What happens at a Quaker meeting?

Answered by Robert Dupre

At a Quaker meeting, the focus is on collective worship and the individual’s connection to the divine. The meeting begins with the gathering of individuals in a designated space, usually a simple room with benches or chairs arranged in a circle or facing each other. There are no designated ministers or leaders in a Quaker meeting; everyone is considered equal and has the potential to be a vessel for spiritual insight.

The meeting starts in silence, which allows individuals to center themselves and quiet their minds. The silence is not an empty void but a space for reflection, contemplation, and listening deeply to one’s inner voice. It is a time to let go of the outside world and its distractions, to be fully present in the moment.

During this silent period, individuals are encouraged to be open to the presence of the divine or the “Inner Light.” Quakers believe that each person has access to this divine presence within themselves and can experience direct communion with it. This belief is rooted in the Quaker understanding that there is “that of God” in every individual.

In the stillness of the meeting, individuals may experience moments of deep spiritual insight, clarity, or guidance. This can come in the form of personal revelations, a sense of peace, or a heightened awareness of one’s connection to others and the world. These experiences are often referred to as “leadings” or “promptings.”

If someone feels moved to share their insights or leadings with the rest of the meeting, they may stand and speak. This is known as vocal ministry. However, Quakers believe that not all leadings need to be spoken aloud. Sometimes, the deepest insights are shared in the unspoken communication of silence.

Vocal ministry is not planned or rehearsed; it emerges spontaneously from the individual’s spiritual experience in the meeting. It is not a sermon or a lecture but a heartfelt expression of one’s own truth. The purpose of vocal ministry is not to convince or convert others but to offer a gift of spiritual sharing to the community.

After someone speaks, the meeting returns to silence, allowing the spoken words to settle and resonate within the group. The silence also provides space for others to reflect on and respond inwardly to the shared ministry.

The meeting continues in this manner for a predetermined period of time, usually an hour. At the end of the meeting, a designated person may shake hands with their neighbors, signaling the close of worship. This is often followed by a period of fellowship and socializing, where individuals have the opportunity to connect on a more personal level.

It is important to note that Quaker meetings can vary in their format and practices. Some meetings may have more structured elements, such as readings or music, while others may adopt a more unprogrammed and spontaneous approach. Quaker worship is ultimately guided by the principle of seeking the divine within and allowing it to guide and speak through individuals in the gathered community.

Personally, I have attended Quaker meetings and found them to be a unique and powerful experience. The silence and stillness create a space for deep introspection and connection with the divine. The absence of predefined rituals or leaders allows for a genuine and egalitarian gathering, where each person’s spiritual journey is honored and respected. The spoken ministry can be incredibly moving, as it arises from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. Quaker worship is a beautiful expression of communal spirituality and a testament to the belief that the divine can be found in the everyday lives of ordinary individuals.