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