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The Religious Society of Friends had its beginning in England more than 300 years ago in a time of great religious and political turmoil. The established church put great emphasis upon outward ceremony and very little emphasis upon inward experience and righteous living. As a result, many people were restless and dissatisfied, seeking for a religion of personal experience and direct communion with God.

George Fox, the leader of the Quaker movement, was born in 1624. Although an earnest seeker, he could not find peace and satisfaction in the established church. When, after a long search, he despaired of finding help from the religious leaders of his day, he heard a voice within saying, "There is One, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition." This glorious witness of the living Christ within his own heart was the answer to his search for reality. He had found the way to direct communion with God - without ritual or ceremony and without the help of ordained clergy. This was a revolutionary discovery for his day, and he soon ran into strong opposition. George Fox and thousands of his followers were imprisoned in the years of terrible persecution that followed.

These Friends, sometimes called Quakers, were concerned to find again the life and power of the early church. They sought reality of experience and were little concerned with ritual and speculative theology. In worship they met together seeking for the living presence of God as an immediate and present reality. In everyday life they were known for sincerity, honesty, simplicity, gentleness, and loving kindness.

The famous philosopher William James once said: "In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness and a return to something more like the original truth than men have ever known in England."

The movement grew rapidly in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and by the time of the death of George Fox in 1691 there were between 40,000 and 50,000 Quakers in England.

Great numbers of these early Friends came to America. Pennsylvania was settled under the leadership of William Penn. Other colonies, such as New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, North Carolina and others, had large numbers of Quaker settlers. Today Friends are scattered around the world. Interestingly enough, the largest yearly meeting is neither in England nor in the United States, but in Africa.

The name "Friends" is taken from the words of Jesus: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). The term "Quaker" was first a nickname given to early Friends because they "trembled under the power of God."

-from "Who Are the Friends (Quakers)," a pamphlet by Seth B. Hinshaw

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