Conservative Friend

An Outreach of Stillwater Monthly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends

Friends' Worship--You're Invited!

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Come in and have a seat.  You are welcome to join us, once, or as often as like.

If you are used to other Christian worship services, worshipping with Conservative Friends can seem strange, even to the point of feeling uncomfortable.  The silence may be experienced as restful, but it can also be a source of anxiety for those unused to prolonged quiet.  

If you are accustomed to some of the meditation practices of the East, worshipping with Conservative Friends can seem misleadingly familiar.  In fact, those used to Eastern spiritual traditions may at first not notice any difference between Christian waiting worship and their own meditation.  They are actually quite different.  What is happening is not meditation, not an individual striving for unity with God.  It is the corporate communion of a group actively attempting to create a linked body that listens and responds to the presence of God as something greater than the mere sum of its parts.

When Friends meet for a scheduled meeting for worship, they gather together at a set place and time, often (but not always) on a Sunday (often referred to as ”First Day”).  Sometimes the place is a meetinghouse, sometimes some other suitable place, such as someone’s living room.  To Conservative Friends, neither a particular day nor a particular place is inherently better than any other, so long as the day and place are convenient for the gathering of the Church, God’s people.

As Friends gather together, they sit down and settle themselves quietly in preparation for worship.  Some meeting houses have pew-like benches as well as ”facing benches,” a group of benches at the front of the meeting house where the ministers, elders, overseers, and clerk traditionally sit.  Other groups simply pull some chairs into a circle or use whatever seating  is available.  The meeting begins without rituals or announcements.  Each worshipper sits quietly, unless they feel led to share some ministry with the group.  Sometimes, a meeting for worship will be conducted entirely in silence, although much is quietly going on.  Other times, someone will stand and give a message that they have felt God moving them to share with the group.  This message may be based on a Biblical text, or on a personal experience.  It may be a word of encouragement, or of exhortation.  It may seem pertinent to every member of the group, or some of the worshippers may find the message a mystery.  It may be a prayer.  Sometimes, a worshipper may be moved to sing; these are often, but not always, ”religious” songs.  Any worshipper may be moved to speak, including first-time visitors.

Usually, an experienced Friend is designated to be the one to end meeting.  In modern scheduled meetings, there is usually an allotted time for worship.  Somewhere around the end of this allotted time, the experienced Friend begins feeling for the appropriate time to end meeting.  When he or she feels that the time has come to end the meeting, they turn to the person next to them and shake hands.  At this signal, the other worshippers also turn to their neighbors and shake hands, ending the worship meeting.  Some meetings may end early, others may go on longer, depending on the movement of the Holy Spirit as sensed by Friends.

To the person unfamiliar with it, this sort of meeting based on silent waiting worship can be very challenging.  There is often just not that much going on visibly to attract and hold one’s attention.  This is what the waiting worship of Friends was designed to do; it is designed to remove as many barriers as possible between the worshipper and God.  We have no paid priests to take charge--the responsibility for the worship lies with us.  We have no formal prayers or creeds to recite, no pre-arranged songs to sing--we wait for Jesus to direct our worship.  We have no ceremonies or physical sacraments--we experience the inner renewal of true baptism and the inner joy of true communion as our Saviour administers them.  We have no pre-arranged or written sermons--we wait for God himself to provide the words to speak, and the moment to speak them.  And if we are not led by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, we believe we are to remain silent and wait.

Conservative Friends trust Jesus’ promise to be present with us wherever we gather in his name.  This is what Quakers mean when they refer to the Presence in the Midst:  Jesus is with us, in our midst in the room as we worship.  We trust that he is our teacher and priest, and that he can guide us in worship himself without the need for planned speeches or songs or rituals.

As Friends gather together, each Friend takes some time to settle down and set aside the cares and business of the day.  Sometimes this is easier said than done!  Most Friends have at some time or other experienced meetings for worship that seemed almost completely taken up by this one initial task.  However, as Friends succeed in setting aside temporal concerns, Friends find themselves slipping into an awareness of the eternal.  Friends find that they can pay attention to God, talking to him in silent prayer and listening to him as he answers.  The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ moves among the worshippers, comforting one person, exhorting another, correcting and admonishing another.  Each is ministered to by Christ according to individual needs.

There is more to waiting worship than sitting in a room together while each worshipper individually tries to listen to God, however.  Friends believe that as the Body of Christ, we also gather together to worship in order to encourage and support each other, and that a special communion with God and with each other can form out of the silence.  As Friends sit in worship, they may feel themselves opened up and becoming a channel for Divine Love.  They may feel an outpouring of love for each of the other worshippers, or they may feel held and loved themselves... this is one of the ways that Christ builds up and encourages his Body, by helping us feel the currents of his eternal divine love.

During waiting worship, God also  builds up his church in more tangible but equally inexplicable ways.  Any Friend, at any time, may come to feel that the Lord has a message that is intended for the rest of the meeting, not just for them personally.  Often, this feeling is accompanied by physical symptoms:  one Friend may actually shake, another feels “butterflies” in the stomach, another feels hot as though on fire, another describes feeling “electric”.  At this point the Friend will stand and deliver the message that has been given them.  They may speak, or sing, or pray.  They may be moved to do some physical act (I have seen a baby laid gently down in the center of a circle of worshippers, for example).  Sometimes that Friend will not understand the message that they feel they are supposed to give; they may even feel foolish delivering it.  But after delivering a message, the Friend will often feel a sense of rest and peace that lets them know that they were faithful to God’s call.   

Conservative Friends call these sorts of vocal messages a “free gospel ministry.”  Ministers are unpaid, because the ministry is not of man, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.  If Jesus freely gives it to us, we believe that we cannot charge others to give it to them.