Quaker or Friends Meetings
Friends Meetings can be of several varieties, but the most common are either Programmed or Un-programmed. Much is written about the "un-programmed" meeting, where Friends sit, quietly, waiting on the Lord. Some, then, feel led to stand and speak, although it's not unusual for an entire meeting to pass in silence. Tonya Riggs gives us a look at the more structured Meeting and her experiences.
It is 1st day. This means it is Sunday, if you are one of the unconvinced (a non-friend). My husband, daughter, and I arrive at the meeting and take our seats at our preferred section in the pews. We greet and speak with the people sitting around us, but sometimes I just look around. Everything is simply adorned. The windows are plain stained glass. They are not elaborate or have a particular design drawn on them. There is an altar at the front. It usually has candles and a flower arrangement setting upon it.
Behind the altar is the Pastor's podium, behind that is where the choir sits. There are not any crosses to be seen, just a large portrait of Jesus hanging on the wall above where the choir sits. In the portrait, Jesus is sitting down. You see the side of his face as he looks up unto heaven. It is as if he is sitting still and listening to God.
The choir begins to sing a selected hymn. When they are finished, the Pastor stands up and welcomes everyone to the meeting, gives announcements of the events going on, and then asks if there is anyone that needs to be put on the prayer list so that we may pray for them. The Pastor then prays an invocation prayer. We do not all pray in unison. Some are silent and listening, others are praying prayers of their own. You can hear the murmur of many voices in addition to the voice of the Pastor. It used to confuse me at first, trying to listen to the Pastor, while everyone else was praying as well. I later realized that when the Pastor says "Let us Pray", that is what he means. We pray what is in our hearts, not necessarily listen to
what the Pastor is praying.
After the prayer has ended, we all sing a hymn of praise together. Then and offering of tithes is taken up and placed on the altar. The choir proceeds to sing another hymn, then returns to sit with their loved ones in the pews.
We now have our call to open worship. The Pastor requests that we open our hearts and clear our minds to be open to receive God's message. The organ will begin to play. It will be quiet. Sometimes no one will say anything, but then there will be people who will stand up and speak. Some speak praise, some offer thanks, and others will plead for God's aid in a particular situation. The organ will play a few moments more and then cease to signal the end of the open worship. The Pastor begins with his sermon.
After his sermon, the Pastor prays a prayer that opens into the invitation. The invitation is where the Pastor asks the meeting, "Are there any here that do not know Jesus? Is there any here that would like to know him and make him a part of their lives?"
We have our eyes closed and our heads bowed at this point so that it will encourage people to raise their hands without fear of embarrassment. The Pastor then announces that he would pray for them and invites them to the altar so that they can be saved. It is not communion or baptism that saves. All they have to do is open their hearts,pray to Jesus to come into their life and ask him to be a their guide.
People will walk up and pray at the altar for Jesus to walk into their life. Praying at the altar offers closer community with one another than even the pews can provide. When everyone is finished praying and returns to the pews, the Pastor prays a closing prayer and we are dismissed.
Thus concludes a Programmed Friends Meeting.
Programmed Friends meetings do share alot of haracteristics with other Protestant services, such as those of the Methodist and Baptist churches. However, as Friends, we realize that the meeting serves a fellowship role. It offers a place for people to meet and praise God together. We share our problems and triumphs and together learn how to walk the path that Jesus walked. Our relationship with God is encouraged to be a personal one. It is our responsibility, as individuals, to sit and listen to God as well as talk to him on a regular basis, not just during meeting times.
Unprogrammed and Programmed meetings each have their contribution to the Friend's spiritual journey, but we must never forget this: Being a Friend does not depend on a method of worship. It depends on the willingness to walk the path of light and having Jesus beside us to guide the way.