Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Quakers celebrate unprogrammed worship. Gathering in silence enables us to shed the strains, stresses, and distractions of the secular world and to open ourselves to direct communion and relationship with God and each other.
We may be led to speak during worship when we find ourselves inspired by the divine spirit, but speaking is not a requirement of worship. Some of our most profound spiritual experiences arise from our patient, silent waiting for God to speak to us and through us.
All members are ministers in one way or another. For this reason, we have no paid clergy and no pre-arranged liturgies for worship. Quakers consider outward rites and symbols unnecessary and even a hindrance to direct spiritual experience, and therefore do not celebrate many traditional outward sacraments. Every day, and our relationships with one another and the world are holy and sacramental.
In Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Friends gather to worship in stillness, waiting upon the Divine Presence. From this have come revelations of the love and guiding will of God, revelations inwardly experienced that may be shared in words with others present and expressed in attitude and action. Participation in this form of worship is intrinsic to membership since ours is above all an experiential religion. Friends do not require acceptance of a creed as a test of membership, believing that no creedal statement can adequately describe spiritual reality.
The Religious Society of Friends is a community of faith based on the experience of a transforming power named many ways: the Inner Light, the Spirit of Christ, the Guide, the Living God, the Divine Presence. Membership includes openness to an ongoing relationship with God and a willingness to live one’s life according to the leading of the Spirit as affirmed by the community of faith. For generations of Friends, membership has been an outward sign of an inward experience of Christ, the “true light which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).
Quakers want to ensure our communities are welcoming and safe for all people.
Being welcoming is a focus of our yearly meeting’s current strategic directions. Overall, we seek to make the congregations inside of our meetinghouses reflect the beauty and diversity of the world outside of them.
The Religious Society of Friends is a religious organization.
Quakerism is a faith of personal experience and direct communion with God, a faith of continuing revelation, and a faith of living our values in the secular world. All who seek to deepen their spiritual lives are welcome!
We are socially and politically inclusive, and since our faith inspires all aspects of our lives–family, work and lives outside of work–some Friends are led to actively address social or political concerns for the betterment of their communities. These concerns are aligned with Quaker principles of Stewardship, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Simplicity and are rooted in a sense of shared trust and humility. Here are some ways we approach social justice and political life.
When you visit a meeting for worship please join us as you are!
We believe that every person is loved by the Divine Spirit. There are Quakers of all ages, religious backgrounds, races, education, political parties, sexual orientations, gender identities, and stages of life. When we come together in worship at one of the more than 100 Quaker meetings in the region, it is to:
- listen to, know, and be known by God;
- grow in our faith;
- be changed;
- support each other in worship.
Our time together looks like
- sitting quietly, with an awareness of the Divine Spirit, usually for one hour;
- listening if someone is moved by the Spirit to speak;
- including children for a time before or after a children’s program;
- shaking hands when worship ends; and greeting those around us in fellowship.
What is a Quaker Meeting?
A Quaker meeting is many things. It is a faith community first and foremost. People who visit or associate with a Quaker community gather for worship, to conduct business, share fellowship and to manifest Quaker leadings in the world. These gatherings are called meetings. This is not to be confused with any building in which Quakers gather, although it is common parlance to call such a building a Quaker meeting house.
“The meeting house is not a consecrated edifice, and if there is anything holy about it, it must be the lives of the people who meet there. The Friends feel that there must be a vital and sustained connection between worship and daily life. When their ideal is attained, their meeting is merely the community search for that guidance which they covet for every important act of their lives.” — William Wistar Comfort
Your First Quaker Meeting
The meeting for worship is the heart of the Religious Society of Friends. It draws us together in the enlightening and empowering presence of God, sending us forth with renewed vision and commitment.
Our word “worship” has its roots in the concept of “worth-ship.” Worship is our response to what we feel to be of ultimate importance. Our expression of that feeling of ultimate worship may take many forms. Worship is always possible, alone or in company, in silence, in music or speech, in stillness or in dance. It is never confined to place or time or form.
When Friends worship, we reach out from the depths of our being to God, the giver of life and of the world around us. Our worship is the search for communion with God and the offering of ourselves—body and soul—for the doing of God’s will. The sense of worship can be experienced in the awe we feel in the silence of a meeting for worship or in the awareness of our profound connectedness to nature and its power. In worship, we know repentance and forgiveness in the acknowledgment of God as the ultimate source of our being, and the serenity of accepting God’s will.
The Meeting for Worship
Friends find it useful to come to meeting with hearts and minds prepared for worship by daily prayer, meditation, and study, especially of the Bible and of the experience of others. We deepen thereby our awareness of the wonder of God and of God’s love and acquire the words with which to understand and to express that awareness. Many also find help through thoughtful reflection and listening to the Inward Teacher in the course of daily life and service. As Friends arrive for meeting, such preparation helps us set aside our preoccupation with ourselves and our affairs and so settle into worship.
Worship in meeting may thus begin with stilling the mind and body, letting go of tensions and everyday worries, feeling the encompassing presence of others, and opening oneself to the Spirit. It may include meditation, reflection on a remembered passage from the Bible or other devotional literature, silent prayer, thanksgiving, praise of God, consideration of one’s actions, remorse, request for forgiveness, or search for direction. Even in times of spiritual emptiness, Friends find it useful to be present in worship.
There is a renewal of spirit when we turn away from worldly matters to rediscover inward serenity. Friends know from experience the validity of Jesus’ promise that “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Often we realize our hopes for a heightened sense of the presence of God through the cumulative power of group worship, communicated in silent as well as vocal ministry. When we experience such a profound and evident sense of oneness with God and with one another, we speak of a “gathered” or “covered” meeting for worship.
Careful listening to the Inward Teacher can lead to fresh openings: an inpouring of love, insight, and interdependence. True listening can also bring the worshiper to new and sometimes troubling perceptions, including clear leadings that may be a source of pain and anxiety; yet it can also bring such wholeness of heart that hard tasks can become a source of joy. Even when we worship torn with our own pain or that of another, it is in worship that we discover new strength for what faces us in our everyday lives.
Communion and Communication
Direct communion with God constitutes the essential life of the meeting for worship. Into its living stillness may come leadings and fresh insights that are purely personal, not meant to be shared. At other times they are meant for the Meeting at large to hear.
When a leading is to be shared, the worshiper feels a compelling inward call to vocal ministry. Vocal ministry may take many forms, as prayer, praise of God, song, teaching, witnessing, or sharing. These messages may center upon a single, vital theme; often apparently unrelated leadings are later discovered to have an underlying unity. Such ministry and prayer may answer the unrecognized or unvoiced needs of other seekers.
When someone accepts the call of the Spirit to speak, fellow worshipers are likewise called to listen with an openness of minds and hearts. Diffident and tender spirits should feel the Meeting community’s loving encouragement to give voice, even if haltingly, to the message that may be struggling to be born within them. Friends whose thought has been long developing and whose learning and experience are profound serve the meeting best when they, like all others, wait patiently for the prompting of the Inward Teacher. Anyone moved to speak following another should first allow others to absorb and respond inwardly to what has already been said.
Each experience of worship is different. There is no right way to prepare for spiritual communion, no set practice to follow when worship grows from expectant waiting in the Spirit. Vital worship depends far more on a deeply felt longing for God than upon any particular practice.
Friends gather for worship in quiet waiting upon God. We come together out of our care for one another and out of our shared hunger to know God, to follow the leading of the Spirit, to feel with clarity our shortcomings and the reality of forgiveness, to give voice to our anguish, faith, praise, joy, and thanksgiving. At the close of the meeting for worship, we shake hands in acknowledgment of our commitment to one another and to God and go forth with renewed trust in the power and reality of God’s grace and love.
Quakers & Prayer
For many Quakers, prayer is part of our individual lives as well as part of meeting for worship.
Prayer is simply a conversation or contact with God where we open ourselves to the Divine presence. This can take different forms. Quakers may pray silently. We may formulate words or an image or just be. It is important that we listen for what God may have to say to us. Some Quakers also use set prayers from the Bible or other spiritual writings when they pray.
Before meals, Quakers typically have a silent grace or a moment of silent thankfulness for the meal and for each other. The group often holds hands during grace.
Holding in the Light
During or after worship, a Friend may ask the group to hold someone in the Light. The person may be sick, dealing with difficult life circumstances, struggling spiritually, working to serve others or setting out on a new path in the world.
To hold a person in the Light, imagine them being held in God’s loving presence and offer prayers and love for them. Holding an individual or a group of people in the Light is often part of our practice of prayer.