Imagine the Dalai Lama comes to your part of the world and decides to visit your Meeting for Worship. This may be his first visit to an unprogrammed Friend’s meeting. After worship, during fellowship, he approaches you.
The Dali Lama asks: “Tell me about Quakers. What makes you unique?”
You respond: “We believe there is that of God in everyone.”
Dali Lama: “Many religions believe that; tell me more.”
You: “We believe that God speaks to us directly.”
Still curious, the Dalai Lama asks: “How do you know when God is speaking to you?”
You respond: “We wait in silence to experience God. If we feel that we can not not speak, we give vocal ministry.”
The tenets of many faiths include ideas that the Spirit is present within us all and that one can directly sense the Spirit. Feeling unsatisfied and baffled about the uniqueness of Quakers, the Dalai Lama decides to leave your meeting early and go on to his next visit.
Quakers are often asked what happens during Meeting for Worship. The concept of Quaker ministry is simple yet it can be elusive. Ministry is everywhere within Quaker life. It is our backbone; it is our soul. Books have been written on Quaker worship. Advanced degrees have been given in Quaker ministry. Yet attention to it varies greatly among Quakers. The book, Faith and Practice, of my yearly meeting, North Pacific Yearly Meeting, addresses ministry only as a tangent to Meeting for Worship. The word is not mentioned in its glossary or index. (In contrast, the Faith and Practice of Pacific Yearly Meeting addresses ministry on fifteen pages, and the word can be found in its glossary and index.)
Some would argue that one cannot be a Quaker without being a minister; it is essential to our identity. Our practice of expectant worship can prompt us to be vocal ministers. Whether we speak or not, Quaker ministry is not a solo act. It is not meditation. Sitting quietly and separating ourselves from worldly distractions is not ministry in itself. Ministry is not a one-way street; it is not a two-way street. We must include the Spirit. It becomes a three-way street.
Whether inside or outside of Meeting for Worship, by engaging in ministry, we take on the role of being emissaries for the Spirit. We open doors, we welcome, and we wait.
We do not presume that opening doors will ensure that the Spirit will enter. We do not pretend to know with certainty that our words or actions are indeed ministry. Our ministry outside of Meeting for Worship may be met with blank faces and deaf ears. Meeting for Worship may be “gathered” for everyone but us.
The responsibility for Quaker ministry is ours. One can interpret a sense of ecstasy as the presence of God – and sometimes it is. But our bodies and minds can play tricks on us. Vocal ministry is much more than speaking when we “could not not say it.”
In step with the urgency to speak during Meeting for Worship is the query: “Is what I am about to say intended to draw the Spirit closer to those present?” We need to be convinced that this is true. This is our responsibility as ministers. God cannot do this for us.
Again, imagine. The Dalai Lama comes to visit your Meeting for Worship. Imagine being a minister with the Dalai Lama. Imagine the honor that you would feel Imagine if the Dalai Lama stayed. ~~~
From teaching photography in Bennington, Vermont, to working as an offset printer and as a designer of record jackets while at the University of California at Berkeley, to publishing the monthly periodical, The Lithiagraph in Ashland, Oregon, Collin Boyd has occupied much of his life working with printed media. A Friend for twenty-four years, he has worshiped with Quakers in Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland, Kenya and Rwanda. He is member of South Mountain Friends Meeting in Ashland, OR (NPYM).