Silence and Worship

Quaker worship began without pastors or clergy leading. It was simple gathering where Friends would seek to hear what the Spirit of the Living God had to say in their midst. Out of the silence, a Friend would speak when they felt led by the Spirit to share what they heard in their hearts. This sitting in silence together, in the presence of Christ Jesus who “is come to teach the people himself” (an early statement from George Fox about the real presence of Christ in their worship gatherings), was for Friends their practice of communion. One does not need the bread and wine when Christ is present with you. Overtime, Friends’ practice has shifted. There are still Friends who meet in this expectant waiting silence (they are sometimes referred to as “unprogrammed” Friends) and there are now Friends who have pastors, sing, pray, share in teachings from the bible, and practice silence (they are sometimes referred to as “programmed” Friends). Both groups generally understand listening to God’s Spirit, experiencing communion together as a meeting, and participating in the co-leading of worship to be central to their worship but they practice that in different ways. Whereas for early Friends “unprogrammed” worship was the norm, today, there are far more “programmed” Friends around the world. See this Quaker Speak video on the differences between unprogrammed and programmed Friends.

Worship is the response of the human spirit to the presence of the divine and eternal, to the God who first seeks us. The sense of wonder and awe of the finite before the infinite leads naturally to thanksgiving and adoration.

Silent worship and the spoken word are both parts of Quaker ministry. The ministry of silence demands the faithful activity of every member in the meeting. As, together, we enter the depths of a living silence, the stillness of God, we find one another in ‘the things that are eternal’, upholding and strengthening one another.

From Britain Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice 1967; 1994

A Selection of Quaker Speak Videos on Worship

Further Reading

Four Doors to Meeting for Worship: Pendle Hill Pamphlet #306 by William Taber

Encounter with Silence by John Punshon