By Matthew Surridge
The Montreal Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, is inviting people to learn about their philosophies and practices.
The Quakers, who meet in the Greene Centre solarium every week, will host a special discussion group after their usual Meeting for Worship this Sunday, Sept. 28.
“We’ll have our usual Meeting for Worship at 11 a.m.,” said long-time Quaker Molly Walsh. “Then at 12:30, after coffee and cake, we’ll have an information session, and members of the Quakers will be available to answer questions.”
As well as Quaker faith, Walsh expects some discussion of Quaker political causes. “They don’t endorse any politician or party,” she notes of the Society of Friends, but adds that certain causes have always been close to the Quakers’ hearts. “We have four testamonies, and one of the four is a testamony against war,” she says.
Presently, the Quakers are deeply involved in efforts to support American conscientious objectors in Canada. “There is this campaign the Quakers have been very much involved in, because the Quakers have historically been pacifists — that’s what got me involved with the Quakers, and I don’t think that can be said too often.”
Traditional Quaker worship is sometimes referred to as 'unprogrammed'. The members of the Meeting gather together to sit in ‘expectant waiting.’ During the course of this Meeting for Worship, usually roughly an hour, one or more members of the Meeting may feel inspired, called upon to speak, and stand to give what is called ‘vocal ministry.’ There is no formal priest or pastor, in keeping with the non-hierarchical attitudes of the Society of Friends.
The simplicity and lack of hierarchy of Quaker worship may be seen in Quaker practices as well. Marriage, for example, is both less complex than many contemporary marriage practices, and at the same time strongly based in the Quaker community. “People at the Meeting have to know the couple,” says Walsh. “You’d have to be an active practising Quaker to be married after the practice of Friends.”
The couple wishing to be married must apply to the Monthly Meeting, after which a ‘clearness committee’ consisting of several members of the Meeting speaks with the couple, and where appropriate their parents, to ascertain whether the marriage is appropriate. If so, then at a Meeting for Worship, the couple will exchange promises, and, at the end of the Meeting, sign a Friends Marriage Certificate.
“You don’t have bridesmaids, you don’t have ushers, it is a little bewildering for people who come,” says Walsh. “You don’t have just one witness for the groom and one for the bride, everybody present is a witness, and that’s rather unusual.”
Quaker funerals follow the same general structure. “It’s the same format,” says Walsh. “We hold a memorial meeting in the same spirit as a Meeting for Worship. The people who attend are invited to sit in silence and speak as they are led by the spirit about the life of the dearly departed.”
Despite these common practices and beliefs, Walsh notes that the lives and experience of individual Quakers very widely. She cites Dutch writer Jan de Hartog, who once said, “It’s hard to describe a Quaker; it’s better to encounter one.” “All the more reason for people to come on Sunday,” Walsh concludes.
Centre Green is located at 1090 Greene Avenue.