Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, are deeply committed to living their lives with integrity and simplicity. Equality, the pursuit of peace, the camaraderie of community and stewardship of the Earth are integral tenets of their faith movement.
Quakers are a small Christian denomination that originated in England in the mid-17th century and have been present in Canada since 1834. Today, approximately 300,000 people worldwide identify as Quakers. About 60 of them, representing a variety of ages, ethnicities and experiences, live and worship in Winnipeg.
Many of these local Quakers, or Friends, recently participated in the society’s national meeting, held at Canadian Mennonite University the first week of August. The national meeting has been an annual event in Canada for more than half a century.
"The Canadian Yearly Meeting, or national meeting, is an extended meeting where Friends and guests gather together for business, worship, speakers, education and more," Winnipeg Friend Glenn Morison says.
The meeting serves to unify and connect Quakers from communities across the country, and help them set priorities for the future. Winnipeg was selected as the host city this year, and for the foreseeable future, because of its central location.
This year’s meeting, which attracted about 100 participants, featured a variety of speakers and sessions focused on spiritual development, social justice, community building and Quaker history.
Highlights of the week included a Bible study session led by Steve Heinrichs, the Winnipeg-based director of Indigenous-settler relations for Mennonite Church Canada, and a free public lecture by Etienne Paul Mungombe.
Mungombe, a Montreal-based Quaker pastor, educator, peace activist and refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, spoke eloquently on the topic of African Refugee Journeys: Listen, Love, Learn, Act.
"The public lecture was very well received," Morison says, "especially when people were told after that Mungombe was speaking in his sixth language, English. "
"The tradition of the lecture is pretty big," Morison adds, "and certainly having a man of Mungombe’s background is unique in our history."
In addition to speakers and information sessions, the national meeting also offered participants numerous opportunities to socialize, sing, have fun and, of course, worship.
Worship, in the Quaker tradition, replaces formal religious services and emphasizes the individual’s direct connection to God.
"The Religious Society of Friends is a religion that has no doctrine dogma or liturgy," Morison says.
There is no structured service, no prayer book and no church, and worship meetings usually take place in a simple rented room.
Most worship, Morison adds, also takes place in contemplative silence.
In Winnipeg, Society of Friends worship meetings are held every Sunday morning and every second Wednesday evening, and welcome all visitors and new Friends with equality and without condition.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.