Friends General Conference

Together we nurture the spiritual vitality of Friends

Spiritual Deepening

Grounding Exercise

Introduction: What Are Friendly Practices?

Image credit: Putney Friends Meeting
  1. The practices Friends use to make decisions and build community grow directly out of the experience of Quaker worship. Quakers have many ways of describing what happens in worship: We sink down to the Seed that enfolds the kingdom of heaven, and let it quicken and grow within us. We center down into the deep place at the heart of all creation. We stand still in the ocean of Light that that overflows the ocean of darkness and is not overcome. We sit at the feet of the Inward Teacher. We come to know each other in that which is eternal. We rest in a place of perfect peace and infinite love.

    The essential elements of Quaker worship might be described as stillness, deep listening, humility, sincerity, openness, a willingness to be changed, and a profound appreciation of community. These are highly counter-cultural concepts in a world where busyness, self-promotion, and individual autonomy are usually taken for granted. The emphasis on community is particularly challenging, and absolutely foundational. Quaker worship is radically different from most meditation traditions because it cannot be done alone. The Light draws us into relationship. We experience what we call Light or Christ as overflowing compassion for those who are suffering, as a joyful awareness of beauty, as a soul-to-soul encounter that dissolves all barriers, as a mystical sense of unity with all creation. God is always found in connection, not in isolation. Building connection is essential to Quaker worship.

    Stillness, deep listening, humility, sincerity, openness, a willingness to be changed, and a profound appreciation of community are also the essential elements of Quaker process.

    We begin with silence and return to silence, trying to still our own over-active minds and hearts so that Light can break through.

    We listen to each other with tenderness and respect, seeking to hear the spirit behind the words.

    We try to set aside our own ego-driven desires and surrender to something larger than ourselves.

    We seek to say what we have to say as simply, clearly, and honestly as possible, not trying to manipulate others or twist the truth to suit our own purposes.

    We open ourselves to each other, admitting vulnerability and seeking a sense of connection.

    We keep in mind that we do not know all the answers, and that Truth may lead us into new and unexpected paths.

    We remember the love that binds us and makes us whole.

    There are, of course, many different Friendly Practices, designed to serve different purposes. Some traditions are hundreds of years old, and others have emerged quite recently in response to changing needs and perceptions. Quaker process is not set in stone. It is, in fact, intensely pragmatic. We use Friendly Practices because they work. They help us to pay attention. They help us to tap into an endless source of creative energy. They help us to get out of the way. They remind us that we are not alone.

    The practices Friends use to make decisions and build community grow directly out of the experience of Quaker worship. Quakers have many ways of describing what happens in worship: We sink down to the Seed that enfolds the kingdom of heaven, and let it quicken and grow within us. We center down into the deep place at the heart of all creation. We stand still in the ocean of Light that that overflows the ocean of darkness and is not overcome. We sit at the feet of the Inward Teacher. We come to know each other in that which is eternal. We rest in a place of perfect peace and infinite love.

    The essential elements of Quaker worship might be described as stillness, deep listening, humility, sincerity, openness, a willingness to be changed, and a profound appreciation of community. These are highly counter-cultural concepts in a world where busyness, self-promotion, and individual autonomy are usually taken for granted. The emphasis on community is particularly challenging, and absolutely foundational. Quaker worship is radically different from most meditation traditions because it cannot be done alone. The Light draws us into relationship. We experience what we call Light or Christ as overflowing compassion for those who are suffering, as a joyful awareness of beauty, as a soul-to-soul encounter that dissolves all barriers, as a mystical sense of unity with all creation. God is always found in connection, not in isolation. Building connection is essential to Quaker worship.

    Stillness, deep listening, humility, sincerity, openness, a willingness to be changed, and a profound appreciation of community are also the essential elements of Quaker process.

    We begin with silence and return to silence, trying to still our own over-active minds and hearts so that Light can break through.

    We listen to each other with tenderness and respect, seeking to hear the spirit behind the words.

    We try to set aside our own ego-driven desires and surrender to something larger than ourselves.

    We seek to say what we have to say as simply, clearly, and honestly as possible, not trying to manipulate others or twist the truth to suit our own purposes.

    We open ourselves to each other, admitting vulnerability and seeking a sense of connection.

    We keep in mind that we do not know all the answers, and that Truth may lead us into new and unexpected paths.

    We remember the love that binds us and makes us whole.

    There are, of course, many different Friendly Practices, designed to serve different purposes. Some traditions are hundreds of years old, and others have emerged quite recently in response to changing needs and perceptions. Quaker process is not set in stone. It is, in fact, intensely pragmatic. We use Friendly Practices because they work. They help us to pay attention. They help us to tap into an endless source of creative energy. They help us to get out of the way. They remind us that we are not alone.

    BY DEBORAH HAINES, Baltimore Yearly Meeting

  1. With diligence meet together, and with diligence wait to feel the Lord God to arise, to scatter and expel all that which is the cause of leanness and barrenness upon any soul; for it is the Lord must do it, and he will be waited upon in sincerity and fervency of spirit; and let none be hasty to utter words, though manifest in the light in which ye wait upon the Lord; but still wait in silence, to know the power working in you to bring forth the words, in the ministration of the eternal word of life to answer the life in all.

    STEPHEN CRISP, THE FRIENDS' LIBRARY: COMPRISING JOURNALS, DOCTRINAL TREATISES , AND OTHER WRITINGS OF MEMBERS OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS, VOLUME 14. 1663. PUBLIC DOMAIN.

  2. George Fox writes, “Friends are not to meet like a company of people about town or parish business, . . . but to wait upon the Lord.” Quakers have used this method with a large degree of success for three centuries because it has met the religious test, being based on the Light Within producing unity. . . At its best, the Quaker method does not result in a compromise. A compromise is not likely to satisfy anyone completely. The objective of the Quaker method is to discover Truth which will satisfy everyone more fully than did any position previously held. Each and all can then say, “That is what I really wanted, but I did not realize it.” To discover what we really want as compared to what at first we think we want, we must go below the surface of self-centered desires to the deeper level where the real Self resides. The deepest Self of all is that Self which we share with all others. This is the one Vine of which we all are branches, the Life of God on which our own individual lives are based. To will what God wills is, therefore, to will what we ourselves really want.

    BRINTON, HOWARD H. FRIENDS FOR 300 YEARS. WALLINGFORD: PENDLE HILL, 1964. 109. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION OF PENDLE HILL PUBLICATIONS.

  1. When opinions differ widely and the need for spiritual discernment becomes crucial, the best of Quaker business techniques alone will not suffice; then we are driven, as never in a meeting for worship, to seek that spiritual covering which alone can give the fruits of the Spirit, which can sustain harmony while waiting for the right leading. Thus, God’s work among us becomes more real, and faith is both tested and strengthened in the business meeting.

    There are two ever present and very real hazards in the Friends business method: impatience and a vacuous boredom. The Friend who recognizes that these hazards can be a spiritual call to go deeper into worship brings great power to the work of the church as well as an opening of his or her own spiritual gifts, including discernment. Thus the Friends business meeting is not just the peculiar Quaker form of getting things done; rather it should be seen as an essential part of the spiritual formation and the spiritual growth of every seasoned Friend, for it is that place through which we learn to walk hand in hand with each other and the Spirit out into the world to do the work of committed and obedient disciples.

  2. Inner silence, calming the agitations of our hearts and minds, letting go of all that is stubborn and grasping, is essentially an expression of the love of truth. To be dispassionate, not to let one’s own needs or prejudices or emotions color one’s actions, is essentially to put truth before everything else. To love truth in this way is to love God, who is Truth. Thus the practice of inner silence is the same as the love of God.

    DANIEL A. SEEGER, THE MYSTICAL PATH: PILGRIMAGE TO THE ONE WHO IS ALWAYS HERE. 2002. USED BY PERMISSION OF QUAKER UNIVERSALIST FELLOWSHIP

  3. Words may help and silence may help, but the one thing needful is that the heart should turn to its Maker as the needle turns to the pole. For this we must be still.

    CAROLINE STEPHEN, LIGHT ARISING: THOUGHTS ON THE CENTRAL RADIANCE. W. HEFFER, 1908. PUBLIC DOMAIN.

  1. Consensus: a secular method, involving a rational process and producing general agreement. The authority is the group.

    Sense of the Meeting: a religious method, involving a spiritual process and producing a spirit-led decision. The authority is the Spirit as discerned by the group in worship.

    ARTHUR M. LARABEE, 2002. USED BY PERMISSION.

  2. If the process by which we discover the sense of the meeting is to work, we must be willing to lay aside personal needs and grievances; we must be willing to reach beyond what you or I want. When I am able to set my ideas aside, and you are able to set your ideas aside, doors are opened which allow solutions to enter on a shaft of Light.

    The sense of the meeting is not discovered through competition of ideas. Outcomes should be determined neither by rhetorical skill, nor logical brilliance. The test of reason is not the test. Though compromise and moving toward consensus are tools which can assist early in the process, they must be laid aside as we reach for the Inward Presence.

    Ideas should be offered and explained, rather than argued. They should be heard thoughtfully and respectfully, just as messages in meeting for worship are heard thoughtfully and respectfully. Sense of the meeting requires listening rather than contending, weighing rather than reacting. It requires the kind of patience that understands that all things will work themselves out in due course. Unless we are willing to settle for consensus, pressures imposed by urgency must not be allowed to erode the process. Quaker business procedure, subjected to a clock, is always corrupted.

    Sense of the meeting was seriously tested by the epic Sandy Spring balcony dispute. After the founding of Sandy Spring Friends School, the local meeting house could not contain the large crowds which arrived for choral concerts and graduations. Performances and celebrations were marred by disgruntled, disappointed people milling around outside.

    Probably through a sense of the meeting, the building’s designers foresaw that a balcony might someday be needed. They built the ceiling two stories high in order to accommodate its future construction. Now, a hundred and fifty years later, their vision seemed warranted.

    No one challenged the need for a balcony. The dispute arose over remnants of the ancient partition which had once separated men’s and women’s business meetings. The partition’s lower section had long since been removed. But the upper half cut across the open second story and bisected the wall against which the balcony would be constructed. It served no structural or functional purpose except to remind Friends of their history.

    History, it turned out, carried weight. Some Friend, often elderly, would say, “But I love that old partition. It reminds me of where we’ve come from.” Another Friend would say, “That partition has been there all my life. I’m not sure I could worship here any more if it were gone.” Someone would add, “It wouldn’t look like the meeting house without it.” Another Friend would look up wistfully and say, “I love those beautiful old panels.”

    Sandy Spring’s business meeting reached impasse. “Those beautiful old panels” became the symbol of the impasse. In doing so, they provided the narrow opening through which we could reach for the transcendent solution. During a meeting for worship, three years after the balcony issue had been raised, Brook Moore was moved to rise from the facing bench to say, “I see a balcony in this room and it is faced with the panels from the partition.” Sense of the meeting lay I the silence that followed. With little hesitation, the next business meeting adopted Brook’s vision.

    The balcony filled for Sandy Spring Friends School’s graduation on the morning after its completion. That afternoon it filled again for the memorial service of a cherished member of the meeting. No one thought it coincidental that the new balcony would fill twice on its first day of availability. We might have gotten a balcony sooner if we had been willing to force the issue. Arguments and logic were unassailable. But we would have left a residue of hard feeling; and we would have been deprived of the glow of unity that came from the solution given to us out of silence.

    Consensus involves a process in which we promulgate, argue, and select or compromise ideas until we can arrive at an acceptable decision. When we seek the sense of the meeting, the decision is a by-product. It happens along the way. The purpose of seeking the sense of the meeting is to gather ourselves in unity in the presence of Light.

    MORLEY, BARRY. BEYOND CONSENSUS: SALVAGING SENSE OF THE MEETING. WALLINGFORD: PENDLE HILL, 1993. 13-15. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION OF PENDLE HILL PUBLICATIONS

  3. No votes are taken in our business meetings. Instead, the clerk listens to each speaker and then experiences “the sense of the meeting.” (The clerk should check in with those attending the Meeting for Business by reflecting back to body what their sense of the meeting is.) If there is disagreement, the clerk may call for a period of silence, so that members can bring the matter before God. If there is still disagreement, nothing is decided and the subject is brought up again at the next meeting. In this way we try to arrive at a decision which is accepted by the meeting as a whole.

     

    Excerpt from The Quaker Way

  1. The living power of a meeting for worship depends not only on the sincere dedication of heart and thought on the part of each individual member, but also on united communion in the presence of God wherein each one overpasses the bounds of his individual self and knows a union of spirit with spirit, bringing him into a larger life than that which is known in spiritual separateness . . . We cannot come to a true understanding of life’s purpose apart from knowledge of one another in the deepest place of our being. This was the thought of George Fox as he gave counsel: ‘Friends, meet together and know one another in that which is eternal, which was before the world was.’ Out of such fellowship there will arise a sense of a common purpose in life, and the united worship will be deepened and enriched by the consciousness that in varied fashion all are ministering in the service of God.

    LONDON YEARLY MEETING, CHRISTIAN LIFE, FAITH AND THOUGHT, 1925. USED BY PERMISSION OF QUAKER BOOKS.

  2. I saw at this time that if I was honest to declare that which Truth opened in me, I could not please all men, and laboured to be content in the way of my duty, however disagreeable to my own inclination. (Concerning Quakers holding slaves.)

    WOOLMAN, JOHN. THE JOURNAL AND MAJOR ESSAYS OF JOHN WOOLMAN. ED. PHILIPS P. MOULTON. RICHMOND: FRIENDS UNITED PRESS, 2001. 53. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION OF FRIENDS UNITED MEETING.

  3. To refuse the active payment of a tax which our Society generally paid was exceeding disagreeable, but to do a thing contrary to my conscience appeared yet more dreadful. (Concerning a tax to fund the ‘French and Indian War’.)

    WOOLMAN, JOHN. THE JOURNAL AND MAJOR ESSAYS OF JOHN WOOLMAN. ED. PHILIPS P. MOULTON. RICHMOND: FRIENDS UNITED PRESS, 2001. 77. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION OF FRIENDS UNITED MEETING.

  4. I have seen that in the midst of kindness and smooth conduct to speak close and home to them who entertain us, on points that relate to their outward interest is hard labour; . . . sometimes when I have felt Truth lead toward it, I have found myself disqualified by a superficial friendship . . . my cries have been to the Lord . . . so I have been humbled and made content to appear weak or as a fool for his (God’s) sake, and thus a door hath opened to enter upon it. (Hosted by Quaker slaveholders and reproving them.)

    WOOLMAN, JOHN. THE JOURNAL AND MAJOR ESSAYS OF JOHN WOOLMAN. ED. PHILIPS P. MOULTON. RICHMOND: FRIENDS UNITED PRESS, 2001. 112. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION OF FRIENDS UNITED MEETING.

  5. Until the year 1756 I continued to retail goods, besides following my trade as a tailor, about which time I grew uneasy on account of my business growing too cumbersome . . . I believed Truth required me to live more free from outward cumbers, and there was now a strife in my mind between the two; and in this exercise my prayers were up to the Lord . . . Then I lessened my outward business . . . and so in a while wholly laid down merchandise, following my trade as a tailor, myself only having no apprentice.

    WOOLMAN, JOHN. THE JOURNAL AND MAJOR ESSAYS OF JOHN WOOLMAN. ED. PHILIPS P. MOULTON. RICHMOND: FRIENDS UNITED PRESS, 2001. 53. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION OF FRIENDS UNITED MEETING.

  6. Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if I might receive some instruction from them, or they may be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth amongst them.

    WOOLMAN, JOHN. THE JOURNAL AND MAJOR ESSAYS OF JOHN WOOLMAN. ED. PHILIPS P. MOULTON. RICHMOND: FRIENDS UNITED PRESS, 2001. 117. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION OF FRIENDS UNITED MEETING.

  7. But the Loving Presence does not burden us equally with all things, but considerately puts upon each of us just a few central tasks, as emphatic responsibilities. For each of us these special undertakings are our share in the joyous burden of love.

    THOMAS R. KELLY. A TESTAMENT OF DEVOTION. SAN FRANCISCO: HARPERONE, 1996. PRINT.

  8. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and then doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the Light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes.

    GEORGE FOX, EPISTLE 14. 1831 EDITION OF FOX’S EPISTLES. PUBLIC DOMAIN

  1. Elders are responsible for the proper conduct of the meeting, and the religious education of the members. In the late 20th century many meetings no longer appoint Elders but give the same responsibilities to a committee, usually called Ministry and Worship.

    Overseers are concerned for the personal welfare of members. In most monthly meetings, Overseers form a committee and may be responsible for marriages, membership, and memorial services.

     

    Excerpt from The Quaker Way

  2. Our current committees on Ministry and Counsel grew out of early Friends’ call to spread the Quaker message and nurture the fledgling worshipping groups that were forming across the English countryside. Traveling ministers were acknowledged spiritual leaders within the Quaker community. They moved through districts where they were often already known, where worshipping communities were eager to engage with the gospel as Quakers understood it. At the same time, Friends were needed to nurture the seeds planted by the traveling ministers. In 1653, William Dewsbury wrote of the hope that in every meeting one or two Friends would be raised up who were “most grown in the Power and the life, in the pure discerning in the Truth” (Dewsbury, Works, 1689). These “elders” were to organize regular meetings for worship and to arrange General Meetings. This loose organizational structure developed into meetings of ministers and elders. In addition to participation in their local meetings, the ministers and elders formed a strong and weighty leadership, which met regularly as a distinct body within the Society.

    From New England Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice Revision Committee, 2015. Used with Permission.

  3. Complied by Friends General Conference

  1. Center for Courage & Renewal. Used with Permission.

  1. Read the article, A Query Buff Looks at Queries, in Friends Journal. 

  2. A Word About Quaker Queries

    Quakers don’t have creeds or formal statements of things all Quakers must believe. Quakers use various names for the Divine – including God, the Light, the Seed, the Inward Teacher, and the Living Christ. We have found that there is “that of God” in each person, meaning an innate need and ability to connect to the Divine and spiritual reality. We often refer to “that of God” in each person as the “Inner Light.” Each person can have direct contact with this Divine Presence without needing a minister or priest to intercede. Instead of a creed, Quakers put their faith in a continuing relationship with God, or the Inner Light, that reveals truth and prompts action. We call this “ongoing revelation.” Queries are questions that guide personal and group reflection on how our lives and actions are shaped by Love and Truth. The emphasis is on how to live a life more completely aligned with the life of the spirit. Quakers often find Queries a powerful spiritual discipline. Returning again and again to the same prompt for deep reflection can set the stage for new understandings, changes of heart, and a rising sense of loving action that needs to be taken. If you can answer a Query with a “yes” or “no,” try to grapple a bit more adding “why,” “how,” and “when” to the original query.

    For more Quaker Queries see, http://www.neym.org/fandp/staticpages/index.php?page=advicesandqueries

  3. Some Example Queries

    Are you open to the many ways Spirit may speak to you?

    What does love require of you?

    Do you maintain an appropriate balance among work, service, worship, family, and recreation?

    Are you ready to rest if God asks it of you?

    Is every aspect of your life open to the transforming power of God? What stands in the way?