Into the Silence: a look at Quaker worship

stock DADx Religious Society of Friends Quakers Entrance Sign
Photo: Lynn Friedman

“Worship is our response to an awareness of God. We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence. We seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God’s love drawing us together and leading us.” Quaker advices and queries
I am a Quaker, but not like the picture of the old chap on the porridge box! Most Quaker worship is grounded in silence because there is no plan other than that those present sit together, gathering into silence. But the silence is not the worship. The silence, like garden soil, is seeded by the light of God. Worship grows in ways familiar to those who have come before, yet it is still unknown. We wait in expectancy, seeking to listen to, and be led by, the living presence amongst us. Spoken ministry may arise from any one. Those moved to speak are expected to discern whether their words truly are a message for everyone, or for themselves alone, and so do not need to be spoken.
“Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.” Quaker advices and queries
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George Fox, an English dissenting preacher in the 17th century, is the founder of the Religious Society of Friends. Photo: George Fox Marketing Communications

Our formal name is the Religious Society of Friends, and we are also known as just “Friends.” We seek to live our faith through our traditional testimonies, the most known of which is the Quaker peace testimony, calling us to “live in that life and power that takes away the occasion for all war.” Other testimonies call us to simplicity, equality, integrity and truth, and community. There is also a growing testimony to care of the Earth. Individually and corporately, we strive to live these values, which are grounded in our understanding of God and the relationships to which God calls us, with others and with all life on Earth.
Quakers will not swear oaths, because God calls us to one standard of truth. We seek lifestyles that reflect simplicity, commitment to justice and peace, and conscientious objection to war and preparations for war. Each Quaker is expected to discern how to live these testimonies in their individual and family lives. “Committees of Care” and “Clearness Committees” help Friends with discernment and support during hard times.
Friends do not have paid clergy because we share in a ministry of the whole. Everyone brings gifts and needs to the community. The structure of Quakerism is based on frequency of meetings to address church affairs. The basic unit, empowered to discern and confirm membership, is the Monthly Meeting. It generally meets weekly for worship. The monthly meeting for worship with attention to business, facilitated by the clerk, proceeds through unprogrammed worship in confidence that God is an active presence in the discernment.
Elaine-Bishop
Elaine Bishop is the presiding clerk for the Canadian Quakers. Prior to her retirement, she served as the executive director for the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre in Winnipeg.

Friends are expected to attend without minds made up, and worship takes place between spoken contributions. Minutes are written during the discernment and read back for approval before moving on to the next item on the agenda. There is no rule book, only a book of Faith and Practice, sharing the wisdom of Friends past and present, and a book of Organization and Procedure. Both offer guidance, but the key question in any discernment is: to what is God calling us in this situation? The clerk assists in articulating the questions to be discerned and helps those gathered to stay on topic. I have seen this process work effectively in a gathering of over 600 Friends!
There have been Quakers meeting in Winnipeg since 1957. Many meet Quakerism without knowing it. How many knew, when reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that they were reading a Quaker quote by William Penn at the beginning of the book: “Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas”? All are welcome to share worship with Quakers and get to know us better. In Winnipeg, we meet weekly at the Centre for Christian Studies, or you can find us at quaker.caquakerservice.ca and winnipegquakermeeting.edublogs.org.

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