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The Quakers

A relatively small group that has played an important role in U.S. history has been the Quakers, members of the “Religious Society of Friends.” Originating in 17th century England, they were the original founders of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the “City of Brotherly Love.” Since early days, Quakers have been associated with pacifism. Other Quaker customs, now largely extinct, but still referred to in popular culture, include the custom of plain dress as well as plain speech (the use of the archaic familiar pronouns such as “thou,” “thee,” “thy” and “thine” instead of the formal pronouns “you,” “your” and “yours.”) Persecution of Quakers by other religious groups in both Great Britain and early America led to some of the earliest efforts to guarantee religious liberty in America.

One of the keys to Quakerism is the participant’s highly personal relationship with God. Quakers believe in an “inner” baptism and communion. In their meetings, all members bear witness to their principles and the way they live their faith.

“Friends” engage in two types of worship. In unprogrammed worship, which is without a leader, participants remain silent to contemplate their own personal relationships with their God. Sometimes members are “moved to speak,” in which case they will address the congregation. Programmed worship is similar to a Protestant service, led by one of the members. Members engage in a variety of hymns, Bible readings, prayers and periods of silence, often with a spiritually aware member to lead the meeting. Quakers have no fixed worship ritual or creed, and understandably show great variance in practices among different congregations. Hierarchical structure is minimal.

Most Quakers consider themselves Christians, but opinion is divided as to whether they qualify as Protestants, since most Quakers reject both water baptism and celebration of the Eucharist.

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