Established in 1927 by the amalgamation of the Friends Foreign Mission Association (FFMA) and the Friends Council for International Service (CIS), the Friends Service Council (FSC) is the standing committee responsible for the overseas work of the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain (London Yearly Meeting) and in Ireland (Ireland Yearly Meeting, formerly Dublin Yearly Meeting). Although essentially interwoven, three primary strands – missionary activity, international service, and relief work can be distinguished in the development of the Quaker service abroad.
The first strand, that of missionary activity, did not appear until two hundred years after the Society itself had come into being, for Friends long remained aloof from organized foreign missions. The Quaker testimony against a paid ministry led to hesitations about full-time missionaries, and the traditional reliance on the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit led to distrust of deliberate planning. Accordingly, although a provisional committee had been working for a few years previously, it was not until 1868 that the FFMA was formally set up. Even so, the FFMA remained an independent organization for fifty years, becoming a committee of London Yearly Meeting in 1918.
The main fields of action were in Mid-India (1866), Madagascar (1867), Szechwan Province, West China (1886), and Ceylon (1897-1921), with the work of a Friends Syrian Mission (1874) being incorporated in FFMA in 1898; the Friends Industrial Mission in Pemba – the creation of which in 1897 arose from the long tradition of Quaker antislavery sentiment – was, added in 1918.
This missionary effort has focused on organizing and maintaining schools; and hospitals, as well as on forming and sustaining new Quaker groups. During most of this century a policy of devolution has been followed, and I responsibility has been steadily handed over to indigenous management.
The second strand is that of international service. From early days Quakers have been concerned not only to uphold by personal witness a peace testimony, but also to undertake what projects they could to promote international peace and understanding. Thus, in 1678, Robert Barclay, one of the early Scottish Quaker leaders, wrote an address, «wherein the true cause of the present war is discovered, and the right remedy and means for a firm and settled peace is proposed», to the ambassadors negotiating the Peace of Nijmegen. Similar efforts were made through personal visits to the plenipotentiaries engaged in concluding the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748; they have been repeated on other such occasions.
The same concern for international understanding led FFMA in 1910 to open the International Friends Institute in Chungking; it inspired Carl Heath, the British Quaker leader, to write his Quaker Embassies (1917); it brought about the Quaker «Outposts» Conference of 1918, which proposed, by using the contacts made in relief work during World War I, to establish a continuous and extended service of fellowship and to set up the Council of International Service as an official committee of British Friends. It was consequently the CIS which inaugurated and, with the cooperation of AFSC, developed the Quaker International Centers, the concrete realization of the conception of «Quaker embassies». These centers, besides offering the Quaker message, provide neutral and friendly ground for exchange of information and viewpoints between people of different nationalities, a focus for various activities that aim at spreading goodwill and understanding, a base from which Quaker ambassadors of peace can operate during crises – in short, they constitute an attempt at constructive peacemaking. Most of the centers are in Europe where the years between the two world wars saw a new growth of Quaker groups, resulting in new, if small, yearly meetings for Germany (1925), The Netherlands (1931), France (1933), Sweden (1935), and Switzerland (1944); those in Norway (1846) and Denmark (1875) had already been instituted.
At the present time FSC cooperates with AFSC and other Quaker bodies in running conferences for diplomats and others, in holding seminars for young leaders, and in maintaining international affairs representatives in key cities in various parts of the world and at the United Nations.
Relief work, the third strand of Quaker overseas service, was organized on a number of occasions during the nineteenth century – for instance, in famine stricken Ireland in 1847-1848 and in Finland after the Crimean War – but the first official Friends War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC) was appointed in 1870 and, through the agency of some forty Quaker commissioners, undertook relief work in towns and villages devastated in the Franco-Prussian War. This was the first time the red and black star, the badge of the Quaker relief worker, was used and the first time the basic principle of «no discrimination» was made really explicit. War Victims Relief Committees were revived in 1876 for eastern Europe, in 1912 for the Balkans, and in the years 1914-1923 for France, The Netherlands, Russia, Germany, Austria, and Poland. An official committee was also active in South Africa after 1900, more particularly among Boers in internment camps.
Activity between the two world wars included that of the Germany Emergency Committee (later Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens), which functioned from 1933 to 1948; relief operations in Spain, which also involved running refugee camps in southern France; and at the outbreak of World War II, work among Polish refugees. From 1940 to 1948 a fifth FWVRC, which, after 1943, became Friends Relief Service, operated in Great Britain, France, The Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Austria, and Poland. The Friends Ambulance Unit, an unofficial body supported by British Quakers, also joined in the relief program in the Middle East, India, China, and northwestern Europe, its work in China and India being continued later by Friends Service Units. Since the Second World War, Friends Service Council, which took over the remaining relief duties, has, in cooperation with American Friends Service Committee and, increasingly, with similar committees of other Quaker groups throughout the world, sent workers to Korea, Kenya, Algeria, Vietnam, and Nigeria.
In all of this service, Quakers have been anxious to stress that the work they have felt able to undertake has been of modest proportion and that they have been more concerned with personal relationships than with large-scale operations. They have stressed, too, that their service springs directly from the personal concerns and insights of individuals, tested by the corporate guidance and judgment of the group, and that they are drawn to this work as an expression of their peace witness. For this reason they believe that relief work is incomplete without international service and missionary activity, thought of in the broadest sense of that term – they believe, in short, that in every human soul there is a witness for God which can be appealed to and which, with God’s grace, can be reached and made active.