When we meet together, our purpose and our form of worship is to watch and wait upon God ... Then, when everyone is thus gathered, and all meet together inwardly in their spirits, as well as outwardly in their persons, the secret power and the virtue of life are known to refresh the soul.
God not only reveals himself and draws near to each individual but is in the midst of the group as well. Each one partakes not only of the particular strength and refreshment which comes from the good in himself, but shares with that of the whole body. Being a living member of the body, he has joint fellowship and communion with all.”
Robert Barclay, Apology, 1678
The heart of the Religious Society of Friends is our Meeting for Worship. In worship we are called to seek God’s will with our entire being: body, mind, and soul.
Worship is the adoring response of the heart and mind to the influences of the Spirit of God. It stands neither in forms nor in the formal disuse of forms. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 NRSV). We treasure silence as a path towards inspiration and guidance that leads to communion with God.
In our Meetings for Worship, we are called to listen with prayerful obedience to God, with a willingness to give as well as to receive. In speech or in silence, each person contributes to the Meeting. Worshipping God together, we can strengthen one another, and our bodies and minds can be refreshed in the life of the Spirit.
Give adequate time for study, meditation, and prayer, and other ways of preparing for worship. Be mindful that worship is the fusion of individual and collective waiting to experience the love of God. Come regularly to Meeting for Worship, even when you are angry, depressed, tired, or spiritually cold. In the silence ask for and accept the prayerful support of others joined with you in worship.
During the Meeting for Worship, Friends may be led by the Spirit to testify, to share an insight, to pray, to praise. When speaking, we should do so clearly and simply, using as many words as necessary and as few as possible. When another speaks, listen with an open spirit, holding the speaker in love. Rest with the message, recognizing that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others.
Friends, meet together and know one another in that which is eternal, which was before the world was.George Fox, 1657
Do you come to meeting for worship with heart and mind prepared? What is the preparation that readies us ...for the life and power of the seed? It is not simply a matter of arriving for meeting on time, though with our hectic lives even that is not always easy. Preparation for worship is a life that integrates prayer, meditation, edifying reading, and deep conversation into the busy routines that most of us pursue. We cannot expect to dive casually out of the heat of the world into the coolness of divine communication for an hour per week. That only brings the heat of the world in and disturbs the waters, leaving no place for peace. Douglas Gwyn, 1997
For, when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people I felt a secret power among them which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up; and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed. Robert Barclay, 1678
In worship we have our neighbors to right and left, before and behind, yet the Eternal Presence is over all and beneath all. Worship does not consist in achieving a mental state of concentrated isolation from one’s fellows. But in the depth of common worship it is as if we found our separate lives were all one life, within whom we live and move and have our being. Thomas R. Kelly, 1938
A Friends’ meeting, however silent, is at the very lowest a witness that worship is something other and deeper than words, and that it is to the unseen and eternal things that we desire to give the first place in our lives. And when the meeting, whether silent or not, is awake, and looking upwards, there is much more in it than this. In the united stillness of a truly “gathered” meeting there is a power known only by experience, and mysterious even when most familiar. There are perhaps few things which more readily flow “from vessel to vessel” than quietness. Caroline E. Stephen, 1908
Group, like individual worship, is an offering; and let none think that because he comes to meeting dry and empty or in great perplexity or need of help, he has “nothing to offer.” He has not only his “outward testimony” to bear, but he has his weakness itself to lay before God in trust and love; and if the meeting is truly “gathered,” that offering may bring it to a deeper place than any surface happiness and praise could do. Beatrice Saxon Snell, 1965
Yea, though there be not a word spoken, yet is the true spiritual worship performed, and the body of Christ edified; yea, it may, and hath often fallen out among us, that divers meetings have passed without one word; and yet our souls have been greatly edified and refreshed, and our hearts wonderfully overcome with the secret sense of God’s power and Spirit, which without words hath been ministered from one vessel to another. Robert Barclay, 1677
On one never-to-be-forgotten Sunday morning, I found myself one of a small company of silent worshippers, who were content to sit down together without words, that each one might feel after and draw near to the Divine Presence, unhindered at least, if not helped, by any human utterance. Utterance I knew was free, should the words be given; and, before the meeting was over a sentence or two were uttered in great simplicity by an old and apparently untaught man, rising in his place amongst the rest of us. I did not pay much attention to the words he spoke, and I have no recollection of their purport. My whole soul was filled with the unutterable peace of the undisturbed opportunity for communion with God, with the sense that at last I had found a place where I might, without the faintest suspicion of insincerity, join with others in simply seeking His presence. To sit down in silence could at least pledge me to nothing; it might open to me (as it did that morning) the very gate of heaven. Caroline E. Stephen, 1872
There are times of dryness in our individual lives, when meeting may seem difficult or even worthless. At such times one may be tempted not to go to meeting, but it may be better to go, prepared to offer as our contribution to the worship simply a sense of need. In such a meeting one may not at the time realise what one has gained, but one will nevertheless come away helped. Berks & Oxon Quarterly Meeting, 1948
If meeting for worship becomes persistently and repeatedly jarring and meaningless, that may be God’s challenge to you to rethink your Christianity and come, with his help, to a conclusion as to what you really believe. Feelings always mean something, and by taking counsel with God in prayer we may come to find whether they are the result of spiritual neglect or spiritual growth. Beatrice Saxon Snell, 1965
Finally, remember that our manner of worship is ultimately a mystery under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Each Meeting for Worship is a spiritual adventure, unique and unpredictable. Let us remember in humility that “the end of words is to bring us to the knowledge of things beyond what words can utter.” Isaac Penington, 1670
…I have never lost the joy of sitting in silence at the beginning of Meeting, knowing that everything can happen, knowing the joy of the utmost surprise; feeling that nothing is preordained, nothing is set, all is open. The Light can come from all sides. The joy of experiencing the Light in a completely different way than one has thought it would come is one of the greatest gifts that Friends’ Meeting for Worship has brought me. Ursula M. Franklin, 1979
And as many candles lighted, and put in one place, do greatly augment the light and make it more to shine forth; so when many are gathered together into the same life, there is more of the glory of God, and his power appears, to the refreshment of each individual, for that he partakes not only of the light and life raised in himself, but in all the rest. R