Quakers 101 (Information for Visitors)
The Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers, was founded by George Fox in seventeenth century England. One of the primary distinguishing characteristics of the early Quakers was their insistence that the individual seeker could reach God not only through the words of the Bible and the sermons of the preacher, but also through a direct inner experience of the presence of God. Quakerism was, and remains, a strong experiential religion. Friends historically have embraced the Christian message, while also being open to the wisdom of other religious traditions.
Another aspect of Quakerism that has been constant from the beginning is the emphasis on living out the Testimonies: equality, simplicity, honesty, and peace. It is by these testimonies that many non-Quakers have recognized Friends. In the early years, many Friends were jailed for their insistence on the equality of all people before God and for their refusal to bow before human authority. Though I have listed four testimonies, really it is only one way of living that we are talking about: one where we respect each person we meet as an equal in God’s creation, where we live simply to avoid exploiting other people or the natural world, and where we also live simply in the sense of leading a spiritually whole and harmonious life. This way of life can never have been easily achieved, but in some ways it may be harder for modern Friends, who no longer set themselves apart by speech or dress, to feel sure that they are on the right road. As our lives are more diverse than in earlier days, it may be more important than ever that we maintain a vital Meeting for Worship. We welcome you to become part of it.
THE MEETING FOR WORSHIP
The first thing newcomers notice in unprogrammed worship is the silence. Friends do not view the silence as an end in itself, but as a way toward worship, or an expression of worship. The silence of Meeting is not the absence of noise but rather a quality of centering down towards the Spirit. To assist them in letting go of distracting thoughts, some use silent prayer or meditation techniques, such as thinking of a poem or passage or focusing on breathing. Others find it helpful to consciously acknowledge distracting thoughts and set them aside for the time being.
In the silence of the Meeting, Friends hope to reach a sense of God’s presence. Friends speak of this as being a “gathered” meeting; this conveys our feeling of being brought together in the light of the Spirit. Thomas Kelly wrote: “In the gathered meeting, the sense is present that a new Life and Power has entered our midst . . . . We are in communication with one another because we are being communicated to, and through, by the Divine Presence . . .”
This sense of being present in a gathered meeting may be experienced in different ways; some days one may not experience it at all. Arriving at Meeting spiritually ready for worship is advised, but when one feels most harassed and unready for worship, the experience of worship may have a power felt as a gift from God and from the gathered meeting.
Silence will at times be broken by vocal ministry, when a worshipper feels an inner prompting to speak. Though Friends value silence highly, they also value spoken ministry in worship. Perhaps the best way of describing vocal ministry is to say that one should “speak out of the silence”; that is, we should follow the promptings of the Spirit as they are revealed to us in the Meeting for Worship. Therefore, in general, we should wait to speak until we feel centered in the quiet of the Meeting. Although we may speak of things that have been on our mind during the past week, our speech should be true to our heads and our hearts at that moment, rather than something decided in advance. We should demonstrate restraint in speaking, not try to impress or to show our wit. While some Friends must struggle to exercise brevity, others must contend with their reluctance to speak. Additionally, one sometimes receives a powerful message in Meeting, but one which is personal and not meant for the Meeting as a whole; this is for you to decide. Please try not to be judgmental about the vocal ministry of others. Some messages will come as gifts; some will not have as much meaning to you, but may have great meaning for others. We sit in Meeting not as an audience, but as a community gathered to worship.
--Written for the CVFM Ministry and Counsel Committee by J. Petri, March 1990
“BE STILL AND COOL IN THY OWN MIND AND SPIRIT.” --GEORGE FOX
Unprogrammed Quaker Meetings, like Cannon Valley Friends, have no paid clergy. This is based on a belief that everyone who attends Meeting for Worship forms a direct connection with God and, through this connection, all are equally ministers to one another, through both silent and vocal ministry, as we are led. For Quakers sacraments are understood as an inward, spiritual, experience. We don’t have a custom of performing sacramental ceremonies, such as baptism and communion. For more information, please click on the following link.
The business of the Meeting is conducted by members and attenders who serve on various committees or in other functions. Everyone is welcome to attend the monthly Meeting for Business to learn more about how the Meeting works. Please see the "Monthly Calendar of Events" on the right-hand side of the Home page to find when upcoming Meetings for Business are scheduled.