Quaker Peace Garden, Bristol. Used by Permission of Bristol Friends.

What do I do in a Quaker Meeting? First, sit down. Try to relax.

Open yourself to the silence. Meditate. Center down. There are lots of ways of saying it, but what does it mean, and how do you do it? That's not an easy question to answer. It can mean different things to different people. Some people sit with eyes closed, others with eyes open. Some hold their hands open, others closed. There is lots of advice available on how to meditate, but ultimately we each find our own way.

Friends believe that there is Something, greater than any of us, that is to be found deep within each of us. You may perhaps think of this as God; Spirit; or Goodness; traditionally, we refer to it as the Light, or the Inner Light. We believe that if we do our best to listen to it, it will help us along our path through life. It seems to most of us that being with others who are also tying to follow their Inner Light makes it easier to be guided by our own. So we gather together and, in silence and stillness, try to ignore all of life's distractions and open ourselves to the Light within.

What about vocal ministry? Vocal ministry comes out of the silence. If you are not sure that you are being called to share a message, most likely you are not. Ministry is supposed to be a message from the Light within you that you are called to share with the group. Sometimes it may seem to have come to you out of nowhere, but perhaps it is something that someone else in the room needs to hear.

Sometimes we are excited by a piece of vocal ministry that we hear. It resonates with something we were thinking, and we want to add to it! Wait a respectful period after someone else's ministry before offering your own. Give everyone a period of silence in which to fully absorb what the previous person was trying to share.

Vocal ministry is not a place for debate. If something shared by someone else inspires you with a message, make sure that it really is a message you feel called to share with the group. Some things might be more appropriate for informal discussion after the Meeting ends.

Vocal ministry can take many different forms. It can be an anecdote about something that has happened to you and your reflections on it; a song; a poem; a quote; a short reading; etc. You are the minister for that moment and you have a message. Share it in the way that feels right to you. Ministry should not be prepared in advance, but should be something you are inspired to do out of the silence in the Meeting itself.

What about Children? In our worship group, children join the adults for the first 10 minutes or so of the silence, and then go downstairs for a children's program. They return to join us at about the time the Meeting ends.

How does the Meeting end? After approximately an hour, an experienced Friend will reach out and shake the hand of someone nearby. This signals the end of the Meeting, and everyone either shakes hands with their neighbours, or stands in a circle holding hands. Practices vary amongst Meetings, but many follow this with introductions and announcements. Sometimes 10 minutes or so may be allotted for "worship-sharing," a period of silence more informal than the Meeting itself, in which people may share personal joys and sorrows, or other messages that they did not feel called to share in the form of ministry.