Meeting for worship: our experiences

Meeting for Worship

A Quaker meeting creates a space of gathered stillness. We come together where we can listen to the promptings of truth and love in our hearts, which we understand as rising from God. Our meetings are based on silence: a silence of waiting and listening. Most meetings last for about an hour.

The silence is different from the silence of solitary meditation, as the listening and waiting in a Quaker meeting is a shared experience in which worshippers seek to experience God for themselves. The seating is usually arranged in a circle or a square to help people be aware of one another and conscious of the fact that they are worshipping together as equals. There are no priests or ministers.

The silence may be broken if someone present feels called to say something which will deepen and enrich the worship. Anyone is free to speak, pray or read aloud if they feel strongly led to do so. This breaks the silence for the moment but does not interrupt it.

In the quietness of the meeting, we can become aware of a deep and powerful spirit of love and truth, transcending our ordinary, day-to-day experiences. This sense of direct contact with the divine is at the heart of the Quaker way of worship and nourishes Quakers in the rest of their daily lives.

The following reflections by members of Ludlow Meeting talk about what Meeting for Worship means to us.

Why I go to Meeting for Worship

Mostly I go to Meeting for Worship because I am fascinated by the great experiment in which we are engaged. We sit in silence for an hour; we listen to the Divine (whatever that may be); from time to time one of us is propelled to our feet to share our inspiration. Its as simple as that – but its a huge challenge. Its like asking an orchestra to play a beautiful piece of music without being able to see the conductor or practise the music in advance. Sometimes it doesn’t work – but surprisingly often it does. And when it does I feel that I have been shown one more facet of the world beyond our everyday knowledge and senses. Gradually I come to know ‘God’.

Sharing this process every Sunday builds up a sense of community between those of us willing to be open and explore. It is a community which is open to any who feel drawn to this approach to the world of the spirit.

Meeting for Worship – a guide for newcomers

The first thing that hits you is the silence.  It’s quite frightening at first, especially to us Europeans for whom the absence of noise usually means something has gone horribly wrong, so don’t be scared, just listen to the silence…

Listen to it, savour it, roll it around in your head, because (and I know this sounds a bit weird) there are many different forms of silence – and you’ll get them all at some time in a Quaker Meeting.

Type One:  No-one says anything.  This is the same sort of silence you get in a doctor’s waiting room or a train.  Most people in the room are probably still thinking – some may be asleep and some may actually be thinking nothing, but most are likely to be thinking – in isolation – different thoughts about thousands of things from whether they left the gas on to tomorrow’s shopping or what they’d say to David Cameron if they got the chance.  If you could hear those thoughts, it would be a cacophony.

Type Two: No-one says anything because they are waiting; the sort of silence before the curtain comes up or the orchestra starts playing.  This is a sort of co-ordinated, expectant silence in which people are thinking along the same lines but not sure what’s coming next.  If you could hear these thoughts, they would be a single note sung in unison, or a collective intake of breath.  People are still enclosed in their own little bubble, but they are, as it were, on the same wavelength.

Type Three: People are silent together; they share the silence; it’s less passively expectant, more positively active than Type two.  Other denominations experience this briefly before, say, a prayer.  Quakers call it a gathered silence, and sometimes from out of this silence someone else will put into words exactly what you were thinking, which is pretty cool and rather exciting in a wow sort of way.  It is a silence charged with energy, the silence of a wave in the sea. It has power.

Type Four: People become still together.  Like into some great whirlpool, thoughts, noise, busyness, are drained from the room; and what remains is a deep, profound stillness all the deeper because we are all holding it together and it is within us and without us.  At this level, you become aware of the interconnectedness of all things, of the potential for love in every particle in the universe, of all the souls that inhabit it together, journeying in harmony and perfect step.  This is more than silence; it is complete stillness, beautiful, wonderful and rare.

And the weirdest thing of all?  At the end of the meeting, everyone knows what sort of silence it was.

Looking beyond

Sunday Meeting for Quakers gives me (and my friends) a space to stop, knowing the silence will be respected, thoughts shared sometimes, and all with a willingness to look beyond the limitations of the news, the shops and even the books I am reading. That beyond is why I keep on going. Life is beyond words, or politics, or busyness. The silence beyond opens up all the meanings and the challenges that I take away to try out in the practical days ahead.

Why do I come to Meeting for Worship? Why do I attend regularly?  What brings me to Meeting for Worship?

The unity in our Meeting is based on a shared understanding, a shared way of life, not a sharing of beliefs but a shared practice of listening in the silence… an active silence or waiting.  I am enriched by this silence, this depth of experiential listening, and I am given a sense of wellbeing at the end of the hour.

In the active silence I listen to that still small voice, that inner spark that guides me in all I do.  I carry this spark out into action in my daily life.  Something comes forward in the silence that impels me to respond in my daily activities.

My faith in humanity (that little spark in everyone) and all the interconnectedness of the universe leads me into action by working locally to change the systems that cause injustice, harm, violent conflict and death.  Each week I need to recharge my batteries, the Quaker Silence is the power source.

When meeting Friends at Quaker Meeting in the silent waiting I’m reminded of the many ways I can improve, or ways that I have ‘slipped’ during the course of the week or new ways of looking at an old problem.  Sometimes I am given a focus, a beam to guide me.

If I have a problem, or I am feeling low, the Friends at Meeting will, usually without knowing, answer my unspoken questions and give me the courage to continue… I have the spring back in my step!

Friends at Meeting share my values – peaceful solutions, simplicity in lifestyle, social justice and equality; I am guided to live simply in all facets of my life so others can simply live.The sense of friendship and community is very strong in our Meeting, we gently lift each other up with a tender hand and truly listen, care and acknowledge our uniqueness, our journey.

If I was asked what a Quaker Meeting was like, I would say it is a welcome pause to reflect on our journey through life.  I would encourage them to come with me to Meeting one Sunday to experience firsthand the feeling of being held as we work through the inner promptings that arise.

Our backgrounds and beliefs are very diverse but in the silence we can find unity – we can share the things that are eternal… a common humanity… a common response to ‘the Other’, whether we call it God, the Divine, Spirit….

At some time everyone is on a journey – a journey of searching for meaning, understanding, a purpose. It is nice to go to my Quaker Meeting and experience the journeys others are travelling – joining some along the path and then going on, taking a different path at the crossroads, following unexpected openings of the way forward for me.  I am accepted just as I am with all my tarnish and blemishes.

Why I am a Quaker

The Quaker testimonies to truth, peace and equality affect every aspect of my life.

For me, being a Quaker, is about a way of life, about showing compassion to all, striving to make things better in the world, and working towards peaceful solutions to conflict.

One aspect of Quakers which I particularly like is that doubt and questioning are accepted and seen as an important part of exploring truth.

Why I come to Meeting for Worship

There is something rather wonderful about a diverse group of people gathering together in stillness to wait on (as some people might say) the leadings of the Spirit.

There is in my experience a particular kind of energy in a gathered Meeting for Worship which can sometimes lead a person to speak; but often takes one’s thoughts into areas of exploration of the meaning of existence and into many ethical and spiritual dimensions.

Sometimes just to sit and enjoy the stillness of the Meeting is enough to refresh and restore. I think going to Meeting for Worship regularly can become a good habit which in time will reap rewards. It does take practice to centre down and find the stillness.

Why I come to Meeting for Worship

For a long time I have been interested in mystics and mysticism, but I come from a Protestant background, and, apart from a few Anglican monasteries and convents, there is no formal access to mysticism in the Protestant tradition.

I see Quakers as the mystical wing of the Protestant Christian tradition, and it is this which propels me into Ludlow Meeting. Meeting for Worship is a weekly opportunity for me to check in to a corporate experience of God, and helps round off my daily spiritual practice normally shared only with my spouse.

I have sat at the feet of Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi masters and it has all been a valuable experience, but none of them is from my culture. Entering a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox monastery is a step nearer my needs, but even an Anglican monastery doesn’t really appeal. I’m not into  renunciation as my way of life.

The silence of the Society of Friends’ Meeting for Worship can fill the need for a group experience of the divine. I say ‘can’, because it doesn’t always work in the ideal way – it wouldn’t be human if it did!

Why I come to Meeting for Worship

  • I came because I was invited.
  • I come because I am welcomed.

Meeting for Worship

Sitting quietly in Meeting for Worship gives me the opportunity to ‘touch base’.  I’m not sure exactly what ‘base’ is, but Quakers say there is ‘that of God in everyone’ and also talk of ‘the light within’ so perhaps that’s what I’m making contact with.  I find a sense of stillness and strength that stays with me and enables me.

What brings me to Meeting for Worship? Why do I attend regularly? 

What brings me to Meeting for Worship? A sense that in Meeting for Worship almost anything is possible. The need to get away from the running trains of thought in my head that limit my understanding of life and to get a new perspective which comes from being in the presence of the Spirit. Feeling the Spirit move amongst us. The promise of growth and healing, and unexpected possibilities. Sometimes I fail to centre down and the possibilities go unrealised, but more often I come away restored, and with the good that is in me raised up.

Why do I attend regularly? Because Meeting for Worship helps me to take steps on my journey.   Because I am nourished by the ministry given in Meeting for Worship, and some of it occupies a permanent place in my mind and experience, guiding me. There is wisdom in our Meeting, and generosity in sharing it. Because I like being part of the life of our Meeting community with its outward-looking concerns and its kindness.

I have sometimes been amazed by the creativeness of Meeting for Worship for Business, when we deal with our business affairs in worship, in the presence of the Spirit. In worship we found a way forward which respected deeply-held conflicting principles, and discovered new possibilities we hadn’t seen before.

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