A Quaker Meeting for Worship.
A Quaker (Friends) Meeting for Worship is a new experience for many Christians, but we think it's an experience that will leave a definite impression on you as you, like all of us, grow spiritually. By the way, we use the expression "Meeting" because we believe that all believers compose the "church"; therefore it is inaccurate to refer to a building as a "church" or to a worship time as "church"!
While it's most obvious to list what you will not see at Meeting for Worship (We do not have traditional pastors or leaders, organized songs, liturgies, "orders of worship", statues, crosses, icons, stained glass depictions, creeds and recited prayers, or sermons), it would be a mistake to view Quakerism as only a list of negatives. There are many positives in our Meeting for Worship, a Meeting which we believe follows Jesus' prophetic words about worshipping God "in Spirit and in Truth."
As Friends and other attendees enter the room designated for worship, a waiting worship on the Lord begins with silence. You will not be greeted or spoken to immediately at this point, but you may enter into the real presence of the Lord Jesus with those around you. We firmly believe that whenever two or more of us are gathered together in His name, our Lord Jesus promises His Divine Presence will be there to teach and guide us into all truth. This message that "Christ has come to teach His people Himself" is the heart of Quaker waiting worship and faith. It is the revolutionary message that fuelled the flames of early Quakerism!
In the covenant of Christ , which fulfilled all the prophesies recorded in the Old Testament scriptures, no intermediary such as priest, bishop, elder or pastor is required for someone to hear God's voice. Every individual may hear the voice of the Almighty for him/herself! Actually, in a very real sense Friends eliminated the "laity" rather than the "clergy", because we all are part of the priesthood of believers. This also means that every person is responsible for their own individual obedience to the Light of Christ that is given them. Christ alone, the Light of the World, can "speak to our condition" both as individuals and in regular group discernment of His guidance to us as a living community of believers.
We gather in silence in response to Christ's presence among us. The silence is not empty, but is filled with the Living Christ among us, Who is waiting for us to come before Him and to hear His voice. As we gather in waiting silence, our spirits, minds and bodies enter into an ever-deepening awareness of God's presence which may (1) allow us to hear personal messages from God for our own lives; and/or (2) move us to speak aloud out of the silence with a message we believe to be His voice for the gathered group at that moment. This latter happening is referred to as vocal ministry and everyone including any visitor, is welcome to rise and speak as moved by the Spirit to do so. Occasionally God's message comes in the form of a song and/or a scripture verse to be shared with the group of worshippers. There is generally a substantial period of silence allowed after a message so that all may have time to ponder and listen for God's Spirit speaking to us. Some Meetings for Worship are blessed with complete silence, while others are filled with several meaningful messages brought forth to benefit all those present as the love of God surrounds us in what Friends refer to as a "gathered meeting."
As messages are given, this is a "full silence" in which you may or may not find the message especially meaningful to you at that moment. Don't worry if the message does not seem relevant to you at that time. Our understanding of worship allows that this may be the case for many reasons. The speaker may not have been sure that the message was for everyone but delivered it anyway, or the message could be meaningful for another person in a way you cannot see at the time. This is why Meeting for Worship is never boring. It is not a predictable experience. Many Christians in many traditions have learned that God seldom moves in just exactly the way we expect or desire on our own. There is an excitement and necessity about waiting in silence for His guidance that cannot in our opinion be duplicated in the more "programmed" Meetings for Worship found in other Christian traditions.
Worshipful waiting continues until most people sense that there has been sufficient time to hear from the Lord. Then two Friends designated to do so will shake hands, signalling the end of silent worship. The time has now come to greet one another with a loving handshake of unity. After announcements and introductions, we experience the "rise of Meeting" once again for that week.
Quakers have always viewed the ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit and the real presence of Christ Jesus among us as our Guide and Teacher not only during worship, but in every moment of our lives. God present with us is the supreme guide to living a full and inwardly peaceful life. No religious ritual is recognized as having any special significance for Christians because all the rituals that were once ordained by God were only symbolic representations. Quakers seek to know the reality of spiritual worship and praise. Being aware that too often religious rituals can and do replace the Spirit of Truth, Quakers avoid such rituals. As scriptures state, Jesus is the only Word of God. He gives His Light to every person in the world so that all who will do so can listen to His voice directly by themselves and are therefore able to know His presence and His truth at all times.
Again, welcome! You are among Friends!