What you can expect in Quaker Meeting for Worship on Sunday morning: A guide for newcomers on the basics.
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Quakers believe that if you want to find out what God has to say, you need to listen. And so we spend a lot of time listening in quiet prayer. That quiet prayer time, which can happen anytime, anywhere, is the heart of the Quaker religious experience.
What to Expect in Quaker Meeting for Worship
If you are going to go into Quaker Meeting for the first time, first of all, congratulations. So you walk in, sit down, be quiet. What to expect when you’re there, besides just “go with the flow” is different things depending on where you are.
What Should I Wear?
Unlike some other churches, you don’t need to dress up with suit and tie or a fancy dress. Most of the folks come in jeans, t-shirts, or shorts/t-shirts. Whatever you’re comfortable in.
Should I Bring My Kids?
So you’re thinking about coming to Meeting and you have children. You really need to know that you have to bring them. They may or may not enjoy themselves but we’re always so thrilled to have young people join us. They come and they’re bringing their alive-ness and their love and their genuine-ness. So please, yes, bring them.
Entering The Space:
A Plain Setting
So if you come into this space and you’re looking for images or words on the walls, some kind of direction, and you’re going to notice that there isn’t going to be any there. From the very beginning of Quakerism, its about the inside. So it’s about you not looking around you for that, but really going inward for your own wisdom, for your own piece of the divine that’s been given to you.
Sometimes a worship room will look like a really old building with benches that have been sat on by thousands of Quakers over hundreds of years and sometimes it will look like the basement of another local church.
Entering the Space:
Where Should I Sit?
Something that’s common to them is that people often will enter already in silence, find a place in the room and sit down in silence. Anyone coming into the room can sit anywhere, there’s not a right place or a wrong place to sit.
Learning to Listen
So before you go into Meeting for Worship for the first time, I’ll tell you what I’ve always told my kids when they were little, every week before we went in, which is just, “remember when you go in, to just sit down and listen for God. God is here with us and this is a space to listen.”
The first time I went to Quaker Meeting I didn’t know how to listen. Because I had never listened in church before. I had to work on that process of figuring out: what am I listening for? Am I listening to myself? What’s going on? What is everyone else listening to and how does that affect the community and me?
So in that quiet-ness you walk in, you say, “Ok, everyone is sitting there quietly, when are the directions going to come? What am I going to do?” Just follow suit.
Just sit down in that space. Just feel the space and the people around you and open yourself as much as you can. Just continue to notice how you can be aware of all that’s around you and all that’s within you, and how that’s all connected to everybody else in the room.
There is No Program
It’s called “unprogrammed worship” because there’s no sermon, there’s no hymns, no Bible readings, no prayers written out ahead of time. The whole idea of unprogrammed worship is to spend quiet time in prayer with our hearts and minds open to God.
If God has ever spoken, then God is still speaking. And expecting God to move, through somebody… maybe through me, maybe not through me, maybe just internally and the message is just for me, maybe one that needs to be shared – and I think that is so provocative. It’s provocative to say, “there’s no guidelines here!” I want to know what I’m expecting. And I don’t! I don’t know what I’m expecting every Sunday, but I know that I’m expecting.
Anyone Can Bring the Message
Sometimes during that quiet time, people will feel moved to speak. It might be just a couple of words or it might be several minutes. And then there will be some more quiet time and then someone else will speak. They might continue what the first person says or they might go in a different direction.
We’ve had people dance a message, we’ve had people walk a message, we’ve had people sing a message in addition to the usual standing up and giving a verbal message.
Ending with a Handshake
And it might just be like that for an hour. And then, what to expect at the end? It’ll be like it’s just somehow, it just started happening, everyone will start shaking hands.
Which sort of signifies the changing from the spiritual to the secular world of sorts
And then we’ll all be aware that’s happening and we’ll all follow suit, so all of this hand-shaking is going to happen and this greeting.
After the Service:
Generally Quakers have a litany of announcements of various activities that are going on, what protests we’re involved with this time around, or good organizations to be a part of or what potlucks are happening, things like that. And then, usually, Quakers gather for coffee, tea, catch up with each other, things how things are going on throughout the week.
Particularly when I’m new to a community, I want to sneak in and sneak out again and I find that it’s a good discipline for me. Often there’s this community-building conversation activity that happens after worship, which is really an important part of the worship experience. Building connections with one another that make the worship experience richer and deeper
And that’s about it. That’s a Quaker Meeting for Worship.