Radical Roots – Quakers and Activism

Pelham Friends Church has been a deep-rooted part of the community of Pelham for over 200 years, and belongs to the Evangelical Friends Church denomination www.efcer.org
But what in the world is a “Friend”?

You may not be familiar with the term “friend” but you may have heard of Quakers. If that rings a bell you probably now have a picture of a sweet old man in a black hat smiling out at you from a box of instant oatmeal. Well, you’re getting warmer but that’s not quite our story either. If you consult a dictionary you’ll find a brief anecdote on Quaker history that goes something like: “The Quakers (properly The Religious Society of Friends) are a body of Christians that arose out of the religious ferment of mid-17th century Puritan England. Founder George Fox (1624-91) was the son of a Leicestershire weaver.” www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/quakers

Humble Beginnings
The Friends movement began in the 17th century with a growing dissatisfaction with the rigid forms of the Church of England, and the increasing desire for a more inwardly satisfying way of worship and life?
George Fox, trained cobbler and early dissenter became passionate that the living Christ could speak directly to the need of every seeking soul. Over time, Fox’s teachings attracted large numbers of people. At that time, no church was permitted except the Church of England; hence, the followers of Fox first called themselves Friends of Jesus, and later, the Religious Society of Friends. A radical belief for it’s time, George Fox insisted that both women and children were qualified for ministry because they had souls that were capable of experiencing the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The term Quaker was given to them out of mockery and derision for Fox’s statement that they should ‘tremble at the word of the Lord.”
We are rightfully proud of these roots and those who came before us, From humble beginnings arising from religious persecution we came to North America and eventually into the Pelham Region with a heart for God, a respect for others as all being equal, a belief in peace and non-violence, a desire to seek justice for the marginalized, and a willingness to colour outside the lines of accepted religious practice of the day by including women as church leaders and teachers.
So we’re old with more than 200 years in Pelham, but as you can see we were way ahead of the curve. What were considered radical beliefs at the time have helped to shape our community our country today.
Quaker activism in the anti-slavery movement can be traced back to the late 1600’s and played a pivotal role in their later involvement with the Underground Railroad. In 1776, Quakers were prohibited from owning slaves, and 14 years later they petitioned the U.S. Congress for the abolition of slavery.
Our History with the Underground Railroad
Having recently escaped their own persecution and unjust imprisonment, Quakers were sensitive to the then accepted practice of slavery. Founded on their belief that all are equal under God, Quakers played a prominent role in the Underground Railroad, a dangerous movement that helped slaves escape to the northern states and into Canada.
The historic grave site located beside Pelham Friends Church contains the graves of many freed slaves who came to Canada through the underground railroad.
Women’s Rights
As a primary Quaker belief that all human beings are equal and worthy of respect, the fight for human rights has also extended to many other areas of society. By the 19th century many Quakers were active in the movement for women’s rights. Many early suffragettes were Quakers.
Are you familiar with names like Susan B. Anthony, who dedicated her life to fighting for equal voting rights for women?  That’s right, she was a Quaker. Or how about Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker philanthropist  who actively campaigned for prison reform and inmate rights, leading to the establishment of the Elizabeth Fry Society.
Peace and Non-Violence
Part of Quaker history includes many accounts of Quakers going to jail rather than sell out their beliefs, such as a refusal to bear arms.
Thousands of Quakers spent years in prison in 17th century England rather than purchase their freedom by swearing oaths, paying fines or agreeing to take up arms. Non-violent civil disobedience was a part of Quaker response to injustice since the 1650’s. Our belief in peace and non-violence continues to be practiced today and we are still committed anabaptists