Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Yesterday I attended my first Quaker meeting for worship. The experience was, in many ways, what I expected--and of course, also full of surprises and unexpected blessings.
I ended up arriving a few minutes early (first-timer's nervousness!) while the adult religious education class was finishing up. I slipped into a seat near the door as they concluded their discussion. A couple people quietly greeted me after they broke up, and one gentleman gave me a brochure for new visitors explaining the Quaker method of unprogrammed worship. The group then moved seamlessly into worship, everyone settling down into the circle of facing seats and settling into silence. A few more people drifted into the room over the next few minutes. There ended up being more people than I'd expected, and a fairly diverse group as well.
I've always been a pretty calm, patient person, so sitting in silence for an hour wasn't a challenge. It actually felt like a huge relief--a sort of spiritual exhalation. There was a patient earnestness in the quiet, as this roomful of hearts were opened up to God. I went through my own process of centering my mind on silent prayer, then focused on opening my own heart to whatever the Spirit might have in store for me.
About halfway through the meeting, the young children came up from their First Day School class to join in the worship, which was a delight. Even with the to-be-expected fidgeting and occasional whispers, I can't remember the last time I've seen such a calm, respectful group of young kids, and I could sense the group's pleasure in "letting the little children come." Their presence definitely added to the energy of the group.
A few people shared spoken witness during the meeting. This was the aspect of unprogrammed worship from which I knew least what to expect, so I was glad that there were people who felt called to share, instead of having a totally silent meeting. All of the messages were both personal and prayerful, and sometimes with a touch of humor. It felt completely natural; it felt like something I could see myself doing, someday, when the Spirit leads me.
The meeting was broken by shaking hands and greeting neighbors. Visitors were invited to introduce themselves, and then we went around the circle (I gathered this is a weekly practice) for each person, children included, to say their name. This was followed by a few minutes of announcements and prayer requests.
A number of people came up to greet me and to chat, asking how I'd come to be there that morning, and expressing hope that I'd come again. Maybe it was just the fact that it was a relatively small group, but I felt more welcome and appreciated than I've felt on a first solo visit to any other church.
I've heard a number of people talk about how going to a Friends meeting felt like coming home. I have to admit I wasn't really expecting to feel that--but I did. The strong sense of community, the openness and honesty of worship, was exactly what I've been longing to find in a faith community. I had known before coming that this was a more liberal Meeting, which, as a Christian, I was a little nervous about--I've heard stories of liberal groups where any "Christian talk" is unwelcome, even to the point of shying away from the word "God." I heard no overt mention of Christ during my visit, but God was definitely there, and when I mentioned to a couple people that I'm a Christian, there was no sense of discomfort. Naturally this was a great relief, and I left with the feeling that this was a group of people with whom I could worship, study, and grow in faith. I don't know how regularly I'll be able to return, but I very much hope to.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and a great introduction to Quakerism. I feel affirmed that this is the path God is calling me to pursue, and I'm excited to see where things will lead from here.