Quaker beginnings in George Fox

Friends began their radical redefinition of Christian Truth in England in the 17th century. George Fox was the great driving force of the early years. He was born in 1624 the son of a reasonably prosperous weaver and an intensely religious mother. A serious, introspective, physically powerful youth, he was at an early stage drawn to religious concerns. But he was genuinely shocked by the failure of the professors, the professing Christians, to live their beliefs.

At the age of 19, George left home on a spiritual quest. He sought out and challenged religious leaders everywhere to answer his questions. His searching and wandering lasted four years, but no one seemed to understand him and no one accepted the reality of his inner conflict. Gradually his conviction grew that God had given him the answer within himself. In 1647, he heard a voice which said, "there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition" This experience changed his life, his religious conceptions, and his view of the human-divine relationship. He devoted the rest of his life to sharing this new understanding.

George Fox was imprisoned eight times for spreading his religious beliefs and for drawing the radical consequences from them. He suffered cruel beatings, great strain and deprivation. He proved to be a heroic and resolute person and a true religious genius. His Journal and other writings continue to be basic works of the Religious Society of Friends, of which he is generally accepted to be the founder. He was so familiar with the Bible that most of his writings draw on biblical sources.

George Fox never intended to found a new religious sect. He believed that his discovery was universal, that he had rediscovered original Christianity. Embracing this insight went far beyond the institutional limits of the Christian Church. The sense of joyful release that he discovered has been echoed down the Quaker history up to the present. It strengthened Friends in their conviction that people can find new understanding if they trust in and respond to the life that Jesus lived.

Beginnings in Switzerland

The history of Quakers or Friends in Switzerland started with individuals who discovered a close affinity to the spiritual quest and ideals of Quakers. They met through their involvement in peace and reconciliation, conscientious objection and service, and, not least, in the Civil Service Movement founded by Pierre Ceresole in the early 1920's. A number of them had been to Woodbrooke, a Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, and were subsequently accepted as individual members of London Yearly Meeting.

Swiss Quakers held their first annual meeting in Berne in 1934, and continued meeting annually under the umbrella of London Yearly Meeting on whose authority they depended for the admission of new members. In 1938 they acquired the right to admit their own members, and in November 1939 they were recognized as a Regional Meeting. An independent Switzerland Yearly Meeting came into being in 1947.


Groups

In Geneva, a Friends Meeting was started in 1920. Three years later, British and American Friends opened a Quaker Centre for interaction with the League of Nations which after the Second World War became one of the two Quaker United Nations Offices operating in Geneva and New York.

The Geneva group known as Geneva Monthly Meeting of Switzerland Yearly Meeting is the only group in Switzerland organised in accordance with traditional Quaker structures. It is also the biggest group in the country.

Other groups were started before the Second World War by former Woodbrooke attenders as well as by members of other associations with close affinity to Quakers such as the Civil Service Movement, the Religious Socialists and the International Movement for Reconciliation in Zurich, Basle, Berne, Neuchâtel and Lausanne. Groups were started in Bienne and Romanshorn at a later date.


Outstanding personalities

Among a number of pioneers of renown among early Swiss Friends were Pierre Cérésole (pioneer of the Civil Service Movement) ; Elisabeth Rotten (co-founder of the Pestalozzi Village) ; Alfred Bietenholz and Hélène Monastier (founding members of Helvetas); Adolf Friedmann (assistance to a British prisoner of war in Germany); Edmond Privat (editor of the magazine Essor).


Particularities of Quakerism in Switzerland

Membership in Quaker Groups or later in Switzerland Yearly Meeting never precluded retaining membership in the Swiss National Church or other churches.

Links to other documents:

Swiss YM History and Biography Project Report: "Let their Lives Speak"

 

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