Four Doors to Meeting for Worship

PHP 306
Pendle Hill


"Some people `find it' almost instantly when they attend their first Friends meeting for worship; as they settle into the silence they feel themselves gathered into a living Presence and they know they have come home at last. Other s may experience their first Quaker worship as difficult and strange, but something keeps drawing them back until they gradually grow into a richer and richer experience of worship." -from the introduction. William Taber offers four doors, or ways to the living Presence in worship.


First Door: The Door Before

The Door Before refers to those times when we find ourselves in a worshipful state at any time

during the week, day or night. Daily “retirement” (a time, even brief, of reading the Bible or

other inspirational readings, or engaging in a spiritual practice) is frequently recommended by

those who regularly experience the Living Presence. Going through the Door Before many times

a week allows Friends to take their seats on Sunday already prepared for entering the familiar

and living Stream. Beginning and persisting in a spiritual discipline is an important step toward

personal spiritual growth and a solid and meaningful meeting for worship. Even when just a few

Friends regularly go through the Door Before, the entire meeting settles more easily into the

deep and living quiet which Quakers call a “gathered meeting.”


The Second Door: The Door Inward

The most “gathered” meetings for worship actually begin when a few Friends focus on the

meeting-to-come, long before the official starting time. Perhaps they have lifted up their

meeting in prayer during the previous week. Perhaps they simply pause for a few moments the

night before, or when they wake on Sunday morning, to visualize being in the meeting-to-come,

remembering that “the Living


The Third Door: The Door Within

The Door Within describes the experience of a “gathered” or “covered” meeting. This experience

of being united with a group which is “waiting on the Lord” can be described in many ways. For

some it feels like having been lifted or expanded into and inward. It may feel as if we have

stepped effortlessly into a renewing stream which reaches back and forward across time. The

sharp boundaries of the self can become blurred and blended as we feel ourselves more and

more united with fellow worshipers and with the Spirit of God. The Door Within, also known as

“the Inward Work of Christ,” brings a person into a transformed life of both faithful attention to

the divine presence and faithful obedience to the divine will. During this time we may

experience amazing grace and new perceptions, including becoming aware of something about

ourselves which troubles or pains us. The Door Within shows us that the Light which shows us

our confusion and brokenness is the same Light which sets us free of it. The Door Within may

bring a strong sense of inward healing, accompanied by joy, peace, praise, and an experience of

timelessness. We may notice profound but subtle changes in the way we relate to ourselves,

other people, animals, and all created things.

Someone may feel an inward motion of the Spirit to rise and speak a few words or offer a prayer

– to offer vocal ministry. When we are open to the mystery of the gathered meeting, we absorb

the words rather than merely hearing and reacting to them, even when the message is difficult to

hear, or even when it is long and tedious. Silent ministry, the inconspicuous, invisible ministry

of people who may never speak in meeting, is often more important than the spoken ministry,

because it helps the meeting reach that state of consciousness in which minds and hearts and

wills are opened and united, making possible the work of God among us. The ultimate test of our

response to the Inward Work of Christ lies not in the way we feel during the meeting for

worship, but in the way we relate afterward to our fellow humans and to all of God’s Creation.


The Fourth Door: The Door Beyond

As we approach the end of the meeting, we know that there are consequences from our having

been here. We may discover increased flexibility in response to the world beyond the

meetinghouse. Perhaps the “normal” world will seem more beautiful, and more full of

possibilities. We may have a clearer, keener focus, and a more accurate way of seeing what is

really there. We may experience a heightened sensitivity to the injustice, violence, and pain in

the world. We realize that the same Power which allows us to suffer increased sensitivity to

social evil also empowers us to reach out more creatively to help heal it. Those moments at the

rise of meeting when Friends shake hands have enormous potential for transforming the grace

of a gathered meeting into the grace of a transformed life. It may be helpful to take a “token”

from the silence into life in the world by asking ourselves, “What new insight has this time with

God given me to take into  my daily life?” As we return to normal consciousness, we know we will

never be the same again. Each handshake is a promise of our new or renewed openness to God

and of our commitment to go forth into the world with new eys and a greater faithfulness in all

that we do