Quakers from six continents have assembled in Kenya this week for their international conference. While they have different theologies and styles of worship, they are all seeking to explore how Quakers can be “salt and light” by "living the Kingdom of God in a broken world”.
The conference is taking place from 17 to 25 April at Kabarak University in Kenya's Rift Valley. Over forty aspects of the theme will be explored in small groups and workshops.
Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, grew out of radical Christian movements in seventeenth-century England. They emphasise a direct personal experience of God, available to all people.
Nancy Irving, General Secretary of the Friends’ World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) said the gathering’s theme “unites the spiritual foundation of our faith with our understanding of the basis of our work in the world in all its diversity”.
The conference includes participants from countries with relatively large numbers of Quakers – such as Kenya, Bolivia, Britain and the USA – as well as those from other countries in which the movement is less well represented.
There have been several splits within Quakerism since it began in the seventeenth century. Most, but not all of the major strands of Quakerism today are represented at the gathering.
There are liberal Friends, who give priority to personal experience; evangelical and pastoral Friends, who accord a higher status to the Bible; and conservative Friends, who emphasise early Quakers’ focus on the inward experience of Christ.
Liberal and conservative Friends hold mostly unprogrammed Meetings for Worship, based around silence. Evangelical and pastoral Friends are more inclined to bring in structured elements, with Meetings that are programmed or semi-programmed.
Fifteen Bolivian Quakers are attending the conference despite a last-minute emergency. The airline on which they were booked went bankrupt shortly before the event, but they were able to book on other flights.