In line with my plan of meandering from my usual programme of events at Greenbelt, today I tentatively decided to go to Quaker Worship.
Except, I really don’t know a great deal about Quakerism, other than I had heard that they worship mostly in silence and I knew that they have a great commitment to justice and peace. I don’t know what I was anticipating, but there were a whole mix of people there and I found it fascinating to “people watch” in the moments before it began.
So, I wasn’t wrong about the silence bit. People could speak when they felt moved by the spirit to share something. I have to say that this made me a bit nervous… People could say anything they wanted? What on earth could they come out with? And what if it was strange, how would we respond?
The silence was unusual. Unnerving initially. Being from a charismatic background and a very lively church that I love, honestly I struggled. I was longing for someone to lead or to just do something. But for the first 15 minutes or so nobody said a thing or moved a muscle. My mind was here, there and everywhere. A frantic and ruthless stream of inane nonsense:
I should have brought a chair to sit on…
What stall am I visiting for dinner?
I hope I zipped my tent up properly…
I really liked Kate Bottley’s dress today, I wonder if they make them with built in dog collars…etc, etc.
And each time I brought my mind back, off it would go… Until I reached a bit of a point of actually focussing. It was as if my mind had settled enough to pray about some things on my heart. I felt an immense sense of peace. Several people spoke and it actually wasn’t as awkward as I expected at all. There was a sense of real nurturing and people upheld and respected each other.
So came the end. I was relieved to get up off the floor but an intrigue stayed with me. Can they really do that silence each time they worship… No music, no lights, no movement?
Not satisfied with these lingering questions, I made my way to the Quaker tent. I was fortunate enough to speak to a lovely older gentleman who shared with me why the Quaker tradition is for him. He presented as a real man of peace and spoke about his involvement with the early CND marches and Quakerism I asked him about my initial discomfort with the silence. What he explained to me really struck a chord.
“Why silence?” he said, “we use silence because there is no need for any intrusion”.
He said that many Quakers believe that Jesus himself will teach and transform his people and that inspiration comes directly from him.
Actually then, radical though it may seem, does that mean anything else additional to that could be deemed purely accessory?
I wondered if many of us and I firmly count myself in that, have become reliant on the “accessories” and hype of our church experience. I love the atmospheric worship, lights and contemporary worship music. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were somewhat addicted to it now and unable to rely on the presence of God while we wait in silence?
I only scratched the surface of the Quaker movement today yet I felt inspired by their simplistic yet organic and quite refreshing approach to worship.
Thank you Quakers of #GB16 for reminding me that time alone waiting for God Himself to transform me can only be of good.
threads are reporting on Greenbelt for the whole week! Have a read of our other Greenbelt 2016 articles right here.