New to Quakers?

New to Quakers? Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you are new to Quakers, you may have questions about what you’ve heard, read or observed. Answers to some of your questions may be found on the Quakers in Britain website and in our book of discipline called Quaker Faith and Practice (QFP), copies of which are available for loan from Meeting House libraries.  These central resources will give you a broader view of the Religious Society of Friends than this page can hope to convey. Visitors are always welcome at Friends House, Euston, London, where there are meeting rooms, a bookshop and cafe.

For further information, see our Resources and Links Pages.

If your questions about Quakers remain unanswered, please speak to a Friend and we will do our best to help you find an answer.

Will people try to convert me?

Absolutely not! The Quaker approach is to allow newcomers to find their own path in their own time. If you have questions then Friends will be happy to discuss them with you, but we recognise that each of us is a seeker on his or her own spiritual journey.

Do I need to dress up when I come to Meeting?

There is no need to wear something that you would not wear in your everyday life. What is important is to feel comfortable, and you will find that most are wearing casual clothes rather than “Sunday best”.

Please “come as you are” and you will be very welcome.

Is it all right to bring my children?

Children and young people are very welcome at Quaker meetings, though some meetings offer a Children’s Meeting, which might be appropriate for your children. Please see the information given for each Meeting House and on our Children’s Meeting page.

How will I know what to do?

As nothing about Meeting is pre-programmed, there is no standing up and reciting set texts, no hymns to sing or communion to take. It can take a while to get used to an hour of silence, though you might discover that the hour is not silent the whole time, and that it can go surprisingly quickly. Some newcomers to Quakers find it helpful to take a Quaker leaflet or book with them when they attend a meeting for the first time.

What is a “meeting for worship”?

The meeting for worship is the fundamental shared experience in Quaker faith and practice, but it can be hard to explain. Quaker worship is based on attentive, mindful waiting in silence. People arrive at a meeting as separate individuals with their own particular joys and anxieties, and the group begins to ‘gather’, settling into the stillness and becoming open to the leadings of the spirit.

Quaker worship is a collective experience rather than one of individually focused meditation. Meeting for Worship is very much a group activity requiring all present to be a part of and contribute to the worship. So, although you may be a newcomer to Quaker Meeting, you become as active a participant as anyone else. As we have no ministers to lead worship, we all take responsibility for the Meeting. While nothing literally is required of you, a willingness to be open to the experience is most helpful.

You may like to read “Your first time at a Quaker meeting“.

Where do Quakers hold their meetings?

Quaker worship can and does take place anywhere, be it the Meeting House, in a park, a community building, a private home, or even using the World Wide Web. This is because Quakers hold that everywhere is sacred; we do not need to have a room or building that has been declared sanctified. However, most Quaker meetings for worship take place in a room in a meeting house, which is referred to as the meeting room.

Meeting rooms can be used, just as other rooms in the Meeting House, for Quaker events including meals, discussions, workshops, etc. and can also be hired by outside groups whose activities and aims do not conflict with Quaker beliefs.

Similarly, Quakers hold that all days are sacred, none more than any other. Early Quakers did not recognise birthdays or Christmas. We meet on Sundays because it is convenient to do so; in some places, meetings for worship take place on other days and at different times.

What is the significance of the central table, flowers and books?

A central table provides a focal point for the meeting room, since the seating is generally arranged in a circle or square, which in itself reflects the equality of all present. However, a table is not essential, nor are the items that are commonly placed on it, such as flowers and a few books. These books generally include copies of Quaker Faith and Practice, Advices & Queries (which is also Chapter 1 of QFP), the Bible and a Children’s Bible.

Flowers are provided by local Friends, often as a gift from their gardens. There is no special significance to the flowers and it is quite likely that early Friends would have had a bare table, since the other items would have been regarded as potentially distracting. On the other hand, the flowers may help to support us as we let go of the thoughts crowding our minds and begin to open ourselves to the silence.

Quaker Faith and Practice shares the collected spiritual wisdom and experience of over 350 years of Quakers, and is a source of inspiration and guidance. You may see someone pick up a copy of QFP or the Bible; they may read it to themselves and silently reflect upon it, or they may read an extract aloud in spontaneous vocal ministry to the meeting. An extract from Advices & Queries is also read aloud on a regular basis, sometimes once a month, sometimes more often, as decided by the Friends of that Meeting.

How will I know when the Meeting is over?

When Friends shake hands at the end of the meeting, it signifies the end of the meeting and is a gesture of friendship. Sometimes there are two Elders appointed to support the meeting for worship each Sunday, and when they shake hands at the end of meeting, others follow suit. If there are no Elders present, other Friends perform this role.

Do Quakers have symbols?

Nothing we use, have or display has any symbolic meaning. Each meeting house may have certain customs which have grown up over the years, probably without Friends even realising it! Any problem or requested change would be discussed at a local business meeting. Our aim is simplicity.

Donations and contributions?

Every Sunday, after Meeting for Worship, everyone is invited to make a donation to charitable work, Quaker or otherwise. A collection plate is left near the door; it is not passed around; we each donate as and when we can and wish to do so. Local meetings decide which charities and appeals to support in this way. At Colchester, for instance, there is a Social Witness Funding group which agrees an annual list of charities. On the allocated Sunday, a Friend is then asked to describe the work of the charity and how our donations might help. We hear a report annually from the treasurer as to what has been collected for whom. A global emergency may also generate a local collection.

Each spring, members and regular attenders (as listed in the book of members) are sent a request for contributions, in which they are invited to declare what they wish to give to the work of the Local Meeting, the Area Meeting and Britain Yearly Meeting (administered from Friends’ House in London). Payment can be made in a variety of ways, monthly or yearly. For more information, see Quaker Contributions. Any contribution made, however large or small, is appreciated.

Coffee and tea?

Please join us for a cup of tea or coffee after Meeting. We would very much like to get to know you and answer any questions you may have. At a fairly large Meeting, we may not realise if you are new or if you have been before, since people do not always come regularly. Sometimes we have visitors from Meetings in other parts of the country or from other countries. At the end of a Meeting for Worship, Elders may ask if there are newcomers or visitors, as this helps us to meet you and is also a chance to receive greetings from another part of the world.