I’m more than a little nervous today. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and attending a Quakers worship meeting. These meetings are not like a conventional service. There is no liturgy, no singing, no prayers and no minister. Instead the hour is spent in silent contemplation – to meditate, listen and connect with ‘God’, whatever your beliefs may be.
Two weeks ago I attended a seminar during which Hal Taussig showed us a number of churches in the United States who were doing church differently (you can read about the seminar here). Since then I’ve been wondering what Brisbane has to offer those who are looking for something authentic, progressive, but different.
The traditional church model and liturgy is not exactly thriving in Australia. And although there are plenty of Pentecostal churches offering an array of worship styles that attract many people, they are far from progressive. I’m not going to be knocking down their doors after my once off experience at Nexus Church.
So I’m embarking on a journey to explore different ways of worshiping. Starting today with the Quakers.
Quakers in Australia
Officially known as the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers movement was started around 350 years ago in England by George Fox and Margaret Fell. They believed that each person has access to the divine (‘God’) within themselves, this is known as the priesthood of all believers in most protestant churches. They do not, however, adhere to the doctrines of traditional churches.
Quakers effectively did away with the whole structure of the conventional churches and went back to that basic belief. We all have something within us, which many call God, that we can access and share with others. – Quakers in Australia.
Quakers arrived in Australia with the convicts, but was further established when in 1832 two prominent English Quakers, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, came to Australia. They traveled Australia and eventually established a Religious Society of Friends in Tasmania.
Today there are around 2000 Quakers (or ‘friends’ as they call one another) in Australia. A small number in comparison to the big denominations, so its not surprising that they are relatively unknown.
Progressive Values and Beliefs
An hour of silent contemplation is certainly different from your standard Sunday service. However that’s not what attracted me to their meeting. A quick perusal of their website and it’s clear their values are aligned with Progressive Christianity.
- There are many paths
Although founded on Christianity, you are not required to hold any particular beliefs.
Quakers fight for equality and social justice across all platforms, including supporting asylum seekers and marriage equality.
Beyond simply objecting to war, Quakers actively seek to remove situations where violence or war may occur. This starts with a personal commitment to peaceful choices within their own lives.
Quakers aim to adhere to Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “live simply so that others might simply live”. They manage their resources thoughtfully, avoiding luxuries where possible.
Examining their own actions carefully, Quakers seek to align their values with their behaviour.
The Quaker community treats all members equally. Decisions are made only when agreement can be reached after all have contributed.
As soon as I enter the premises for the Brisbane meeting it’s clear that Quakers actively support the environment through action. The circular building is surrounded by hoop pines and various trees planted by the community. It feels like a rainforest retreat in suburban Brisbane. Read all about it here.
The Quaker Experience
Despite the close alignment of values, I’m fairly nervous attending the meeting. The meeting room adjoins a house and I’m worried I might be interrupting a private affair. However, the website assures me that visitors are welcomed and the moment I arrive my fears are alleviated as I’m warmly greeted at the door.
It’s nearly 10 am and there are a few people seated already, so I quietly take my seat. Several more arrive and sit silently over the next 10 minutes. There is no statement made to commence the session, it begins as soon as you enter.
I’ve mentally prepared myself for the silence, but it still takes effort. I concentrate on my breathing to try and focus my mind.
In, out. In, out. In, out. I wonder how I should start the article today? No, focus! In, out. In, out.
The purpose of the silence is to actively listen for spiritual connection or guidance. I contemplate Michael Morwood’s words from the seminar recently – what are our images of God today? How do I picture God’s presence in this place?
The internal monologue continues.
Is God some sort of collection of particles so to speak, bonding to the people in the room? A cloud-like presence, perhaps? I think I have always imagined God this way – a sort of haze of love, never a man in the sky. But I’m not sure that’s really right either (“right” for me anyway). Maybe God is more like a force. A force that brought us all here today. Maybe the divine is like electricity: activated by prayers, love, goodness.
Maybe there is no God. Maybe we are just people in a room, finding ways to connect with each other.
I wonder what I’m teaching at work on Monday. Year 10s are starting statistics, that should be pretty easy to plan in the morning.
Off track again.
My back starts to ache. I see people around me have brought their own cushions for the chairs. They’ve clearly been here before.
The lady behind me is wearing pleasant but very strong perfume and my throat is starting to burn. I wonder if it would be okay for me to drink from my water bottle.
I’m getting hungry. It’s 10:45 am, I haven’t had breakfast and I’m horrified when my stomach gives a loud grumble. Thankfully a woman on the other side of the room drinks from her water bottle and I feel permitted to do the same. I fill my belly with water, hoping to stave off the grumbles.
I’ve lost focus entirely so I start the breathing exercise again. In, out. In, out. In, out.
The meeting concludes when two members shake hands, then everyone shakes hands and the silence is broken. Newcomers are encouraged to introduce themselves if they want, and I do. Everyone is invited to tea and coffee in the downstairs garden room and the library is open for business.
I wander into the library to meet a few people and see the resources, which are mostly Quaker related. Although I’m welcomed back I’m never pushed to return. Liberal Quakers (such as those in Australia) are not in the business of conversion. I think it’s one of my favourite things about them so far.
Quiet in a Busy World
In a life full of material things, places to be and things to do, taking time for quiet contemplation is rare. For me it only really happens when I’m running, driving long distances or if I’ve accidentally woken up too early.
Quiet time and simplicity are not on offer in today’s world and so the Quakers have something genuinely different to offer.
If you’re looking for a little time to interrupt the chaos of life or want to connect with people in a different way then I highly recommend trying the experience. I certainly hope to return, next time with my own cushion.
More Information about Quakers
Name Quakers Worship Meeting | Denomination Non-denominational & Multifaith | Location Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, QLD | Minister No minister | Service Day & Time Sunday 10:00 am | Date 22/10/17
Quakers Australia: https://www.quakersaustralia.org.au/
Quakers Brisbane: http://www.bqmh.org.au/