Meeting for worship
Quaker worship happens when two or more people feel the need to be still together and seek God’s presence. This can happen anywhere and anytime, but Friends usually refer to a meeting for worship to indicate the meeting which takes place regularly at a meeting house or another fixed place. In attentive waiting together in silence, Friends can find peace of mind and a renewed sense of purpose for living and joy in wonder at God’s creation.
Silence is greatly valued by Friends. In removing pressure and hurry, it helps them to be aware of the inner and deeper meaning of their individual and corporate lives. It enables them to begin to accept themselves as they are and to find some release from fear, anxiety, emotional confusion and selfishness. This silence is more than an absence of sound: one can be aware of external sounds, such as a dog barking, a car passing, or a child calling. But these sounds are not distractions. They are absorbed, often unconsciously, as Friends try to be open to that of God within. An early Friend, Robert Barclay, described his experience during a meeting for worship as follows: ‘I found the evil in me weakening and the good raised up’.
The seating for a meeting for worship is usually arranged in a circle or a square to help people to be aware of one another, to be conscious of the fact that they are worshipping together. Those present settle quietly, and by corporately seeking God’s will, become open to one another. This may happen quickly, or it may take most of the meeting, usually an hour long.
The silence is different from that experienced in traditional, solitary meditation, which normally takes place deep inside oneself, as a devotional exercise for one’s own spiritual development. The listening and waiting in a meeting for worship is a shared experience in which worshippers seek to meet God.
Friends may worship entirely without words, but usually there will be some brief spoken contributions. This ministry is intended to express aloud what is already present in the silence. Anyone may feel the call to speak, man, woman or child, Friend or first time visitor. There is a very wide variety of sources of spoken ministry and the acceptance of them is an important part of Quaker worship. Since the Religious Society of Friends is part of the Christian tradition, people may speak of the life and teachings of Jesus, use words from other sources, or refer to events in daily life. Friends try to receive positively what is said and to look for the underlying truth, regardless of the words in which it is expressed If Friends are impelled to respond to vocal ministry, they should be very cautious and try to build positively
Specially appointed meetings
For special occasions Friends can hold specially appointed meetings. Like other meetings for worship, a meeting on the occasion of a wedding, for example, begins in silence. A Friend will then stand to explain to newcomers and family guests the procedure which will follow. The bride and bridegroom stand when they feel ready, take each other by the hand and make a declaration to the meeting. After this, the meeting continues with a period of silence. Out of the silence vocal prayer or ministry may arise relating to the marrying Friends.
In a meeting for worship on the occasion of a funeral or in a later memorial meeting, Friends concentrate lovingly on the life of the late Friend. The meetings have no set form apart from the usual meeting. It may be held at a grave side, the crematorium, or at the usual meeting place. It is a service of thanksgiving for the grace of God displayed in the life of the departed, with thoughts of comfort and sympathy for those left behind