course, we transferred our membership.

Over the following years we both were involved with the life of the Church, but as the time passed I began to realise that this particular Church was only primarily concerned with the three Ms – Maintaining the status quo, Maintaining the building and Managing the Churches decline.

In 1998, we were staying with a friend in Nottingham who at that time was attending a Quaker Meeting. He asked if we would like to attend a Meeting with him. We did and afterwards realised something had happened to us, such that we resolved that at the next opportunity, we would go to the Quaker Meeting in Wellingborough.

We walked in as total strangers, but were made so welcome that we felt we wanted to come again. The rest, as they say, is history.

But what was it about this Meeting that, for me, felt right?

As I got to know the members I found that I could express my thoughts without having to think that I might be offending them… the “you are trying to undermine my faith” syndrome. For many years I had read the works of Leslie Weatherhead, John Robinson, Don Cupitt, et al. I had found myself, to a great extent, on the same wavelength as them. Now in the Quaker Meeting, not only did I find they had a library, but that the members read and discussed what they were reading. I was experiencing a depth of spirituality that I had not known before. Also they were concerned with events outside in the real world. Then, the real friendship, fellowship and the love of the Meeting members. Although my wife still wanted to remain within the Methodist Church, she always felt part of the Quaker Meeting. So my spiritual pilgrimage has continued within Quakerism. Is this where my pilgrimage will end? Who knows where the Spirit will lead me? It may be that this is where I’m intended to be, but, whatever lies ahead, I give thanks to God for bringing me into the fellowship of a Quaker meeting.

Peter Butler

Axel Landmann

I ought to be a Quaker! I owe them my life but that is not the reason I eventually joined. There was a big reunion at Friends House of children brought to England via the Kindertransport to escape Nazi persecution because of their Jewish connection. Some had retained their Jewish faith, some had lost faith and some had become Quakers. Quaker help is given unconditionally. They see a need, have a concern and do something, without some other motive and certainly not to increase their numbers – but that’s not why I joined.

Through force of circumstances I joined families who were Baptists and Congregationalists, and digs for my first job was with a Methodist landlady, so I was exposed to a variety of Christian denominations. I attended the Sunday school and took the only exam which gave me a 100% rating. I enjoyed the hymns and still miss them now but although the tunes were great, the theology made it difficult to sing the words with conviction. An evangelical group of young people brought out the need of personal responsibility required if there was a real belief and I realised that I was taking part in a performance rather than worship. The ordered service left no period for personal worship and I turned back to try the Quaker worship.

The unprogrammed Meeting for worship was just what I needed. This of course means more personal responsibility for biblical knowledge, and I rely on a thorough knowledge of Mark and the first 15 chapters of Acts to an agnostic teacher who taught these bits of the bible as English literature for School Certificate. In my first digs I shared life with a probationary Methodist minister and we argued about the bible, pacifism and creeds. It was a good testing ground for my real beliefs. I enjoyed the services, but with time realised that it was a service in which somehow I was not a part.

Then a memory came back of times spent in the Northampton Quaker Sunday school and I started attending Eccles Meeting on Sundays. I had found my spiritual home. There in the silence I was a part of the group and the Advices and Queries gave me a challenge without being prescriptive. Taking me down a bit, I remember the advice: Think it possible you might be mistaken. That is why I am a Quaker.

Axel Landmann

Kathie Morley

My spiritual journey to date has encompassed Open Plymouth Brethren, Congregational, Elim Pentecostal and Church of England and featured Infant Dedication, Baptism by total immersion, Confirmation and 40 plus years as a clergy wife.

What brought me to a Meeting House was a long process of ‘turning away’ from elements of main stream Christian faith and ‘turning towards’ openness and acceptance.

I have always had a suspicion of 'certainty', possibly because as I was growing up all matters religious were seen by those around me as black or white. This I felt was too simplistic and did not ring true with my experience of the world and its people. The certainties of creeds became a stumbling block and I found myself leaving out bits that I could not in all honesty say.

Within the Church of England I was increasingly dissatisfied with the wordiness of services and although some 'silence' is written into modern liturgies it was seldom observed.

The process of 'turning towards' was slow, through circumstance and ill-health but in September 2011 I made a decision to follow that leading. I have attended Kettering Meeting ever since, finding friendship, understanding and support.

I continue to learn about early Quakers and the work they did in their communities and about Quaker belief and practice as it has developed. Above all I have experienced simple yet profound worship, an atmosphere which pervades both worship and business within the Meeting House and which moves out into daily activity, influencing ones whole being.

One interesting thing is that when in the past people asked me about faith and I mentioned C of E that was the end of the conversation. Now when I say ‘I am a Quaker’ they ask me more.........

Kathie Morley

Elizabeth Redfern

For me it’s to do with tolerance, and no ‘we know we’re right’ culture.

Quakers are always ‘seeking the truth’, they know that they will never find an absolute answer, and that your whole life is spent working to get at least a small insight into what the truth might be.

I like the combination of the Quaker principles (known as testimonies) and the keenness to contribute to the world around us through work. This is often referred to as ‘Being Quaker: Doing Quaker’. The testimonies are straightforward; truth (or you could say honesty), equality, simplicity and peace. And I find that these simple concepts influence my everyday life including my work. My work is my living testimony to these concepts.

Quaker worship is truly inspirational. We sit together as a group in silence for an hour each week. No prayers, no hymns, no clergy, no creed or dogma. And each person waits to see how they are spiritually guided. Somehow the fact that we do this together makes a vast difference to sitting on your own. Somehow the gathered group has its own force. You may get a person stand up and say something that the ‘spirit’ has guided them towards, and it’s surprising how what is said in these short interruptions ‘speaks to your condition’, as in it makes sense to you and especially at that particular time.

As a group of people, Quakers are very calm, considerate, and very open minded. This is especially obvious when something goes wrong, in whatever situation. Nobody gets accused of anything: no finger pointing. There is a general feel that we need to understand a situation so we all learn for the future. And the opportunity to learn is another significant reason why I’m a Quaker. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with people from a far wider range of backgrounds than I had previously, and to work on subjects that are completely outside of my previous experience. I also contribute my knowledge, and hope that someone learns something from me. We’re all keen to learn, and I suppose that goes hand in hand with ‘seeking the truth’.

I came to Quakerism (in my 40s) from an atheist background. Many Quakers come from other religions. My lack of religious knowledge has been absolutely no barrier to my being accepted in the society. My interest in Quakers initially came from hearing many times over the years about the successful and ethically well run Quaker businesses, such as Cadbury, Fry’s, Rowntrees and Clarks shoes, and banks such as Barclays and Lloyds. Although by modern standards the treatment of their staff, customers and suppliers would be seen as fair but not outstanding, in their time they were seen as great examples and pioneering industry leaders. Today many businesses are trying to emulate their ethical standpoint within a modern context.

So why am I a Quaker? Because Quakerism to me in this country is straightforward. I can live a Quaker life and get a lot out of doing so.

Elizabeth Redfern

Theo Sturge

Why? I was born one. In those days if you were born to Quaker parents you more or less automatically became a member, you were referred to as a birthright Friend. As a result, I was born, bred and pickled in the Religious Society Friends (Quakers). At secondary level I went to the local Quaker school, now sadly closed, where my father taught music. After A levels I went to London University and lived in a Quaker community. Come the first Sunday I asked where the nearest Meeting House was so I could go to Meeting for Worship. I did not have any hesitation, I did not even really stop to think about it, moving on into the adult world of Quaker worship was a natural progression. I tried two very different meetings and was comfortable at Friends House and continued to worship there for the next three years.

Whilst living in London I met a young lady who was also a birthright Friend and actively worshipped with Quakers. A few years later we were lucky enough to both have jobs in Leicester and we married at her home meeting in Yealand Conyers. Yealand Conyers Meeting House, on the edge of the Lake District is a very old meeting house and is one of those places where I can slip in, settle quietly down, and feel the worship enfold me. A beautiful, simple wedding has led to 43 years of very happy marriage, and together we continue to attend and worship in whatever town or city we have lived in. We have both become heavily involved in the life of the Meeting and have served in many ways. We have no paid staff or clergy so it is up to the members to take turns to help with the day to day running.

Theo Sturge

Louise Weeks

I was born in Plymouth, Devon. I have cerebral palsy. My birth family could not look after me, so I was in a children's home for a while, and then I was fostered by two ladies called Judith and Pat. Both of them were Quakers, and we attended Tavistock Meeting. They took me and my foster sister Katie to the Children's Meeting there. At that meeting I first met Ray Hainton, Julia Bush's mother. I liked everything about Tavistock Meeting. Everyone was very friendly and they talked to me. I can't remember any particular stories or activities that we did at Children's Meeting because it is a long time ago, but I enjoyed going there.

When Judith, Katie, and I moved to Sibford we went to Sibford Meeting, and we also met the Friends from Banbury Meeting at Monthly Meeting (now Area Meeting). Len and Betty Gray were members of Banbury Meeting at that time, so I was glad to meet them again when I moved to live at Hampton House (a Scope Home) in Northampton. Later Ray Hainton also came to Northampton from Exeter Meeting when she moved to be nearer to Julia.

Soon after I moved to Hampton House and started attending Northampton Meeting I decided to become a Quaker by applying for membership. I was visited by John Enderby (from Sibford meeting) and Eleanor Barden (from Northampton).

One of the people who helped me make the decision was Sue Freestone, who was then the head of Sibford Friends School. The first time I met Sue she arrived on a horse called Devlin, and stuck her head through the window! I wanted to become a Quaker because of all the good people I have met who are Quakers, and because I believe in Peace and in fairness and equality for everyone including disabled people.

I come to Meeting for Worship every Sunday when I can, and I am grateful to all the Friends who collect me in their cars and make sure I get there safely.

Louise Weeks

Derrick Whitehouse

When I look back on my life from a reference point of 82 years or so, I realise that it was inevitable that I should become a Friend. As an only child I became used to coping with solitude and spent much of my childhood and adolescence walking the fields and woods on a Cotswold country estate. Despite the influence of the military during WW2 and the muscular Christianity of being a boy scout (even becoming a King’s scout) there was an incident when I was about 14 years old, in 1946, that I now realise was significant. It was at the time when I was being confirmed into the Church of England with all my mates. The mother of one of them recounted how she had worshipped with Quakers in Cheltenham and described the worship and how within the stillness people would minister. I recall now saying, "That seems to be a good way of worshipping to me."

Later, during service in the RAF Medical branch for five years and at certain points dealing with the wounded from the Korean War, I came to realise how brutal war is. This led me into training as a teacher where my first job in 1957 was in a secondary modern school in Warwickshire. It was there that, despite my enthusiastic involvement with the Church of England, I sent for pamphlets about Quakers. One leaflet was on Quaker Fundamentals and four sections leapt out to me, namely, silent worship, the priesthood of all believers, the sacramental life and the inward light (which I now interpret in my protean way as – Spirit, God, Transpersonal, Morphic Resonance, Seed, Cosmic Intelligence, Universal Consciousness, to name but a few possibilities). I knew this had to be my spiritual path.

So here I am over fifty years later, a seasoned Friend, having served in a variety of ways on national and local committees, and travelled with and for Friends to the United States, New Zealand and Sweden. During this time I have experienced Quakers at their spiritual best and at other times becoming very frustrated with their actions and outlook. Where are we going I constantly ask? Will we ever progress spiritually towards that which goes beyond the 'haggling' of theist or non-theist towards a sense of unity with the transpersonal? Will we ever set up processes on a regional basis where latent talent can be tapped, trained to lift the knowledge and interactive skills truly to benefit struggling meetings so that they may flourish and grow? How can we help Friends to become a people of prayer where everyone has the skill to faithfully go inward, be still and wait and listen for the guidance that comes from the inner teacher?

You may well ask if I have ever contemplated resigning my membership. The answer would have to be 'frequently'. However, I am still there, believing that I have a vocation to speak truth to power, which I shall continue to undertake diligently and with love and as much weight as I can bring to bear on our beloved Religious Society at both a local and national level. Yes I have been accused of being arrogant but also innovative and I know that I have been a quiet but persistent maverick in my professional life and to some extent continue to be so in my private life. I believe that is my sacramental calling and my spiritual mission.

Derrick Whitehouse

Ruth Whitehouse

My parents were brought up as Anglicans but were seekers and became Christian Scientists before I was born. One of my first memories is of riding on a seat on my father's cross bar as the family pedalled to the Christian Science church every Sunday morning. I attended the children's class and did so until I was 12 years old. By then I was well indoctrinated into the way of Scientists and it did not sit comfortably with my inquiring mind. I begged to be allowed to stay at home on Sunday mornings and this my parents eventually agreed to.

My quest for something 'other' then began. My peers attended a youth club run by Congregationalists so on a Sunday I joined them for evening worship. This lasted for several years before I switched my allegiance to the Baptists though I never fancied being baptised by immersion!

When I decided to train as a teacher I chose St. Mary’s College Cheltenham because it was a 'church' college. Here I was in the college choir but sometimes attended a local ‘high’ church and grew to enjoy the smell of incense and the associated ritual. This led me to become confirmed into the Church of England back home at the age of 19. First I had to be baptised and I can still hear my mother saying, "I wish we’d had you done as a baby"! Then getting married a couple of years later with full nuptial mass was almost more than my parents could bear.

There followed occasional attendance at local churches as Derrick and I moved around the country but also a growing dissatisfaction with the Anglican service. I wanted time to think about the sermon, perhaps to discuss its contents but this was not possible. At some stage Derrick acquired the pack from Friends house about Quakers and kept suggesting I read it. Eventually I did and have since never looked anywhere else. I attended my first Meeting for worship one Christmas after which we were invited to a New Year party to be held at a local agricultural college. My lasting memory was of the welcome I received, being accepted for myself. (I had low self-esteem at that time). That Friend had seen that of God in me.

In one way it could be said that I had found what I had always been looking for. As I got to know more about Quakerism I knew that I was being led on a spiritual journey which suited me because of who I am. I have much to thank my parents for. They brought me up to be truthful and have integrity, to be fair and have a sense of adventure. I sometimes wonder what the outcome for me would have been if they had found Quakerism instead of Christian Science all those years ago. Maybe I would have rebelled against that and become a Scientist!

Ruth Whitehouse