New to Quakers?
Worshipping with Quakers
For Quakers, worship (often called Meeting for Worship) is at the heart of what it means to be a Quaker. It is a source of strength and inspiration and it helps shape how we live our lives. It is an experience that is probably different from what is normally associated with the word ‘worship’. A meeting for worship usually lasts for an hour, or it may be half an hour. In Quaker worship there are no ministers or creeds. We first gather together in silence to quiet our minds – we don't have set hymns, prayers or sermons. In the stillness we open our hearts and lives to new insights and guidance. Sometimes we are moved to share what we discover with those present. We call this 'ministry'. We listen to what everyone has to say to find its meaning for us. Anyone can give ministry, including visitors.
What happens in the stillness? In the quiet we look for a sense of connection. This might be a connection with those around us, with our deepest selves, or perhaps with God. Our worship may take us beyond our own thoughts and ideas, beyond the everyday, to help us live with a deeper sense of love and purpose. Sometimes during worship, someone might speak or, when online, write something in the 'chat' box; this is a way of giving words to something that is really beyond words. This is called ministry and it comes from a sense of being prompted to share something of real importance; it might be about something that concerns them deeply or something from their own personal experience; it might be something that worries them or something they feel thankful for. Anyone can offer ministry, even if it is their first time in Quaker worship. Sometimes no one speaks and the whole meeting for worship can be silent. Who runs the meeting for worship? Anyone can contribute to a Quaker meeting for worship – there is no leader. In online worship, there will be a 'facilitator' and we do have people with a responsibility to support and nurture our worship. We call these people 'elders'.
What books do you use? Whilst there are no service books or set forms of words, during worship, people may read from the Bible or a book called Quaker faith & practice may be used. Quaker faith & practice is a collection of writing from our 375-year history. People may read from it quietly, or sometimes aloud if they feel prompted to. We also use a small booklet called Advices & queries, which is a collection of prompts, insights and questions.
Who can come to meeting? Meetings for worship are open to everyone. Children of all ages are a valued part of the Quaker community and there are some activities specifically for them.
Attending Bridport Meeting House for the first time?
If you walk down the east side of South Street and stop opposite St Mary’s Church you will be able to see the Quaker Meeting House sign. It’s the building through the covered passageway adjoining the almshouses and if you look straight on you will glimpse the Peace Garden which is open to everyone for quiet reflection or conversation, and is popular for its sunny benches for coffee or lunch.
The Meeting House is where we gather for Meeting for Worship at 10:30 on Sundays for an hour and Wednesdays at 10:30am for half an hour. Meetings have been taking place in this space, which was first a humble barn, since the late 17th century.
Everyone is welcome to come, whatever their faith or none, and some people who come will also attend other churches. We hope that we provide a home for those whose spiritual journey has taken different routes to find what our founder George Fox called “that of God in everyone”. Bridport Quakers are members of Churches Together in the town and are pleased to offer opportunities for people to come together from different faiths. such as in the Week of Prayer for World Peace. Young visitors are always welcome and we have plenty of activities for them in an adjoining room.
The Meeting begins when the first person enters the room, so we come in quietly. We have no ministers or creeds so we sit in a circle around a low table on which we have a few flowers from the garden. You can choose where you would like to sit. It takes a few minutes for everyone to settle down and once we feel that we are gathered there will be a reading. After that anyone who feels drawn to stand and speak may do so. It can be quite an experience to do this; on your first occasion you may feel that “quaking” is a good description for it! After each ministry there will be silence so that we can consider what has just been shared. Sometimes there will be a number of ministries, sometimes just a few. Ministries are very rarely prepared in advance but a common theme may develop. It does not feel like an empty silence, but as the mind calms we hope to provide an unpressured opportunity for spiritual exploration with the support of others. When the Meeting is due to end two Quakers will share the hands in prayer sign and we all join them in this. The clerk will then welcome visitors, invite us to share news of friends and give out any notices.
Refreshments and social time take place afterwards in the Committee Room. Before you leave you are welcome to take home some of our leaflets or a little booklet called “Advices and Queries”.
"A ‘gathered’ Quaker meeting is something more than a number of individuals sitting down together but meditating individually. So long as each sits in meditation in the way one does when worshipping by oneself, the worship will seldom reach that greater depth which a Quaker meeting at its best achieves. The goal of a truly ‘gathered’ meeting is to become fused into something bigger than the sum of the parts…
As a meeting ‘gathers’, as each individual ‘centres down’, there gradually develops a feeling of belonging to a group who are together seeking a sense of the Presence. The ‘I’ in us begins to feel like ‘we’. At some point – it may be early in the meeting or it may be later, or it may never occur at all – we suddenly feel a sense of unity, a sense of togetherness with one another and with that something outside ourselves that we call God."
Thomas R Bodine, 1980
from Quaker Faith and Practice 2.47
Never been to a Quaker wedding before? Read below to find out what to expect.
Just like a Quaker meeting on a Sunday, Quaker Weddings are also based on silence. It is a slightly modified version of a normal ‘Meeting for Worship’, so many elements will be familiar if you have ever been to a Quaker Meeting on a Sunday before.
One of the essential characteristics of a Quaker wedding is simplicity. The couple may wear what they choose. Nobody 'gives away the bride', and wedding rings have no formal part in the ceremony, although rings may be exchanged after the declaration if the couple would like to.
The room will have chairs set out in a circle. Some couples like to reserve particular seats for their families, but you can usually sit where you like. The meeting begins when the first person takes their seat. This means you will be sitting in silence and shortly after everyone is seated, an appointed person will stand and give a brief explanation of what is to follow. There is then a period of silence until the couple decide to make their official declarations to each other. Once the declarations have been made, the couple then sign the marriage certificate, along with two witnesses. The Registering Officer now reads the declaration aloud.
There is then a further period of silence, in which anyone present may stand and speak if they feel they would like to. Many people may want to speak, so it is best to be brief! Quakers have an expression that ‘ministry’ (i.e. speaking in a Quaker meeting) needs to be ‘wrapped in silence’, so please leave a gap for reflection after somebody has spoken before speaking.
This is a time of shared worship in which all may ask for God's blessing on the marriage and offer their prayers, thoughts and support for the couple. It is quite common for people who have never been to a Quaker meeting before to want to contribute. Many people prefer to avoid conventional religious language, and to express their love and support for the couple in whatever words they find most natural.
How long is a Quaker wedding?
The marriage usually lasts approximately 45 minutes. The end is indicated when an appointed person (known as an ‘elder’) shakes hands with the person next to them. Everyone else shakes hands with their neighbours. The couple, the Registering Officer and the witnesses leave to complete the register. While this is being done, everyone who heard the declarations is invited to sign the marriage certificate, so making a permanent record of everyone who was present. Children are also encouraged to sign too if they would like to!
Please note that photography and recording are not permitted during the ceremony, although arrangements may be made to take photographs in the meeting room before or afterwards.
Why I continue to be Quaker
Many Friends say that they have been asked why they're a Quaker. Below, Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain, is ready with his reply.
He says that he has often been asked this question and found that his mind goes blank when he's put on the spot. So he gave it some thought, and came up with five reasons why he continues to be a Quaker. You can click on anything underlined for more information.
1. Quaker meeting
A shared time of silence is a wonderful, simple way to set aside everyday thoughts or distractions and to reach deep within. Quakers' experience is that when we still ourselves, we can hear the promptings of love and truth in our hearts. For me, Quaker meeting is how I reconnect with my guiding spirit, reaffirm the values I care about and get set up for the week ahead.
Since the pandemic started, there are more ways to worship together than ever. You're never far from one of the 470 Quaker meetings in Britain, and many Quakers are meeting online too, including international meetings like the ones Woodbrooke runs.
2. Anyone can be a Quaker
Everyone is welcome in a Quaker meeting. There's no set form of belief, or creed you have to sign up to. The spirit (some people call it God) can speak to anyone in the silence. One of the things I value about my Quaker community is that I can come as who I really am – I don't have to try to fit in, or pretend to be someone I'm not. And I'm not told what to believe – that's something we explore alongside each other.
Quakers are comfortable with uncertainty, and with the idea that we might ourselves be mistaken – learning and seeking together in community. Quaker communities welcome people regardless of their background, ethnicity, sexuality or gender identity. Last year, our Yearly Meeting made a strong commitment to being an anti-racist community, and to welcoming and affirming gender-diverse people. We're not perfect – like everyone else, Quakers have biases and assumptions – but we keep working to address areas where we fall down.
3. It's not just about Sunday mornings
The thing about having faith is that you have to do something with it. So being a Quaker is as much about how you live your life as about what you believe. When I first went to Quaker meeting, I found people putting their faith into practice in all sorts of ways – working for peace around the world, teaching, campaigning for nuclear disarmament, working for gender equality, mediating and looking after people in the local community. Don't expect coming to Quaker meeting for worship to be enough on its own – Quakers find it leading them into all sorts of work in the world.
4. Quakers are working for a just and sustainable world
Once you've experienced – in the silence – what a just and sustainable world could be like, then you want to do everything in your power to create it.
Quakers in Britain are joining with others to call for climate justice, building on the work done at COP26 in Glasgow last year. With Quakers around the world, we work quietly at the United Nations and in the European institutions to foster peace, protect human rights and press for justice.
Quakers across Britain work to build peace education into our schools, provide chaplaincy in prisons, offer mediation and rehabilitation. Nationally, we campaign for a more equal society and work to protect our democratic freedoms.
5. It's an adventure
All of the above make it an adventure to be a Quaker. From the edge-of-your-seat silence of a Quaker worship, where anything seems possible, we can be led to new insights, new relationships with those around us, and new engagement in the world.
We can be guided to work we didn't know we'd be doing, using spiritual gifts we didn't know we had. We can find community with people very different from ourselves, and be enriched by each other's insights. Sometimes that means letting go of old ideas, giving up things we once cared about, or taking a leap of faith – what could be more exciting than that?