Frequently Asked Quaker Questions
1) Quakers are still around?
Well, apparently yes! Quakers are a branch of Protestantism begun in England in the 1600s. In the Americas, Quakers were the core of one of the first American colonies, Pennsylvania (the Penn family, founders of Pennsylvania, were Quakers). We’ve always been one of the smaller Protestant denominations, with about 300,000-400,000 followers worldwide today. So if you didn’t know we were here, it’s probably because we’re spread a little thin, but we’re glad you found us!
2) If you are Quaker, what does “Friend” mean?
Actually this question is being asked backwards. We are officially the Religious Society of Friends, or Friends for short. We take our name from John 15:14 where Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” The term “Quaker” was originally a nickname used as an insulting, derisive term to describe how some Friends trembled when overcome with emotion, spirit, and awe by the direct experience of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit during worship. Over time, the term lost its negative connotation. “Quakers” and “Friends” refer to the same group of people. These words are basically synonyms and many of us use them interchangeably.
3) Quaker? You mean like the guy on the oatmeal box?
Well, yes and no. Mostly no. The name is the same, and some of us do like oatmeal, but that’s where the similarities end. The Quaker Oats Company does not have any connection to us or our history. Apparently, the people who developed Quaker Oats read an encyclopedia entry about Quakers and liked the characteristics that “Quaker” had come to stand for: integrity, purity, and honesty. Thinking these were good words to have associated with new products, they named the company “Quaker Oats Company.” People have been confusing us with them ever since, largely because they’ve put more into their commercial marketing program than we have.
And the same goes for Quaker State Oil, Quaker Maid Cabinets, and any number of other Quaker named products. We don’t sell anything, since after all we’re more interested in prophets than profits.
4) So where is your funny hat? or Why don’t you dress in grey? or Do you wear those wig things?
Although some traditional Quakers do dress all in grey, at Cherry Grove, we don’t have any dress codes. For better or worse, we dress just like everyone else does. Some of us are fashionable, and some of us still have things in our closets dating back several presidential administrations. In other words, we’re just like anybody else. We wear what we like, what is comfortable, what isn’t in the laundry hamper. And if we are wearing a wig, please be kind enough not to notice.
5) Do you use electricity? or Do you drive a horse and buggy? or Do you grow a garden? or Are you really allowed to have that iPhone? or Aren’t you supposed to say “thee” and “thou” a lot?
Because the settlement of Pennsylvania put a number of similar religious groups together — Friends, Amish, Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch, etc. — these groups are often confused or thought to be interchangeable. There are indeed some similarities, including the belief in Scripture and valuing a lifestyle based on simplicity, integrity, and discipline. Our understanding of these beliefs does not restrict our use of modern conveniences such as electricity, cars, grocery stores, computers, TVs, or smartphones. As for thee and thou, thee may speaketh that way if thou wisheth. Most of us don’teth.
6) Do men and women sit on opposite sides of the church during services?
While early Quaker services were organized this way, here at Cherry Grove, our worship service is held in a church sanctuary with pews and chairs. People sit wherever they like, regardless of age or gender. But, like any church, we all seem to have found our favorite spots and tend to sit in the same place each time we come. Makes it easier to find each other that way.
7) Do you have a band or music during your services?
Yes. At Cherry Grove we worship through music just as many other churches do. In fact, we’re quite blessed by having many musically gifted people in our congregation, so each Sunday a different team of five or six Friends leads us with songs and music. The band typically includes guitar, piano, and drums. The songs usually include a mix of traditional hymns and contemporary Christian pieces.
8) Do you sit in silence the whole time during services?
There are generally two types of Quaker services: programmed and unprogrammed. Cherry Grove follows the programmed tradition, which means we have music, a pastor, a sermon, as well as a period of silent or open worship. The silent worship may last up to ten minutes. During that time, everyone sits quietly to personally commune with God and listen for the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts. Sometimes people are moved to share what they hear with the rest of the congregation. For more details, check out More Info about Open Worship.
9) Isn’t it weird to sit in silence with a big group of people?
It may seem that way at first, especially if you have never experienced it. But it is actually a wonderful, moving experience. For some people, it is their favorite part of the service. You may find it helps to close your eyes during this time so that you can focus on the silence instead of the weirdness. For more details, check out More Info about Open Worship.
10) Wasn’t it Quakers who brought us Prohibition?
In one of our Queries, we are asked to abstain from harmful, addictive, and unnecessary drugs, including alcohol. By tradition, Friends generally believe in complete abstention from alcohol. While we didn’t officially bring Prohibition to the United States, one could see how the Friends church would be swept up into that little battle. To this day, many Friends abstain, although not all do. Cheers to diversity!
11) Are you all pacifists?
Sort of but not necessarily. Traditionally, Friends have been one of the major Peace Churches, leading the movement of pacifism and non-violence throughout the world. In one of our Queries, we are asked to observe and teach the Friends testimony against military training and service, making clear that war is incompatible with the spirit and teachings of the Gospel. However, our belief that each of us is personally and individually guided by Christ in a sense of peace and justice leads some of us to find room to serve actively in the military, some to serve through being conscientious objectors, and others to make all sacrifices possible to further the goal of worldwide non-violence. When all of these individual inspirations come together, it results in some of the most difficult questions we deal with as a church – and some of the more lively conversations.
12) So a robber breaks into your house in the middle of the night with evil intentions. What would you do?
We would do what we think is right, which is likely what anyone else would do.
13) How different are you from other Friends churches?
In a family, everyone looks more or less the same, but usually no one looks identical. This is true with churches, too. Interestingly, because of the way Friends churches have grown, there can be some pretty big differences from one Friends church to another.
The tone and method of worship in each Friends church is determined by the congregation, not by a hierarchical person or group. Because of this, worship at various Friends churches will often differ from one another. If Quaker sounds interesting to you, we would encourage you to shop around to different Friends churches in your area to see which one fits you best. Cherry Grove is an evangelical group, promoting the Gospel of Jesus. We may look a lot like many community churches. However, other Friends churches worship only in silence, some have no music, some have no pastor, and so on. One of the many neat things about Friends is our agreement to disagree on some things and to accept each other’s differences with love and respect. Just like family.