The student news site of Wilmington Friends School

The Whittier Miscellany

The student news site of Wilmington Friends School

The Whittier Miscellany

The student news site of Wilmington Friends School

The Whittier Miscellany

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Meeting for Worship Shouldn’t be Mandatory: A Quaker’s Perspective

Meeting+for+Worship+Shouldnt+be+Mandatory%3A+A+Quakers+Perspective

The first draft of this column that I wrote for this issue was a critique and complaint about the unacceptable behavior that occurs during meetings for worship. Coughing, talking, purposefully sleeping, cracking knuckles, and laughing at people standing up to speak, were all things I complained about at length. I wrote: “This is a sacred space, just like any other religion; the meeting room and the events that take place in it should be treated with respect and maturity because it takes away from the experience for those trying to settle into a meaningful worship experience.” A scathing column written by a senior Quaker about inappropriate behavior during a meeting for worship may be entertaining, but will never actually do anything to solve the problem. I do still feel as though I am valid in my complaints, but I realized that just yapping about it was never going to change anything so I modified my approach to try to solve the problem. 

I discovered the solution to this problem of low-quality meetings while looking through the archives of old Whittier articles. While scanning the old issues for something interesting that I could use in my column I struck gold when I found an article written in 1985 by student Nick Patnaik who interviewed Richard Bernard, the coordinator of religious studies at WFS at the time, about why students are required to go to meeting. Bernard was quoted saying, “Requiring meeting is not compatible with Quaker philosophy.” An often unspoken but significant principle in worship gatherings is that everyone in attendance is not there under duress. I mean duh, right. If one is supposed to be listening for that of God inside of them it’s impossible to even get to that step if they don’t even want to sit there at all. 

Imagine you’re sitting at a meeting outside of school, like Centre Friends or Wilmington Meeting, and you see someone sitting there who doesn’t want to be there. First, that would seem odd to you, but it would also likely bring down the quality of the meeting if they’re not being respectful. Worship for Quakers is both personal and community-based, even if it is unprogrammed. 

The best meetings for worship that I have ever attended were all when everyone in attendance was truly connected. This connection and exalted level of worship can only be achieved if everyone in the meeting is into it. This led me to a simple solution: only those who wish to create a meaningful meeting space should attend meeting for worship. 

Now I feel like I have to add to this statement because it is obvious that as a Quaker school, it is important to expose students to meeting for worship so that they know what it is and what it feels like and, the only way to do that is to require students to attend. I know that change is difficult to create especially when it comes to worship and ministry at any friends school. My idea is that we try it, just once; offer the time and the space for a silent meeting and strongly encourage students to attend, but make it known that if they don’t wish to attend they can stay in the library. 

This solves the problem of forcing people to attend a Quaker worship if they do not want to and also solves the problem of the distracting behavior among the student body during meetings now. It can be assumed that this new meeting would be much smaller than the one we’re used to, but the quality would be so much better. I think this would be really interesting to try and I think it would be much more in line with Quaker principles. 

 

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About the Contributor
Katie Bryan, Staff Writer
Katie Bryan is a community writer for the Whittier Miscellany. This is her fourth year as a part of the Whittier team. She decided to join the Whittier because of encouragement from her eighth-grade English teacher. She likes to stay on a local scale when writing, and she enjoys focusing on the Wilmington Friends community. She finds that she learns significantly more from interviewing than she does writing.   

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