Friends in deed 

Quakers of the Glebe 

Edited by Carol Dixon  

Did you know that the Glebe is home to Ottawa’s Quaker community? The meeting house is situated at 91A Fourth Avenue, and every Sunday members and attenders gather to find peace and spiritual connection in silence. Yes, quiet contemplation reigns for an hour or so, during which those present look inward for spiritual wisdom (the Inner Light). Sometimes a person will be moved to share an insight, or to read a passage that has inspired them, or even to express new understanding through a song. Sometimes, no voices are heard at all during the meeting. Afterwards, though, many voices can be heard chatting over coffee! 

The Quaker movement, formally known as the Religious Society of Friends, dates back almost four hundred years. George Fox, a young restless religious seeker after “Truth” in England, was its founder. Although the movement was rooted in Christian Protestantism, he came to believe that everyone has equal access to universal truths without needing to follow a religious leader or a prescribed set of beliefs. Today, there are just under 400,000 Friends worldwide, of whom about 1,000 are in Canada. Their spiritual paths continue to be shaped not by creeds or religious doctrine handed down through the centuries but by the Quaker testimonies of Equality, Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Stewardship of the Earth and the belief that there is that of God in everyone.  

Some famous Quakers from the past are: Elizabeth Fry and John Cadbury of chocolate fame, William Penn after whom Pennsylvania is named and John Woolman, who advocated for the abolition of slavery. More contemporary Quakers include Murray Thomson who, along with his Mennonite colleague Ernie Regehr, founded Project Ploughshares, a Canadian peace research institute now part of the Canadian Council of Churches – it maintains a focus on disarmament efforts, weapons and security, specifically related to the arms trade, emerging military and security technologies, nuclear weapons and outer space. Other famous Friends include Ursula Franklin, scientist, feminist and peace activist; Ruth Morris, seeking the way to transformative justice and an activist working on prison abolition; and long-time Glebe resident, architect John Leaning. Friends shy away from proselytizing.   

American Friends Service Committee and the British Friends Service Council received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 on behalf of Quakers from a number of countries who were recognized for their compassionate peace and social justice work and for caring for victims before, during and after the two World Wars in Europe. 

From that Nobel presentation speech: “The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them – that rich expression of the sympathy between all men (sic), regardless of nationality or race, which, transformed into deeds, must form the basis for lasting peace. . .But they have given us something more: they have shown us the strength to be derived from faith in the victory of the spirit over force.” 

Quakers continue to be active today in peace and social justice work across the world. 

After a number of divisions among Quakers over the centuries, there are now two main strands of Quakerism:  Unprogrammed Friends (Canada, parts of the U.S., Europe, Australia, New Zealand) and Programmed Friends (Africa, Latin America and parts of the U.S.)   

Almost half of the worlds Quakers live in Africa, and their numbers continue to grow. Recent arrivals from Rwanda and Burundi note how different Quaker meetings are back home. They are usually guided by a pastor who fulfills this role on a part-time basis, and cheerful music rather than silence is the norm. They gather to celebrate their quest for the Inner Light with songs and praise. I found it a little strange to be in silent meetings when I first arrived in Canada,a recent arrival says, but I have learned to appreciate the peace that both silence and song can bring. 

What seems certain is that, whether they worship quietly or more energetically, Quakers are a force for good in the world. 

Curious to learn more? Visit the website Quaker.ca or visit the Quaker Meeting House at 91A Fourth Avenue at 10:30 am on Sundays. You will receive a warm welcome, and you will be invited to join the silent meeting, which will be followed by coffee and chat. Or join us for potluck on the first Sunday of the month. A large library of Quaker writing is available.  

 

Carol Dixon edited this article prepared by an international committee of newcomer and old-timer Quakers. She is a member of the Glebe Quaker community. 

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