YOUR FIRST TIME IN QUAKER MEETING


First steps..

Taking the first step is often the hardest, and turning up for any new event, especially a religious service may seem a little daunting. Hopefully, a bit of practical information about what to expect will help make your first visit a satisfying experience. Meeting for Worship (or just "Meeting" as we tend to call it) is at the heart of the Quaker way and is open to all.  The information here relates to Horsham Meeting specifically, though you will find a Meeting for Worship at any Meeting House in this country to be very similar. 

Welcome...

So you've plucked up the courage and decided to attend your first Meeting for Worship, congratulations!  The advertised time of Meeting on Sunday morning is 10.30 am, but in practice it will begin a bit earlier - actually it starts as soon as the first person sits down.  The front doors to our  meeting house lead directly into the meeting room, so you will probably step straight into a quietening atmosphere. There will be someone to welcome you at the door and ask if you would like any appropriate reading matter to introduce you to our way of worship.

The Meeting House Space...

Quaker meeting houses don't look much like conventional church buildings. They are plain and simple in style without stained glass, reli
gious pictures, symbols or icons, and you will quickly notice there is no altar, organ, font ... of course no clergy to tell you that Meeting has begun. At Horsham we have a mixture of new padded chairs and old wooden benches which are arranged in an oval around a central table. You can sit absolutely anywhere you like - no seats are reserved.  Just choose somewhere you will be comfortable. The table will generally have a vase of flowers or a plant on it, just as a focal point. Also on the table are copies of "Quaker Faith & Practice". This publication is a living testament featuring the writings of Quakers from the founding days up to present times and includes Advice and Queries - a list of 42 numbered paragraphs intended to personally challenge the reader as they contain thoughtful advice and awkward questions. Also on the central table will be copies of the Bible and possibly the weekly magazine "The Friend". Any of these may be picked up and read for reference during Meeting.  


Settling in ...
Chec
king your phone is on silent, choose your seat and take time to make yourself comfortable. .. do i need a cushion, drink of water, coat on or off?  The quiet atmosphere is never absolutely silent. There will always be sounds present whether it be traffic noise and people outside, car alarms, the whistle of wind, the heating, people breathing and tummies rumbling!  We simply sit in the gathering silence aiming for an inner peaceful stillness - a quietening of body, mind and spirit in order to get in touch with the Divine source, to hear God within us and within the others present in Meeting. You should never feel you can't move but just be mindful of others. Meeting for Worship will last approximately 1 hour and closes when two members of meeting shake hands. Nothing is programmed - there is no hymn singing or sermon to listen to or prayers to say aloud. Sometimes someone will feel moved to stand and say what they can, often without preparation.

When this
happens it should feel organically part of the silence, breaking only momentarily before being absorbed back into it. The analogy of the pool is a good one. The water surface is still before a stone is dropped in. The ripples then disperse in rings to the edge until the water surface is calm again.

"When words are truly spoken "in the Life", then when such words cease, the uninterrupted silence and worship continue, for silence and words have been of one texture, one piece."

Thomas Kelly, 1940     
                                
                                          

Centring....
This is a Quaker
term for the process we go through in order to find the inner peace connected with waiting on God. It is the process of trying to relax both mind and body so that we can really hear. Like any learned skill it takes time, but with practice it becomes easier to let go of those inner conversations in our heads we carry with us incessantly. When we first sit down in Meeting we all need to take time to shed the mental worries, problems and niggles of everyday life. 

Techniques to try...
Settling the mind takes practice and if you have ever meditated, a few techniques might come in handy for stilling body and mind, so we are able to hear what God may be saying to us.  Physical relaxation of the body has been found to lead to mental relaxation. Try sitting straight in the chair with support in your lower back, feet both flat on the floor rather than with your legs crossed, and with hands resting in your lap. Noticing the points of physical tension and breathing into them can be helpful.  Focusing on the breath is a good starting point perhaps; listening to it, counting the breaths in and out so they are equal. Please talk to Friends about their personal practices for centring if you'd like more guidance.


Silence and Ministry..

In spite of the use of meditative techniques, Quaker worship is not individually focused meditation. Meeting for Worship is very much a group activity requiring all present to be a part of and contribute to the worship. So, although you may be a newcomer to Quaker Meeting, you become as active a participant as anyone else. As we have no ministers to lead worship, we all take responsibility for the Meeting. While nothing literally is required of you, a willingness to be open to the experience is most helpful.

The centre point of Meeting for Worship is always stillness and silence. Whatever happens in Meeting (and nothing is preplanned) will come out of the silence and return back to it. Sometimes, somebody present will feel moved to speak during worship. We call this Ministry and absolutely anyone is free to do this. What constitutes Ministry and when is the right time for it, is something Friends struggle with. Ministering is not a comfortable experience; often against one's will, you feel forced to stand to give a message that perhaps makes you physically "quake" - hence the name "Quaker" (used by a 17th century judge as a term of abuse!) Meeting for Worship is never a forum for comment or debate. Other opportunities to learn about our personal spiritual journeys are arranged at other times outside Wors
hip.  

"If I am reading a book, or remembering something I heard on the radio last week, or admiring the flowers on the table, I am doing something entirely understandable that many people do in a Quaker meeting, but I am not listening. I am not doing what the meeting is for, which is opening myself to the promptings of love and truth in my heart, hearing them and responding to the challenges they present to me. Quaker meetings are about listening and waiting. And they are about finding a response together". 

Geoffrey Durham "Being a Quaker -A guide for newcomers"


FAQ's (Frequently asked questions)

Will people try to convert me?

Absolutely not! The Quaker approach is always to leave people to find their own
path in their own time. If you have questions then Friends will be happy
to talk, but positively no hard sell.    

Do I need to dress up?
Meeting is fairly informal dress-wise. More important is to be comfortable, so you will
find most people are wearing casual clothes rather than "Sunday best".

How will I know what to do?
As nothing about Meeting is pre-programmed, there is no standing up and
reciting set texts, no hymns to sing or communion to take. The basis is an hour of quiet worship.    

Can I bring my children?
Absolutely. A children's meeting is organised for the first Sunday each month and
run by CRB approved coordinators. Activities include storytelling, creative and art projects, or walks/visits.  Contact the Children's coordinator via the contact box for further info.