I attended a memorial “service” for my dear old Godmother, Betty, last Saturday in a Quaker, Friends Meeting. They referred to the event as a Meeting and not a service. Here are some of my observations concerning my first Meeting. This comes from my history as a life-long Episcopalian.
It was my first experience at a Quaker gathering. I have always wondered and been curious about attending one of their services, eh, Meetings.
The Meeting room was large, rectangular, with one wall of large windows looking out on trees and all sorts of vegetation. Beautiful nature! The remaining three walls were covered with large panels of soft textured material and the floor was deeply carpeted. Well-padded chairs were set in rows looking toward the center where there was neither altar nor table. There were six sections of chairs of about eight rows deep. My estimate is that the room was about 80% full and was attended by close to one hundred people.
We had been informed before hand, and at the beginning of the Meeting, that we would begin with the usual 15-minutes of silence. Then, as it fit each individual, there would be time to stand and speak what you wanted to say, then sit down. That would be followed by a time of reflection until another person stood to speak. We were encouraged to project our voices when we spoke because the room was designed for quiet and absorbed sound.
The 15-minutes passed quickly for me. Sitting in silence with nearly one hundred other people, nearly all of whom were strangers to me, was not uncomfortable. It was actually, very comforting, quieting, and reflective. I felt a sense of deep peace in that room with those present.
Then the speakers began. Individuals related Betty stories for about an hour. Each one spoke about Betty and about an event that they had shared in her life. No one asked questions. Each person was free to say whatever was on her/his mind. The only reference from one speaker to another that I noticed was a gentleman who stood and began speaking after several others had spoken. “I have been quite humbled by what I have heard. Betty and I have worked together on social justice issues for a few years. I thought that I had a very special relationship to Betty. Now I see that Betty gave that same special relationship to everyone she knew...”
My heart felt full as I went home after the Meeting. There was also a feeling of deep gratitude for Betty’s life and her influence on so many people. I think that my feeling of deep peace was due to the silence and mutual respect from all who attended the Meeting. It was not “church” to me, but I could very easily return to participate in another Meeting.