by Heather McNally
Quakers have been meeting in the Glebe since the 1960s at the Friends Meeting House, 91A Fourth Avenue. Quakers (formally The Religious Society of Friends) began as a movement in England in the 1600s. Today there are more than 375,000 Quakers worldwide. World Quaker Day was October 7.
The Ottawa Friends Meeting lists about 200 as members and attenders. On a given Sunday, there are between 20 and 40 at Meeting for Worship. Quakers include people of all ages, religious backgrounds, races and ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and abilities. Quakers have no formal creed and instead are guided by the basic principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality.
The Quaker faith has its roots in Christianity. Today, some Quakers also follow other spiritual practices. Most Quakers believe that truth is continuously revealed directly to individuals through their connection to Spirit. While many Quakers turn to the Bible for inspiration and guidance, it is not seen as the only source – spiritual inspiration may be found in other writings.
There are several branches of Quakerism, some with an order of service rather than an unprogrammed silent meeting for worship and some that are evangelical. In Ottawa, during a Quaker service, there is no liturgy or sermon. Each person enters the room where everyone is sitting in silence. Everyone centres themselves into silent worship, an openness to let the light come in from whatever side. Quakers wait expectantly for the presence of the divine. Anyone who feels divine inspiration can offer a simple spoken message. During a Meeting for Worship there may be several spoken messages – or the entire meeting may be an experience of deep peaceful silence. Direct experience of the divine is an essential element of Quakerism. Quakers believe that “there is that of God in everyone.”
The Meeting in Ottawa has no pastor. Everyone is considered to be a minister responsible for the care and worship of the community. Decisions are made during monthly business meetings in which members find consensus through discussion and centred spiritual listening.
Quakers are well known for their efforts for peace and human rights. They played a pivotal role using the Underground Railroad to transport American slaves to freedom in Canada. Quakers were also early supporters of movements for women’s equality. Commitment to non-violence and conscientious objection to war is strong.
Today many local Quakers are active with social justice issues. Current local initiatives include helping Indigenous peoples implement the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, supporting early childhood education in El Salvador, sponsoring a Syrian refugee family and working towards the abolition of nuclear weapons worldwide.
Every Sunday morning the Meeting House is open to everyone. Meeting for Worship is held at 91A Fourth Avenue from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. First Day School (Sunday School) is held at the same time.
Heather McNally has lived and worked in the Glebe for the past 20 years and has attended the Quaker Meeting.