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Faith and Practice

Pacific Yearly Meeting

of the

Religious Society of Friends

a guide to quaker discipline in the experience of pacific yearly meeting of the religious society of friends.
published 2001

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i: Pacific Yearly Meeting In Context

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A Brief History of the Religious Society of Friends

pym in context
quaker faith & spiritual practice
testimony & experience of friends
organization of the society
activities & organization of the YM
sources of quotations
index of sources
subject index

We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of Friends who have permitted us to use material for this Faith and Practice.


 A great outburst of prophetic passion swept through the northern counties of Puritan England in the mid-seventeenth century, as on the forward wall of a tidal flood. It carried with it the utter conviction, based on direct personal experience, that the world could know directly and immediately the power of Christ’s love and the light of his truth. George Fox, probably the most charismatic and certainly the most influential of the founding members of the Quaker movement, discovered after a long, intense search, that no priest or preacher could, as he said, “speak to my condition.” He later wrote: “Then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’; and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.”

 This direct experience and others like it formed the living center of the Quaker movement that arose in the early 1650’s around Fox’s teachings and personality. In their thirst after righteousness and in their eagerness to engage the world with God’s truth, early Friends believed they were called to be prophets to their age. Like the Hebrew and Christian prophets whose lives they consciously used as models, they experienced God as a living, energizing power that spurred them to confront corrupt institutions and to form communities of believers.

 Key figures in the Quaker movement during its early days included, along with Fox himself: theologian Robert Barclay, the charismatic James Nayler, writers Margaret Fell, Isaac Penington and William Penn.

 Their prophetic vision was soon carried abroad. Borne by the“ Publishers of Truth,” as many early Friends called themselves, the Quaker movement spread south to London and into southern England, west to Ireland, and very quickly across the seas to Holland, Germany, France, and the American colonies. In a remarkable outpouring of spiritual energy, Quakers arrived in Puritan New England in 1656, only four years after George Fox began his public ministry.

 Quakers’ rejection of the established church, and their obedience to conscience rather than to legal authority, brought them severe persecution in both England and America. They suffered frequent imprisonment, fines, and confiscation of property. The Act of Toleration of 1689 finally ended the worst of these troubles in England; however, Quakers were still not allowed into professions or universities.

 The Colonies varied in religious tolerance. Some permitted more religious freedom than was possible under strict British law. The colony of Pennsylvania, owned by Friend William Penn, was noteworthy, although not unique, in welcoming more than one variety of religious belief.