I found that I didn’t have a whole lot very profound to say this afternoon, but I thought it might be fun to play with Google’s autocomplete function. So I gave Google some question starters and figured I would answer whatever it came up with. And then, so that it wouldn’t become a totally academic exercise, I set myself a thirty minute time limit to answer all of the questions below. Also access to the Internet, so I could fact check myself.
How do Quakers dress? Quakers dress all kinds of ways. A few Quakers are still Plain, which means they will dress in unadorned pants, dresses, suspenders, hats, etc., sort of like the Amish but not exactly like the Amish. Most Quakers dress a lot like the people around them. For those of us in North America or Europe, this might mean jeans or skirts or suits or whatever. But actually, there are tons of Quakers in South America and Africa (and some in Asia and the West Pacific), and there are more Quakers in Kenya than anywhere else in the world. So if you asked us to all line up in a row and look at what we were wearing, my best guess is that over half of us would be in traditional Kenyan clothing. Also it would take a very long time to get us all to line up in a row. We don’t follow directions very well.
How do Quakers worship? The more traditional form of Quaker worship is waiting worship, which means waiting in expectant silence for the guidance of Holy Spirit. When we experience that guidance, we might rise and speak a message that we’ve been given. But the majority of Quakers now worship in other forms. Many sing, pray, read Scripture, and/or dance as part of their worship.
How do Quakers pray? The same way as many other faith traditions, though we tend to emphasize listening really carefully God to answer.
How do Quakers sleep? On our backs, sides, stomachs, whatever. Hopefully someplace other than meeting for worship.
How do Quakers marry? Again, traditionally, Quakers marry in an expectant-silence-meeting-for-worship with no clergyperson. At the moment that feels right, the marrying couple stands and says something like vows, though not necessarily some particular text, and then they marry each other in the eyes of God and in the care of those gathered; no human authority marries them to each other. In the United States, Quakers have a special exception to the marriage law in all fifty states to accommodate this. That said, there are Quaker pastors in many branches of Quakerism, and such pastors do officiate marriages.
How do Quakers mate? That is absolutely none of your business.
How do Quakers speak? As truthfully as possible. There’s a story—probably apocryphal—about somebody speaking to an old Quaker. The somebody points to a bunch of sheep on the side of a hill and asks, “Are those sheep shorn?” The old Quaker looks at the sheep very carefully and then says, “I can certainly tell you that the side of the sheep that I’m looking at has been shorn. I can’t say anything about the other side.”
How do Quakers vote? In political elections, most of us vote like anybody else—by going to the polls. Among ourselves, we don’t vote. Our meetings for business are held in expectant worship, and we search for something called “sense of the meeting.” The question at hand is presented. We wait for different people to feel inspired and speak to the question. Then, after a little while, it becomes clear how God is leading the group as a whole in response to the question. We name that and call that “sense of the meeting.” It doesn’t mean that everybody agrees on the answer to the question. It means that everybody agrees that the group as a whole seems to be led to that particular answer.
How do Quakers celebrate Christmas? We used to not celebrate Christmas or any other holiday because we said we were “not keepers of days” and that every day is equally holy. Officially, I suppose we still don’t celebrate Christmas, or at least certain branches still don’t, but most of us do. We tend to keep it simple. At my own Quaker meeting, the kids put on a little Nativity play, which is very sweet. Then they serve nuts to everybody. They also have a little Christmas party in December with the guests at a homeless shelter.
How do Quakers dress today? Almost exactly the same way that we dressed yesterday.
How many Quakers are there? Luckily, there’s an organization called Friends World Committee for Consultation that counts everybody! Or at least, they try to. They say there are 400,000 Quakers in the world, half living in Africa.
How many Quakers in the US? Around 80,000, it would appear.
How many Quakers are there in the US? I said, around 80,000.
How many Quakers are there today? Not as many as there were yesterday. We’re an aging population, and generally speaking, our numbers are shrinking. But then again, in Africa, we’re growing. So I don’t know.
How many Quakers are there in the UK? Somewhere around 17,000, or at least that’s what Quakers in the UK say.
How many Quakers are there in America? See, this gets complicated, because it depends on how you define “America,” and there is no standard definition. Did you know that people the world over don’t even agree on how many continents there are? I was talking with a group of people from Central America once, and it turns out that in school, they learn there are eight continents because Central America is its own. But if we’re counting Quakers in North America, Central America, and South America, the answer might be 160,000. Maybe. I had to do math because some websites refer to actual numbers and others refer to percentages of the 400,000.
How many Quakers in Australia? Some say 1,000. Some say 2,000. Probably make sure there’s enough ice cream for 2,000. Most Quakers really like ice cream.
How many Quakers in UK? I’m still going with 17,000, but look, it’s complicated. Because some Friends are members who attend regularly, and some Friends are regular attenders who aren’t members, and some Friends are members who don’t attend regularly, so who counts and who doesn’t? Also we don’t have an official authority that defines who’s a Quaker and who’s not and who demands a regular census. (Like I said, Friends World Committee for Consultation tries, but you really can’t get much better than an estimate.)
How many Quakers in Ireland? Ireland and Northern Ireland count themselves together, and they report 1,600 people.
How many Quakers in Pennsylvania? That information doesn’t seem to be readily available. We don’t organize ourselves according to state lines. The best I can tell you is that there are about eighty meetings/congregations in Pennsylvania.
How long do Quakers live? I’m guessing we line up fairly well with the average life expectancy. Maybe higher or lower depending on what country we’re talking about.
How long do green Quakers live? I don’t know, but probably not as long as the non-green ones, because turning green cannot be a good sign.