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19 December 2006updated 27 Sep 2015 2:33am

Quakers, Christmas and worship

How simplicity is at the heart of the way Quakers 'worship'

By Sally Brooks

Christmas is an interesting time among Quakers. Way back in the mists of time when Quakers were new, or at least newer than they are now, Quakers didn’t celebrate Christmas.

We are not so conservative now, although there is a discussion every year on what the annual service to mark the festivities should be called. It is the only programmed religious service we have during the year. It is the only one with any formalised organisation and hymns in the form of carols. Some Quakers find even this a little oppressive.

You see, we are non-conformists of the highest order. On a Sunday morning a group of Quakers will gather at a Meeting House for what is called a Meeting for Worship. They will sit in a circle on simple benches and chairs, in a plain room. They will sit for a time in silence.

Sometimes the silence will last the whole meeting, which is usually about an hour long. There is stillness, quiet and inward prayer. It is not meditation though, not in the traditional sense. We are together, focusing our attentions on God. There is no preacher or vicar or priest.

There are words spoken in Meeting for Worship though. If anyone in the room – whether he or she be an old hand or visiting for the very first time – if anyone feels they have been moved to speak by God, then they can stand and speak to the surrounding Friends.

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A Friend, with a capital ‘F’ is another name for a Quaker. Friends are not expected to agree with everything that is said, but are invited to listen without criticism or prejudice and consider the words. Sometimes there are no words, and the silence, in its perfect simplicity, brings its own message.

Simplicity is at the heart of Quaker life. A friend who has been a Quaker for many of her 70-plus years sent me a card a few years ago with the following words printed on it: “Live simply, that others may simply live.”

I think about that phrase often. To me, it is about seeing beyond the layers of complications of everyday life through to the people around us. We are divided by so many things – culture, money, power… The list goes on. It is hard to see beyond those things. But when you do look beyond the differences we are all human beings with the same basic needs and this is what Quakers are all about. And this is the heart of simplicity.

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
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