Attending first Quaker meeting - what should I know?
June 21, 2008 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm attending my first Quaker meeting tomorrow. What should I know beforehand?

I'm very curious about the Religious Society Of Friends, and think that it might be a good fit for me. So tomorrow I'm going to my first meeting. I don't know anyone there, though, and I'm not really sure what to expect. I know that it's an unprogrammed meeting... What will be appropriate to wear? Will it be odd that my fiancee and I are showing up, not knowing anyone? I don't know... I'm very curious, and very excited about this, but I'm also very nervous.
posted by clcapps to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
As a Quakerish person (and people who don't use the -ish do, actually, call themselves Quakers), who attended Quaker private school, worked at a Quaker lobbying group, and have attended years of Quaker activities (including Quaker meeting), the best advice I can give you is to be prepared for silence.

Unprogrammed means that unlike other religious services there is no central person directing services (i.e. no preacher/priest/etc.) the experience instead will be one of silent contemplation.

Depending on the meeting, there may or may not be any welcoming comments at the beginning of the service and if you are late you will be walking into a room of people sitting silently (if you are late try to be as quiet as possible (turn off that cell phone)).

Occasionally someone may stand up and say something (this happens when they feel moved by the presence to do so). A tenant of Quakerism is that there is that of God in everybody and everything, unprogrammed meeting is the extension of this - there is no preacher because we are all vessels of the spirit.

As Burhanistan says, there will likely be an opportunity to introduce yourself to the meeting (this will generally be prompted by the Clerk of the meeting). Feel free to say something or say nothing though generally your status as a new person will be noticed (and welcomed).

Feel free to mefi mail me if you have additional questions.

I pretty much always find Quaker meeting a life-affirming activity and Quakers as a group are AWESOME; I should go to meeting more often.
posted by ilikecookies at 3:25 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hey, you sound just like me before I went to my first meeting years ago.

What the two previous posters said. No need to be nervous. No need to dress up. Enjoy the meeting and the social half hour afterwards.
posted by orange swan at 4:12 PM on June 21, 2008

Don't be confused if suddenly, after half an hour of silence, everybody just starts shaking hands with one another. It's normal.
posted by dsword at 4:45 PM on June 21, 2008

I'm a Quaker in the liberal unprogrammed tradition. We do call ourselves Quakers, for sure. An unprogrammed meeting for worship is generally close to an hour of silent (or "expectant") worship, though tardiness is endemic in every meeting I've ever attended and that cuts into it. People may speak out of the silence "as they're led."

Some meetings have a time for more casual sharing towards the end; my meeting does this and we call it "joys and sorrows." The clerk (the person sort of in charge of shepherding the meeting) might say something like, "Are there any joys, sorrows, or concerns people would like to share out of the spirit of our meeting?" and then people will share short things about surgeries, illnesses, anniversaries, the really amazing sunset they saw on Thursday, etc. Not all meetings do this.

Meeting usually ends with friendly handshakes to the people around you, initiated by the clerk. Some meetings do introductions at that point; newcomers may be asked to introduce themselves if general introductions aren't done. My meeting goes around the circle to say names every week. Then we do announcements. And then we have snacks.

Burhanistan is right that you shouldn't worry about the impression you might make, and anything you wear will be fine. Unprogrammed Friends rarely dress up. We also tend to be tolerant of all the reasons why people come to meeting: some of us are really into the God thing, some people find the political activism congenial, various mixes of things like that.

Most unprogrammed Quakers are what we call "convinced Friends," meaning they weren't raised as Quakers, but in other faith traditions or in none at all. It's so noteworthy for someone to have been raised Quaker that people will comment on it all the time. "Brianna made the cupcakes for potluck. She's a birthright Friend, you know." So if it helps, know that most likely, practically everybody else in the room was once in your position, coming to a new place for the first time.

I love Quakers, Quaker worship, and the Quaker way of doing business. Whether it's just a stop for you or ends up being a spiritual home for the long term, good luck.
posted by not that girl at 4:53 PM on June 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh, one thing that might help you going for the first time: silent worship is considered to have commenced as soon as one person has sat down and centered. So you will probably go in to a room where people may already be sitting in silence, quietly find your seat, and settle yourself as others continue to enter. There's no moment when things begin and normally no chatting in the meeting room prior to worship.
posted by not that girl at 4:55 PM on June 21, 2008

Finally being a "birthright friend" is useful for something!

Anyhoo, please please do not feel obligated to talk, if you feel moved to introduce yourself please trust me when I say that there will be plenty of folks who are thrilled to meet you after meeting. Also if you do feel moved to speak, please do not do it right after someone else has done so, its considered rude (at it was in the meetings I grew up in), you ought to give people time to contemplate what was last said.

But pretty much every Quaker meeting I have come across (in several traditions) has been enthusiastically friendly so you will be welcomed.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:39 PM on June 21, 2008

They're generally nice people who are going to be pretty nice to you, take it easy and follow normal social cues, resist the urge to act or speak impulsively during the meeting proper and you'll have an interesting experience at the bare minimum.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:34 PM on June 21, 2008

I'm a Quaker. Not that girl's advice is spot on. If there is a moment in the meeting where they ask for "visitors" to introduce themeselves, please plan to stand and say your name and a few words about why you're there -- something simple, like "I'm Joe and I have been curious about Friends worship for a long time. I'm glad to be here today and I look forward to talking with you all after the meeting."

Be relaxed. More than likely, if there is a coffee hour after meeting, people will make a point of coming up to you and engaging in conversation. It's fine to be interested/exploring and you should feel completely comfortable saying that's what you're doing. It's a very, very common thing in Friends meeting to have someone come and check it out. In fact, there are probably 10 "explorer" types for every one person that continues to attend meeting after the first visit. Quakers are used to that. Your interest and curiosity are totally welcome, so don't worry.

I came to Friends later in life after being raised sort of nothing/freethinking, and I know how intimidating it is to get started. Feel free to MeMail me if you are at all interested in getting a little more support or perspective. but basically, enjoy it, and find out how to get involved. Quakers are downright good people. Best wishes.
posted by Miko at 9:41 PM on June 21, 2008

Just a note about tardiness: the meeting I used to attend starts at 10:30 on the dot. If you arrive late, you need to wait quietly in the hall with the hall monitor-type person until 15 minutes into the meeting, when the kids are let out. Then the latecomers go in. That way, there's only one disruption in the hour-long meeting.
posted by PatoPata at 10:54 PM on June 21, 2008

In the UK the Quakers run a programme called Quaker Quest, which is basically a discussion group for people who are interested in Quakers. I've been to a few of the sessions and they were really good. The US Quakers apparently also run a similar program, although it looks like it's still getting off the ground.
posted by Helga-woo at 6:31 AM on June 22, 2008

Your First Time at a Quaker Meeting describes what you might expect in a liberal, unprogrammed meeting. The range of worship styles is huge across the world; my friends in Kenya describe meetings as high-energy gospel singing, pastor-lead sessions.

If you feel like it, try to find some literature like Advices and Queries. Also, don't be surprised if some (perhaps more elderly) attenders start to snooze in a silent meeting.
posted by scruss at 6:53 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

One thing I just remembered, and I don't see mentioned above, is that responding to what others share is a no-no, whether you agree, disagree, or whatever. There's no need to voice opinions about what anybody else said, and it's considered rude to do so.
posted by dsword at 3:02 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

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