Quaker worship is a shared, mostly silent seeking of the inward Light.
“What is the ground and foundation of the gathered Meeting? In the last analysis, it is, I am convinced, the real presence of God.” Thomas Kelly
Quaker meetings for worship begin when the first person to arrive has sat down in silence. As others join the meeting, we move into silent worship together. There is no pre-arranged order of service and, on each occasion we meet, the shared silence can take on a life of its own. This means that a newcomer or visitor cannot take one or two Meetings as typical: the serious enquirer should stay with us awhile. Silence for Friends is not merely stillness or the absence of sound. A living silence is a time for listening, a time for self-surrender, a time for a deep sense of fellowship with one another and an opportunity to experience the presence of God (whatever “God” may mean to each individual).
The experience of worship is difficult to explain in words, especially as not all Quakers feel able to express themselves in formal religious language. Worship itself, however, seems to call for, or imply, a sense of transcendence and most Friends feel comfortable with talk of the Spirit, that is, ‘our selves in the depth of what we are…this place where God and me mingle indistinguishably’ (Harry Williams, quoted by George Gorman, ‘The Amazing Fact of Quaker Worship’ p. 105).
Sometimes a meeting is entirely silent, but more commonly in most meetings, from time to time the silence is broken when someone feels led to speak. ‘Spoken’ ministry (as we call these contributions) may take many forms. It could be sharing an experience, a question that has exercised the inner self, an affirmation, a reading, teaching or a prayer. There is no prescription or pattern for spoken ministry and no limitation on who may speak.
A meeting for worship differs from a meeting for learning, which is the proper setting for contributions which just stimulate discussion or artistic or intellectual pursuits. Also, it is generally not helpful to air personal problems in spoken ministry in the expectation that Friends will explore them for therapeutic purposes. Our hope is that all spoken ministry will be given with sensitivity to the life and spirit of the local meeting and will be inspiring and uplifting to some or all of those attending.
Quaker worship is difficult to describe in words; the best way to find out what it is like is to experience it first hand. Newcomers are welcome at our local meetings which are generally held on Sunday mornings. Friends will greet you there and can answer any questions. If you would like to do some reading beforehand, here is a list of introductory material. You can also explore our Links page.