Quakers don’t have a creed. Instead our ‘faith’ is shaped by a set of what we call ‘Testimonies’ – an idea formed early in the life of the Society that faith is expressed in the values that guide people think through life’s choices. Today, Quakers in Britain express these values as ‘Equality and justice’, ‘Peace’, Truth and Integrity’ and ‘Simplicity and sustainability’. It’s these values that unite contemporary Quakers (or ‘Friends’) throughout the history of the Society of Friends; and that have led Friends to action on issues such as slavery, social deprivation and militarism, often in opposition to the general culture of the time. You can read more about Quaker testimonies on the website of Quakers in Britain.
Over the years, ideas about what it means to hold these values have been refined into simple guidance for Quaker Meetings and individuals. Some practical, some poetic, these are encapsulated in our ‘Advices and Queries’ – a formative Quaker text which invites us to consider how our faith affects our lives. In so doing, the Advices and Queries (A&Q) helps to shape Quaker practice as one where excess and indiscriminate use of resources are replaced by careful choices, moderation and ethical judgements about every aspect of life.
The ideas expressed in A&Q are ideals, representing the aspirations both of the individual and the Society of Friends as a whole. Quakers would be the first to agree that they are challenging and that we all too often fall short.
Some examples of A&Q are given below.
‘Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organisations? Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility..?’ A&Q 37
‘ … Be discriminating when choosing means of entertainment and information. Resist the desire to acquire possessions or income through unethical investment, speculation or games of chance.’ A&Q 39
On moderation in behaviour:
‘In view of the harm done by the use of alcohol, tobacco and other habit-forming drugs, consider whether you should limit your use of them or refrain from using them altogether. Remember that any use of alcohol or drugs may impair judgment and put both the user and others in danger.’ A&Q 40
On life choices:
‘Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak…’ A&Q 27
On dealing with differences of opinion:
‘Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? …Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your conviction to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.’ A&Q 17
‘Bring into God’s light those emotions, attitudes and prejudices in yourself which lie at the root of destructive conflict, acknowledging your need for forgiveness and graces. In what ways are you involved in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations?’ A&Q 32
On valuing other people’s experience:
‘Take time to learn about other people’s experiences of the Light… As you learn from others, can you in turn give freely from what you have gained? While respecting the experiences and opinions of others, do not be afraid to say what you have found and what you value. Appreciate that doubt and questioning can also lead to spiritual growth and to greater awareness of the Light that is in us all.’ A&Q 5
‘Do you work gladly with other religious groups in the pursuit of common goals? While remaining faithful to Quaker insights, try to enter imaginatively into the life and witness of other communities of faith, creating together the bonds of friendship.’ A&Q 6
‘Respect the wide diversity among us in our lives and relationships. Refrain from making prejudiced judgments about the life journeys of others. Do you foster the spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness which our discipleship asks of us? Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God.’ A&Q 22
On living sustainably:
‘Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?’ A&Q 41
‘We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendour of God’s continuing creation.’ A&Q 42
Full copies of Advices and Queries are available at Airton Meeting House and Barn for you to take away.