Or, at least, we shouldn’t. There are a lot of Quakers for whom the quality of their worship is measured by the quality of the silence therein, to the point that “disruptions”—whether they come from children, latecomers, folks who are not neurotypical, or folks who don’t comport themselves in the manner of the white middle class—are regarded as annoyances.
This is not just a mistake. It perverts the very purpose of Quaker worship. It turns unprogrammed worship into an idol, much in the same way that the churches in the 17th century were accused by the first Quakers of treating their liturgies and scriptures. The goal of all worship, Quaker worship included, is to bring those assembled into a greater apprehension of, and reverence for, the Divine. The moment you elevate the mechanics of worship (be it music, readings, or silence) over the needs of the worshippers to feel welcome in your assembly—and thus be in a position to worship at all—you’ve done something wrong.
I try not to thump Barclay’s Apology too much, but it’s worth your time to read some of what he has to say on the use of silence in worship (emphasis added):
Many are the blessed experiences which I could relate of this silence and manner of worship, yet I do not so much commend and speak of silence as if we had a law in it to shut out praying or preaching, or tied ourselves thereunto; not at all: for as our worship consisteth not in words, so neither in silence, as silence; but in an holy dependence of the mind upon God, from which dependence silence necessarily follows in the first place, until words can be brought forth which are from God’s Spirit; and God is not wanting to move in his children to bring forth words of exhortation or prayer when it is needful, so that of the many gatherings and meetings of such as are convinced of the truth there is scarce any in whom God raiseth not up some or other to minister to his brethren, that there are few meetings that are altogether silent.
In other words, the silence is not the point. The silence is only that we might center ourselves and become better able to listen to what God is saying to us in that moment; and if so moved, to relate that message in prayer or preaching. Meetings for worship that are entirely silent week after week are not rightly ordered: either Friends are resisting the leadings they are being given, or they are too intimidated by the norms of their meeting to do anything to break the silence.
Similarly, an insistence on perfect silence in worship, as mentioned above, excludes those who can’t perform silence in the way that white middle-class Quakers tend to perform it. That undermines the egalitarianism that has been the hallmark of the Quaker faith from the beginning.
Lastly, if we say that silence is the standard by which Quaker worship is judged, what does that say to Friends who practice programmed or semi-programmed worship (and who greatly outnumber unprogrammed Friends)? Are we so parochial that we can’t recognize the workings of God in the playing of instruments or the reading of a prepared sermon? One reason I don’t thump Barclay’s Apology that often is that, in trying to avoid the excesses of the established churches of his day, Barclay and the first Quakers swung too far in the other direction and denied the possibility that more traditional forms of worship could be as Spirit-filled as their own. That sectarianism persists to this day, unfortunately, even among otherwise open-minded Quakers.