Swarthmore Friends Meeting
Thoughts on Meeting for Worship
Meeting for Worship
Quaker worship happens when two or more people feel the need to be still together and seek God's presence. This can happen anywhere and anytime, but Friends usually refer to a Meeting for Worship to indicate the Meeting which takes place regularly at a Meetinghouse or another fixed place. In attentive waiting together in silence, Friends can find peace of mind and a renewed sense of purpose for living and joy in wonder at God's creation.
Silence is greatly valued by Friends. In removing pressure and hurry, it helps them to be aware of the inner and deeper meaning of their individual and corporate lives. It enables them to begin to accept themselves as they are and to find some release from fear, anxiety, emotional confusion and selfishness. This silence is more than an absence of sound: one can be aware of external sounds, such as a dog barking, a car passing, or a child calling. But these sounds are not distractions. They are absorbed, often unconsciously, as Friends try to be open to that of God within. An early Friend, Robert Barclay, described his experience during a Meeting for Worship as follows: "I found the evil in me weakening and the good raised up."
The seating for a Meeting for Worship is usually arranged in a circle or a square to help people to be aware of one another, to be conscious of the fact that they are worshipping together. Those present settle quietly, and by corporately seeking God's will, become open to one another. This may happen quickly, or it may take most of the Meeting, usually an hour long.
The silence is different from that experienced in traditional, solitary meditation, which normally takes place deep inside oneself, as a devotional exercise for one's own spiritual development. The listening and waiting in a Meeting for Worship is a shared experience in which worshippers seek to meet God.
Friends may worship entirely without words, but usually there will be some brief spoken contributions. This 'ministry' is intended to express aloud what is already present in the silence. Anyone may feel the call to speak, man, woman or child, Friend or first time visitor. There is a very wide variety of sources of spoken ministry and the acceptance of them is an important part of Quaker worship. Since the Religious Society of Friends is part of the Christian tradition, people may speak of the life and teachings of Jesus, use words from other sources, or refer to events in daily life. Friends try to receive positively what is said and to look for the underlying truth, regardless of the words in which it is expressed. If Friends are impelled to respond to vocal ministry, they should be very cautious and try to build positively on what has gone before.
The books, brochures and leaflets listed in the Bibliography were used to edit the text of this publication. Most of these titles are still available from the Friends Book Centre and the FWCC World Office in London or Friends General Conference in Philadelphia
Invitation to Quaker Worship
On Gathered Meeting for Worship
Meeting for Worship is the heart of the Religious Society of Friends. It draws us together in the enlightening presence of God, sending us forth with renewed vision and commitment. All who attend Meeting for Worship share responsibility for drawing the Meeting together in expectant waiting and prayer, while feeling the encompassing presence of others, and opening oneself to the Spirit.
The depth of Friends Meeting for Worship is enhanced with respect for the time of assembling, therefore all care should be taken to arrive on time with consideration for those already settled, and for the gathering of the Meeting for Worship.
Friends find it useful to come to Meeting for Worship with hearts and minds nourished for worship by daily prayer, meditation, and study. We deepen our awareness of the wonder of God and of God's love, and acquire the words with which to understand and express that awareness. As Friends arrive for Meeting, such preparation helps us set aside our preoccupation with ourselves and so to settle into worship. There is no one right way to prepare for spiritual communion. Worshiping together strengthens the members of the worshiping community and deepens worship itself. Vital worship depends on a deeply felt longing for God.
Written by Worship and Ministry Committee, Swarthmore Friends Meeting, March, 2009
"Worship, according to the ancient practice of the Religious Society of Friends, is entirely without any human direction or supervision. A group of devout persons come together and sit down quietly with no prearrangements, each seeking to have an immediate sense of divine leading and to know at first hand the presence of the Living Christ. It is not wholly accurate to say that such a Meeting is held in the basis of Silence; it is more accurate to say that it is held on the basis of "Holy Obedience." Those who enter such a Meeting can harm it in two ways: first, by an advanced determination to speak; and second, by advanced determination to keep silent. The only way in which a worshipper can help such a Meeting is by an advanced determination to try to be responsive in listening to the still small voice and doing whatever may be commanded. Such a Meeting is always a high venture of faith and it is to this venture we invite you this hour."
Text was originally prepared for a Friends Meeting attended by delegates to the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1948.
The Quaker form of worship recognizes "that of God in everyone." We feel that worship, at its best, can bring direct communion with God, free of any ritual. We find that this individual experience of worship is deepened when it is shared with others.
Our Meeting for Worship is based on expectant waiting for guidance from the divine source within. The Inward Light, which itself comes from God, is a source of grace and illumination. It leads our many diversities toward harmony, not only within the worshipping group, but in our relations with everyone around us. During a "silent" Meeting for Worship, individuals at intervals may be moved to share their spiritual insights. This kind of vocal ministry is welcome from anyone present, not just from members. Brief messages can carry deep meaning, reaching many others. Worship lasts for about an hour and is closed by someone designated to do so who turns to his or her neighbor and shakes hands. From this Meeting for Worship we may return to our daily lives reaffirmed in our sense of direction and strengthened by the love and power of God. A designated Friendly Presence from the Care and Counsel Committee will be glad to answer any questions you may have after Meeting for Worship at the guestbook table.