A Meeting for Worship is, quite simply, a group of Quakers meeting together to worship.
Worship is essentially an act of adoration, adoration of the one true God in whom we live and move and have our being. Forgetting our little selves, our petty ambitions, our puny triumphs, our foolish cares and fretful anxieties, we reach out towards the beauty and majesty of God. The religious life is not a dull, grim drive towards moral virtues, but a response to a vision of greatness.
Thomas F Green, 1952
Meetings usually happen on Sundays, in a Meeting House, but neither the time nor the place is regarded as holy; they are preferable because they are practical. There are two varieties of Quaker worship: unprogrammed and programmed worship. Programmed worship is planned in advance, and may have music, singing, a minister who will give a sermon, or silence, or may incorporate unprogrammed worship. Programmed worship is, in ways, similar to Christian services. Unprogrammed worship requires a little more explanation.
Quaker unprogrammed worship is quite different from any other kind, to the best of my knowledge, and is practiced today much as it has been since the 1650s.
What happens at an unprogrammed worship isn't planned in advance. Apart from regular Sunday meetings, an unprogrammed worship or a simple silence of some kind may be a part of other Quaker activities. The meeting needs no material objects to take place, but a quiet room with chairs arranged in a circle is usually used. Often there is a table in the centre with copies of Quaker Faith and Practice and Advices and Queries. There is often a reading from the latter during the meeting. Meetings generally last an hour, beginning when the attenders sit in silence, waiting for God.
In worship we have our neighbours to right and left, before and behind, yet the Eternal Presence is over all and beneath all. Worship does not consist in achieving a mental state of concentrated isolation from one's fellows. But in the depth of common worship it is as if we found our separate lives were all one life, within whom we live and move and have our being.
Thomas R Kelly, 1938
During the course of the meeting, an attender may feel moved to speak. This is referred to as ministry, although silent waiting is also considered a form of ministry. Spoken ministry usually lasts for a few minutes, after which a pause is given before anybody else speaks, in order to give opportunity for reflection. Ministry is usually drawn from the speaker's personal experience and is often related to a recent event in his or her life.
Ministry should be of necessity, and not of choice, and there is no living by silence, or by preaching merely.
John Churchman, 1734
Not everybody present need speak during a meeting; indeed is not uncommon for an entire meeting to go by without any spoken ministry at all. It has been said that if you need ask yourself whether you need to speak, then it is likely that you do not. It's believed that a desire to speak is born out of God's will that you should do so and that God guides the meeting by ministering through those present. Feeling an urge to give ministry is often a powerful, unexpected, unlooked-for and sometimes frightening experience - an overpowering desire to speak.
As the minutes ticked by and I sat in the healing peace, I began to be aware that something inside me was formulating a question which urgently needed to be asked. I say `something inside me' because it seemed at the same time to be both me and not me. I discovered to my horror that this something was urging me to get up and ask my question. My heart was pounding uncomfortably and I began to shiver (I don't know whether this was obvious to those around me; I was certainly aware of this shivering but shyness prevents one from asking afterwards whether these physical symptoms are visible to others). To start with I resisted this prompting. I looked round the room and noticed several Friends before whom I was reluctant to make a fool of myself. I could not get up and speak in front of them. I would rather die first. The shaking and pounding diminished a little as I decided this. But not for long. Soon it started up again, insistent, not to be denied. This time I told myself `I'll count twenty and then if no one else has spoken I shall have to.' Again a slight abatement of the symptoms. But to no avail. I counted twenty and then fifty and still no one spoke. Now I sat conscious only of this overpowering force which was pushing me to my feet until finally I had to give in to it.
Elisabeth Salisbury, 1968
It is easy to imagine that it is this kind of experience that earned Quakers their name.
Spoken ministry often follows on from ministry given by another attender earlier in the meeting, but ministry is not a form of debate or discussion.
Ministry is what is on one's soul, and it can be in direct contradiction to what is on one's mind. It's what the Inner Light gently pushes you toward or suddenly dumps in your lap. It is rooted in the eternity, divinity, and selflessness of the Inner Light; not in the worldly, egoistic functions of the conscious mind.
Marrianne McMullen, 1987
See also: the Quaker Business Method has much in common with the way Quakers worship.
Source: Quaker Faith and Practice