Your first visit to Quaker Meeting
Congratulation if you have plucked up the courage and decided to attend your first Meeting for Worship. Since very little is known about Quakers, 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 dont 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.
The meeting house
Our meeting space doesnt 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 hid at the back. We dont 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 - new comers and seasoned Quakers.
So what happens?
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 centering - 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 doesnt happen at every meeting) but when it happens everyone senses it.
Faith & Practice
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 up to present times 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. 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 its 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.
"When words are truly spoken "in the Life", then when such words cease, the uninterrupted silence and worship continue, for silence and words have been of one texture, one piece."
Thomas Kelly, 1940
Settling the mind takes practice and if you have ever meditated, a few techniques might come in handy for stilling body and mind, so we are able to hear what God may be saying to us. Physical relaxation of the body has been found to lead to mental relaxation. Noticing the points of physical tension and breathing into them can be helpful. Focusing on the breath is a good starting point perhaps; listening to it, counting the breaths in and out so they are equal. Please talk to Friends about their personal practices for centring if you'd like more guidance.
In spite of the use of meditative techniques, Quaker worship is not individually focused meditation. Meeting for Worship is very much a group activity requiring all present to be a part of and contribute to the worship. So, although you may be a newcomer to Quaker Meeting, you become as active a participant as anyone else. As we have no ministers to lead worship, we all take responsibility for the Meeting. While nothing literally is required of you, a willingness to be open to the experience is key.
"If I am reading a book, or remembering something I heard on the radio last week, or admiring the flowers on the table, I am doing something entirely understandable that many people do in a Quaker meeting, but I am not listening. I am not doing what the meeting is for, which is opening myself to the promptings of love and truth in my heart, hearing them and responding to the challenges they present to me. Quaker meetings are about listening and waiting. And they are about finding a response together".
Geoffrey Durham "Being a Quaker -A guide for newcomers"
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 CRB 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.