The Quakers

By Hugh Barbour; J. William Frost | Go to book overview

4
QUAKER WORSHIP AND ETHICS AND THEIR TRANSFORMATION, 1652-1662

The distinctive form of Quaker Worship is for a group to sit in an unadorned room in silence of mind and body "waiting upon God" until one or more members feel led by the Spirit to speak or pray. This Quaker way only gradually became distinct from those of Seekers and other separatists who met informally in homes with much silence and lay leadership. Early Quaker prophetic messages of judgment and confrontation were often given in a marketplace or during a puritan church service. For longer presentations, crowds of noisy but interested hearers were gathered on a moor or daily in a rented hall in an "appointed" or "threshing" meeting. Hearers who were "convinced" by these forms of mission were taken into smaller gatherings in private homes, where they shared their struggles of self-judgment under the Light with other seekers in daily or weekly "gathered meetings" with prayer and messages of guidance as well as silence and tears: "Upon a time [wrote Stephen Crisp] being weary of my own Thoughts in the Meeting of God's People, I thought none was like me, and it was but in vain to sit there with wandring mind. . . . I thought to go forth; and as I was going, the Lord Thundred through me, saying 'that which is weary must die.' So I turned to my seat and waited." 1 George Fox's "Epistles," clearly shaped by Paul's, were meant for such times: "Stand still in the Light, and submit to it, and the temptations and troubles will be hushed and gone: and then content comes from the Lord, and help contrary to your expectation. Then ye grow up in peace." 2 Ecstatic letters of affection between partners in Quaker mission journeys remain as signs of the love released by common struggle.

Ministry to those already gathered must not interrupt the Spirit:

Friends [wrote Fox], take heed of destroying that which ye have begotten. . . . Meetings you come into, when they are set silent, . . . are many times in their own. . . . It is amighty thing to be in the work of the ministry of the Lord . . . for it is not as acustomary preaching, but to bring people to the end of all preaching; for [after] your once speaking to people,

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