Aims of the Nontheist Friends Network

The Network’s aim is to provide a forum and supportive framework for Friends who regard religion as a human creation. We want to ensure that our Religious Society of Friends is an inclusive rather than an exclusive Society. We seek to explore theological and spiritual diversity and their practical implications, in respectful acceptance of different views, experiences and journeys.

Please read our Constitution for details of our aims and structure. (Not just an afterthought but highly recommended to get a feel for how NFN works).

“Quakers do not share a fixed set of beliefs.

Our unity is based on a shared practice of worship, not on our beliefs all being the same. There is no need to be in unity with Quakers on every issue in order to be part of our meetings.

Many people have a personal understanding of God; often this is based on Christian teachings, or on other religious traditions. Other people are aware of or seek a spiritual environment but would not define it further. Quakers are no different!

There is a great diversity within the Quakers on conceptions of God, and we use different kinds of language to describe religious experience. Some Quakers have a conception of God which is similar to that of orthodox Christians, and would use similar language. Others are happy to use God-centred language, but would conceive of God in very different terms to the traditional Christian trinity. Some describe themselves as agnostics, or nontheists, and describe their experiences in ways that avoid the use of the word God entirely.

Quaker faith is built on experience, and Quakers would generally hold that it is the spiritual experience which is central to Quaker worship, and not the use of a particular form of words (whether that be ‘God’ or anything else.”

The above statement was published on the website of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain  www.quaker.org.uk during 2013 to describe a Quaker approach to belief, language, and experience. We are glad to reproduce it here, as it confirms that the perspectives of the Nontheist Friends Network has an accepted place in British Quakerism, as a Listed Informal Group of Britain Yearly Meeting.

Update 30 March 2018 (Good Friday).
Interestingly an almost identical text appears on the website of Baltimore Yearly Meeting and BYM Net today. It looks as if one BYM copied and pasted from the other BYM but we don’t know in which direction!

This Nontheist Quakers web site has been created to provide British Quakers who may consider themselves to be atheist, agnostic, or nontheist with a readily accessible source of information about this interesting and growing strand of liberal Quakerism.

22 thoughts on “About”

  1. I am impressed rereading the above, and think I will find £20 to join. I shall be at Warwick for YMG/BYM and think I must do it then.
    One phrase I find missing is “So-called” re word RELIGIOUS in the title of our organisatio. It is an obstacle for me.
    I suspect it is so too for many others ut there for whom the word connects with a lot of negative baggage including conflict and hypocrisy.
    For So many others however it is positive ín it’s multiple connections with other words suspect to me but profoundly meaningful to others, eg Spiritual and Faith


    1. Welcome John
      I believe our treasurer Sarah Siddle, Clerk Gisela Creed, former Clerk Michael Wright and founder member David Boulton will all be at BYMG at some stage and (one of them) delighted to collect your £20! With only a few days to go, everyone please see the details of our upcoming events under EVENTS above.
      PS. John. If you miss them at Warwick, see our Membership page under ‘About’ above.


      1. As a further PS John, as shown on the membership page under ‘About’ our current annual membership fee appears to be just £10. (£20 for couples perhaps?)


    2. I do agree, John. When Paul Parker became Recording Clerk, he organised a conference called ‘Whoosh’ to consider the idea that the Society was ready to take off, to make a big stride, because there were many people for whom it could be an answer to their spiritual needs. I think many of these are people who identify as ‘Spiritual, not religious’, and it is these that the Society should be gathering in. ‘Religious’ implies to me the need to accept – or be bound to, ‘religio’ meaning ‘binding back’ – an orthodoxy of some kind, and many of us joined Friends partly because it did not require any such acceptance. We are, we get told, left free to find our own truth. I would prefer us to be the Spiritual Society of Friends, but I fear that to suggest this would cause outrage!
      Sarah Siddle


      1. The classical explanation of the relatively modern word ‘religion’ derives from the Latin ‘relego’—‘re’- (again) + ‘lego’ in the sense of ‘choose’, ‘go over again’ or ‘consider carefully’, rather than re-‘ligo’ (to combine etc.) which is ex-context and therefore a misinterpretation.


  2. I would like to know if there is an online Meeting of non theist Quakers? Since we are few and far between, wouldn’t an online presence/meeting, via Skype, Google, Messenger or other platform be a wonderful thing to have?


  3. Welcome Pamela and I see you are now following the website.
    I would be very interested to see what other members of our Steering Group and members of the Network make of this suggestion.
    I am only familiar with Skype conference calling and not sure about the accessibility of other conferencing programs but the main difficulty would be (for someone) to organise a time for any such online meeting, at what frequency, how to manage it and with what purpose (eg. worship? discussion? Q&A? Readings? etc.).
    More comments here please!


    1. I know that Woodbrooke have 2 online meetings each week, so they have the technology..I also find myself with permanent mixed feelings- I really value our network and our conference, needing the opportunity to meet like minded Friends. Having said this, I’m always aware that I wouldn’t want us to be seen as ” separate ” but as part of the wide spectrum of Quakers. My initial thought re online meetings was ” oh yes!!” but then I wondered if we are better to be present at , for example, the Woodbrooke online meetings where we would be part of the whole.. I still haven’t ‘got my head round’ what my thinking process is!!!!!


      1. They are online meeting for worship sessions so that if you can’t get to a meeting or even if you want to join in these additional meetings for worship you can.


  4. Glad to have heard about the Woodbrooke meetings, I am definitely going to join these to see how they work. It’s a great idea for people who can’t get there in person. If there were enough people here who would be interested and could make agreeable times I would love to join those too! I am familiar with join.me free meeting software online which could be an option.


  5. I am interested in Quakerism and would like to attend a local meeting, for spiritual and social reasons. However, I am not a Christian and probably never will be. This has made me hesitate in going to a local meeting. What should I expect and what kind of reception does a non-theist typically receive at a meeting?


    1. I started at a meeting in which most Friends were from a Christian background. I felt welcomed and we had some evening groups where we talked about how we had got to where we were now. I could explain my nontheism and I could hear why God, Jesus and the Christian church is important to some Friends . It has been an opportunity to allow each other the space for our own beliefs along with a genuine interest in understand others positions


    2. Hi Tom, I am in the same position as you and I wondered if you had taken the plunge and what your experience was?


      1. Hoping you have “taken the plunge” and had a positive experience! A dear Ffriend of mine advised me to visit a number of Quaker meetings as they are all so different.. another way may be to spend a night or two B&B at Woodbrooke and attend the daily morning for worship and evening epilogue; a very Friendly and gentle introduction.


      2. Hi Martin
        Thank-you for following the website. I hope you find it useful.
        Whether Tom replies may depend on whether he checked the tick-box for receiving notices of replies to this comment thread. Comment/replies notification is not automatic as signing up to follow the website will only send notifications of new ‘posts’ and not comments (unless you sign up for them) or other changes (e.g. of pages) on the site.
        As well as the tick box for individual comments, you can sign up for the RSS feed of new posts and/or any new comments in the very top left corner (black column) of the site. (Or at the very bottom – scroll down – of the mobile version). Perhaps I should make a post about this or update the How to? page?
        With regard to ‘taking the plunge’ – see my reply to Tom in September below.
        The week before our NFN conference at Woodbrooke, I myself ‘took the plunge’ of attending the local ‘Spiritualist church’ (there are two in Hounslow) by way of curiosity and ‘research’. I probably won’t go again! Perhaps one of the reasons we are still the ‘Religious Society of Friends’ and not the ‘Spiritual Society of Friends’ as has sometimes been suggested.
        Whether you will encounter the ‘Spirit’, and in what form, amongst, for example, Christian Friends (http://friendsunitedmeeting.org/) or Evangelical Friends’ Churches (in America or Kenya (http://friendsunitedmeeting.org/africa.html)) or amongst non-theist Friends (Quakers) I am not able to say.


  6. Welcome Tom
    I almost wondered if I should send a private reply by email but your question is so direct I felt it was an opportunity to answer in this public space.
    I think there would be no ‘typical reception’ of a non-theist, partly because at first no-one would know you were a non-theist (or Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, atheist etc.) unless you chose to say so.
    Meetings vary considerably in their make-up, some being non-theist leaning, others more ‘Christocentric’ and most having individuals with a wide range of beliefs and backgrounds.
    I hope that all would make you welcome but it is recommended that newcomers should try several meetings in their locality to form a broader picture of what Quaker meetings are like as they differ in size, age profile and other characteristics.
    The main Quaker website in Britain, http://www.quaker.org.uk/ includes
    http://www.quaker.org.uk/meetings where you can find your nearest meetings.
    A lot of Quakers in Britain today would not describe themselves as Christian whilst others certainly would. (There is a book by a Quaker Universalist Tony Philpott called ‘From Christian to Quaker – a spiritual journey from evangelical Christian to universalist Quaker’ which you might find interesting).
    Details of non-theist Quaker publications can be found on this website.
    I hope you might get further answers to your question here but also that you might take the plunge and try a meeting one Sunday morning and perhaps another on another occasion.
    Most meetings have tea (or coffee etc.) and biscuits (and sometimes cake) afterwards and an opportunity to chat about Quakerism, today’s news or last night’s telly. (My tongue slightly in cheek).
    You could possibly even enjoy your first meeting tomorrow morning!
    Trevor Bending (web-person who gets the comments before anyone else).


    1. Welcome Opher!
      Sorry to hear about your Quaker friend’s wife. I wonder if she had or will be having a Quaker funeral?
      I wanted to draw your attention to articles about ‘awe and wonder’ (your words on your blog) by Michael Wright on our Articles page. (Michael was an Anglican vicar for 30 years but resigned because he no longer believed in God or the virgin birth).


      1. Sorry you didn’t get a reply earlier Deepa. Perhaps I’ve only just seen your comment. Sorry to hear too, if my understanding is correct, you won’t be able to attend NFN conference this year.
        I haven’t booked yet but hope to do so soon.
        Your contribution to our Steering Group is much appreciated!


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