Unity, Diversity and Identity

1. Friends within Europe and the Middle East

The Ministry & Outreach programme recognizes and fosters the existing diversity within the section, and creates opportunities for education and awareness raising about different traditions and theological understanding among Quakers. The programme should be inclusive, and aim at encouraging the search for unity, sharing of gifts and experiences and mutual learning.

Current profile:

Europe and Middle East Section is, at first glance, the least diverse of the FWCC sections in terms of Quaker tradition and practice, and in theology. Broadly speaking, Meetings affiliated to EMES are unprogrammed, largely liberal, though theologically a spread of witness in terms of Christianity does exist, with some Friends and Meetings being more focussed on a traditional understanding of Christ's role in salvation and others taking a Universalist perspective. In recent years, some new groups from culturally atheist countries have come into membership of the Religious Society of Friends through the International Membership Committee, without any Christian background and some find Christian language and references challenging.

We are aware of the presence in Europe of some Friends who worship according to Conservative unprogrammed tradition. Some of these groups are affiliated to Meetings outside the section, e.g. Ohio (Conservative) Yearly Meeting. There are also Friends Churches that are affiliated to Evangelical Friends International. A few of these are quite large, with sizeable congregations. Some of these Meetings, both unprogrammed and programmed, are in geographical areas where there is no Yearly Meeting, whilst others exist in countries where there are Yearly Meetings, but do not belong to them, and therefore are not affiliated to the section (although where they are affiliated to a Yearly Meeting in the United States they may also be affiliated to FWCC through the Section of the Americas).

Growing in diversity through the Ministry & Outreach programme:

The programme offers the opportunity to make contact with and get to know those communities of Friends who are currently not participating in the life of EMES. Ideally, we would like these communities to feel part of the section, and welcome to affiliate. We envisage that they may also wish to be involved in our work and help Meetings that do not have direct experience of other Quaker traditions to learn about this part of our common heritage. This would provide something similar to the very successful Quaker Youth Pilgrimage experience, which has brought together young people from all Quaker traditions to be together and learn from each other.

We believe that this kind of exploration will help Friends in Europe to be more prepared to encounter Quakers in other parts of the world who maintain different Quaker disciplines both in practice and in theology.

Representing Quakerism:

Because Quakerism is so diverse, it is challenging to seek to represent the essence of our Quaker identity to new seekers, to other churches within the Christian ecumenical movement, and to other faiths and secular partners. Therefore it behoves us to know as much as possible about our different Quaker traditions and to represent a more accurate picture of the Society in the world today. This means that a substantial number of Meetings in the world belong to the programmed tradition, that evangelical and uprogrammed Conservative Friends are over 85% of Quakers. It also means that groups that identify with non-christian backgrounds (e.g. non-theist, atheist, Muslim etc) are beginning to emerge both within established Yearly Meetings and in places where there is no Yearly Meeting, for instance Worship Groups that identify themselves as universalist.

When interacting with Friends from other traditions, Friends should be encouraged to be faithful to the insights of their own way of worship and Quaker tradition, without judging the “other”.  At first glance, some Friends may perceive the differences to be so great as to wonder how the Quaker identity can be claimed by both sides. Instead, Friends should be encouraged to enquire and discover what the group connects to in terms of Quaker witness. This could be the testimonies – simplicity peace and equality, or the business method, silent worship (on its own or in the context of programmed Meetings), shared roots in the early writings and witness of the founders, shared concern for work in the world. Quakers are well used to speaking out of their own experience of the light, without expectation that this needs to be validated by more general approval. At the same time, affirmation and respect for other ways is paramount, and there should be no “telling”  that one way is “right” or more faithful to Quaker teachings. Friends should adopt an attitude of learning, hear each other's stories and appreciate where others have come from in their journeys of faith.

Whilst tolerance and open mindedness are essential, so are an understanding of “right ordering” and a healthy life of the spirit within a community. Sometimes these issues can be very difficult to discern in the context of very diverse practices. It is important that where concerns may be raised these may be probed and explored in a spirit of truthfulness and integrity, and where doubt persists, that advice and counsel be sought through the Ministry & Outreach programme co-ordinator and other resource persons.

Some queries that may be helpful when encountering diversity, for example when visiting or receiving visitors:

  1. How have you come to Quakerism? What is your story?

  2. What do you understand by “the Quaker Way”?

  3. What do you know about other Quaker traditions?

  4. Am I prepared for the possibility that this experience may in some way change me?

  5. How will you listen for the Truth in the experience of the Friends you are meeting?

  6. Are you prepared to let go of any pre-conceived ideas you may have?

  7. Are we prepared to be sensitive to the experience of other Friends, whatever it is?

When we are together,  it is important to share worship and stories to explore what connects us to Quakerism, and appreciate the richness of the diversity rather than simply focus on its challenges.