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Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quaker Worship.

If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. ~ Mother Teresa
I want to share a little about Quaker worship because it has occurred to me that many of you, my dear & beloved friends, have never experienced this kind of worship & perhaps some of you are curious.

I need to say right up front that I rarely attend Meeting so my experience of corporate worship is limited ~ & my Meeting is really small, barely half a dozen people. Firstly my closest meeting is some distance away & very difficult for me to get to. Secondly it clashes with other commitments I have on Sunday & those other commitments are where I feel the Lord would have me on Sunday. Thirdly, the blessing of Quaker worship is that one does not need to be physically present to participate. It is better, but not necessary.

Every Meeting I have attended has been unprogrammed. This means there is no order of service. There is no designated time for music or preaching. The Meeting unfolds as the Spirit leads. If you attend a more regular service I'm sure this sounds weird & chaotic but in fact it is never anything but orderly & restful.

The Meeting hall is always very plain & simple, completely unadorned in any way so creates no distractions. Mind you, on a nice day the Meeting is just as likely to pick up their chairs & cart them outside for worship.

Now I am sure you are used to arriving at church & everyone is standing around chatting before they move into the church. They may even be chatting in the church. The organ may be playing some quiet hymn, or if you belong to a more progressive church guitars & drums will be warming up near the sanctuary. This is not the case as Quakers arrive for Meeting, not in my experience. Quakers arrive silently, already preparing to centre down & enter into the presence of God. Each arrival moves quietly so as to cause as little disruption as possible, quietly takes a seat & begins preparing their heart for worship. My Meeting has no littlies so I do not know from experience how that affects worship.

When everyone is gathered an elder leads the people into worship simply by bowing their head & closing their eyes. Not everyone will immediately do this. Some people will read for a while, either their bible or a devotional or some other inspirational book or pamphlet. People are also likely to do this at any point throughout the hour of worship.

I have spoken elsewhere of the different stages one moves through in silent worship. At some point the leader may invite anyone who has a word from God to speak, or someone inspired by the spirit will speak or sing or read a verse of scripture but most Meetings will pass the entire hour in complete silence.

How, I can hear you all asking, can you worship together when there is no set program that everyone is following? No songs to sing? No prayers all will pray together? In my experience, I need to keep saying that because it can be different for everyone & I dare not speak for another on this issue, the silence is what binds. How to explain?

Silent worship is a discipline. Well, it should be. There is a rythmn to it just as there is a rythmn to the Catholic liturgy or a Baptist gathering or Charismatic worship. Times aren't set in stone but the flow goes something like this. The first 10 minutes or so everyone is settling down. You are aware of lots of little movements as people's minds try & discard all the everyday clutter we carry around with us. Every little noise is a distraction. Gradually this dies away & you sense a shift in the tone of the Meeting. People's bodies are quieter. You can literally feel people centering down, entering more deeply into the silence, & as they go deeper the silence envelopes everyone drawing everyone together into the very presence of God ~ whoever or whatever they concieve him to be. This is how leadership can *take the sense of a Meeting* when something is to be voted on. Silence is tangible. It literally has weight & substance.

It is at this point God will often speak. I get all sorts of things once I am here: songs of praise & worship, answers to problems, a timely word of encouragement or discipline, messages for others, scripture verses, images, a sense of the real presence of God. It is out of this silence that anyone who has a message to share with the Meeting speaks.

Gradually people shift out of the silence & become aware of the noises & movements around them again until the whole Meeting is present. The leader will turn & shake hands with the person closest to him, signifying meeting is over. Hands will be shaken & only then will conversations start up ~ usually quietly. Not everyone moves through the stages at the same pace. The beauty of this style of worship is how it accomodates each individual while maintaining unity. I know the time my Meeting meets & when I am able I can participate even though not physically present. There are no barriers to God.

Here you will find another's perspective on what happens during Quaker worship & it's practise. Those of you who practise silence as a way of worship please feel free to contribute your experiences in the comments section for the edification of us all.


Amanda said...

This was interesting to learn about Ganeida, thank you! So, when people get something from the Lord to share, do they take turns to share it? Do you notice a dove-tailing effect? By that I mean, each person's message seams to flow in a connected way? I can imagine it would.

My husband often remarks to me, that he wishes the music would just stop, and that we would all just worship Him in silence. I have agreed with Him. Not that I personally want to have that happen all the time, but I am sure God would like to remove the prop of music. Anything we depend upon ALL the time, is surely not good.

Thanks again for sharing!

Ganeida said...

Amanda: You know I've never had more than one person speak ~ but as I said my experience is limited. What I do know is the same message will go to several different people & the one least able to withstand the promptings of the Holy Spirit will be the one who speaks. Even in this setting many people dislike *public speaking* & resist the inner urgings. If more than one were to speak I imagine it would work like any regular prayer meeting following the promptings of the Holy Spirit where only one person at a time feels it necessary to speak.

Joyfulmum said...

Thank you so much Ganeida for this very educational post for me:) I have been meaning to google "Quakers" to see what it brings up as there is a suburb in Sydney named after them and I was curious:)
I love silence too though we don't often worship in silence in our church, lol! but when I am alone I love to just sit in silence before God and meditate on Him, on scriptures, and just talk to Him quietly. Though I do have a LOUD side to me esp in our prayer meetings!
It's just beautiful to see the varied spectrum in the body of Christ, like the colours of a rainbow I reckon! I enjoyed reading your post and learning more about you:)

Amanda said...

I can't ever imagine Joyfulmum ever being LOUD! LOL!! How wonderful though... we can be loud or silent and in both, He hears us. :D

MamaOlive said...

Sorry I don't have time to read the whole thing right now, but I think you'll be delighted to know that my closet Quaker is coming out. :-D I've recently rediscovered my inner light (He tells me not to pig out on junk food, of all things!), and last time I was "at church" there was some song about God needs to hear me. And I stopped singing and thought, why would He need to hear me? Isn't it I that need to hear Him? And I thought of the verse in James that says we should be swift to hear and slow to speak, and wondered if it wouldn't be better to listen to God first and then to sing or pray back to him. Hmmm, seems like Bob said something about that once, too. When we start a church we'll do it upside down. ;-)

Finding Joy said...

I find this very interesting - if you read (you may not have) a story I wrote last week (Part 1) about my childhood I describe the Brethren meeting my family and I attended (it was a meeting on for family members) which has some similarities in it - in particular the silences - it wasn't completely unstructured but very unlike any church. For a young child the silence was expected and sitting still was something we learnt from toddlerhood - I knew not to muck around. I have attached the link if you are interested. Most people don't understand. In case you are wondering, I don't attend a Brethren meeting any more.

seekingmyLord said...

Ganieda, I am not a Quaker technically when it comes to joining my fellow Christians in a worship service, but I think in practice, when I am alone, that would describe my approach (most of the time) in my special time to commune with God without distractions. I love to be quiet and wait on Him, once I have cleared my mind...not always an easy thing to do, but necessary to really hear Him, at least for me.

I guess I don't consider services or meetings to be "worship" either. I think the Jews view attending synagogue as an extension of their worship and I agree with this. Worship should be in everything we do and at all times. We may do certain rituals at home, or we may set a times for devotions, but I believe we should try to keep in mind that we are meant to be a living worship of Him. Of course, we all fall short of that, but I believe we should attempt to keep it in our minds and hearts always.

Ganeida said...

Joyfulmum: Quaker's Hill? I'm an old Sydney girl. ;) I attended the Sydney Meeting for a while.

Amanda: Yeah, I thought she was the quiet type! ☺

MamaO: I see I have finally corrupted you. ;P I think everyone who really desires to know God ends up with a *listening heart*.

Jo: Thanks love. I left a comment on your blog.

Seeking: I know you know. lol No wonder God threw us together. There's unlikely to be too many of us around. ☺ And you are so right about worship...but that is a different post.

parise said...

thank you for your post. i do believe it will be most beneficial for me to share it,and the other link you so kindly included, with my monthly meeting.

Ganeida said...

parise: you are welcome though I would ask that you acknowledge your sources, especially the link which is part of a wider Quaker resource & therefore not mine to give away.

Joyfulmum said...

Ganeida, yes Quakers Hill was what I was referring to...wonder if there were a lot of Quakers that lived here in a bygone time?

ooooooh! both you and Amanda have only seen one side to my personality and you got that right - I am a very quiet type - except when I get praying, lol! I am a good old charismatic type in prayer meetings, if you know what I mean:) fortunately or unfortunately you don't get to show that side to me on my blog:)

Joyfulmum said...

oops I meant to say, you don't get to "see that side to me" not "show that side to me":) I better go now...:)

Ron Irvine said...

For me, the silence is very tangible. It is the greatest unifier that I've ever experienced. As I settle into the silence, there is an opening up of the heart and soul. And for me, with this opening up often comes tears as I sit in the Presence; of each other, heart to heart, and of God, with a broken open heart. I've written a few reflections about my experience inspired by Meeting and its impact on my life:

Ganeida said...

Ron: Thank you for taking the time to share. Yes, tears & laughter both, occur regularly for me. I have written more about that here:

Thank you for the links. I will certainly be making time to visit & read your thoughts.

naturalmom said...

Amanda asked, "Do you notice a dove-tailing effect? By that I mean, each person's message seams to flow in a connected way?"

I attend a larger unprogrammed meeting than Ganeida's, and while there are worship hours that pass completely in silence or with only one message, it's not uncommon for us to have several messages in one worship time. The answer, in my experience, is YES, there is often a theme that runs through the vocal ministry. Sometimes the reason is not very mysterious -- events, either in our own meeting or the wider community might influence our focus, for example. But often, it seems to be simply that Spirit has a message for us corporately and gives pieces of it to various ones of us to speak. It sends a little chill to hear someone speak a message on a topic that has been playing about in your own head/heart in worship, and even more so to hear others remark afterward that they had the same experience! It doesn't happen every week, nor even most weeks, but it happens often enough to keep our sense of awe aroused. :o)

Our meeting has a less predictable flow than yours, Ganeida, probably due to our larger size, but when we feel most "gathered", your description fits what happens pretty well. We are also a little more chatty before worship -- at least those of us with kids are. We have many children in our meeting, so getting all of them settled into their First Day School classes is a bit of a social time. The parents eventually take a moment to settle inwardly and then enter the room where worship is beginning. The children join us for the last few minutes of worship, and it's amazing how quiet even the toddlers and preschoolers can be. The deep silence has a power that even small children sense and are (usually) reluctant to disturb. They look around the room wide-eyed, with a look somewhere between bemusement and amazement on their sweet little faces. (Babies are another story -- it seems to be at about age 2 that they "notice" the silence and begin to go along with it. Infants do what they will, and one-year-olds seem to delight in making random noises and having everyone look at them, lol.)

Ganeida said...

naturalmom: Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. The Quaker community in Queensland is very small & my local Meeting smaller yet. Many of us are quite isolated so on~line contacts are highly valued. I am so pleased you chose to contribute to everyone's greater understanding.

Jan Lyn said...

How pleased I was to find this on the front of QQ. I almost missed it and at that, had to return for a time to comment. I think the blogosphere needed a basic, but thorough description like this one. Great job, Ganeida and I find mostly similarities in your meeting experience as mine here in the East Coast states.

We also have only have unprogrammed meetings here. I like to think of them as waiting worship or expectant silent time. Like you, I get all sorts of things coming to me from God during these times, but sort through what I think is for myself only or for the group. We have about 100 on membership here, but on any given Firstday about 10-25 will show up. Some weeks we have one person with vocal ministry and other weeks, such as last week I believe we had 3 people speak forward a message from God. That is about typical for ours.

Two differences we do have here which is even VERY unusual for the area, is 15 min. hymn sign prior to MfW and also once we have the handshake signaling meeting is over, it is LOUD. :)

I appreciate your sharing with the community!
Peace and Love to your heart,
Jan Lyn

Ganeida said...

Jan Lyn: Thank you, my friend for commenting. It is so good to get other Quaker's perspectives. I particularly thank you for alerting me to QQ. I'd missed it. I was so chuffed. Not something I ever expected one of my posts to achieve. My Dearest was delighted beyond words for me! lol ☺

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your moving and instructive "report from the silence"! To me it was quite important to learn how the silent session will need time to focus - and then the comforting and encouraging word "practice"! - Most friendly and grateful Norwegian regards from Enok Kippersund

Ganeida said...

hugen:I am pleased this was helpful. It is very different if you are not used to this way of worship & much misunderstood. And, yes, it requires lots of practice!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this post. After looking for years for a Quaker meeting, I found one close to me and plan on attending my first one this Sunday. It is nice to get an idea of what to expect!

Ganeida said...

Gayle: I love it when these posts touch seekers & are helpful. It can be so unnerving your first time in a Quajker Meeting because it is just soo different. I still remember my first time ~ I was about 18 & clueless. It wasn't right for me then though I kept harking back to the *idea* of silent worship. Now I have matured in my faith it is a very good fit for me.

Rene Lape said...

Beautiful posts and good conversation. I am so amazed at all that out "here" on the web. Thank you all for your faithfulness and love of God.