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.
Quakerism can be traced back to a disillusioned 23 year old man named George Fox. Fox had spent most of his adolescence and young adulthood searching for a real experience of God. He was continually discouraged by priests and preachers, saying, “there was none among them all that could speak to my condition.” Fox had a revelation, instead of searching for outward sources of consolation, he turned inward. In his journal Fox wrote, “And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”
A Quaker writer says, “This was not simply an adequate answer. It was a radical and revolutionary experience which cut across much church teaching of the time. It became foundational for the emerging Quaker movement and remained central…”*
When we gather on Sunday morning we create space for everyone to go inward. To consider what the inward teacher might be telling us. That is the legacy of George Fox. If you are looking for a spiritual community that is contemplative, non-hierarchal, and committed to collaboration, we hope you will check us out.
*Dandelion, Pink. An Introduction to Quakerism. 2007 (pg. 21)
What does this all mean?
Finding out if a Quaker meeting is "programmed" or "un-programmed" 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). Un-programmed 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. For a lexicon of Quaker terms/phrases use the button below:
Curious About When It Is Time to Speak in Quaker Worship?
We sit in silence for about 20 minutes every Sunday. What is going on during that time? How do you know when it is time to speak during that silence?