“Quakers believe in silence and simplicity. At worship, we gather in silent expectation, listening for the Divine Spirit, which we believe is accessible to every attentive mind.”
February 10, 2019, 10 AM
The website is bare-bones, just mentioning their location and “silent worship” at 10 AM. Nothing for visitors, nothing about their beliefs, and very little about their history. It only says they are a historic Quaker meetinghouse, built in 1711, expanded in 1791 and 1891. The pictures show the building and grounds, which includes an old cemetery. I get the feeling this church is all about the setting, probably with only a few ancient and honorable caretakers. I’m also wondering how I can sit through an entire hour of nothing but silence. I’m going to try very hard not to look at my phone. But this will test the limits of my patience.
Wow. Well, that was interesting to say the least. I showed up at 955 AM to the little church on a hill. There was no formal parking, just a drive that looped around the front of the church. I entered the small room which was warmed by a gas fire in the faux wood stove. A sign-in book and pamphlets called “Silent Witness” were stationed on a table by the door next to the offering jar, which looked to be almost full.
I was the only soul there.
I debated leaving and trying to catch another church service somewhere else. But then I decided that whatever happened, I was there to find out. So I sat down in one of eight pews arranged in a square. I figured I would start practicing my silent worship technique.
About ten minutes later, a man entered and said hello. He checked the fire and then went over to the piano against the wall in the corner. He played beautiful, soft music for about fifteen more minutes. In that time, two women entered and puttered around making coffee in one of those old percolating coffee makers. They chatted quietly to each other. One of them introduced herself and asked me my name. They finally settled into one of the pews and stopped talking. But with the piano music still going and the coffee percolating, I wondered how silent this worship would be.
I found out when the piano man stopped playing and sat down in a pew. Another two men entered at some point and also sat in the pews. The coffee had silenced and there the six of us sat, for probably another forty-five minutes, in complete silence.
The good news is: I had no desire to pull out my phone. I actually prayed for about fifteen to twenty minutes. All of these times are estimates because I didn’t wear a watch and the room did not have a clock. But after finishing my prayer list, to include world peace, I found it difficult to concentrate. The dialogue with God went something like this:
Thank you for all the blessings..oh, don’t forget to get milk. Dang, I’m supposed to be praying. Okay, God, as I was saying, you’ve been so good to me…remember to call mom today. Oh geez, there I go again. Okay, third time’s a charm: Dear Lord, please help…I never did get that Amazon order, I need to check on that today. Oops, blew it again…
After battling with myself for a while, everyone stood up and started shaking hands. The pamphlet explained that was how they signaled the end of the worship. They chatted with me briefly, asking me what brought me there today. I said I was just visiting. They asked if I belonged to another meeting, I said no, I’ve never been to a Quaker service before. I asked how they taught the faith or how it would be passed on if there’s no teaching, preaching or other forms of instruction. They said that is not their strong suit but also that any faith can come and worship with them. They do not have creeds or any dogma, just silent communication with God in whatever way one chooses. Sometimes, they said, you can feel something spiritual and sometimes not. They said that this building has had worshippers coming every Sunday for over three hundred years. One woman mentioned that some people feel the presence of others in this building. I did not doubt her.
They invited me to stay for coffee and Tasty Kakes, but I declined. I got the feeling that the coffee time is very important to their Sunday ritual. But I didn’t want to get too familiar with them as I knew I would be moving on to another church next Sunday.
I’m inclined to try this silent worship again. In a world of constant noise and never ending distractions, it was a refreshing opportunity to work–and it is work–on quieting the heart and mind. It obviously takes practice, but also seems to be a valuable exercise.
It’s a no brainer that these five souls PASSED the WELCOME TEST.