Quakers – from the perspective of a ‘Convinced Friend’
Someone approaching the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for the first time might wonder what to expect. What happens in the ‘Meeting House’? Can you just turn up? Are you expected to behave in a certain way? Who will you meet? All these questions and many more ran through my head when I entered the Quaker Meeting House in Monkstown for the first time one Sunday more than three years ago.
People began to gather in the foyer about ten to fifteen minutes before the start of the Meeting. There were lots of smiles, warm handshakes and a general air of friendliness. I was made feel very welcome, in a non-intrusive way. It seemed more like a family gathering rather than a religious meeting. (I now think it is probably best described as a ‘community of spirit’).
Gradually, people moved into the room where the Meeting for Worship was held. My first impression was of a very simple space. The old Quaker benches and chairs were arranged on all four sides facing each other. There was no altar. Nothing adorned the walls. In fact, the only decoration of any sort was a small table with a bowl of flowers in the centre of the room. As people were seated the Meeting began.
The method of worship seemed a little strange at first. All was quiet. After a few minutes silence a Friend read a short passage from the Bible and then resumed their seat. During the next hour Friends continued to worship mostly in silence. The stillness was occasionally broken when someone stood up to speak. Somehow what was said always seemed appropriate and often connected with my own thoughts. It appeared too as if the ‘vocal ministry’ of one Friend prompted others. The worship continued until at the end of the hour two Friends shook hands.
The children joined the adults for the first fifteen minutes of the Meeting after which they retired to another room where a supervised Junior Meeting took place. This consisted of a mixture of play, readings, craft work and much laughter.
Meeting lasted about an hour, and when it ended Friends, attenders (regulars at Meeting who have not joined the society) and casual visitors stayed on to have a cup of tea or coffee or simply to chat before heading off home.
About two years after attending my first Meeting for Worship in Monkstown I decided that I wanted to join the Religious Society of Friends. I still attend Monkstown today.
Note: Those who join Friends later in life are sometimes referred to as ‘convinced Friends’ because they made their own decision to join. A child born to parents who are both Quakers is automatically a member.