How does Quaker Meeting compare to other Christian services? Quaker author Ben Pink Dandelion explores this question.
We don’t believe we’re going to get the final answers, and therefore in one sort of curious way, we might say that the silence of our worship is not only the medium to approach God, but it is also possibly the best response to the Divine.
Our vocal ministry adds to the silence, but in the end, we’re left with the silence—with that sense of connection with the presence that we find in and through our silent meetings.
The Difference Between Quaker Meeting and Other Christian Services
I think one of the core insights of Quakers in the 20th century has been an increasing caution around theology, so that we’re necessarily a little bit suspicious about tying God down too much, about becoming too detailed about the nature of God—too doctrine-centric, if you like.
So we could say that we’re part of a tradition of open, expectant waiting. We go into the silence and stillness—in a sense, we’re making a grand claim that we can just have this direct connection with God without the help of any minister or text or outward form of liturgy. But we do have a liturgy; it’s a silent liturgy.
And we’ve found over the centuries that we have a very strong sense of presence that comes through absence. We can say that absence leads to a sense of presence.
Ideally, we’ll have some dramatic, radical sense of encounter in the silence. We may or may not minister. We may give vocal ministry or we might not, but we’re then left with this sense of encounter but without necessarily a very clear way of talking about it. So we’re not going to then formulate that into a spoken creed or a liturgical form. Our liturgy is inward, and it’s one of exploration and one of seeking.
A “Seeking” Faith Community
It is one of the divisions between Friends worldwide, but in my tradition, then, certainly we’re clear that we need to be a little bit hesitant about trying to become too detailed or too focused on the exact nature of God.
There was a recent article by Harvey Gillman in The Friend that said, “Even the term ‘God’ is not the name for God.” We struggle with the words, we’re trying to get close to the experience, but we know that somehow we won’t match the depth of experience.
So I think one of the ways we can think about Quaker Meeting would be in terms of being part of a seeking faith community. So one of the differences, say, between Quaker Meeting and other Christian services is that we’re really not sure. We’re not sure of what we’re going to experience in Meeting, and we’re also—in some curious way—not particularly sure about what it is we’re finding in our experience.
I think this should be tremendously popular in today’s society. There’s a lot of people out there who are spiritually hungry who may be slightly cautious about organized religion, and what we as Quakers are offering is a space in which to explore our spirituality. We do have boundaries around it, we have particular ways of doing things, we have keen insights into practice as it were, but we offer a huge amount of space to allow people to explore their journey, and I suppose that’s one of the main differences. We’re not offering clear answers, but we’re trying to ask the right questions.