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Quakers a quiet presence

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Some 100 Utahns count themselves members of the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers.

Members from congregations in Salt Lake, Ogden, Logan and Moab gathered at Salt Lake's First Congregational Church recently in their "Midwinter Gathering," their largest annual meeting. Author Michael Luick-Thrams from Germany talked about his book, "Out of Hitler's Reach," which tells how a Quaker school in Iowa became a hostel for dissenting Germans.

"We're probably the smallest denomination in Utah," said Elaine Emmi, a past clerk for the Salt Lake Quakers and the group's Olympic interfaith representative.

Most Utah Quakers moved to the state from the eastern United States, pursuing job opportunities. Families are small and there is little proselyting.

The lack of a permanent church facility also limits their public visibility. The group hopes to remedy that in the near future, but financial resources are limited because of the small number of the faith here, Emmi said.

In Salt Lake City, a core group of 25 members meets at 10 a.m. each Sunday at the Ladies Literary Club, 850 E. South Temple; the Logan group meets in a community center.

"We're homeless, but our goal is to have a home," Emmi said. "We've been saving for years."

Some years ago, the Quakers met in a large home in the Avenues of Salt Lake, but that church member eventually moved away.

"People say it's tough to find us in Utah," Emmi said. She believes that will change once they build their own building.

She said most local Quakers tend to be quiet about their religion, although most members have prominent jobs — doctors, psychologists, teachers — and are out and about doing good things.

"They have this sense of living their faith," she said.

Emmi said it is likely Winter Olympics visitors will be surprised to learn there are Quaker congregations in Utah.

The denomination has little in the way of formal doctrine, focusing instead on receiving what is called "inner light," considered a form of direct revelation from God to worthy members. Members are also encouraged to regularly evaluate their lives.

"Seekers of the truth" was one of the early names ascribed to Quakers, one Emmi said is very descriptive of their beliefs.

"We are always looking," she said.

It is the testimonies of the members inspired by the "inner light" that bind them together.

"We like to call ourselves 'friends,' " Emmi said, noting the term Quakers was applied to members by people outside the denomination, much like members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are commonly referred to as Mormons by those outside the LDS Church.

Besides weekly meetings and the annual Midwinter Gathering, Utah Quakers hold two major outdoor events each year.

The Utah church uses a voluntary, rotating leadership that includes both men and women members. Emmi said Quakers have had equal treatment of women for more than four centuries.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com