What to Expect When You're Quaker-ing
We welcome your presence and any questions you may have. Being prepared with a bit of information may make your first visit to Raleigh Friends Meeting a more satisfying experience. Meeting for Worship (or just "Meeting" as we Quakers call it) is at the heart of the Quaker way and is open to all. The following information relates to Raleigh Meeting specifically, but Meeting for Worship at any unprogrammed meeting will be similar.
Once You Arrive
The advertised time of Meeting on Sunday morning is 10 am, but in practice, Meeting begins a bit earlier - when the first person sits down. The front doors to our meeting house lead into a foyer for coats and our food pantry collection. A greeter will welcome you at the door, and you will find in the foyer some reading matter to introduce you to our way of worship. The door to the right of the interior glass doors will lead you directly into our meeting room.
Quaker meetinghouses don't look much like mainstream churches. They are plain and simple in style without stained glass, religious pictures, crosses, or altar. We also lack clergy to tell you how to worship. Raleigh Meeting has a mixture of padded and unpadded chairs of varying heights and old wooden benches which are arranged in an oval. Just choose somewhere you will be comfortable. On the bookshelves along the walls are copies of Faith & Practice of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which provides models of worship, organization and support for members’ life passages. Also on the bookshelves is a Welcoming Center with brochures, copies of the Bible, copies of the monthly magazines Friends Journal, Sacred Journey. The Journal of Fellowship in Prayer, or Weavings. A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, and books for children and teenagers. Any of these may be picked up and read to inspire your heart during Meeting.
Ensuring that your phone is on silent, take some time to make yourself comfortable... do you need a cushion, drink of water, coat on or off? The quiet atmosphere is never absolutely silent. Sounds will always be present whether it be birds singing, car alarms, the ceiling fans, people breathing, children moving, or stomachs rumbling! Sitting in the gathering silence aims for an inner peaceful stillness - a quietening of body, mind and spirit in order to get in touch with the Divine source, to hear God within us and within the others present in Meeting. You should never feel you can't move but we do ask for everyone to be mindful of others.
Meeting for Worship lasts for approximately one hour and closes when the clerk rises to shake another Friends' hand. There is no planned hymn singing or sermon to listen to or prayers to say aloud. Sometimes someone will feel moved to stand and speak or sing. When this happens, it should feel organically part of the silence, breaking only momentarily before being absorbed back into it.
Waiting for that "Still Small Voice"
In our worship we try to keep an expectant attitude, waiting for the "still small voice" of God. Occasionally someone in Meeting will feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit to give a vocal message. Friends are urged to wait until they are sure that the prompting is genuine and then speak loudly enough that all can hear. Some Friends will sing their message. Since we believe that "that of God" is within every person, we listen carefully to each message, seeking together for the truth. Sometimes the reason for a message may be unclear, even to the speaker, but we often find out later that it "speaks to the condition" of another listener. It is our custom that speakers be brief (not continuing beyond what they feel they are required to say), and that ordinarily they speak no more than once. Also it is our custom that a respectful period of silence follow each message.
Worshiping in Silence
Occasionally an entire Meeting for Worship is spent in silence. The silence is spent in prayer or meditation. Friends often report that they have been enriched by meeting in the silence, or alternatively, that a spoken message had a meaning for them. We have no single style of meditation, except that we expect it to be a group experience. Many of us find that worship is most rich if we sit quietly with feet on the floor, hands folded, and head bowed in expectant silence. Friends are urged to come to meeting without prepared materials, without a plan to speak, but also with an expectation that it may turn out that they are prompted to speak during a particular Meeting.
Centering is a Quaker term for focusing in and connecting with that "small still voice within." This process calms the mind and body so that we find inner peace and can fully hear the Spirit's leadings. Like other learned skills, practice and time makes letting go of our inner conversations easier. Like an onion, we shed our mental worries and problems as we center in Meeting and prayer at home.
Suggestions for Centering
Settling the mind takes practice and if you have never meditated, a few techniques might come in handy for stilling body and mind, so we are able to hear what God may be saying to us. Physical relaxation of the body has been found to lead to mental relaxation. Try sitting straight in the chair with support in your lower back, both feet flat on the floor rather than with your legs crossed, and with hands resting in your lap. Noticing the points of physical tension and breathing into them can be helpful. Focusing on the breath is perhaps a good starting point; listening to it, counting the breaths in and out so they are equal. Please talk to Friends about their personal practices for centring if you'd like more guidance.
Just the Facts, Friend
Generally, when at Raleigh Friends Meeting, you may expect:
- To start worship just before and at 10am and to end at 11am.
- People dress casual to business casual in general but some wear 'church' clothes or t-shirts and shorts.
- Silence for long durations. Some days we have no speakers while on other days, there are three or more speakers.
- At 10:15am, the children leave for First Day School and late arrivers enter the room.
- You may bring a meaningful book with you, or there are many books and pamphlets in the meeting room that may help you focus.
- We are an inclusive community with very rich diversity. 'Handicapable' Friends are integrated into the life of the Meeting.
- Worship ends when two Friends shake hands.
- The clerk of the meeting will welcome Friends and visitors to give Joys and Concerns, make announcements, and introduce visitors.
- Fellowship, with tea, coffee, and snacks, follows in the Garden Room in the back of the house.
- Second Hour/Adult Forum begins at 11:30am. Child care is provided.
Adapted with permission from http://www.horshamquakers.org.uk/FirstvisittoQuakerMeeting, June 2014