Saturday, 22 February 2020

Introducing Quaker Worship

As part of the work of the Book of Discipline Revision Committee, we have been experimenting with different approaches to what we are calling 'the voice of the book' - the explanatory text that introduces each chapter.

Some priorities we have already identified are making the language clear and accessible, and not assuming that readers will already be familiar with  Quaker practice. We are looking for ways to explain both how Quaker practices are carried out and why we do them like this, while acknowledging the wide variety of religious language and understandings within Britain Yearly Meeting.

This is still a work in progress for the committee, and no text has been agreed yet, but this is my own experimental attempt at our most recent exercise - to produce a short introduction to a chapter on Quaker Worship (which I would expect to be followed by a wide range of extracts reflecting different Friends' experience).
Quaker Worship 
Worship is a movement of our whole being towards a spiritual reality that is ultimately mysterious, but that we can know by experience. Quakers name this reality as God, Spirit, Light, or in a range of other ways. 
In the practice of Quaker worship, we meet together to turn our attention towards the Inward Light. Quakers have traditionally understood the Inward Light as a divine gift of spiritual perception. It enables us to see our true situation, by uncovering our deepest insights and motivations. This Inward Light also reveals the guidance of the Spirit for us as individuals and communities. In Quaker worship, we “wait in the Light”. We wait in stillness to see what is revealed to us in the depths of our own awareness. 
In a Quaker meeting for worship the gathered community may encounter a shared depth of stillness and a sense of divine presence. When this experience is shared by most or all of those present, there is a profound sense of being united in the Spirit that Quakers refer to as a “gathered” meeting; 
“a meeting where the silence is as soft as velvet, as deep as a still pool; a silence where words emerge, only to deepen and enrich that rich silence, and where Presence is as palpable and soft as the skin of a peach; where the membrane separating this moment in time and eternity is filament-fine.”
(Gerald Hewitson, 2013) 
Through waiting in the Light, we may come to a wordless encounter with the inward source of life and power – a sense of loving Presence beneath thoughts and concepts. In that place, we become receptive to the insights of love and truth that may arise to teach us, and that might lead us to offer spoken ministry.

In Quaker worship new insights may come to anyone in the community, whatever their age or experience, and they will be listened to as potential bearers of divine guidance. Anyone who takes part in a Quaker meeting for worship may be led by the Spirit to speak spontaneously to the meeting, to pass on whatever insights or guidance they have received. This reflects the Quaker emphasis on worship as a source of guidance towards action. The purpose of Quaker worship is to encounter the source of inward transformation that may inspire and lead us to act; to speak in a Meeting for Worship, to make some change in our own lives, or to work for change in our community or society. 
The Quaker way of worship is marked by its great simplicity. Quaker worship does not rely on a particular building or specially-qualified ministers. It is open to everyone on a basis of complete equality; whatever our gender, sexuality or background. Quaker worship does not require special techniques or great natural ability, but it does demand our self-discipline and self-surrender. 
“Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.”
(Isaac Penington, 1661)
I would welcome your thoughts and suggestions on this exercise in the comments below. If you have suggestions about the content of the next Book of Discipline you can also submit them directly using the online form at:


  1. I like this very much, Craig. I like that you've put the gathered meeting near the top. One suggestion: a more fully developed rationale for silent, waiting worship, starting from simplicity.

    As perhaps:

    We worship in silent expectant waiting. With the radical simplicity of silent worship, we let go of all the outward forms that might distract us, crowd out the still small voice of the Light within us, or make worship rote with repetition. In the silence, we wait for the openings of the spirit, for the sense of the Presence in our midst, and for the possibility of a calling to vocal ministry, expecting that this waiting will be answered by divine grace.

  2. Beautifully expressed, Craig. I especially love the Gerald Hewitson quotation. But this is very much an ideal. All meetings are not like that and some meetings never manage to find this 'still pool'. Howver, the voice seems to come out of the silence, which is key.

  3. Thank you Craig and best wishes for every success to the Revision Committee. Steven also speaks my mind. Simplicity and portability of silent active listening and wordless prayer in all my activities and with all whom I encounter is an ideal. Meeting for Worship provides an opportunity to practice that every Sunday and informal fifteen-minute evening Epilogue here at 21:30 here at Quaker House Brussels helps keep the momentum going on a daily basis, as does spiritual reading and morning espresso with my wife before arising for the day. Head in the clouds, feet on the ground. Daniel Clarke Flynn, Belgium and Luxembourg Yearly Meeting newsletter editor.

  4. I find the voice and message clear and inviting. Thank you for sharing this, Craig.

  5. These are wonderful words and reflect the best of the meaning of Quaker worship among unprogrammed Friends. They are also words that exclude by their omission of any reference to Christ or Christianity the largest body of the world’s Quakers. They also are words that move decidedly away from beliefs and words in which Quakerism is grounded and was founded.

  6. I've just read this on our local newsletter, Craig. Thanks 6oi for all the work you and the committee are putting in. As a new Quaker of less than two years, I think it will be very useful and helpful. It's a very clear and well expressed introduction to worship.

    My only comment would be that towards the end it feels like you throw in self surrender. The Isaac Pennington quote explains this very well, but should a quote not be an example rather than an explanation? Perhaps a few short words or sentences on self surrender prior to the quote would read better?


"When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken."
(From Quaker Advices and Queries 17)