Deepening the spiritual: exploring the role of the elder
16 May 2019 by Helen Oldridge
A meeting for worship usually lasts for 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.
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. As we feel this sense of encounter grow stronger, we may begin to see the world and our relationships in a new way. Our worship may take us beyond our own thoughts and ideas to help us respond more creatively to the world around us.
Anyone can contribute to a Quaker meeting for worship – there is no leader. We do have people with a responsibility to encourage and nurture ministry, but we don't believe that makes them more important. We call these people 'elders'.
You can sit anywhere you want. No seats are special or reserved. Chairs or benches are usually arranged in a circle or a square. This helps us connect with each another and reminds us that we are worshipping as equals. The meeting starts as soon as the first person enters the room.
The Bible and copies of a book called Quaker faith & practice will be available on a table. Quaker faith & practice is a collection of writing from our 375-year history. People may read from it quietly, or sometimes aloud as ministry. We also use a small booklet called Advices & queries, which is a collection of prompts, insights and questions.
Meeting for worship finishes when two Quakers shake hands. The rest of the meeting joins in by shaking hands with those around them. Someone may then share news and information. After the meeting has finished, please approach someone if you want to ask questions about the meeting or anything else about Quakers.
Meetings for worship are open to everyone. They can be held anywhere, at any time, although they usually take place on Sundays in a Quaker meeting house. You do not have to be a Quaker to attend worship. Children are a valued part of the Quaker community and often you'll find a session specifically for them – though your children will join the adults for some of the worship, when all ages sit together. Children may bring books and quiet activities for this.
There are around 500 Quaker groups – also called meetings – in Britain. If you would like to join us, you would be very welcome. Use our search to find a meeting near you.
'Centring Down' by John Perkin © Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain