Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Flowers at Quaker Meetings

Although the members of the Religious Society of Friends, more usually known as Quakers, consider their form of worship to be simple a number of rituals have, inevitably, become established since  the Society’s emergence in the seventeenth century.  Most, if not all, Quaker meeting rooms in Britain and Ireland are furnished so that chairs or benches surround a central table, on which are placed a number of objects.  Usually these objects include a number of books (the bible, Advices & Queries, and Quaker Faith & Practice), a jug of water and glasses (in case anyone has a fit of coughing during a meeting for worship, not for any ritual use), and, often a vase of flowers.

It is believed that the presence of flowers on the table was a 1930s innovation, but since that time  most Meetings have developed an unwritten rule that flowers should be provided.

Pete Duckworth of Coventry Meeting, who investigated the use of flowers at Quaker meetings for worship in 2016, found that very nearly half  (49.5%) of the meetings expected to always have flowers, and a further 34.8% reported that they usually had flowers.  3.4% of meetings never had flowers on their central table.

Over 400 Friends replied to Duckworth’s request for information, of these over 70% liked having flowers.  Those ‘preferring not to have flowers or seeing a conflict with Quaker values amounted to just 5%’, and 2 respondents regarded flowers as a distraction.

Having considered the use of flowers Duckworth concluded that if he needed an object to help him ‘centre down’ he would prefer ‘to look at my fellow Worshippers rather than flowers or other items.  If we truly believe that the living God dwells within, that seems a fine place to start.’

However, it seems unlikely that many Quaker Meetings will abandon their flower rotas.

Images:  main, flowers on table at Gloucester Quaker Meeting House, 10 September 2017; inset, Westminster Quaker Meeting House, 16 January 2018.

Updated 16 January 2018.