The meeting for worship is the cornerstone of Quakerism. In a meeting for worship two or more people gather together to wait in stillness. It is our experience that in the collective stillness we can each experience ultimate truth, a deep religious experience, the leadings of the Spirit (different Quakers might use different words). The meeting has no leader or minister and the responsibility for the meetings is shared. A few Quakers serve as elders and have a particular responsibility for the ensuring that the meeting is properly held and the meeting closes usually after about an hour when two of the elders shake hands. Quite often this is followed by everyone shaking hands with their neighbours.
During the meeting, anyone present may feel led to speak, sharing something of their experience. This is known as spoken ministry. Spoken ministry arises out of the experience of the shared stillness but may be a reflection on some recent events in the person's life, may be a quotation or reading from the Bible or other religious or other writings, may be words of prayer. People normally stand to minister. Some people, though not all, experience a physical churning or quaking (hence the name Quakers) which simply forces them to get to their feet and speak. Ministry planned in advance is discouraged: ministry should come from one’s experience of the Spirit in the meeting on that day but can draw on life experiences. The first quarter of an hour or so of the meeting are usually quiet as the meeting settles and the participants still themselves (Quakers talk about 'centering down'). The meeting may be silent for the full hour but usually there is some spoken ministry. After the first person has spoken others may speak later on following the same theme or maybe something quite different. People do not speak more than once and after someone has spoken the meeting is allowed to settle again before there is further spoken ministry. The series of spoken contributions should not develop into a discussion. Spoken ministry is usually valued by all those present and helps to deepen the stillness. However, if we find some ministry difficult then we are advised to recognise that even if it does not speak to us it may speak to others in the meeting. Each meeting for worship is unique. The experience may be uplifting but may also be disturbing, having revealed to everyone, or possibly only to one or two individuals, certain uncomfortable truths. But when a meeting is at is best all those present know a deep communal stillness, a sense of togetherness with one another and with that something outside ourselves which many call God. We call such a meeting a 'gathered meeting'.
A meeting for worship can be held, whether arranged in advance or spontaneously, at any time of day and in any place. However, as a matter of convenience, local meetings generally hold a regular meetings for worship on Sunday mornings in established meeting houses or in a hired room. As soon as the first person goes into the meeting room the worship starts.
While the regular weekly meeting for worship lies at the heart of Quaker life, meetings will often be held at other times, maybe arranged in advance but often simply in response to some situation. OurWeddings and funerals are meetings for worship and our business meetings are also a special sort of meeting for worship in which the spoken ministry is directed towards some matter under consideration. Many other activities usually start and end with a short period of silent worship, which sets the tone and helps us all to get back in touch with our true selves, with the Spirit, and with the deeper realities. Quakers usually have a brief silence before a meal.