Our Quaker Understanding of Worship
Once, a visitor to a Quaker meeting stood up after five minutes of silence and asked, “When does the service begin?” An old Friend rose after a brief reflection and said, “Service begins when the worship ends.”
Our Meeting practices unprogrammed worship, which is the model followed by the
earliest Quakers. In this worship, there is no pre-planned order of service, no one leads the worship, and all are equally responsible for the shared depth of communion. During an unprogrammed meeting for worship, Friends gather together in “expectant waiting” for divine leadings. Sometimes a meeting is entirely silent, sometimes quite a few people speak. Meeting for worship generally lasts about an hour.
A worshipper will rise and share a message (give “ministry”) with the gathered meeting when they feel led. Typically, messages, testimonies, ministry, or other speech are unprepared, and members are called on to discern the source of their inspiration—whether divine or self.
Unprogrammed worship is generally deemed to start as soon as the first participant is seated, the others entering the room in silence. The Meeting for Worship ends when a usually predetermined person (generally an “elder”) shakes the hand of his or her neighbor. All the members of the assembly then shake hands with their neighbors, after which one member (often the “clerk”) usually rises and extends greetings and makes announcements. Many meetings serve coffee or tea after meeting, which gives everyone an opportunity to catch up with friends and chat with visitors.
“Here we have the prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, that to turn all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.”
– John Woolman, 1720-1772
Quaker Views – Our Sense of Responsibility