We will be delighted if you can join us for meeting for worship. In preparation, we would like to share with you a few insights from experience and practice about what happens during Meeting for Worship to help make your first visit meaningful.
Gainesville Friends gather for what is called Unprogrammed Worship. There is no structured worship service (no hymns, no sermon, no planned readings from scripture or other texts), nor is there a pastor or minister who leads worship.
Meeting for Worship begins at 11:00 am when Friends gather together in the Meeting Room, take their seats and settle into quiet worship. Friends may choose to sit wherever they are comfortable.
You may observe the different ways Friends settle in the silence: eyes opened or closed; heads bowed or held high; hands folded or resting on the benches. One practice Friends try always to uphold is to remain settled for the duration of Meeting for Worship. If a Friend must leave the Meeting Room during Worship, he or she tries to do so with minimum disruption. Friends who arrive after Worship has begun similarly try to enter the room as quietly as possible.
When Friends gather together for quiet worship, we are supporting one another in listening to God. We are tuning in together to the words God has for each of us and for all of us. Sometimes, a Friend feels led to share a spoken message with those gathered. Before speaking a message aloud, Friends try to discern whether the message is one God is leading them to speak at that time. Friends do not come to worship prepared to give a message. When giving this vocal ministry, a Friend typically stands and speaks in a clear voice that all can hear. During this message, all other gathered Friends remain seated. After the message is spoken, the Friend will sit down and all will settle into silence once again.
In a single Meeting for Worship, several messages may be spoken, separated by silence that allows all to reflect on the message. Sometimes, a Meeting is entirely quiet with no spoken messages. Whether silent or not, however, God's presence is felt during worship.
During the first part of the Meeting for Worship, all Friends are gathered together, including the children, who bring a special presence to Worship. You will notice that the children try to sit still and quietly, but their natural energy and curiosity sometimes fills the silence. Parents of small children are encouraged not to be upset by these minor disruptions, being reminded by all gathered how precious the children are to the Meeting. At some point, you will notice that the First Day School teachers rise from their seats and quietly welcome the children to follow them out of the Meeting Room. Children may also remain with their parents in Meeting or parents may join their children. The children and their teachers will return later to hear announcements and greet all gathered for worship. With the children absent, a new hush falls on those gathered for worship.
Meeting for Worship typically lasts one hour. Meeting concludes when Friends shake hands with those near them. At the conclusion of Worship -- or what is called the Rise of Meeting the children return to the Meeting Room. The Clerk greets all gathered, invites newcomers to introduce themselves, and shares announcements with the Meeting Community. After introductions, we gather in the social room to share snacks and conversation.
There are many pamphlets and books in our library that offer the history and fuller descriptions of Quaker worship. We're happy to help you select some readings that you may find helpful. As with all things Quaker, however, the most important source for understanding worship is experience: your own and that of others. Feel free to ask questions about your observations, experiences, even frustrations (all of our minds wander hopelessly from time to time) during worship. By sharing with one another, we all experience a fuller and deeper Meeting for Worship.