Three organizations have formed to join in loose confederation those yearly meetings that stand in general agreement with one another: Friends General Conference, Friends United Meeting, and Evangelical Friends International.
The Friends General Conference was organized in 1900 as an association of Hicksite meetings to provide a channel of coordination for them. Today it includes any Quaker meeting interested in the services it provides, such as religious education materials and annual conferences.
Friends United Meeting (formerly the Five Years Meeting) comprises many Orthodox and United meetings worldwide. It had its origins in conferences held in Richmond, Indiana, in 1887 and 1892, at which approval was given for a declaration of faith. Friends made plans at the same time to develop Friends’ missionary activities that have, among other things, supported the founding and gathering of Friends’ meetings in East Africa, India, China, Japan, Central America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Eleven yearly meetings adopted the Five Years Meeting’s Uniform Discipline of 1901.
In 1965, the Evangelical Friends Alliance (now Evangelical Friends Church International) formed to draw together evangelical yearly meetings that place more emphasis on the Holy Spirit and the inspired rule of the Bible and less on the Light Within. They focus on the importance of salvation and of Jesus Christ’s atonement for our sins. These Friends place great emphasis on evangelical outreach; they are especially active in foreign missions in Central Africa, Alaska, Bolivia, and China and are also active in peace work.
In addition to these formally organized groups, there are three Conservative yearly meetings—Iowa, North Carolina, and Ohio—that have been meeting together as led since 1965. Several independent yearly meetings, as well as a number of monthly meetings of Friends, have no formal affiliation to these larger groups.
Some of the distinctions among groups of Friends have lessened as the heat of past controversies has subsided, and Friends of all persuasions have discovered much in common through opportunities to join together in service. As far back as 1690, Friends supplied food to military prisoners during the troubles in Ireland. In 1917, soon after the United States entered the First World War, Rufus M. Jones and other Friends formed the American Friends’ Service Committee with the double purpose of sending relief workers abroad and assisting those at home who were conscientious objectors to war. Friends from various yearly meetings helped provide support and personnel for this work. After the war, the work continued and enlarged in scope to address a wide variety of issues, such as housing, disarmament, immigrant rights, and racism. Just as the Religious Society of Friends has experienced deep differences over certain issues, so too some Friends have felt estranged from some of the AFSC’s positions and actions on public issues. The Service Committee continues to reach out to these Friends and to attempt to clarify the Quaker basis of its witness in the world today.
Many yearly meetings participate in the work of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, formed in 1943 to help translate Quaker concerns into public policy.
American Friends, along with Friends everywhere, join in the activities of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, founded at a world conference at Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges in Pennsylvania in 1937. The Committee encourages communication and intervisitation among Friends around the world, who now number 200,000 in more than 85 yearly meetings in 37 countries. World gatherings are held every few years at locations all over the globe.