Let’s rewind to the 1920s. Friends House, now the central offices of the Quakers in Britain, was designed by Hubert Lidbetter. Upon completion in 1927, he was awarded a RIBA bronze medal for best building erected in London.
And yes, it still looks as impressive today, with carved varnished wooden doors tucked behind Palladian columns, nestled alongside posters depicting people piecing together the earth under the slogan “Quakers: Led by faith to build a fairer world”.
So who are the Quakers? We popped into the Friends House, through the café, past various one-on-one meetings, tutor sessions, and catch-ups, to find ourselves in their bookshop. Here we got chatting to a couple of volunteers and thumbed our way through a series of pamphlets.
Having originated in mid-seventeenth century England from Christianity, there are now around 200,000 in the world and 17,000 in Britain. They believe in God and the unique worth of every human being.
“We don’t believe in priests or leaders,” says one volunteer who works in the bookshop, “hierarchy and rituals are an unnecessary obstruction between the believer and God.”
Quakers or ‘Friends’ as they often call themselves, don’t espouse religious dogma or creed and have no ordered services. Sunday sessions are held but they consist of sitting together in silence, waiting for ‘ministry’ – that is someone to have something important to say.Like Christians, they have a bible called Quaker Faith & Practice. Unlike other religions however, it is updated every generation, as part of what another volunteer called, “a recognition that our understanding of truth moves on.”
The Quakers have long since been regarded as one of the traditional ‘peace churches,’ and have “always been anti-war,” says another volunteer. They were a big presence in the anti-war movements against the Bush-Blair actions in Iraq. And after a quick flick through the @BritishQuakers Twitter handle, there are recent snaps of peaceful demonstrations against DSEI (London’s annual military arms fair).
And unlike many faiths Quakers have always had a very open attitude to homosexuality: they were one of the first churches to talk openly about the subject and believe that “an act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, is not sinful in our eyes,” says another Friend.
The group also tries to be as environmentally conscious as possible. Friends House in Euston, which consists of 32 meeting rooms, a café, restaurant and 1000-seater auditorium, is a sustainable and green venue.
We’re impressed. Maybe it is worth popping in for a coffee and a chat next time you’re in between trains, or heading back from Wellcome.