Strengthening Vocal Ministry in Meeting for Worship

Notes:

Strengthening Vocal Ministry for Meeting for Worship

Western Friend Connect – Workshop Meeting Room – 2/10/2016

 

Participants:

  • Doug Smith – Reno Meeting (Reno, NV)
  • Elizabeth Freyman – Albuquerque Meeting (Albuquerque, NM)
  • Hilary Burwell – Sacramento Meeting (Sacramento, CA)
  • Jane O’Shields-Hayner – Inland Valley Meeting (Riverside, CA)
  • Jay Thatcher – Corvallis Meeting (Corvallis, OR)
  • Jean Lester – Orange Grove Meeting (Pasadena, CA)
  • Judith Streit – Mountain View Meeting (Denver, CO)
  • Karen Steen – Bellingham Meeting (Bellingham, WA)
  • Mary Klein – Palo Alto Meeting (Palo Alto, CA)
  • Rachel Findley – Strawberry Creek Meeting (Berkeley)
  • Sharon Gates – Orange Grove Meeting (Pasadena)
  • Starshine – Montana Gathering of Friends (Great Falls)
  • Wyn Lewis – Santa Fe Meeting (Santa Fe, NM)

 

How do we keep ourselves aware that “ . . . silence is not just the space between messages, but a deep and living communion with the ‘Spirit that gives life’”? (Baltimore Yearly Meeting, 2007)

  • We can remember that “waiting upon” has various different meanings; one is to “wait on” as waiters do at restaurant; this is surprising, which could help us raise our awareness of our intent
  • We can try to understand that the sense of deepness, the depth of the silence, is experienced differently by different people, some people feel a meeting as having been quite deeply gathered while others do not sense this; it is helpful if some members of the Worship and Ministry Committee can enter the room 15-20 minutes early, to establish a space filled with a living stream, for people to enter into.
  • Silence is actually the aspect of our worship that a lot of people take to quickly; after experiencing faith traditions that are less quiet, people get the significance of the silent part of worship; they feel the connection through this opportunity to hear the  “still, small voice;” an opportunity that they find in few other places
  • I find it hard personally to get to the depth I seek; it takes me a long time to get to the depth of quiet that allows for spiritual connection. The more we can support people in coming to meeting prepared for worship, that will help deepen the silence. Coming prepared for worship is not well understood; for me, it means not rushing around to get everything done before Meeting for Worship; it means taking time, even as much as an hour, to take care of my busyness and concerns, to do some reading of something meaningful for spiritual deepening. To drive to meeting with that reading in mind, or singing a hymn, it helps me center.
  • By open myself to God during the week, that means a daily time of reading and prayer.  Others will call those activities by other names.
  • It’s important to feel and know that our form of worship is not just settling down and being quite for an hour; it's about listening more than being quiet; it’s an act of engaged listening for the “still, small voice.”
  • Our meeting used to make a practice of encouraging people to come to meeting prepared; we used to ask people be quiet in meetinghouse for ten minutes before the start of worship. We no longer do that; often we hear fairly loud conversations in the meetinghouse before worship; the time of our adult education smacks up right against the start of worship. I miss the time when whole meetinghouse was settling down before worship, we would quiet the self before worship, and quiet the whole meeting before worship, intentionally.
  • My question is: How do your meetings address quiet activities that are happening in the midst of worship, during Meeting for Worship – people reading, writing, knitting, entering meeting late, young children in meeting? For me as a relative newcomer to the local meeting, these activities are inconsistent with silent worship. I will appreciate hearing your thoughts and experiences.
  • These activities work OK for some Friends, and they work for me. Worship is not the same as silence; waiting on God is not only for silent times, not only when being classically worshipful.
  • Sometimes during worship, I don't notice what others are doing; but sometimes watching others fidget, write, read, play with phones – it makes me feel like the person is not really joining in the group activity of the silence; it feels distancing. Although, actually, it is rare for people to do those things. We try to make sure newcomers understand that being attentive with each other requires openness to what's going on among us, that such awareness can be diluted by outer-world activities. Women in my meeting knit during Meeting for Business or during committee meetings, but not during Meeting for Worship.
  • Years ago, it bugged me when "disruptive" things happened during worship, like kids coming in early; over the years, I have gotten to point that I am viewing everything that happens as being part of the worship.
  • Silence is more preparatory in my mind, not an end in and of itself; it is preparatory to ministry. I find this hard, because I love the silence.
  • We have a seeing-eye dog that attends our meeting and she snores; this used to annoy me; now the sound of the dog brings me back; rhythmic; it no longer seems distracting; the same with people who snore from time to time.
  • Another question: How are we encouraging Friends to open themselves during the week? How do we encourage them to share spiritual insights with each other? How do we create situations that don’t have the “high bar” of Meeting for Worship? Activities like worship sharing, after-thoughts, twilight meeting, etc.?
  • What is “twilight meeting”?
  • Twilight meeting is the time after handshakes and hugs when Friends are invited to share joys, concerns or other reflections that didn't get said out of silence.  Some meetings call these afterthoughts.
  • We have spiritual sharing groups that meet in people's homes for six months or more; these are helpful to let people get to know what's going on with us individually and together as a meeting.
  • Worship-sharing groups and sessions have helped to develop my voice in meeting . . . and my gifts of listening in the Spirit.

 

How and when ought we ask certain Friends to use more restraint in sharing vocal ministry?

  • Our meeting has a real problem with this; people speak too often, too long. Some ignore the eldering we try to provide, others some feel crushed by it. We feel in a quandary over whether to ever elder or not.
  • One thing that is helpful, in addressing some people's discomfort with others' ministry, is to see "eldering" as not just “shaking a finger,” but as helping people develop their gifts of listening to Spirit and of speaking from the depth of the center of Meeting for Worship. From this perspective, we might begin to notice that someone who speaks too long or too often . . . they often have a "golden nugget" in their message. They need to learn to wait to discern what that nugget is before they start speaking, instead of speaking as a way of finding it. We also need to help Friends listen to difficult messages. People in my meeting will sometimes "stand down" another Friend's ministry, they’ll stand while the person is speaking as a signal for the speaker to stop. Worship and Ministry as a committee has the responsibility to work with people with unusual ministry, it is not the job of other individuals to do "freelance eldering." It is a good practice to learn to be centered despite uncomfortable ministry being shared.
  • Worship and Ministry Committee might also actively look for Friends who are reluctant to speak during Meeting for Worship, but who clearly know how to speak truth at other times. We can meet with such individuals informally to help them develop their voice within the meeting and during Worship. We can ask them to consider how a person decides to come to their feet and speak. As in the realm of politics, when someone is speaking lies, it's not my role to silence the lies, but to encourage truth. Similarly, with unsettling ministry - yes, counseling Friends with unsettling ministry is good; and it’s also good to encourage new ministry from others.
  • It seems like we spend more time helping people to learn what NOT to share than encouraging people to learn what TO share! What a lovely idea! I see the spiritual sharing groups in my meeting as a way for people to develop their voices.
  • A person with clear mental illness in my meeting was sharing messages with much distress, repeatedly, and we felt we should address this. We found we could sit with him and have breakfast with him before Meeting, and one of us would sit next to him during meeting; it helped him to feel accompanied.
  • What are some techniques that meetings use to handle it when someone repeatedly ministers inappropriately – goes on and on, makes plugs for candidates – our Worship and Ministry Committee has considered techniques like approaching people in pairs. We talk about doing it, but don’t actually do it.
  • Our meeting does usually have two people meet with a person, but only after the whole committee considers the situation to determine what's behind the person's ministry. Often what’s behind it is a lot of pain; we need to be tender with the person while also protecting the sacredness of worship. We try to make it clear that we value the person, and that we want to help shape the ministry, not snuff it out.
  • How does the timing of that work?
  • Usually, we talk about problems in our regular monthly Worship and Ministry Committee meeting, and we decide who will talk with person. Sometimes it happens faster, but always after a committee consultation, not an individual approach. It’s also important that person who feels "exercised" by a speakers ministry will go with another person who feels less involved to visit with the speaker. We don’t have these conversations right after worship; typically, we arrange to have tea with the person some other time.
  • We have people in our meeting who think it's never appropriate to question anyone's ministry, ever. We have other people in meeting who think we should determine right away when ministry is questionable. It comes down to: “Who are we to say which messages come from the Spirit and which don’t?”
  • We have this exact conversation in our meeting. I'm thinking that in conversation with the person who has troubling ministry, would be good to have this conversation by asking them questions. A weighty Friend advised me early in my tenure with Friends: Don't talk until you can tell the difference between that "voice that's always on" and the "voice from the silence with the truth." Also, “Don't worry if you fail to give voice to the Spirit, because if you don’t give the message, Spirit will speak through someone else; don't be too hasty to speak.” It would be good to have a conversation with the person about how do we tell the difference between the still, small voice and the ongoing internal conversation. The conversation would be: I'm not judging you; I'm asking you, “How do you know?”
  • We have a problem that we can't decide if Ministry or if Oversight should deal with a situation. We do have basic guidelines - don't jump up to speak at the start of worship, keep it brief, only speak once. With these guidelines, if people say something off the wall, but they follow the guidelines, it makes it more tolerable.
  • I used to think it was easy to tell the difference between my voice and voice of divine guidance; then one of my family members became seriously mentally ill, and they heard voices, and thought they were hearing the voice of God. I found it hard to explain to them the difference between the voices they heard and the voice of God. Then later I realized the difference was not all that real. One thing I can say, though is that if ministry is not helping people become gathered to attend to the Spirit, it’s probably not appropriate. The flow-chart of questions to determine whether what you feel moved to say is "real ministry" helps. [See page 2 of https://westernfriend.org/media/expectant-waiting-worship.]
  • I wonder about copious or misguided ministry – is this more of an issue in big towns, in places near colleges?
  • I also wonder about people’s experiences with the opposite problem – worship that seems “dry.”
  • Many years ago, I attended a meeting in which I felt alone; this was largely because I didn't know what others were experiencing during Worship. It was an East Coast meeting and felt a little stiff. I don’t know that I’d call it “dry,” but I didn't feel part of the meeting when nobody spoke; I felt hungry for ministry that would awaken something alive in me. This was a university meeting, so copious ministry doesn’t always go with universities. It’s important to remember that our tradition is not just about silence; it is about a living ministry.
  • About the questions of big town issues . . . Our meeting is near a college, though not in a "college town." Our issues of inappropriate ministry are more a matter of particular individuals than any "type" of individual. For example, problematic ministry does not necessarily come from newcomers. We have people in our meeting  who have a different idea of what appropriate ministry is than I do. We have times when there is very little ministry in the meeting – whether gathered or dry. There are people who feel like they need to fill in the silence; this fosters inappropriate ministry. Encouraging people to develop appropriate ministry is a great idea, a healthy soil idea.
  • The question of big towns . . . Our meeting is in the state capital and near FCLCA. A lot of the ministry in our meeting tends to be political; a lot of our members are very involved in state politics, and that gets reflected in Meeting for Worship.
  • Some years ago, our meeting organized a longish religious education series about speaking in meeting. We had particular individuals in mind who we wanted to get this education, but didn't want to single them out. So we invited everyone who had ministered in last year; fifty people came. We asked them to share about a time when they really spoke from the Spirit, and then share about a time when their ministry didn’t go well, and then we asked them how they went about discerning when to minister. Worship did become richer and deeper in our meeting for a while after that.