Not long ago my husband and I were out of town and were able to attend a Quaker meeting. Although I consider myself a Quaker, it was the first time I had actually attended a meeting. The meeting house we visited had both unprogrammed and semi-programmed meetings. Unprogrammed meetings are completely silent, whereas in semi-programmed meetings, someone delivers a message. Being a novice, I decided the semi-programed would be best for us. And I was right.
It's funny attending a house of worship where you're not sure of the protocol. For the most part, the semi-programmed meeting was similar to the order of worship found in mainline Protestant churches. Announcements were delivered, hymns were sung, a collection was received, and there was a reading prior to the message. However, after the message, there was a long period of silence during which time we were to pray and seek God's guidance.
Towards the end of the silence, several people rose to speak. As the message had focused on the Quaker peace ethic, one woman spoke about doing a Google search of military involvement by the United States since independence. The number was staggering and she pointed out that in almost all interventions, the U.S. was the aggressor. Another woman spoke about an interfaith conference she had attended and that the most important thing she brought from that event was a book entitled The Peace Book, that was handed out to attendees. She suggested it as a book for a discussion group, perhaps in conjunction with another house of worship. A third individual rose and suggested we sing a hymn, which we did. After the members spoke, I noticed an air of expectancy rather than prayerfulness. Then the pastoral leader shook hands with an elder, thus concluding the meeting.
There is a lot of diversity among Quakers, from very the very liberal to the extremely conservative evangelical. The meeting I attended was a very liberal one, since I lean in that direction. Therefore, my experience at meeting might not be the same as that of someone attending a different meeting. Attending a meeting was one of my goals from last quarter and I was finally in a position to fulfill that goal.
(Photo of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, from www.georgefox.edu)