A description of Quaker Worship
The Hartford Monthly Meeting holds two meetings for worship per week. The main meeting is held on Sunday morning starting promptly at 10 a.m. There is also a smaller, Thursday night meeting held at 7 p.m.
There are many different types of Quaker meetings. The Hartford Monthly Meeting is what is called an “unprogrammed” meeting. This means we practice silent worship, which lasts about an hour. We begin in silence at the scheduled time, and after about an hour the silence is broken and everyone exchanges greetings with those seated around them. There is no fixed structure to the Meeting. There are no creeds, hymns or set prayers. There is no minister in charge and no formal service. Children who are too young for an hour of silent worship attend the first 15 minutes of worship following which they join our First Day School classes. On the second Sunday of the month, a query about Quaker practice is read at the start of worship.
Our worship is based on silence; a silence of expectancy in which we seek to come nearer to God and each other as we share the stillness of the meeting. Participants are not expected to say or do anything other than join in this seeking. The silence may seem strange at first, since we rarely experience silence in everyday life. Don’t worry if you are distracted by outside noise or roving thoughts. This is typical.
Every once in a while, someone may feel compelled by the Spirit to speak and the silence will be broken. Such ministry, which has not been planned before worship begins, seeks to enrich the gathered worship. If something is said that does not seem to make sense, try to reach behind the words to the Spirit which inspired them or allow them to be absorbed into the silence. Meeting for Worship is not a debate so it is inappropriate to respond directly to spoken ministry although it is not unusual for other ministry to build on what has been said before.
After Meeting ends, a member of the Worship and Ministry Committee welcomes everyone, and various announcements are shared. To encourage fellowship, a social time follows meeting for worship, usually with some snacks and juice. Following worship, on the second Sunday of the month, all are invited to share a potluck lunch and on the third Sunday of the month, we hold our Meeting for Worship for Business. On other Sundays, snacks and juice are usually served following the rise of meeting.
Quaker Meeting for Worship
Meeting begins when the first person enters quietly, sits down and turns his or her mind toward God. When you're settled comfortably, start to "center" yourself. Try to tune out the sounds of the world around you and the lively thoughts in your mind, in order to feel the presence of God within. This is not so much a matter of being silent, as of being still.
Soon you might feel a sense of "gatheredness," an awareness that you're in the midst of a prayerful community. Friends have always believed that the key to worship is quiet listening and waiting. We try to still the voices of our own minds and thoughts and listen instead to what God is saying, remembering that many messages don't come to us in words. Remember that the deepest meetings might be mostly or entirely silent.
Don't worry about distracting thoughts. Try, if only for an instant, to be quiet in body, mind and spirit. This stillness might clear the way for a sense of God’s presence. If you feel unfocused, take strength from those around you. Let their quiet reverence help you to feel calm and focused. Remember that we can draw each other closer to God.
In unprogrammed Quaker worship, we seek to put aside the thoughts and cares of everyday life and listen instead for what God might be saying to us, both individually and as a group. Sometimes we might be led to speak from that centered place; at other times, God’s word is for us alone. We must pay attention to the difference. Friends’ worship is not an encounter group, a discussion or an exchange of ideas.
The spoken ministry that arises out of the silence can come from anyone in the worshipping group. No one can tell in advance whether he or she will be moved to speak, but all should be open to the possibility.
If a person feels the urge to speak, then a process of discernment or "testing" is necessary. The traditional advice is to resist speaking as strongly as one can, and to speak only if remaining silent would be disobedient to God’s call. Is God really asking me to speak aloud the words that have formed in my mind? Do these words arise from this meeting for worship as a spiritual insight, or are they instead a personal concern that should be shared in another way? Should these words be "seasoned" within me for a time, to be shared later when they've had a chance to blossom more fully? In the old days, this testing process was called the "exercise" of the meeting.
If you're uncertain whether to speak, consider the following:
· Wait for a time in silence to see how the insight changes. Some Friends wait through several meetings for worship before trusting their leading to speak.
· Ask whether the insight will serve the whole meeting or is meant for you alone.
· Vocal ministry should be motivated by your own religious experience, rather than by a desire to respond to someone else’s message.
· Be certain that your ministry is spiritual and intended for worship. Personal or social concerns can be shared in other ways.
If, after waiting, you do feel called to minister aloud, remember these guidelines:
· Please stand if you're able and speak in a clear voice that will carry to the person sitting farthest away from you across the room.
· Speak briefly and only once. A few heartfelt words are better than a long explanation.
· Do not speak immediately after someone else. Friends need a chance to absorb the previous message. You might be surprised to find that your message changes during this waiting period – what you eventually say might be quite different from what you expected to say. You might also find that the prompting to speak fades away entirely.
Those who don't participate in vocal ministry serve the meeting through silent prayer and attentive listening. If your reason rejects the words of someone’s message, let your heart find the spirit behind the words. Keep in mind that the message might speak deeply to someone else in the group even though it doesn't speak directly to you.
Seeking Balance in Worship
Meeting for worship involves both silence and spoken ministry. We listen to God by seeking to be still in worship and by turning over in our minds any ministry that is given aloud. It's not always easy to maintain harmony and balance between the silence and the spoken ministry, but it's important to be always mindful of the responsibility.
--Adapted from Minneapolis Monthly Meeting