“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, disabled toilets and is welcoming to Guide dogs, some Friends with disabilities may feel excluded.
How might local meetings reasonably cater for diverse needs? My own meeting, in Bury St Edmunds, 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. Both these Friends are long standing Quakers and members of our meeting, but similar meetings could be offered to more recent attenders and enquirers.
I have very much enjoyed the Appleseed approach. This is a well established Quaker approach to exploring spiritual themes. Literature, poetry, visual images and music are used to introduce the theme and a simple arts-based activity is used for individuals to explore their personal response. The activity is carried out in silence, but usually involves moving around to get materials. At the end of the time participants sit in a circle and can share their experience and their creation, if they wish. This is done like ‘creative listening’ – no comments or discussion. Appleseed courses are regularly offered at Woodbrooke, and the Appleseed coursebook is available from the Quaker bookshop. Guidance on ‘creative listening’ and ‘worship sharing’ can be found in resources such as the ‘Becoming Friends’ coursebook.
Other possibilities include: ‘all age worship’ – see children’s section of Quakers in Britain website (opens in new tab) particularly http://www.quaker.org.uk/sites/default/files/Spring_into_all_age_worship_May_2013.pdf; or Experiment with Light (a Quaker guided meditation) – see www.experiment-with-light.org.uk.