In the mid-1600s, the medieval world was giving way to modern views on science, commerce and government. The Quaker movement was born during this period of transition. In fact, Quakers have often been at the forefront of societal change. For three and a half centuries, we Quakers have rejected war, welcomed the leadership of women and opposed the mistreatment of people at the margins of society.
Finding out if a Quaker meeting is "programmed" or "unprogrammed" will go a long way in figuring out what you can expect from that particular gathering! The labels will already give you a hint! Programmed meetings typically have paid pastors, singing, and prepared messages (sermons). Unprogrammed meetings are often considered a more traditional form of Quaker worship. They do not have paid pastors, and gather without any planned messages, their meetings are centered around silence and waiting for folks to receive messages from God. West Hills is often referred to as "semi-programmed." This is because silence/listening is still a central part of our gathering. Usually from 10:00am-10:40am we make some noise (music and speaking), then move into about 20 minutes of silence which we call "open worship." Quakers have always believed that the ability to listen to God's voice is not limited to priests or other clergy. In order for us to hear what God is saying to everyone gathered in our meetings we need to create space for listening and speaking. That is why silence has become so central to Quaker expressions of worship.
Early Quakers knew that the words we use have power. Quakers found themselves in hot water when they refused to use words that granted one person more status than another. They used the more informal "thee" and "thou" when speaking to everyone, even if they were people of wealth and power. Quakers examined all of the words they used, dissecting the hidden connotations behind them. For example, Quakers refer to the building they gather in for worship "meetinghouses" instead of churches. Why? Well, Quakers knew that "church" wasn't contained to a specific place or time. If we think of church has happening on Sunday morning in a specific building, it can limit our thinking about the reality that God is speaking and calling us together whenever the Spirit moves us.