What’s going on in meeting for worship? The question of language

As Quakers we’re often asked what actually happens in a Meeting for Worship. In an insightful series of articles Katie Evans, a Bath Quaker, offers her answers. She starts by exploring the challenge of language.

When I first considered applying for Quaker membership, I was put off by a Friend saying with authority that Quakers are united by their practice of worship and in understanding that spoken ministry comes from God. At the time I didn’t, couldn’t believe in a God who dictated ministry as if sending divine Sunday morning text messages. I went home that day in tears, gutted: I’d thought I’d found a spiritual community but perhaps Quakerism wasn’t for me after all?

Ten years on I’m now an elder and regularly catch myself saying something similar when I try to explain Quaker worship. I still don’t believe in a dictating God directly scripting spoken ministry, but the idea of spoken ministry coming from God is meaningful to me in a different way. I worry that my attempts to explain this may be as crushing for seekers as my Friend’s well-meaning words were for me ten years ago.

Here I have a conundrum, one that’s familiar to many Friends: religious language can go stale, becoming hard and unpalatable. But without it we can lose touch with the depths of our tradition; we risk being left with a thin superficiality that isn’t very nourishing either.

Crafting fresh, digestible expressions of our spiritual tradition is, to some extent, a process of trial and error in each conversation. I am encouraged to give it a go by Harvey Gillman’s words:

“…if someone comes asking for bread, we cannot say, sorry we are too busy discovering our own riches; when we have found them, we’ll offer you a few. Our riches are precisely our sharing. And the world is very, very hungry.”

from Quaker Faith & Practice 28.10

So, what am I doing in meeting for worship?

Click here to read part two of this series: What happens in meeting for worship: what I do

Bread is for sharing, and the world is hungry. Photo of bread made by local baker Richard Bertinet (via VisitBath)

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