Quakers begin worship by entering quietly and finding a seat in the meetinghouse. As the faith of Friends rests on the belief that each of us has that of God within, we gather in prayerful silence with neither clergy nor liturgy. Stillness is an integral part of the meeting for worship as all of us try to center in the gathering silence and to be open to the living word of God. Listening together, we share the experience of being filled with and led by the spirit. Anyone who feels that God requires them to share the “Light” given to them may rise and speak. Vocal ministry in meeting for worship may vary: a prayer, a spoken message, a song, or a reading from the Bible or other source of inspiration. Afterwards the silence resumes so that all can reflect on the spoken word. Speaking in meeting is not an occasion for dialogue or debate. Friends try to enter each meeting for worship resolving neither to speak nor not to speak, but to await the inspiration that grows out of the silence. Meeting is closed when a designated Friend breaks meeting by shaking hands with and welcoming the neighbors sitting nearest. Others shake hands with those nearby, and meeting is officially ended. Before everyone rises, there is an opportunity to share joys and concerns, welcome visitors and ask them to introduce themselves and to make announcements. The rise of meeting is often followed by a refreshment period which allows additional opportunity for fellowship.
While some members of Birmingham were raised as Quakers, most were not. In our Meeting are found former members of many other religious groups and denominations. Some have had no religious upbringing. Others have previously experienced religious alienation. As a result, we have a wide range of religious thinking with a shared belief in the key Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, stewardship and equality.
What do Quakers Believe?
Quakers (also called Friends) have been wary of creedal statements as limiting our understanding of God, but from the earliest days of the Religious Society of Friends, individual Friends and Friends’ meetings have issued statements of their beliefs to the world. The statement following this introduction represents an ongoing effort to reflect the collectively held, core beliefs of Quakers in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, of which Birmingham Meeting is a part. Arthur Larrabee, member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, is the author. He presented this paper at the Annual Sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting July 2012. It is not an official statement or document of the Yearly Meeting, but we hope that identifying these widely held beliefs will help us to better communicate who we are.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting periodically publishes its book Faith & Practice of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. The newest edition is ntended to be a guide, and not a rule, for our members, attenders and others whoseek to understand how Friends in our yearly meeting express our faith in our lives, our communities and our organizations. Click here for an online version of Faith & Practice. The link takes you to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's website.
What is the distinction between testimonies and principles? To give personal testimony in a court of law is to report one’s own experience. Speculation and sweeping generalization are out of order; one must only state that which one directly knows. Friends’ testimonies reflect a similar understanding—they are not abstract generalizations, but the records of lives lived. … Friends’ testimonies are not judgments of the mind but voices of the heart. … The Peace Testimony exemplifies not principle pacifism but testimony pacifism. It is not a philosophical generalization to be affirmed by intellectual judgment … but, rather, a confession of spiritual surrender and the fruit of that surrender.