Worship is at the heart of what it means to be a Quaker. Everyone is welcome to join us. You do not have to be a Quaker to attend.
Meeting for worship
Quaker worship (called ‘meeting for worship’ or simply ‘meeting’) centres around silence. Meeting for worship usually takes place in a ‘meeting room’ in a Quaker meeting house, but the room could be in a community centre or a Friend’s home. Quaker faith & practice, Advices & queries (see our beliefs) and the Bible are to hand. There is no spiritual leader, though Quakers appointed as “elders” have particular responsibility for the meeting’s spiritual life and are usually present.
The meeting starts when the first person enters the room and sits in silence. As more gather, and as the silence continues, we try to still our minds and let go of everyday concerns so that we can become more aware of the important things: those around us, our deepest selves and the divine, eternal or “inner light”. During worship someone may feel called to speak, pray or read aloud. Quakers call this ministry. After someone has ministered there is more silence to allow us to reflect on what has been said. It is common for other ministry to build on what has been said before. However, meeting for worship is not a debate so it is usually not appropriate to respond directly to spoken ministry or to speak more than once. Sometimes a meeting will pass with no words spoken.
Meeting for worship ends when two Quakers, usually the elders, shake hands. The rest of the meeting joins in by shaking hands with those around them. Someone, usually the “clerk” to the meeting, may then share news and information. After meeting has finished there is usually time to talk and share refreshments.
Most meetings welcome children and some run a children’s meeting. In children’s meeting we experience and learn about Quakerism through stories, art and craft, activities, drama and discussion. Children usually join meeting for worship for ten minutes, either before or after children’s meeting. Some meetings hold all-age worship, in which there may be a story and a quiet activity which happens during the silence.
What happens in the stillness?
Worship is the response of the human spirit to the presence of the divine and eternal, to the God who first seeks us. The sense of wonder and awe of the finite before the infinite leads naturally to thanksgiving and adoration.
Quaker faith & practice 2.01
No two Quaker meetings are the same. A meeting can embrace a wide range of experiences. Some people may experience a profound sense of awe or an awareness of the presence of God. Others may have a less certain feeling, of an indefinable spiritual dimension. The ministry we hear may “speak to our condition”, making us feel nourished and inspired. A meeting may become “gathered” when there is a sense of common experience in the room.
It is also common to find the silence difficult or uncomfortable. Even experienced Friends sometimes go through “cold” periods where little seems to happen for them in Meeting for worship, or they get distracted by outside noise or stray thoughts. Sometimes we may feel we disagree with ministry we have heard. However, we are advised to persevere:
When you are preoccupied and distracted in meeting let wayward and disturbing thoughts give way quietly to your awareness of God’s presence among us and in the world. Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit. Reach for the meaning deep within it, recognising that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others. Remember that we all share responsibility for the meeting for worship whether our ministry is in silence or through the spoken word.
Advices & queries 12
Who can come to meeting?
Perhaps the best way to find out more about Quaker worship is to try it! If you would like to join us, you are very welcome at one of over 30 Quaker meetings in Scotland, attended by around 2,000 people. The silence of a Quaker meeting can be uncomfortable or difficult at first, so we also suggest you read the leaflet Getting ready for Quaker worship for advice on how to prepare.