Quakers talk about Meetings a lot. We have…
Meeting for Worship
Meeting for Worship for Business
Meeting for Sufferings
We like to meet each other, you can tell! Conventional Quaker thought has it that we also, in all these contexts, meet with the Holy Spirit. (Unconventional Quaker thought tends, from what I have seen, to agree for the most part but worries about words and external realities and things like that.)
At the core of all these Meetings is Meeting for Worship. Our business meetings are built on Meeting for Worship; our meeting houses only exist because it’s handy to have somewhere to hold Meeting for Worship (you can hold it anywhere, and sometimes we do – worship in the street, worship in the park, worship in people’s houses or hospitals or wherever). We generalise the word ‘meeting’ as you do with ‘church’ – a church is a place but also a community, and a meeting is a practice which brings a community together.
So what is Meeting for Worship? Like most things, you can describe it at many levels. It’s some people sitting in a room. It’s a practice of waiting and listening for the Spirit. It’s a way to connect at the deepest level, with other people, God, and yourself. It’s an hour (half an hour, fifteen minutes, two hours) of silence (semi-silence, unprogrammed time, readings and hymns and silence) on a Sunday (Wednesday, Thursday) morning (afternoon, evening) in a meeting house (house, rented room, park). It doesn’t have a plan or an agenda (except when it does – we try and let people know about that in advance). It can be for anything – for you, for your breathing, for your soul, for a wedding, for a memorial, for business, for learning, for fun.
If you’re not sure what to do in Meeting for Worship, that’s okay. At one time I thought I ought to be more disciplined and organised about it, and think about X for ten minutes at the start and then Y for ten minutes, and so on, but I can’t work like that – and it doesn’t sit well with the spontaneous nature of the activity and the spoken ministry it produces, either. The discipline is in showing up and sitting there. (The old slogan: don’t just do something, sit there.) You have to show up, but there’s no way of knowing what will happen. Sometimes it’s peaceful, relaxing. Sometimes it’s testing, when your thoughts or some ministry challenge you. Sometimes I shake or cry. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m shaking with anger, fear, or the Spirit – the time someone opened his ministry with a quotation from the Daily Mail, and proceeded to agree with it and say how terrible are young people today – that was one of those. In the end I decided it was the Spirit, and said what was in my heart; I’m still not really sure, but people thanked me for my ministry afterwards so maybe I was right.
I don’t think, really, that Meeting for Worship can be adequately described in a blog post. If you’re in England, Scotland, or Wales, you can find one here and consider trying it out. Elsewhere in the world, try QuakerFinder or the listings in the Friends Journal. Be aware that all meetings are different and they may not be anything like my Meeting for Worship!