Meeting for Worship
Quakers believe in the presence of God within each person. A Meeting for Worship is time for silent, expectant waiting upon the God within. Quaker silence is not an emptiness, but a disciplined and contemplative openness to the spirit of God. Sometimes speaking may arise out of the silence, usually coming from an individual's sense that they have been given a "message" to share with others.
Several years ago, I began to consider a photographic depiction of a Quaker Meeting spiritual community and its Quaker worship. I wanted to do portraits, and also take photographs during Meeting for Worship. First I tested out my ideas with individuals in the Meeting. Based upon their advice, I spoke with the Ministry and Counsel Committee and worked with my own "Photo Support Committee." Finally I spoke with the Meeting at large via Business Meeting. Since decisions in a Quaker community are made by consensus, all were involved. There was thoughtful and prolonged discussion about the potential to disturb the sacred space of silent worship with a camera. The community gave me permission to photograph during Meeting for Worship, but with restrictions. I could not move around from place to place during the worship, I could not photograph visitors, and I could not photograph anyone who "opted out." I could photograph in only four Meetings for Worship. It was trial and error for me. By the end of four Meetings, I barely figured out which lens, which camera, which seats provided the best angles, and which camera setting worked best in the sometimes dim, and oftentimes high contrast light. So the discussions with the Meeting community commenced again, and after a lot more discussion, photographic permission was granted for a second period of time. Many members also graciously sat for portraits over this time period. I felt fully supported by my Meeting as we undertook this project together.
Eventually, I realized words would need to accompany the photos because the fullness of the silent, sitting people is so difficult to portray visually. So I asked my subjects for "haiku-like" prose descriptions of what was important to them about Meeting for Worship. Everyone took the time to think deeply about their written statements.
As I look at this body of work, I feel moved by the thoughtful written statements and by the spiritual depth and strength of my Meeting community. I felt fully supported by my Meeting as we undertook this project together.
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