Quaker worship in community
The Listening Committee developed as a unique part of Quaker Spring, helping to facilitate a gathering shaped by the Holy Spirit in all our life together. This informal committee met each morning over breakfast to discern the best ways to shape the day to come based on concerns & suggestions raised during the previous day. Its tasks included:
- Selecting Friends to hold worship
- Scheduling discussions and recreational activities in the afternoon
- Facilitating formation of clearness committees or support groups to meet with individual Friends who requested these
- Choosing a focus for the next evening’s plenary session
- Reflecting prayerfully on any challenges rising during the week.
The name of this group referred both to our intention to listen carefully to the hopes, needs & discernment of all those taking part in the gathering and also, of course, to hear the voice of God and to allow it to shape our time together. Recommendations of this group were brought back to the group as a whole following morning worship.
Although we still seek to listen as deeply as possible to the leading’s of God as we shape our time together at Quaker Spring, the role of the Listening Committee has shifted over time. Most of the discernment of our daily program and activities is now done in the group as a whole at the rise of morning worship.
Other functions are now addressed at an “holding the gathering” time immediately following breakfast that is open to anyone at the gathering who feels led to take part.
The Role of the Listening Committee
The planning group responsible for Quaker Spring has adopted the following minute describing the role of the Listening Committee in more detail.
When we get it right, Quaker Spring is a place where God is known and felt—a place where Friends help one another know, feel and be obedient to the Light. By going out from a place of right knowing, feeling, listening to and following God, the Listening Committee helps enable the whole group to know and feel and follow God.
However deeply we are rooted in Christ and in our Quaker traditions, however strong our longing to be faithful, part of our condition is to be inadequate. We make mistakes, and learn from them. We transmit the lessons we’ve learned by the knowledge within us—not as “what to do next time” but by being different, listening differently, always waiting for God’s guidance. Where can we bring our brokenness? There is a sense of a safety net of God’s love as we bring our condition to God in community, and yield to God in community. We don’t ever depend on ourselves alone. We learn to trust that God will carry the gathering and all those in it safely.
Our understanding of the responsibility and authority of the Listening Committee
The Listening Committee has the task of discernment for the body: listening to each other and listening to God. Accepting and acknowledging that the authority comes to the Listening Committee from God, we express that authority in the love that comes to us and through us from God. Authority without love can become punitive. We have a responsibility to honor what is given to us by listening to and receiving and using in love the love that is given to us.
Intentionality doesn’t bring grace, but it helps us notice grace more—grace that is always present. The Listening Committee is responsible for making the basic structures for Quaker Spring, the containers, but we don’t presume to fill them in advance or to know how the Holy Spirit will fill them. Our intention is to create a space for God’s grace to flourish. We seek a balance between structure and no structure—between having some outline and being open to being led in the moment.
The Listening Committee is alert to the group as a whole and alert to individuals. The Listening Committee does day to day planning, plus serves an eldership function (discerning and naming the condition of the body or of an individual in a way that the body/individual sees as true). The Listening Committee looks out for the welfare of the body as a whole and the welfare of individuals, sometimes privileging one over the other. We respond to requests and may offer support or clearness committees for ministries.
The Listening Committee listens to God, each other and all present. Authority comes from that ability to listen and then to act as led. What do we do when we are a corporate body beset by differences? We wait. We wait to discern how God is leading us. Members of the Listening Committee have a deep sense of commitment, care and responsibility to create and maintain the safety of the space where people can encounter God, confident that authority and guidance will come from God. Love grounded in authority, authority grounded in love.
Being the sense of the members of the Quaker Spring planning group that met on 3/1/2014 at the Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse.