The Society Of Friends (Quakers) is an international Christian denomination whose members worship in contemplative silence – without clergy, creed, spoken prayers, hymns, psalms or bible readings. The silence is occasionally broken if a member of the congregation feels ‘moved by the spirit’ to stand up and speak but otherwise lasts for a full 60 minutes.
When I first attended one of their meetings, the contrast with the high Anglican pomp of my choirboy days couldn’t have been greater. In the plain white-walled room there were no external stimuli at all beyond the ticking of the clock and sounds of traffic outside – the entire focus of the meeting was on ‘the spirit’.
There’s much to admire about The Society Of Friends: their traditions of non-violence, social action and active engagement with the developing world. In the UK and Australia they’ve taken an open and supportive line for decades regarding same-sex partnerships. But most appealingly of all, as the leaflet below makes clear, they’re the only major Christian denomination where belief in God is optional.
Your First Time In A Quaker Meeting?
A Quaker meeting is based on silence, but it is a silence of waiting in expectancy. For many minutes, perhaps for half an hour, there may be silence. But that does not mean that nothing is happening. All of us are trying to come nearer to each other and to God as we are caught up in the still spirit of the meeting.
We come to meeting because we want to, and because we find it worth while. We do not recite creeds, sing hymns or repeat set prayers. We want to worship simply. There is no ceremony, no priest, no prearranged service at all.
Go in as soon as you are ready. It is a good thing if a meeting can settle down a few minutes before the appointed time. Sit anywhere you like, but it is helpful to leave seats near the back and at the end of rows for latecomers.
You may find it easy to relax in the silence and thus to enter into the life of the meeting, or you may be disturbed by the strangeness of the silence, by distractions outside or by your own roving thoughts. Do not worry about this but return again and again to the still centre of your being where you can know the presence of God. Try, if only for an instant, to be quiet in body, mind and spirit
Nearly everyone at some time in their lives seems to want to find God for themselves – even those who find it difficult impossible to believe that God exists. This may be because of some moving experience or because of some particular problem. No matter what is on your mind at the moment, bring it with you into the silent room. [More]