The Meeting for Worship is at the core of Quaker practice. There, Friends gather together in expectant silence, waiting upon God. Meeting for Worship is different from solitary prayer. The strength and focus of the community draw one who is distracted back toward the Center. In the embrace of the Meeting, an individual may be more willing to be searched by the Light that exposes weaknesses and shortcomings, and challenges the worshiper to transformation. Together, we can more clearly see Truth; we can better receive and understand continuing revelation.
The Philadelphia Quaker William Penn wrote the following query, which captures this spirit in the language of his time: When you come to your meetings…do you sit down in True Silence, resting from your own Will and Workings, and waiting upon the Lord, with your minds fixed in that Light wherewith Christ has enlightened you, until the Lord breathes life in you, refresheth you, and prepares you, and your spirits and souls, to make you fit for his service, that you may offer unto him a pure and spiritual sacrifice?
Conducting worship under the leading of Divine Will, Friends assemble in the silence without prearranged program. Each tries to still the inward clamor of personal anxieties and ambitions, listening for the voice of the Inner Guide, endeavoring to be faithful to its instruction. Such faithfulness may require an outward silence. It may require one to rise and speak words that do not come easily, which may not be fully understood, or which may be uncomfortable. It may require action, or restraint of action, by some individual or the whole Meeting, outside the Meeting for Worship.
During worship, all share responsibility for vocal ministry. God may call upon any one, regardless of experience or education, age or gender, to be a messenger. No one is excluded from the possibility of such service just as no one is appointed in advance to preach or pray at a particular Meeting for Worship. When someone does offer vocal ministry, Friends seek to be open, notwithstanding any hesitations or imperfection in the speaker’s words. An unexpected message may touch hearts, reveal the wisdom from the Source, and encourage the growth of the Seed within.
During Meeting for Worship, Friends seek connection to one another and to God dwelling among them. In some Meetings, the vocal ministry will have a common theme, each message deepening and enriching the other, and connecting to one’s own thoughts. Some Meetings are entirely silent. At a gathered Meeting, “the sense is present that a new Life and Power has entered our midst” (Thomas Kelly, The Gathered Meeting). Not every Meeting is a gathered Meeting, and not everyone has the same perception of a particular Meeting.
In nurturing its worship, a Meeting that is experiencing an extended period of arid silence might try to encourage those who are reluctant to speak to be faithful to the call when it comes. Another Meeting, where many vocal messages have come from speakers with questionable discernment, may seek to encourage a greater spiritual depth in both the silence and the words. Seeking what George Fox referred to as the “universal, true, and perfect worship,” Friends return in faith to God for guidance.
Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Note: Instead of writing a blog this month, I chose an important section from PYM’s Faith and Practice. We will hold a Quakerism 101 class on Speaking in Silent Worship on Sun. March 18 from 8:45 am to 9:45 am in the Meeting House, if you are interested in learning more.)