George fox

As Quakers (Friends), we seek to live truthfully and simply, and to create loving homes filled with awareness of divine presence. We participate regularly in meeting for worship and for business – in a spirit of quiet expectation, waiting for divine guidance. We seek to deepen our spiritual and community life by the sharing of common responsibilities and personal and religious insights. We seek a deeper appreciation for our human family, for nature, and our place in the natural world. We seek to live in the inner light and power which take away the occasion for war.

Friends testimonies on peace, equality, simplicity, integrity, truth, community and diversity have evolved over time and are the outward expressions of Friends attempt to turn our idealism into action. Not only do Friends expect that we can live divinely inspired lives, but also we expect that, with divine power and guidance, we can attain social justice and peace on earth.

The Beginnings

Georg Fox
A Young George Fox

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) , first called The Religious Society of Friends of the Truth, had its beginning in England more that 350 years ago. At the time, the established church put great emphasis upon outward ceremony and very little upon inward experience and righteous living. As a result, many people were restless and dissatisfied, seeking for a religion of personal experience and direct communion with God. One of those seekers, George Fox, who had despaired of finding help from religious leaders of his day, heard a voice within saying, “There is One, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” He stated afterwards, “And when I heard it in my head did I leap for joy.” This glorious revelation of the Divine within his own heart was the answer to his search. From this experience, Fox and his followers founded the Quaker Movement.

Since those early beginnings, Friends have continued to hold that their faith is one of first-hand experience of God in their lives. Spiritual life, they say, does not depend upon the acceptance of certain doctrines, nor the observance of certain rites, but comes as persons are obedient to the light of Christ within them. They feel free to reject much of the ecclesiastical structure of the times, including priests, church dogmas, outward sacraments, and external authority in religion, because they feel that for them these do not serve the life of the spirit.

19th Cenury painting of a Quaker family holding prayer services

This has not been a solitary faith. From the beginning, the Quaker faith has flourished in a group, in a society, in a beloved fellowship. While God may be found in one’s inmost life, one is always conscious of being part of a larger group of persons who are likewise joyously following the inward way and seeking to be obedient to the light of Christ within. They seek to be obedient not only in the quiet gathering for worship together, or in their meeting for settling practical affairs, but also as they are led as a group to be concerned for those about them, particularly those suffering injustices or inequities. While Friends had great respect for the individual person, the real unit in the Society of Friends has always been the Meeting.

Friends traditionally allow great freedom in describing their own religious life and experience. They have no formal creed. They try to weave their faith into life. Are they seriously trying to follow their inward guide? Does the Sermon on the Mount come alive for them as setting standards for Christian action? Are they endeavoring to live by Quaker testimonies of integrity, simplicity, equality, peace, and community? In other words, one can often tell Quakers not so much by what they say as by the way they live.” Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting, 1988\5, p.53

Quakers in Vermont
Elias Hicks, a 19th Century Friends whose teachings were used by the Hicksite branch of Friends

Quakers were one of five of the original pre-American revolution denominations in VT. Of the two monthly meetings founded in those early days, one was in the Strafford area, created by people from the East Coast. On the western side of the state, Quakers from Duchess County NY began to hold Meetings for Worship in Danby in 1760.

For quite some time Quakers were the predominant denomination in Danby, but in the 1830’s Friends unity was fractured by the Hicksite controversy. Elias Hicks’ (1748 – 1830) teachings caused consternation and division in Quaker meetings across the country. He believed in “obedience to the light within”. For him the Inner Light was more authoritative than the text of the Bible. He rejected Satan as the source of human “passions” or “propensities.” Hicks stressed that basic urges, including all sexual passions, were neither implanted by an external Devil nor the product of personal choice, but were aspects of human nature created by God. Walt Whitman, a supporter, described Hicks as “a wonderful compound of the mystic with the logical reasoner.” A group of “Orthodox Friends” split off from the Danby Meeting to build another church nearby. This church did not survive.

Around 1840, there were eleven meetings in VT. Joseph Hoag was the leading Quaker evangelist of his generation and settled around the North Ferrisburg area. He was a conservative, or anti-Hicksite. Quakers declined in some areas of Vermont because “a too vigorous policy of disownment for various offenses decreased the membership.” Presently there are ten Monthly Meetings and one Allowed Meeting (a Meeting that has not yet formalized it’s status with the Quarterly Meeting) in Vermont. Source: The Gods of the Hills: Piety and Society in Nineteenth-Century Vermont, by the late T. D. Seymour Bassett, a member of Burlington Friends Meeting, and eminent historian and archivist.

Burlington Friends

The Bassett House as seen from North Prospect Street

The Property at 173 North Prospect Street was built in 1850 and at one time owned by Mary Fletcher, known for her gifts that helped build the Fletcher Free Library and Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington. The house has been occupied by a handful of owners over the years, most recently the Bassett Family. Thomas Bassett, a professor at the University of Vermont, helped re-establish a Quaker Meeting in Burlington, when in the 1950’s, Quakers met in the Waterman Building on Prospect Street.

In 1980 the original carriage barn of the Bassett Family’s house was remodeled to create a Meeting House for the growing number of Quakers. The Meeting House has gone through several renovations since and continues to host weekly Meeting for Worship gatherings. The Meeting House, together with the main house, now referred to as The Bassett House, is home for the Burlington Society of Friends (Quakers). Friends gather Sundays at 11 AM and Wednesdays at 12 noon for Meeting for Worship.