Making Quaker Worship Accessible

“Worship is our response to an awareness of God.  We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence.  We seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God’s love drawing us together and leading us.” 

Quaker Faith & Practice – 1.02.8

Most local Quaker meetings in Britain hold a silent meeting for worship on a Sunday morning for about an hour. Some members of Quaker Disability Equality Group have described the difficulties they face in attending such meetings.  The problems are varied: transport; difficulty sitting for so long; fatigue; concentration.  Even if a meeting house has wheelchair access, a hearing loop, accessible toilets and is welcoming to assistance dogs, some disabled Friends feel excluded. How might local meetings reasonably cater for diverse needs? 

A Traditional Approach     

A few years ago, a Friend wrote,

“My own meeting offers some variations.

We have a weekly mid-week meeting held every Tuesday from 12-12.30 which is only half an hour.  This helps people who rely on bus services, or those for whom sitting in one position for a whole hour is difficult.  Afterwards people can stay on for a cup of tea and are welcome to bring their lunch.

We also hold a bi-monthly evening meeting held on a Sunday from 7.30-8.30pm.  This meeting has a theme and people are invited to bring a poem, passage or piece of music to share, but this is optional.  Contributions are interspersed with silence and of course spontaneous ministry is also welcome. 

We have also been holding regular meetings for worship in the homes of two elderly Friends, now too frail to come on Sunday.  One of these recently died but for a long time, meeting for worship has been held in her room in a nursing home.  The other Friend lives in her own home and her monthly meetings for worship last half an hour and are followed by discussion on a planned theme over a cup of tea.  Both these were held during the day on a weekday.  One Friend in our meeting has responsibility to set dates, let Friends know and monitor numbers (obviously limited by space). Lifts are also offered to the Friend who lives out of town”. 

Online Worship     

Nowadays online worship is a valued alternative for many disabled, sick and isolated Friends.  Zoom is the favoured platform and people with minimal computer skills can join a Zoom meeting by clicking or tapping on a link emailed to them.  Closed captions may help Friends with hearing loss to understand ministry.  Breakout rooms where participants are randomly assigned can enable Friends on Zoom to get to know each other after Meeting. 

Some Friends find that the quality of Worship on Zoom is little different from worship in person.  Many find it not quite as good and some find that it does not meet their spiritual needs but for Friends who are in bed, cannot sit still for long or for any reason cannot access a Meeting House online worship has been a lifeline.  Some Meetings blend online and in-person worship.  This approach can bring together the best of both, but sometimes there are technical difficulties.

There is guidance on online and blended worship on the Woodbrooke website. (Link opens in a new window.)

Suggestions to make Meeting for Worship more accessible

Apart from improving the general accessibility of their building, there are several things Friends can do specifically to make the Meeting for Worship more accessible.  For example:

  • Carry out an access audit.  Sample basic access audit form (opens in a new window).
  • Provide an access statement on your website or share as a printed document where relevant.
  • Provide a choice of seating.  Sample access statement (opens in a new window).
  • Allow those who cannot sit comfortably to lie on a bench or the floor, to walk about occasionally or to come in for only part of the Meeting, perhaps coming in with the children.
  • Provide good lighting without glare.  It may not be possible to find a level of lighting that is right for everyone; some Friends prefer to worship in subdued light, but some partially sighted Friends and Friends who depend on lipreading may want it brighter.
  • Allow Friends to use quiet music through headphones as an aid to centring down.  Some Friends in mental distress find this helpful.
  • See the QDEG Finding stillness and silence suggestions. (Opens in a new window.)
  • Have someone available to write down ministry for those who cannot hear it.
  • Provide information about the nature of internet connection, e.g. whether a wired system, or by Wi-Fi (some people may be sensitive to Wi-Fi)
  • Ask everyone to turn off any mobile phones before entering the meeting room.

Meeting for Worship for Business 

All of the above points may apply, and the following additional points may help.     

  • Circulate background papers and draft minutes in advance.  Nowadays this is usually done by email but some Friends may prefer or need hard copies and some may need a large font.  Cater for other preferred formats e.g. Braille, if the Meeting’s resources allow.
  • At the Meeting make visual materials, whether flipcharts or screens shared on Zoom, as clear and easy to read as possible.  Do not assume that everyone present can read them.  Read out any comments on flipcharts, shared screens etc.

Other Kinds of Quaker Worship

Friends whose disability makes find it difficult to sit still or concentrate in silence for long might appreciate a meeting more along the lines of 'all age worship'.  This approach has been developed to include children and is rooted in the Quaker basics of 'a gathered meeting' and being 'open to the Spirit.'  As well as periods of silence, a story may be told and those attending can respond in a variety of ways.  Some may wish to reflect in thought only but others may write a poem, draw a picture or use other craft materials to explore.  Look out for suitable material on all-age worship on the Britain Yearly Meeting and Woodbrooke websites or contact your Local Development Worker or the Children and Young People’s Department at Friends House for advice.  (Links open in new windows.)

Guidance on 'creative listening' and 'worship sharing' can be found in resources such as the 'Becoming Friends' coursebook.

'Experiment with Light' is a spiritual practice developed by Rex Ambler from his study of early Quakers. It is a guided meditation lasting about half an hour, usually done in small groups, called 'Light groups'. For full information see (Link opens in a new window.)

The Kindlers are a Listed Informal Group who experiment with different ways of deepening worship. They hold workshops and produce booklets. They can be contacted through (Link opens in a new window.)