Silence is a very strong part of most Quaker beliefs. They very much believe in the bible verse “Be still and know that I am God”. Ps 46:10 This belief is at the very foundation of their weekly worship. Many Christians and non-Christians think that Quaker meetings are very strange indeed that Friends sometimes sit silently during their weekly meetings waiting for God to speak to them. Some weeks go by without a word being spoken! Given the propensity for most churches to do numerous readings and hymns, sitting silently is a very foreign concept to them. It is very difficult for any of us in the 21st century to sit silently for even a few seconds. All of the activity of the world seems to quickly invade our space and fill our thoughts. Being still and waiting for God is just not our natural state of being now days.
Quakers believe that the Lord gives each of us personal revelations from the Holy Spirit if only we would patiently wait for them. This is not in exclusion to the written Scriptures but in addition to them or to support them.
To give you a better understanding of Friends worship I want to quote from a book entitled “A Living Faith” by Wilmer A. Cooper.
Friends worship is not determined by holy days or liturgical acts of celebration or re-enactments of past events. Worship is a “now even” under the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is believed that the old covenant, which relied on ceremonial rites, ritual, and sacrifices, was replaced by a new covenant instituted by Christ, which called for immediate and real presence of Christ in worship. This requires the worshipper to enter into a hearing and obeying relationship with Christ rather than conforming to ceremonial rites and creeds. Worship is not dependent upon the office of minister, or priest but is ordered by Christ within. God is the actor and the worshiper is the reactor or responder. Although Friends worship has always called for the centering down in silent “waiting upon the Lord”, silence has never been and end in itself. Silence is a means to an end and those becomes a form of worship, though clearly less structured then most forms.
He later goes on to say:
During the second half of the nineteenth century worship became modified in those meetings that adopted pastoral/programmed patterns of worship and ministry. For the most part these meetings still refused to use liturgies, formulated prayers, litanies, and creeds, and they also refrained from observing the sacraments (or ordinances). They did, however, add music, spoken prayers, Scripture readings, and prepared messages, while still believing the gathering was under leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Some say that the programmed worship was to accommodate those who were converting from mainline Protestant denominations while still holding on to the core Quaker practices. A joke I will have to paraphrase because I don’t remember its source goes something like this. A Protestant visitor to a Quaker meeting sat patiently waiting in silence for almost an hour. At the end of the hour everyone got up and started leaving. The confused Protestant said “that was a very unusual service”. A Quaker then said “no, that was worship. Now we are ready to go out in service for the rest of the week.” Quakers are indeed very strong in service while sometimes being very quiet in worship.
Friends treat all functions of the church as a form of worship, including business, marriage, and memorial services, and of course the regular weekly meeting .