A meeting for worship is a practice of the Religious Society of Friends (or "Quakers") in many ways comparable to a church service. These services have a wide variety of forms, creating a spectrum from typical Protestant liturgy (one extreme of programmed worship) to silent waiting for the Spirit (called unprogrammed worship).
A Meeting for Worship may start with a query; something to think about during Meeting. The query is most of the time based on one of the Quaker testimonies. Meeting will then sit in silence for 20 minutes to an hour and a half. If an attendee is provoked to share, they can stand up and speak their mind. At a few meetings, some people will stand up and sing songs or recite poetry. It is considered rude to get up and leave during a meeting.
Within the United Kingdom, the vast majority of Quaker worship is unprogrammed.
In the U.S., Friends' worship is conducted in a variety of ways. There is a continuum more than a set number of possible formats or styles. Currently there are meetings that belong to and follow the traditions of specific branches of the Religious Society of Friends, and there are independent Friends' meetings, worship groups and churches.
Pastoral meetings, as the name implies, have a pastor or minister whose job is to lead worship and preach. These meetings may have choirs and patterns of liturgy, similar to Protestant church services.
Unprogrammed meetings also vary. Depending on the backgrounds and beliefs of members and attenders, there can be a difference in how Friends approach the meeting. Some emphasize the benefit of stillness and contemplation. Some emphasize listening. Of those that are concerned with listening, there are different understandings of to whom or to what Friends are listening.
There are terms, Inner Light, Guide, Seed, or Spirit (or some variation) used by many Friends to explain the source of what they may say or reflect upon during meeting. These terms also have different shades of meaning depending upon the meeting's background. Conservative Friends consider Jesus to be that Seed or Guide. Others have a more general concept of something within each person that encourages the good.
In meeting for worship among Conservative Friends, someone speaks when that person feels that God has given them a message for others. After anyone speaks (or sings or recites a scripture passage), several minutes are allowed to pass before anyone else speaks, to allow the message to be considered carefully. Friends do not answer or argue during meeting for worship. If there are questions about the message as shared, Friends discuss it after meeting.
Among other types of Friends' meetings for worship, the explanation of the source of what is spoken depends upon the person speaking. Some may believe it is God who prompted them to speak. Some explain an inward prompt, but they may be unable to say precisely from where. Some explain that there is a collective spiritual wisdom that is speaking through them. These are just examples, not a comprehensive list.
At times unprogrammed meetings wander from the generally accepted guidelines and may sound like a protracted discussion or argument. Sometimes Friends do not wait more than a minute or two before speaking after the person before them has finished. If there are more experienced Friends (sometimes called seasoned Friends or elders) who are influential in the group, they may gently remind Friends of the value of allowing for more silence and time to consider what has been spoken. This may be done after meeting in private, or even during meeting if several people are speaking without significant pauses, or seem to be debating or discussing.
Unprogrammed meetings may have a time after the end of the meeting for worship (called the rise of meeting) for Friends and attenders to speak about something that occurred to them during meeting, but may not have seemed like something to share during meeting.
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