Friends, also known as Quakers, are an international community of churches of various styles and focus. The Northwest Friends, to which we belong, is a community of 67 churches in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The Friends story is about ordinary people who worship and serve an extraordinary God. Friends are simply one thread in the rich tapestry of the historic and global Church of Jesus Christ, but it is a thread of God’s weaving.
For more information on Friends or the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Churches, visit www.nwfriends.org.
A Brief History of Friends (Quakers)
The Friends Church got its start in England in the 17th century. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, sought healing for his troubled soul as a 19 year old in 1643. When he found no help from the leaders of the Church of England or the Puritans, he turned to personal Bible study and meditation. He wrote in his Journal that his attention was drawn to Jesus Christ: “And when all my…hopes in men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, 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.”
Ralph Beebe, in A Garden of the Lord, tells us that “Fox’s spiritual awakening resulted in a feverish compulsion to spread the message. Many others soon joined him, calling themselves ‘Friends of Truth,’ but were nicknamed ‘Quakers’ in ridicule, probably because they called upon people to quake under the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Their preaching and activity resulted in persecution, but the movement grew rapidly. Many Quakers went to America, some as missionaries and some as colonists, beginning as early as 1655. Beebe summarizes the Quaker heritage: “Quakers have taught that man could attain peace of heart ‘through simple faith in Jesus Christ’—a peace which to them meant not only forgiveness of sin but victory over it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Closely correlated was the human love which would transcend the egocentric and extend itself to mankind regardless of racial or national boundaries. To the Quaker, his history bears to the world a twofold message—the Gospel of a loving Christ who can speak to every condition, and a message of human love to a world which has too often gone unloved.”
In America, “the inevitable result of westward migration in the 19th century was a large number of displaced Christians. For some this meant the loss of church affiliation altogether; others associated themselves with whatever religious group might be available. In the case of the Quakers, pioneers were usually followed by missionaries or traveling ministers, then Friends settlements and educational institutions, with quarterly and yearly meetings soon appearing.” Scattered Friends arrived in Oregon before the Civil War, but no communities or meetings were developed until the late 1870s. From that time on the migration was rapid.