Quakers argue that genuine human security only comes from investing in all the things that make us feel secure. These include healthcare, a fair economy, the environment, peacebuilding and diplomacy.

This is particularly relevant today, with peace threatened by climate-related instability and battles over resources, and the UK under pressure to respond to conflicts across the globe. 

Winchester Quakers don’t assume they can escape the realities of a world where violence is so deeply rooted. But they argue  that responding with further violence and fuelling armed forces and the arms trade only makes us more insecure.

In line with these beliefs, they have been holding silent vigils on the streets of Winchester for more than 30 years, reminding passers-by of the importance of peace-building.  

Holding signs or wearing placards, members of  Winchester Quaker Meeting organise these silent events because peace, alongside equality, simplicity and truth, is central to the Quaker faith..

Quakers have been fighting for peace since 1660, when they wrote to Charles II condemning religious violence and intolerance. “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons,” they wrote, a declaration that is now the basis of the Quaker peace testimony.

Vigil at the ButtercrossVigil at the Buttercross (Image: Winchester Quakers)

This opposition has brought them into conflict with the State on many occasions. 

When conscription was introduced during the First World War,  three Quaker MPs, T. Edmund Harvey, Arnold Rowntree, and John E. Barlow, led the campaign to allow exemption on the grounds of conscience.

This marked  the first time in history that individuals were granted the right to claim exemption from military service.

Some Quakers registered as conscientious objectors, but many were rejected. Still refusing to fight, they were imprisoned and stripped of their right to vote. 

These days Quakers continue to advocate for peace. Internationally, this takes the form of ‘quiet diplomacy’, supporting dialogue at the highest levels, in Brussels and through the Quaker United Nations offices in New York and Geneva. Nationally, Quakers in Britain shares information, supports peace education programmes in schools and liaises with local groups.

Winchester Quaker, Irene has been an active member of the Winchester Quaker Peace & Justice Group for 30 years.

“I first joined a Hiroshima vigil during the time of the Cold War, when East and West were getting more and more weapons of mass destruction," she said.

  “Our concerns on peace and justice issues [have] led some of us to take part in protests and marches, to write letters to MPs or governments, to support groups who work for peace in areas of conflict, to create banners and badges.

“Just now, in June [we walked] mindfully, in silence and without banners, with people of all faiths and none, between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square, sending thoughts and longing and prayers for peace to the places where it is not.”

The next vigil will be at the Buttercross in Winchester on Sunday, August 11, at midday. It will commemorate 79 years since the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In Irene’s words "All are welcome".

Quakjer protest Quakjer protest (Image: Winchester Quakers)

Live music event a big hit!

On Saturday June 22, Winchester Quakers hosted Quaker Jam – a day of musical performances and collaboration.

The pocket-sized festival was one of a series of events being held at 16 Colebrook Street this year, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Meeting House, and thank the local community for their ongoing support.

Glorious sun shone down on the 150+ guests, as they tapped their feet to songs by local musicians Sarah-Rose and Eric Walker, got lost in classical arrangements performed by guitarist Nina Rideout and pianist Tony Stoller, and danced along to ditties by ukulele legend Andy Martin and his Moonroller Band.

Center of MassCenter of Mass (Image: Winchester Quakers)

The Quaker Jam programme was put together in collaboration with Sound Winchester, a community project launched earlier this year. Project coordinator Peter Brown ran an improvisation workshop called 'Decorating the Silence' – referring to the stillness found in Quaker meetings – in which everyone present was invited to grab an instrument and play or sing along.

The open mic segment was also a treat. Andrew Rutter, who has been part of Winchester Quaker Meeting since the purchase of the House 50 years ago, shared a rendition of an African song he learned during his time in Ghana. Performance poet Sheila North also shared some of her original works.

One visitor said she particularly enjoyed "the peace and serenity of the event and surroundings," while another said "everyone was friendly and helpful."

Maggie Allder, one of the event planners, said: “Quakers are known for meeting in silence, but we are not quiet all the time. Quaker Jam was a chance to bring music lovers together from all over the City and share our beautiful house and garden with old friends and new.”

The Amazing Fusion ChoirThe Amazing Fusion Choir (Image: Winchester Quakers)

George Fox at 400

Without George Fox there would be no Quakers. Fox, born to weavers in a small Leicestershire village 400 years ago, in July 1624, was inspired by the belief that God is present in all and accessible to all. 

In the wake of the English Civil War, he was one of several people who formed groups calling for greater equality in religion.

Today, the Quakers are the last of those groups to still exist, thanks to Fox who, alongside his partner and co-worker Margaret Fell, built the structures that have sustained the movement, the Religious Society of Friends. It was Fell’s testimony to peace that established its reputation as a ‘Peace Church’.

From these foundations, Quaker faith has supported many who question the status quo, and seek to change it.

Many people assume that the Quaker Oats brand was started by Friends, but it seems that the two men who founded it had simply read about Quakers and admired their values.

However, anyone who has eaten a chocolate bar, shopped in Oxfam, or voted as a woman, has had their lives touched by the actions of Quakers.

Meeting HouseMeeting House (Image: Winchester Quakers)

From gender equality to advocating for free speech and religious liberty in the early days, Quakers went on to reject the slave trade, and to campaign for its abolition.

Discriminated against in education and entrance to the professions, in the nineteenth century Quakers were best known for business.

Although now separated from their Quaker origins, Cadbury's, Clark's, Fry's and Rowntree's are some of the names that live on.

In the 20th Century Quakers became better known for humanitarian and social change work.

Amnesty International, Oxfam and Greenpeace are three of the groups that have Quakers among their co-founders.

Today Quakers are best known as people who work for peace and climate justice.

George Fox's 400th birthday celebrations are taking place around the world, including a special exhibition at the Quaker Tapestry Museum in Kendal (until Saturday, December 14), a week of activity at Margaret Fell's home, Swarthmoor Hall in Ulverston (July 15 to 20), and many online courses and events.

Group shot Group shot (Image: Winchester Quakers)

If you would like to visit the Meeting House in Winchester, the Quakers are inviting the public to explore their beautiful garden and enjoy some quiet reflection at the following Open Gate times:

  • Saturday, July 20, 2.30pm ­– 4.30pm
  • Saturday, August 10, 10.30am – 12.30pm
  • Saturday, August 17, 2.30pm – 4.30pm
  • Saturday, September 7, 10.30am – 12.30pm
  • Saturday, September 21, 2.30pm – 4.30pm

The Meeting House will also welcome the public on Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15 for Heritage Open Days.