Quakers as a group don't hold a single position on the nature of the soul or what happens after death, and their funerals usually don't dwell on these issues. They believe it more important to focus on life in the present moment. The purpose of a funeral, then, is to express thanks for the grace seen in the life of the deceased, and to assist mourners in experiencing a deeper awareness of God's presence.
Quakers refer to their congregations as "meetings," and their worship services are called "meetings for worship." The purpose of all meetings for worship – including weddings and funerals – is to seek a greater awareness of God's presence. Following that theme, a Quaker funeral might be called a "meeting for worship on the occasion of the death of our Friend John Doe." Most Quakers don't practice sacraments, as they regard every moment as sacred. They believe it's possible to experience God's presence on any occasion -- perhaps even more so during times of grief.
Quakers believe that God speaks through the participants in a meeting for worship, including those held for a funeral. The format of a funeral resembles a meeting for worship, which may be silent or programmed, depending on the hosts. As the name suggests, silent meetings take place in silence, without sermons or spoken rituals, broken only if someone feels led by the Spirit to speak. Programmed meetings may include music, singing or readings in addition to periods of quiet.
Prepared eulogies and polished speaking skills are not necessary at a Quaker funeral -- it's more important to follow the "leading of the Spirit" in choosing whether to speak and what to say. Participants are often led to share memories about the deceased, or to read relevant passages, although it is possible for a meeting to end with no one having spoken. Author Douglas Steere, in "Quaker Meeting for Worship," offers two suggestions to those attending a meeting: "Come with heart and mind prepared" and "bring neither a determination to speak nor a determination to remain silent."
Non-Quakers are welcome at meetings, including those held as funeral services. Be aware that the meeting begins when the first worshiper arrives, possibly without any introduction, and Tends when two previously designated Friends, as Quakers are known, shake hands with each other. The other participants then shake hands with those nearest them.
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