Quaker worship, a practice as something you do… a spiritual practice:
The Meeting for Worship
And so, I find it well to come
For deeper rest to this still room,
For here the habit of the soul
Feels less the outer world's control;
The strength of mutual purpose pleads
More earnestly our common needs;
And from the silence multiplied
By these still forms on either side,
The world that time and sense have known
Falls off leaves us God alone.
Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier
Meeting for Worship, 17th Century. Entering into this form of worship.
“… the first that enters into the place of your meeting, be not careless, nor wander up and down either in body or mind, but innocently sit down in some place and turn in thy mind to the Light, and wait upon God simply, as if none were present but the Lord, and here thou art strong. When the next that come in, let them in simplicity and heart sit down and turn to the same Light, and wait in the Spirit, and so all the rest coming in fear of the Lord sit down in pure stillness and silence of all flesh, and wait in the Light. A few that are thus gathered by the arm of the Lord into the unity of the Spirit, this is a sweet and precious meeting in which all are met with the Lord…. Those who are brought to a pure, still waiting on God in the Spirit are come nearer to God than words are… though not a word be spoken to the hearing of the ear. In such a meeting where the presence and power of God is felt, there will be an unwillingness to part asunder, being ready to say in yourselves, it is good to be here, and this is the end of all words and writings, to bring people to the eternal living word.” -1660
-Alexander Parker, Letters of Early Friends, ed. A.R. Barclay (London; Darton and Harvey, 1841), pp. 365-66. Alexander Parker was a close companion of George Fox.
Society of Friends
“Members of the Society of Friends met in meetings, sometimes once a week, or even several times a week. These meetings for worship normally went through a strict sequence of ritual stages. First was the gathering. Quakers quietly arrived, either as individuals or in small family groups. They were urged to cultivate a gravity of demeanor on their journey to meeting. “Frivolous” conversation was condemned, as was laughter, smoking, spitting and chewing. Men and women entered the meeting by different doors, and were expected to take seats nearest the front in order of their arrival, and not by rank or wealth or age, except for the special honor done to elders…
Then the second stage began- a time of expectant silence called “turning the mind to the light.” …
Sometimes no words were ever spoken, and yet the meeting was thought to have been highly successful. Many Quakers believed that the best meetings happened when no outward words needed saying.
But most meetings passed to another stage when people began to rise and speak, either in the form of preaching (if the words were addressed to one another) or prayer (if to the Lord). Usually, the elders spoke first, and others followed. The manner of speaking was different from ordinary discourse. Visitors in the eighteenth century remarked upon its strange cadence and accent….
Anyone could speak in meeting- Friends and strangers, elders and youngsters, men and women. One diarist recorded every speaker in meetings he attended; both men and women spoke frequently, but a small number of individuals accounted for most contributions. Elders were responsible for dealing with disturbed or disruptive speakers. The meeting itself sometimes responded to unwelcome remarks by standing silently in protest.
The last stage of the meeting was often a return to silence. Then worship would end when one member, usually an elder, rose and shook hands with another, and everyone departed in quiet dignity. A Quaker meeting for worship was thus conducted in a manner very different from an Anglican liturgical service and the Puritans lecture day.
The Quaker Meeting:
The Quakers of
“There lives in
We mean the branch of the Quaker church sometimes called the Old-fashioned Quakers,…
“No paid ministry, a
rejection of baptism and the ‘outward ordinances’, and their great reliance on
the “inward light” or guiding spirit, are the society’s most distinguishing
doctrinal points. “Freely ye have
received, freely give,” is their authority for not paying the ministry. A desire to break away from “the tyranny of
the clergy” of
“…about this time the Society
was rent by separation. Away back in
1827 the parent body in the Eastern States was divided by what is known as the Hicksite separation.
Elias Hicks openly denied Christs’s divinity,
depreciated the value of the Scriptures and placed a greater dependence upon
“the inward light”. The tendency in the
society toward the unitarianism of Hicks had its
opposite in the more evangelical doctrines of Joseph John Gurney,… Thus it happens
that there are two distinct branches of Quakers in
… “On entering a Friends’ meeting for the first time the stranger is seated about midway in the audience part of the room. Care is taken not to seat him too far forward,… The men enter with their hats on and many keep them on throughout the entire meeting. All take their seats in silence. As the meetings are mostly in the country, they gather irregularly, and sometime considerable time elapses before all are in. Then perfect quiet settles over all. There is no opening hymn, no announcement, no reading of the scripture, no prayer, no collection, no text, no regular sermon. Every head is bowed and every member is supposed to be communing with the Spirit of the living God. A large congregation waiting in absolute silence for the teaching of the “still small voice that teacheth as never man taught,” is surely a sublime spectacle.
“No one dares break that solemn stillness until he is sure that he is called by the Divine Spirit to speak to the people. Then he rises, slowly removes his hat, and in peculiar, half sing-song voice, discourses on the beauty of holy living and exhorts to faithfulness. These sermons are mostly short and unstudied. They are apparently what is presented to the mind of the speaker when under deep religious thought. As the society does not believe in educating its ministry, the sermons seldom display much learning, but they do sometimes show wonderful spirituality. They never elaborate a subject, but they powerfully condense and put the main truths of the Christian religion in a few short sentences which sometimes are both strong and eloquent.
“A member anywhere in the house may kneel to pray, whereupon all rise to their feet, the men removing their hats. All remain standing until the sometimes eloquent and usually highly figurative prayer ascends to the throne of grace. When the amen is said all are again seated.
“It frequently happens that there is no word spoken through the whole service, the meeting being an entirely silent one. But these are not considered at all profitless by Friends, as they contend that acceptable worship may be rendered in this way, and often remark that such meetings are to them most favored season of divine blessings. When the time for ending the meeting has come, the man sitting at the “head of the meetings,” on the gallery and next to the partition, simply shakes hands with the one next to him, which is the signal for general greeting and handshaking among the members and the meeting is adjourned.
“The formation of the society
“The unbounded faith which Quakers have in their own principles, and the way they regard the principles and practices of other churches, approach intolerance on their part. They believe they are guided to their convictions by the Spirit of Truth, and they really think they have arrived at absolutely correct conclusions, and that any other opinions are wrong. They think that all who differ from them would agree with them if they had sufficient light….
“Behind them they behold the
history of their society made glorious to them by the suffering of its
founders. It has become endeared to them
by every tie of sentiment and conscience, and they regard it as their highest
duty to maintain its existence and preserve its purity against the
encroachments of time.