Britain's third national Quaker Week has got underway with a series of events aimed at showing the relevance of Quaker faith today.
This is the Quakers' first major outreach event since they hit the headlines by deciding to carry out same-sex marriages on the same basis as opposite-sex ones. The decision already seems to have increased interest in Quakerism, not least because of the publicity it generated.
The Week runs from 3 – 10 October. Quakers – known more formally as the Religious Society of Friends – will tell enquirers that “this is a faith where you can fit in”. They say that they will speak about how their faith has “challenged and changed their lives”.
Events include a talk by the actress Sheila Hancock about what being a Quaker means to her. The week will also see the launch of the new “Quaker Centre” at the Society's headquarters in central London. It will include a cafe, bookshop, resource centre and worship space. Other events will take place at Quaker Meeting Houses across Britain.
Although Quakerism continues to attract new followers, the overall number of Quakers in Britain has been declining for some time. If current rates were to continue, British Quakerism would virtually die out within 25 years.
However, recent years have seen a sharp growth in Quaker outreach projects. It is thought that the decision to endorse same-sex marriages, and the consequent publicity, is likely to draw in enquirers interested in a religion which emphasises equality and is not afraid to be controversial.
“In these uncertain times, people are rethinking about what really matters and are searching for others who share their values” said Tom Harris, the Quakers' outreach officer, “Many people feel left out and on the edge of society”.
He explained that “We hope that with Quakers they will find acceptance and respect and a faith where they can fit in.”
A special website has been launched for the Week with resources for newcomers. See http://www.quaker.org.uk/you