Congratulations if you have plucked up the courage, and decided to attend your first Meeting for Worship.
You may have some questions & concerns about what to expect. We hope this page with more practical information will help you feel at ease.
First, you don't need to tell us you are coming, just turn up. Meeting for Worship (or just "Meeting" as we tend to call it) is at the heart of the Quaker way and is open to all.
The information here relates to Horsham Meeting specifically, though you will find a Meeting for Worship at any Meeting House in this country to be very similar.
Taking the first step is often the hardest, and turning up for any new event, especially a religious service may seem a little daunting.
The advertised time of Meeting on Sunday morning is 10.30 am, but in practice it will begin a bit earlier. Actually it starts as soon as the first person sits down.
The front doors to our meeting house lead directly into the meeting room, so you will probably step straight into a quietening atmosphere.
There will be someone to welcome you at the door and ask if you would like any appropriate reading matter to introduce you to our way of worship. In addition to Sunday, there is also half an hour worship on Wednesdays 12.15-12.45.
Our meeting space doesn't look much like a regular church! Firstly you will notice the chairs are in a circle round a central table. As we have no service leaders, all chairs are equal. There is no "right" place to sit, just wherever you fancy. No need to hide at the back. We don't dress up for worship - not sure that the spirit has any objection to our jeans! What we are more interested in is the coming together as equals whoever we are - newcomers and seasoned Quakers.
It might be tempting to say nothing, but that certainly isn't the case! Sunday Meeting lasts about an hour and nothing is planned in that time. We sit and wait, basically in silence.
You will already have gathered there is no priest or minister to lead so in effect we all the ministers! There are no hymns or planned bible readings but someone may spontaneously speak in the meeting. We call this ministry - more about this below. If there is a children's meeting present, they will sit with the main meeting for about 15 mins before leaving for their own activity.
After about an hour, two appointed elders will shake hands to signal the end of worship. Generally there will be notices and a short period of "Worship share" where anyone may share an insight but there is no direct discussion on what is shared.
Coffee, tea & fellowship then follow. All are invited to stay.
Checking your phone is on silent, choose your seat and take time to make yourself comfortable... do i need a cushion, drink of water, coat on or off? The quiet is never absolutely silent.
There will always be sounds present whether it be traffic noise and people outside, car alarms, the whistle of wind, the heating, people breathing and tummies rumbling!
We simply sit in the gathering silence aiming for quieting of mind & body. There is no one right way to do this; it is not easy for any human being with our chattering heads but with practice, it is possible to start feeling that settling.
We Quakers refer to it as centring - when individually we quieten and collectively the meeting starts to gather together as one. It is a mysterious process, not easy to put into words (and doesn't happen at every meeting) but when it happens everyone senses it.
The table will generally have a vase of flowers or a plant on it, just as a focal point. Also on the table are copies of "Quaker Faith & Practice". This publication is a living testament.
It features the writings of Quakers from the founding days in the 1600s up to the present and includes Advice and Queries - a list of 42 numbered paragraphs intended to personally challenge the reader as they contain thoughtful advice and awkward questions. You can read the online version for free at the link in the footer.
Also on the central table will be copies of the Bible and possibly the weekly magazine "The Friend". Any of these may be picked up and read for reference during Meeting.
It can be very helpful to read at the start of meeting, especially if it's a new experience but worth remembering meeting is really about tuning into our inner selves, our fellow worshippers & to "listen for the inner promptings of love & truth in our hearts"
The centre point of Meeting for Worship is always stillness and silence.
Whatever happens in Meeting (and nothing is pre-planned) will come out of the silence and return back to it.
Sometimes, somebody present will feel moved to speak during worship. We call this Ministry and absolutely anyone is free to do this.
What constitutes Ministry and when is the right time for it, is something Friends struggle with. Ministering is not a comfortable experience; often against one's will, you feel forced to stand to give a message that perhaps makes you physically "quake" - hence the name "Quaker" (used by a 17th century judge as a term of abuse!)
Meeting for Worship is never a forum for comment or debate. Opportunities to learn about our personal spiritual journeys are arranged at other times outside Worship.
We welcome young people to our meetings and value the contribution they make. A children's class is generally arranged for the second Sunday each month. Young people join the full meeting for worship for the first 10-15 mins before going to their own session. A Friend (with DBS clearance) will work with the young people present. Often it will be a arts & craft session, storytelling, walk or visit.
Some of our young people attend national gatherings of young friends for weekend camps and week long residencies where they explore the Quaker faith with their peer group. Please contact us first if you wish to bring a child to meeting.
Silent worship underpins Quakerism and makes it profoundly different from other religious practices. It is true many Faiths recognise silence as part of their worship, but for Friends it is right at the heart of the matter.
It is the belief that to truly sense the Divine, we feel the need to go to beyond words. What ever you chose to call this universal force – God, Light, the Spirit, oneness – no words can ultimately sum up the experience. It is a feeling that uses the whole body, not just the brain or intellect.
It is not a feeling you can learn about from someone else or from the words of a book (though these may be a helpful way in). You need to experience it for yourself and learn to trust that personal experience. Quakers in their silent worship seek to listen for a divine prompting.
We aim to quieten both body and mind so we can access a deeper place within ourselves where we may find the Light.
Some of the tools we may use might sound familiar to those who meditate, but it is important to point out that a silent Quaker Meeting for Worship is not a meditation. It is is very much a communal activity where the Light within each individual can uphold, and be upheld by, others.
If you consider a candle, one candle on its own sheds a little light, but when we come together the light is far brighter. We seek to find the tranquil centre within and so the stillness of each person meets the stillness of others. That of God within each of us is encountering the Divine.
Updated 5 August 2021
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Updated 7 March 2022
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