Getting Ready for Quaker Worship
Getting Ready for Quaker Worship*
For Quakers, worship (sometimes called meeting for worship) is at the heart of what it means to be a Quaker. It is the source of inspiration and the root of action in the world. It is also a shared experience that is probably different from what is normally associated with the word “worship.”
Rather than the hymns, set prayers, and sermons we might expect in other churches, Quaker worship begins as people come together in silence. It is a stillness that helps to settle those who are there, to calm thoughts and open hearts; it is a way to find inspiration and insight and communicate directly with what some call God, the Divine, or the Light. Worship is a way to connect profoundly with the deepest reality and with each other.
It is difficult to describe Quaker worship, and the best way to understand it is to experience it first-hand. For anyone visiting a Quaker meeting, here are some suggestions about how to prepare and hopefully get a sense of what is occurring.
Practice being still
Quaker worship normally lasts for an hour; and an hour of silence and stillness can seem daunting. It is possible to feel anxious, so a little practice might be valuable. In the days before attending a Quaker meeting for worship, try to take a few minutes out of each day to be quiet and settled. Don’t struggle with the stillness or try to solve problems, but simply use it as a time to get used to the quiet.
Humboldt Monthly Meeting has a tradition of discussions before meeting for worship, which can be insightful, fun, and good preparation for worship. These usually occur on Sunday mornings from 9:45-10:45; future topics often are announced on the HFM website and at rise of meeting for worship. Everyone is welcome.
When You Arrive
Arriving at the Quaker meeting, it is likely there will be someone at the door greeting everyone. On the inside table, there may be some leaflets or other items to read: For example, excerpts from our Quaker Faith and Practice and from Advices and Queries (a collection of prompts and questions Quakers read regularly as both a challenge and inspiration). It can be helpful to read a few paragraphs from these at the beginning of worship, which may help settle and focus thoughts. It is also important to try to spend at least part of the worship time simply being still and open.
The worship space probably will be arranged with chairs and couches in an oval. Quaker meetings do not have a hierarchy so there usually are no reserved or special seats. Quakers generally dress informally. It is helpful to silent cell phones.
It is almost impossible to describe in words what is going on in a Quaker meeting for worship. Quakers will often use words like “gathered,” “expectant,” or “waiting,” but these are only shorthand for an experience that is beyond words.
Some people love Quaker worship from the first; for most, it is a learning experience that is both difficult at times and rewarding. The following are brief explanations about what may occur and suggestions about how to use the time well.
Many find stillness and silence difficult. Even for people who regularly meditate or spend time in silence, there are often times when it is a struggle to focus, and the mind can wander to a recent argument or to what is for dinner. It is good not to strive or struggle; instead, relax, settle down, and sit comfortably. Some Quakers focus on a particular thought or idea. Many talk about holding people or situations “in the Light.” When thoughts start to run away in all directions (and they will), it is best not to chase after them but simply accept that it happens, let them go, and try to re-focus. Be gentle with yourself and don’t expect it to be easy straight away.
Sometimes during worship, someone will stand and speak; in their speaking they will be giving words to something that is beyond words. This is called ministry and, at its best, it results from a profound feeling of something of importance and a sense of being called to share it with others. Their words will come from a deep space and might refer to a situation in the world or to a personal experience; they might share a situation they find difficult or offer an insight into what nourishes our spiritual life.
Sometimes the ministry will be helpful and even inspiring; sometimes other people will say something springing from it; sometimes it won’t appear to mean very much at all. It’s best to listen and turn the message over in your mind; if it helps, hold onto it; if not, let it go.
At times no one speaks and the whole meeting for worship can be silent.
At the End
Meeting for worship finishes when two Quakers shake hands and others do the same. It is usually followed by words of welcome and perhaps an opportunity to share thoughts, news, and announcements.
Afterward, there is an opportunity to talk with others, perhaps ask about their experience, the Meeting, or Quakers, and just get to know people. Don’t be afraid to ask. We’re glad you’re here.
You also may wish to sign the guest book and provide your email address to be added to the Humboldt Friends Meeting listserv for announcements
For more information, you may wish to visit websites including the following:
https://www.quakercloud.org/cloud/humboldt-friends-meeting (Humboldt Friends Meeting), http://www.pacificyearlymeeting.org/ (Pacific Yearly Meeting), http://pacificyearlymeeting.org/fp/ (PYM Faith & Practice). Interchangeably, the Humboldt County Quaker meeting may be called Humboldt Friends Meeting, Humboldt Monthly Meeting, or simply the Quaker Meeting.
Humboldt Friends Meeting, 1920 Zehndner Avenue, Arcata, CA 95518, 707-444-3069.
*This handout is excerpted, with gratitude, from a Britain Yearly Meeting brochure, with edits for Humboldt Monthly Meeting.
Excerpts from “Friends & Worship” by Douglas Steere, Quaker author, professor, and activist, describing steps he takes during meeting for worship:
Still the body.
Still the mind.
Open to God in silent prayer.
Thank God for today, the week’s happenings, what I’ve learned, for people in my life, for the work to do, for the existence of God.
Often pause to enjoy God.
Search the week and feel the remorse that comes at this, that, etc.
Ask for forgiveness of faithlessness and ask for strength to meet this matter when it comes again.
Hold up persons before God.
Hold up persons in the Meeting and their needs.
When finished with inward prayers, quietly resign to complete listening -- letting go.