“Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings—Worship

January 20, 2017 § 10 Comments

Best practices:

  • Match the seating in the meeting room to the size of the worshiping group.
  • Welcome newcomers before meeting and after.
  • Provide accessibility for Friends with mobility and hearing difficulties.
  • Invite Friends to share the deeper things on their hearts while we’re still all together.
  • Invite newcomers to introduce themselves.
  • Avoid announcements and afterthoughts in the meeting room.


Central Philadelphia Meeting is a large meeting with a large, historic meetinghouse, complete with raked facing benches and a sizable balcony. The meeting has roped off the back-most benches in the back and on one side. The result is that, when attendance is normal, a lot of people are sitting relatively close to each other. I believe quite strongly that proximity to each other fosters a gathered meeting, and that allowing the community to disperse too much (they will occupy as much distance as you give them) hinders the gathered meeting. I would rope off even more seating in our meeting room, but there we are. In the summer when attendance drops off, the meeting moves into another room that more nicely fits the size of the worshiping group. We sit inside each other’s auras when we worship and I think this provides a medium for the subtle psychic dynamics that mark the gathered meeting.


Greeters await you at the doors into the meeting room, ready to ensure that newcomers know what to expect and warming the hearts of the regular attenders. At rise of meeting for worship, a member of Ministry and Worship committee greets everyone, points out the guest book, which does NOT get you on any mailing list, and invites newcomers to visit the visitors table during fellowship for more information. Individual Friends often follow up on this “official” welcoming of newcomers with personal approaches.


Our meeting room has a ramp and several places in the meeting room that can accommodate a wheelchair and one Friend who uses them regularly. We also provide listening devices, which is especially important in such a large meeting room.

Joys and sorrows

Ministry and Worship has a “script” that the Friend who closes meeting (never say “break”) usually adheres to. After the usual “Good morning” and shaking of hands, she or he begins by asking us to remain in a spirit of worship, which helps to keep the meeting centered, and then invites Friends to share their joys and sorrows—whatever deep things are on their hearts at the moment. These can be uplifting and they can also be opportunities for prayer on someone’s behalf.


The Friend who closes meeting then invites newcomers to introduce themselves and the body enthusiastically replies to each person with a collective vocal welcome.


Central Philadelphia Meeting does NOT have announcements at the rise of meeting. It makes its announcements using a microphone and small amplifier about fifteen minutes into the social hour. This doesn’t reach everybody who was in worship, but it reaches most of the people who are likely to act on the information—and it doesn’t prolong the meeting for worship or degrade the worshipful feeling that we are able to maintain to a degree during the joys and sorrows and introductions in the meeting room. I highly recommend this practice.


I dislike afterthoughts and am very glad that the meeting does not encourage them or set aside a time for them. I fear that afterthoughts interfere with Spirit-led vocal ministry in worship. Do they allow a voice to Friends who feel too timid to speak in meeting? Maybe. Or do they get the potential minister “off the hook”, enabling him or her to avoid doing the deeper discernment that would clarify whether the ministry should be spoken or not? Do afterthoughts liberate the worship time from ministry that may not be so Spirit-led by making room for such messages later? Or do afterthoughts feed back into the worship, lowering the bar for what constitutes more deeply Spirit-led ministry? I’m pretty sure that afterthoughts do affect our vocal ministry somehow, but who knows how? The very fact that we don’t know what affect afterthoughts have on the vocal ministry is reason enough, in my opinion, to leave it alone. Why mess with something so sacred, so central to our way? Why isn’t traditional vocal ministry during meeting for worship enough for us? It’s enough for me. I am very grateful that Central Philadelphia Meeting does not invite afterthoughts, though sometimes a Friend will give us one anyway.


§ 10 Responses to “Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings—Worship

  • Ellis Hein says:

    It seems something is missing here, something that must not be taken for granted. You have provided for the comfort and feeling of welcome for members and visitors. But that encounter with the living Christ present in the midst fulfilling all his offices in and among those gathered in His authority is best described as a living fire to burn up all our iniquity, a living hammer to beat down all pretense, and a living sword to cut down all that is contrary to God in thought, word, or deed. It is this encounter that makes our knees to tremble and our limbs to shake. It is this encounter that makes us “Quakers.”

    When George Fox visited Ulverston Steeple-house, he said, “The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord:…Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light, and hast walked in the light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”

    Margaret Fell, present at that meeting reported, “This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly, we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly; and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.’” (from Margaret Fox’s testimony concerning George Fox)

    This is not comfortable, but is the most comforting thing in the world. It was this encounter that made the Quakers of the 17th century what they were. It is this encounter that will bring us and our meetings to that same life and power of God today.

    • To read such valid and pertinent testimony is heart-warming, Ellis. Thank you for it and for all the difficulty entailed in choosing and doing what is right, which must precede such belief. As Fox wrote of his first opening: “if all were believers, then they were all born of God and passed from death to life, and that none were true believers but such (Nickalls, 7) Passing from death to life is difficult but necessary. Margaret Fell’s abrupt insight into her false, empty, and dead practice of religion is a break-through every cultural Quaker needs to consider deeply. Nothing less than such a realization and repentance can lead to our restoration as a people of God.

  • A quick question: how long is meeting for worship at Central Philadelphia? I find that 45 minutes may not be enough time for me to really settle, though I prepare heart and mind beforehand. I seldom vocal ministry as a result.

  • treegestalt says:

    I agree that the Sacrament of Announcements is deadly.

    Reading them, for those who want to know, during the Munch Service, seems better than reverently suffering together for everyone still either led to service or wishing they were or at least enjoying a vicarious sense of virtue from those who do.

  • flofflach says:

    Avoid announcements and afterthoughts in the meeting room.
    we meet in a small room and announce after MfW before tea. That way they are heard by all, I can’t see any other way. Not just the restriction of one room but the capacity for many of our members to hear things said unless there is quiet and we are sat close.
    After thoughts. I’m not sure… I have been involved in online conversations/explorations on the subject [UK] I remember no conclusion.
    I sat in what was essentially an after thought in a meeting house not my own. Two people went off to make tea and brought it in. Something like ministry occurred, people spoke, some stood and there was space. It was about equaity and poverty, locally. It was almost conversation but not.

    • flofflach says:

      forgot to add that that the sorrows and joys seem a little like after thoughts…there seem different adeas of when holding someone in the light should be mentioned – about 10 minutes before the end of MfW in some cases, or anytime in MfW or in after thoughts….

    • Some of what I’ve said really doesn’t apply to small meetings, where it makes sense to do things together right after worship.

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