What is Quaker worship like?

A Quaker service begins whenever the first person enters and ends when a designated greeter or elder shakes the hand of the person beside them, usually around an hour later. In between there is silence, only broken when someone feels inspired to speak. The traditional Quaker view is that this inspiration comes from the Light or Spirit (of God), though there is now some diversity in how Quakers might understand or describe this.

What is it like to experience Quaker worship? Well, take a journey with us. It is early fall in a Canadian small town. Someone later writes about the experience…

We’ve already driven around the block, but now we’re sure this is the right house. There are cars outside, and people talking on the lawn. Someone comes to us with hand outstretched and introduces himself. We all walk around to the back, the children clinging. I notice with some relief that people are dressed rather casually. We settle ourselves into an assortment of garden furniture, arranged in a circle. And then we sit silently together.

At first I am most aware of the beauty of this place. The warmth and sunshine of a glorious fall day; the dappled shade, the rustle of leaves, neighbours discussing their gardens….gradually the silence deepens.

I become less aware and hardly notice when someone rises and beckons the children to come to their program. Time seems suspended.Someone speaks, about looking for God in our lives. Again, silence. Sometimes I sense a feeling of deep peace and timelessness, and catch a glimpse of a profoundly moving experience, of God in our midst. Sometimes I am aware of the distractions. Another person speaks, about what being in this group has meant to her. More silence. Then we are all shaking hands, introducing ourselves, talking, collecting the children, or going to the kitchen to start lunch.

The spell has broken. My first Quaker Meeting for Worship is over.

Of course, not every Quaker Meeting is just like this. They are often indoors in a rented space or at a Meeting House, but for many people the emotional impact of that first experience was similar, and has stayed with them.

If you’re intrigued, you can visit Find a Quaker Meeting to locate a meeting near you.

Quakers strive to conduct their business out of a place of deep listening and connection with the divine as well, so those meetings are called Meeting for Worship for Business. For details see How Meeting for Business works by Montreal Quaker Meeting.