The Meeting Room

Most meeting houses in Britain tend to have the meeting room set out in pretty much the same way. It’s usually roughly square in shape, and in the centre of the room there’s usually a table with a vase of flowers, a jug of water with one or two glasses, and a few books which will probably include Quaker Faith and Practice, the Bible, Advices and Queries, and maybe whatever other book or books the congregation, or meeting (for we use the same word as a noun to describe our local church as we use as a verb to describe what we do in it) feels is helpful to have easily available for reference during worship.

Like the meeting house itself, none of these items are in any way special or symbolic. The water is there in case anybody gets a cough. The books are there in case anybody suddenly feels the need to look something up, either for spoken ministry they may be considering offering or as part of their own private thoughts. The flowers are there because people think they look nice. and the table, rather than being some kind of altar, is just a useful place to hold these items, and the centre of the room is the most convenient place for them. Indeed, some meetings, mindful of the unwanted focus the bowl of petunias can be, sometimes keep the table against a side wall rather than the middle.

In a circle (or as near to one as the room can accommodate), an oval, or a square around the centre the chairs will be laid out; in just one row for a small meeting or two, three, or more for a larger one. Some meeting houses have benches instead of chairs, and some, particularly older ones, will have a slightly raised section across one end of the room, possibly with a rail. Very big meeting houses have an upstairs gallery as well, though these are rarely used in a standard Sunday morning Meeting for Worship.

Although it can’t be denied that many Quakers do have their favourite chairs to sit in, when you go into meeting you can just about sit where you like. There are no special places reserved for people according to how important they are or signifying any kind of spiritual status, for all are spiritually and practically equal in meeting for worship. I say ‘just about’ – there will often be a seat reserved by the door for the person whose job it is this week to sit by the door to open and close it for the late enterers and early leavers, and somewhere in the innermost row the two people, usually Elders, who are on duty this week to discern the end of meeting will sit. Again this is for convenience – it makes sense for the Doorkeeper to sit by the door, and it makes sense for the elders ending meeting to sit in the middle where they can be seen – but anybody else can also sit in the inner row without causing rumbles of consternation at their precociousness.

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