We meet in a great task when we meet in worship, no less than to realize the Divine Presence and to create an atmosphere in which that Presence and Power can touch us into fuller life. Once we remember this, we cannot but approach the occasion with reverent humility and the desire that nothing on our part may hinder or disturb. It is something holy and wonderful we are trying to build up together – the consciousness of the Presence with us here and the reality of communion with God.
Quaker worship is based on the silence of waiting in expectancy. In the still spirit of the Meeting we reach down beyond our deepest selves to the very ground of our being, to come nearer to each other and to God. We do not worship in isolation but try to hold an awareness of all those gathered with us, uniting in a common purpose. That common purpose is not expressed through the recitation of a creed, the singing of hymns, the repetition of set prayers, under the leadership of a minister, but rather through waiting and listening which becomes an act of sharing in which we are all ministers.
Waiting and listening may lead someone to offer a spoken contribution which will deepen and enrich the worship. Anyone is free to speak, pray or read an appropriate passage aloud provided it is done in response to a prompting of the Spirit which comes in the course of the Meeting. Listen to what is said in an open-minded, charitable spirit. If something is said that does not speak to your condition or need, try to reach the spirit behind the words. The speaker wants to help the Meeting; take care not to reject the offering by negative criticism.
Do not be discouraged by any failure in concentration. See the reassurance offered by St. Francis de Sales: “When your heart is wandering and distracted, bring it back quickly to its point, restore it tenderly to its Master’s side, and if you did but nothing else the whole of your hour but bring your heart back patiently and put it near our Lord again, and every time you put it back it turned away again, your hour would be well-employed.”
In the centre of the circle there is a Bible together with anthologies of Quaker writings about our experiences with God, each other, and the wider society. These may be used as a focus for spoken ministry or for spiritual reflection. There is also a collection of Advices and Queries which serve to remind us of the fundamental issues we are invited to consider on our spiritual journeys. There may be a reading of some of these, once the Meeting has begun to settle down. In the quietness of a Quaker Meeting those present can become aware of a deep and powerful spirit of love and truth that transcends their ordinary experience.
The Meeting will end after one hour with a handshake. In Peterborough, it is our custom to hold hands for a brief moment in a circle as a symbol of our unity. We then take a few minutes to share various thoughts. Some of them will have arisen during the course of the Meeting but did not lead to vocal ministry. This is also an opportunity to share concerns, both personal and social, and those moments of joy we have experienced. These contributions are received in a worshipful manner, often with a few moments of silence in order to fully appreciate them.
The presence of newcomers and visitors is greeted with a round of introductions, followed by announcements. Every one is then invited to stay for a cup of tea, review the literature on the table and socialize. On the second and fourth Sundays we need to be out of the building by 1 pm so staff can continue their day elsewhere. On the first Sundays we have a meeting for discussion and on third Sundays we have our Meeting for Worship for Business, each beginning by 1 pm.
While Quakers are committed to an encounter with the Divine Presence in both the Meeting for Worship and in their daily lives, they express this in different ways. Each of us brings our own life’s experiences to meeting. Some will have a profound sense of awe and wonder because they know God is present. Others will be far less certain. They may only be ready to hold an awareness that their experiences in life point beyond themselves to a great whole. Some will thankfully accept God’s inexhaustible love shown in Jesus Christ, the promise of forgiveness and the setting aside of past failure. Others will know that to seek to be open to people in a spirit of love and trust is the direction in which they want to move. Despite the different ways in which we may account for this life-expanding experience, we seek to become united in love and strengthened by truth so that we enter a new level of living.
Thank you for coming. Your interest and presence will have contributed to our sense of unity and truth, and we hope you may wish to learn more about the many ways in which Quakers have experienced and responded to the Divine Presence. Please feel free to share your own experiences, concerns, and queries. Pamphlets are available on the table; there are also list of books and videos which can be borrowed or purchased.
If child care responsibilities make it difficult for you to continue to worship with us, please let us know and we will offer a programme for the children.
— Adapted from original text written by John Hillman