Welcome to the Binghamton Community Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)


Joyce Thomas:
(607) 648-8448 (landline)
(607) 372-6295 (cell phone)
email: jthomas581@aol.com

Ralph McGrew:
(607) 761-2967 (cell phone)
email: mcgrewrv@sunybroome.edu

Meeting for Worship:
Sundays 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
held online via Zoom meetings
sometimes also held in-person (location varies)

Facebook page:

Our meeting is mostly held by Zoom meetings now, and sometimes has in-person meetings, with locations to be announced by email each time.

Our meeting is having Zoom meetings on the first and third Sundays of each month at 4:00 PM now, but to avoid “Zoom-bombing” the link is not shared publicly. Please call or email Joyce Thomas or Ralph McGrew using the above contact information if you want to attend our meetings and we can add you to our email list and send you more information about Zoom meetings as well as in-person meetings by email.

You are also invited to seek out alternative worship opportunities.
Visit NYYM.org, for example.

Reading, meditation, phone calls, solitude in Nature or with your ‘core group’ (the ones you live with) are all options too.
There are some good links at the bottom of this page to other Quaker websites that have reading material and some even have audiovisual content.

You participate online in live Quaker meetings remotely via live video such as New York Yearly Meeting’s online weekly meetings or various other Quaker meetings that are done online such as these other meetings listed on the Western Friend website. To do this you can download the free Zoom client for meetings (a free videoconferencing program) and follow the directions Kathleen Wooten has on her website QuakerKathleen.org here. Our own meeting only sends out the link to our Zoom meetings by email to our members and people who personally request it, as this is recommended for security and privacy on Zoom.

May Spirit support you and may we together experience the Light from others and within ourselves.

Blessings and peace,
Joyce Thomas, Ralph McGrew, and other Friends

What do Quakers believe?

“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world. The Spirit of Christ by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move us unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us unto all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world … Therefore we cannot learn war any more.”

 —  George Fox and others. Declaration presented to Charles II, 1660.

Friends believe in the presence of God within each person, often referred to as the “Inner Light.” God is directly accessible to all persons without the need for either a pastor or a set ritual. God speaks in a manner that is personal, direct and certain—a continuing revelation. The Scriptures can be understood only by entering into the Spirit which produced them. Divine revelation did not end with the publication of the Bible but remains available to anyone open to receive it. Because we believe in the presence of God in every individual, we place a strong value on humanitarian and pacifist activities. Friends seek to remove the causes of conflict and war, striving to trust in love rather than to react in fear.

The term “Quakers” comes from a description of early Friends as “trembling in the presence of God.” While the word was originally used by the authorities as an insult, Friends now happily refer to themselves as Quakers.

Quakers trust in six important Testimonies and try to practice them. They are Peace, Equality, Integrity, Community, Simplicity, and Stewardship. The Peace Testimony renounces all war, violence, and other forms of oppression; teaches that there is that of God in every person; and has led many Quakers to be conscientious objectors or antiwar protestors. By Equality, we testify that all people are equal in the eyes of God regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, age, class, ability, disability, or anything else, so that all discrimination is wrong.

The Integrity Testimony teaches us to be honest and truthful at all times, even when it is difficult, and to “affirm” rather than “swear” to tell the truth when appearing in court. Swearing to tell the truth would imply we have a different standard of truth in a court from everyday life. The Community Testimony is one of supporting one another. We gather together for meetings, but some Friends also meditate individually. Quaker weddings are performed not with one person presiding, but with every person there witnessing and supporting the marriage. We need to take care of other people in our communities and build bridges to them. Our communities can be local, and they can stretch across the world.

The Simplicity Testimony historically referred to simple dress, simple speech, unadorned meeting houses and so forth; nowadays, it refers to a simple life. This means we avoid obsessing over consumer acquisition and avoid spending excessive time on unimportant things; these interfere with the more important things in life, such as spending quality time with other people. The Stewardship Testimony is about taking good care of ourselves, our possessions, and the environment. It involves guarding your own health, managing your finances and the meeting’s finances well, and preserving and protecting our natural world.

Quakers do not have any dogma or creed, but instead have “Advices and Queries.” Advices could be thought of as our teachings, but belief in them is not mandatory; rather, they are considered to represent the spiritual wisdom we have collectively gleaned over many years. Queries are equally important, but are questions rather than statements, questions that guide our thinking about our spiritual condition. Each yearly meeting periodically releases a book called Faith and Practice, which contains the “Advices and Queries” for members of that yearly meeting’s constituent monthly meetings to consider. As part of New York Yearly Meeting, Binghamton Community Friends Meeting follows the “Advices and Queries” in NYYM’s most recent edition of Faith and Practice.
*See sources for more information on Quaker beliefs

What is a Meeting for Worship like?
“Be still and know that I am God”
                 — Psalm 46:10
“I am morally certain, that I have many a day gone through the cares and concerns of life, with much more composure, stability, satisfaction and propriety, for the strength and assistance I have found in drawing near to God in solemn silence.”

     — Job Scott, Journal, 1797
The Binghamton Friends Meeting for Worship is based on the idea of “expectant waiting.” We sit in silence to hear more clearly God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). Each worshipper is a listener. There is no pastor and there are no prearranged prayers or readings. During worship, a message may come to one of us that we wish to share. Friends value messages that are simple, come from the heart, and are prompted by the Spirit. Following a spoken message, we return to silence to reflect and wait. Meeting for worship ends when a designated Friend shakes hands with her or his neighbor, and everyone else with their neighbor. Some newcomers find an hour of silent waiting difficult, and should feel free to leave the room quietly for a break as needed.

Our local newspaper, the Press and Sun Bulletin, did a story about our meeting in 2016 that you can read at pressconnects.com. Since that time, we have relocated to a different meeting space and meet at a different time than mentioned in the article, but the rest of the article is helpful in describing our meeting.

Not all Quaker meetings are unprogrammed meetings like ours; there also exist programmed meetings. Quakers raised in one type of meeting might find the other type hard to adjust to at first, but they are both equally valid forms of Meeting for Worship.
*See sources for more information on Quaker Meetings

You can give a message at our Meeting for Worship if you are moved by the Spirit, but please don’t show up with a pre-planned speech or presentation; messages from your Inner Light are supposed to be spontaneous. Also, not all messages from the Light of God within you are meant to be said out loud. Instead, many messages that come into your head at Meeting are just for you to think about in quiet contemplation, and most of the thoughts that come into your head are likely to not be from the Inner Light at all, especially if you are new to meditation.

If somebody else gives a message, this is not an invitation to a discussion, but rather something for you to think about. If you have a message of your own, you should give people enough time to think about the previous message before giving your own. If you think you disagree with a message someone says or if you think it is not really a message from God, please keep a respectful silence and try to reach a deeper understanding.

Try not to be disappointed if an entire Meeting goes by in silence. Sometimes there are no messages that need to be said, and it is good to appreciate the usefulness of silence for communal meditation with the group. Some of the most profound meetings are completely silent.

If you find this talk of messages too complicated, here is some practical advice for people who are new to Quakerism. Just be silent the entire meeting without falling asleep. You can try a meditation exercise such as clearing your mind of all thoughts as you gaze at a spot on the floor or ceiling, or close your eyes. If you have a hard time with sitting in silence for a long period, you can also read a book or pamphlet from our small library.

If you have a cell phone with you, please turn it off, have it completely muted, or have it set to vibrate only. If you get a call, go into another room if you want to talk. Playing a game or taking care of other business on your phone, even if you have it muted, is not an appropriate way to spend time at a Quaker meeting. An unprogrammed Quaker meeting is supposed to be a time away from all of our modern electronic devices, a time to meditate as a group and listen for messages from the Inner Light. Playing on an electronic device defeats that entire purpose.

The following embedded YouTube video explains what to expect at an unprogrammed Quaker meeting such as ours:

Who May Attend?

Anyone who is interested in learning more about Quaker beliefs may attend the Meeting. Children usually sit in the silent meeting for 5 to 10 minutes and then go downstairs to an activity room for “First Day School” songs, stories and games that are consistent with our values. Anyone who is not disruptive is welcome to attend.

Some Quaker meetings allow animals such as dogs and cats. They cannot be allowed at our Meeting, because we borrow space and do not have our own meeting house. Also, some people have allergies.

How are Quakers organized?

Monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings are classified that way based on approximately how often they have a meeting for business, which is a meeting where decisions are made by seeking unity in the Light. Some matters can be referred to a committee made up of members chosen by the Meeting.

Quaker decision-making does not proceed by voting. A business meeting is a meeting for worship with a concern for business; Quakers believe that the Spirit of God can direct our decisions on both simple and complex matters. Unity, manifested by unanimous or near-unanimous agreement, is often achieved fairly quickly. A Friend customarily states their position only once, considers carefully and sympathetically the ideas of all others, and can “stand aside” from a decision when action is required and unanimity is not achieved.

We recognize that some people have more practical knowledge than others in particular areas, but we think all have equal access to the Light. Our officers are servants rather than leaders. The most important officer is the Clerk. Her or his humble title reflects our belief in equality.

Our Binghamton Community Friends Meeting meets for Worship typically every Sunday. We have business meetings several times a year. They often involve meeting at someone’s home for a preliminary potluck dinner. The food we bring along is often vegetarian or vegan.

What is the history of Quakers?

The Religious Society of Friends was founded in the mid-17th century in England by George Fox (1624-1691). George Fox and the others who joined him were attempting to recreate early Christianity, prior to Roman pagan influence, out of a belief that Christianity had strayed very far from its original roots in the teachings of Jesus. Among the many religious movements founded during the chaos of the English Civil War, the Religious Society of Friends was the only one that survived. The Society spread to America and grew here in a climate of religious tolerance that Quakers like William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, helped establish.

From the beginning, Quakers were radical. In the early years of Quakerism, many of them were martyred for their beliefs, especially in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Quaker radicalism included calling everyone by their first name, even the British King; treating men and women as equals and founding the original women’s rights movement in America; treating white Europeans and Native Americans as equals and negotiating treaties between them with the expectation that the treaties would be honored; campaigning against slavery and participating in the Underground Railroad to help African-Americans escape slavery; opposing all wars; going from the seven sacraments of Roman Catholicism, past the two recognized by most Protestants, down to zero outward sacraments; and even removing the pagan names for the days of the week and the months of the year. (“Sunday”, for example, celebrates the pagan sun deity.)

Today, Quaker children still go to First Day School instead of Sunday School, but in other settings Quakers have gone back to using the customary names for weekdays and for months. Society at large has adopted versions of some early Quaker practices (e.g. the widespread acceptance of our idea of treating people of different genders, races, beliefs, etc. as equals, charging everybody the same price for something that is for sale instead of haggling, and the acceptance by many governments that people may opt out of military conscription as conscientious objectors). In other cases, Quakers have become less radical (e.g. nowadays we typically limit the tradition of calling people by their first name with no titles to fellow Quakers and follow societal norms when addressing non-Quakers).

The Amish, other Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren believe, with Quakers, that participation in war is wrong; but the sources and histories of these other Historic Peace Churches are quite different. A religious group called the Shakers split off from the Quakers in the 1700s, practiced strict celibacy, and is now nearly extinct. Quakers do not practice celibacy and are numerous in several countries around the world, most notably Kenya, the United States, Bolivia, Burundi, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom.

We and other Quakers do like to sing the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” on special occasions when we have singing, such as at Butternuts Quarterly Meeting or around Christmas time. Our local meeting’s favorite hymn is “Johnny Appleseed”, which we traditionally sing for grace at every monthly Meeting for Business right before eating (where we have a potluck dinner at the house of one of our local members, on a rotating business). Our regular silent meetings do not involve singing, however, because it would be a distraction from silent worship and meditation.

In 1827, a schism occurred in North America, separating Hicksite Quakers, who went on to found Friends General Conference as an umbrella organization for their local meetings, and Orthodox Quakers, who went on to found Friends United Meeting as their umbrella organization. The Hicksites followed the ideas of Elias Hicks, a radical abolitionist anti-slavery activist who emphasized that of God in everyone, the Inner Light, and worked to help Friends develop a closer direct connection to God. The Orthodox Quakers followed the lead of Joseph John Guerney, an evangelical minister who campaigned to end the death penalty and reform prison conditions, and who was worried that Elias Hicks was overemphasizing the Inner Light and making Friends lose touch with Biblical teachings and faith in Christ Jesus.

There was then a further schism in 1838 when the Orthodox Quakers split between the Guerneyites, led by Joseph John Guerney, and the Wilburites, led by John Wilbur. John Wilbur thought that Joseph John Guerney had been too harsh in his criticism of Elias Hicks and his teachings, and he tried to occupy a moderate position that compromised between the Hicksite and Guerneyite sides, a position that balanced following the Inner Light of God with following Biblical teachings. This 3-way schism was gradually repaired between the 1920s and 1960s, and now the Religious Society of Friends is united again.

The Religious Society of Friends has no official creed, and the story of how the past differences between Hicksites, Guerneyites, and Wilburites were repaired is an example of how the Quaker process of finding unity and peacemaking has been successful. Our local Binghamton Community Friends Meeting is part of New York Yearly Meeting. It in turn is affiliated with both Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting, underscoring the unity of all Quakers. New York Yearly Meeting includes local meetings with both unprogrammed worship, like our Meeting, and a smaller number with programmed worship.

In the past, Quakers had a custom of addressing people as “thee” and “thou,” from a familiar, informal form of speech. It contrasted with the more formal “you.” (Compare to the familiar, informal “” in Spanish, similar to the English “thee” and “thou,” and the formal, polite “usted,” similar to the English “you.”) Quakers wore simple 17th-century style undyed clothing rather than gaudy or extravagant clothes. With changing customs in the rest of society, “thee” and “thou” became archaic, formal-sounding words in English, and Quakers’ simple style of 1600s clothing became conspicuous. So, in line with the original purpose of these customs to express simplicity in speech and clothing, Quakers moved beyond the previous customs. This change was consistent with the Quaker belief in continuing revelation, meaning that God may reveal new truths to us at any time through the Light within every person.
*See sources for more information on Quaker history

Links to Friends:

* Sources:
This website is maintained by Richard McGrew.