What was really new to me was the unprogrammed portion of the meeting. Meetings may be programmed for part of the time, during which hymns are sung, there may be a message, and etc. The unprogrammed portion of the meeting is quiet, and people may stand up and say what they feel moved to say...or, there may be silence. I admit that I was really nervous before the meeting, wondering how awkward the silence would be, if I might start dozing off, and etc. During the actual meeting, however, the silence and opportunity to reflect was incredible. Being quiet, both literally and through the quieting of my mind, seems to bring clarity to my thoughts. Sure, at first it was uncomfortable sitting in a room with a lot of other people and no one was speaking, but eventually I was able to settle into a sort of meditation. Some people did eventually stand up and speak, and being able to internally react to what they said, process it, and tie it back to the programmed part of the service as well as my own personal experiences was so powerful.
At the beginning of the meeting, the person who was leading (there are no priests, really, since everyone has direct access to the divine) made it very clear that all were absolutely welcome in that space, and something in the room (the atmosphere? the vibe?) verified the genuineness and veracity of that welcoming statement. The people who attended varied in age and ethnicity, and it was one of the most comfortable settings I've been in when I've been a complete stranger. I'm sure having my friend next to me helped!
Here's a quote that I pulled from the back of the bulletin that helps further explain the silent portion of the meeting and really helped me focus my "active" silence during the unprogrammed portion:
"In silence which is active, the Inner Light begins to glow--a tiny spark. For the flame to be kindled and to grow, subtle argument and the clamor of our emotions must be stilled. It is by an attention full of love that we enable the Inner Light to blaze and illuminate our dwelling and to make of our whole being a source from which the Light may shine out." (Britain Faith & Practice, 2.12, Pierre Lacout)
And from the front of the bulletin, here's what's listed for a "What do Quakers say?" section:
There is something sacred in all people.
All people are equal before God.
Religion is about the whole of life.
We meet in stillness to discover a deeper sense of God's presence.
True religion leads to respect for the earth and all life upon it.
Each person is unique, precious, a child of God.
Amen to that.