What happens when you come to Oxford Quaker Meeting?
Anyone is welcome to attend a Quaker meeting for worship. Oxford meetings are held at 43 St Giles on Sundays from 9.30 to 10.15 and from 11.00 to midday. There are also breakfast meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a midday meeting on Wednesdays.
On Sundays, for about half an hour before the worship starts, there will be someone standing by the front door to welcome you and show you where to go. If you say that this is your first time at a Quaker meeting, you will be offered a leaflet, which we hope you will find helpful.
The (mainly) silent worship is considered to start as soon as the first person enters the room, so it is as well to arrive a little in advance. After the worship, visitors are invited to introduce themselves and then we gather for coffee. Some meetings are followed by a few minutes of “Afterwords” during which we may share more informally thoughts and concerns that we have been holding during the time of stillness.
How do Quakers Worship?
A Quaker Meeting is a way of worship based on silence, a silence of expectancy in which we seek to come nearer to God and each other as we share the stillness of the Meeting. Participants are not expected to say or do anything other than join in this seeking. Do not be concerned if the silence seems strange at first. We rarely experience silence in everyday life so it is not unusual to be distracted by outside noise or roving thoughts.
There is no fixed structure to the Meeting. There are no creeds, hymns or set prayers. There is no minister in charge and no formal service. After thirty minutes to an hour, two Friends will shake hands, signalling the end of worship.
Occasionally a Meeting will pass with no words spoken. If someone feels compelled by the Spirit to speak, pray or read, the silence will be broken. Such ministry, which has not been planned before worship begins, seeks to enrich the gathered worship. If something is said that does not seem to make sense, try to reach behind the words to the Spirit which inspired them or allow them to be absorbed into the silence. Meeting for Worship is not a debate so it is inappropriate to respond directly to spoken ministry although it is not unusual for other ministry to build on what has been said before. Traditionally a person only ministers once during the Meeting for Worship.
“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)
No two Quaker Meetings are the same. A Meeting can embrace a wide range of experience. Some people may experience a profound sense of awe or an awareness of the presence of God. Others may have a less certain sense of an indefinable spiritual dimension.
We are grateful to Scotland GM for providing the basis of this section, “How do Quakers Worship?”