Presented by Susan Smith, Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative)
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” —Proverbs 3 : 5-6
We have heard this week that OYM (Ohio Yearly Meeting) Friends maintain a tradition of familiarity with scripture, reading the Bible frequently and often thinking almost automatically in terms of Biblical phrases or stories. You may hear me doing that this evening. In addition, Conservative Friends’ tradition includes an underlying listening to and checking with God, as we go about our daily decision-making. Also, as Fran Taber suggested at the beginning of this week, Conservative Friends were traditionally brought up to live their personal lives in harmony with what the meeting as a body discerns.
I would like to explore with you how these traditional attitudes and practices of our yearly meeting play out in our business meetings, both with respect to the forms we have and in terms of individual Friends’ participation. I would note first that although I will be talking in terms of “we,” meaning OYM Friends, there is actually quite a range of viewpoints and practices within our yearly meeting now, and not every OYM member will agree with all I say or be represented by it. I would also like to make clear that nothing we in OYM do need be exclusively ours. Many of these practices will be familiar to most of you and, in fact, originated with the early Friends whom we all claim as our religious ancestors.
Christ’s guidance. Those early Friends taught that Jesus Christ is with us and that we are to seek and accept His guidance, in the totality of our lives. Individually, OYM Friends tend to be aware of Christ’s available personal guidance, at least a lot of the time. Meeting for business is an opportunity to seek and find God’s guidance corporately, with respect to decisions the meeting needs to make.
So we expect Christ’s presence to play an essential part in our business meetings. However, we do not think of our business meetings as “meetings for worship for business.” While that phrase can be useful in reminding Friends to rely on God’s guidance during business meetings, it muddles the meaning of worship. Worship is a particular, intense kind of human activity. We have all experienced its sweetness and power often here this week. According to a recent Wikipedia entry, worship is “reverent love and devotion accorded God” or “regarding with ardent esteem.” In worship we are caught up in the wonder, glory, love, and power of God, while perhaps being aware of our own insignificance. Worship for me does not include thinking about things like the First Day School curriculum or the need for more light on the porch, even though those and other topics could need the meeting’s attention. Having two different names (meeting for worship and meeting for business) helps Friends enter fully into worship when that is our corporate intention, and, when it is time to attend to the meeting’s business, to do so carefully, under the guidance of God.
What then do we do when we attend to business? We gather initially for worship, as usual with no agenda. Ideally, we are caught up in that reverent love and devotion for God, and, ideally, we are not silently rehearsing the committee report we expect to be asked to give later. We let worship last long enough for Friends to be gathered deeply (at least 15 minutes, but often significantly longer). Sometimes messages of ministry or prayer spring forth. When it eventually seems right to the Friend appointed to do so, he or she suggests aloud that, if all Friends are clear, the meeting may “turn to the business at hand.”
That turning involves a change in the purpose of our sitting there. We are now asked to “attend to business,” to find what God’s answer is for particular questions facing the meeting. Our corporate ability to do that is affected by
- Participating members’ attitudes and actions
- The clerk’s gifts and faithfulness to God’s immediate direction
- The meeting’s customs.
I will consider these in turn.
The Attitudes and Actions of All Friends Present
The attitude carried by those gathered to conduct business create a context in which the business meeting proceeds. When participants believe that God is about to lead them to the decision that He knows is best for everyone, they act differently than do people who are expecting to find a good conclusion through an exchange of facts and intelligent analysis. What exactly is the difference between corporate seeking for God’s best right answer and a discussion that may lead to consensus?
In our corporate seeking, Christ is our Teacher and Guide. He is present with us, and He leads us as persons and as a body. For example, I may have brought in my notes several pieces of information that are relevant to the topic being considered, but whether I mention them, and when, should be under God’s direction, just as giving a message in meeting for worship should. Or I may have come with no information at all about a topic, but Christ may give me an insight – of analysis or synthesis or example – that is quite beyond my own expectation and is to be shared aloud.
Leaving the direction of the meeting to Christ may be very hard. Many of us who have had extensive secular education and who have not grown up in this yearly meeting are accustomed to using our knowledge and our intelligence as our own tools in a discussion. Some of us are no doubt quite good at interpreting the interplay of dynamics within a meeting and, by adding comments or information strategically, directing the group’s decision toward the goal we think right. There can be a fine line between a person’s manipulating a business meeting and someone’s witnessing clearly under God’s direction – just as it is sometimes difficult during meeting for worship for a person to discern the difference between his or her own concerns and a message that God would have spoken aloud. Waiting for clearness about whether to speak is useful, as is gentle discussion with an elder after the meeting.
In addition to rushing into speaking, there is also the error of waiting too long. As Peter Blood-Patterson reminded us a few days ago, speaking up when God prompts us in a business meeting can be daunting. We may fear the aftermath of upsetting what seems to be a foregone conclusion, we may not want to seem ignorant, or we may simply not want to stand out as different from those who have already spoken. Again, sensitivity to the Voice of God is important. Can we discern whether our holding back is from fear, or from a stubborn assumption that we are not worthy to speak? Those of us who witnessed Helene Pollack’s recreation of 19th C Rachel Hicks may remember Rachel’s 20-some years of personal trouble before she was willing to speak what God told her. We should seek to be obedient to God, speaking when and only when, what and only what God directs, in business meeting as well as in meeting for worship. Faithfulness in a small matter strengthens a person for clearer discernment and more faithfulness later.
I’ve been talking about how God can and does guide individual Friends during business meeting. God also can and does lead the meeting corporately. Sometimes God will bring forth statements from a series of individuals to lead to a shared conclusion, rather than having one person lay out the whole story. And many of you will be familiar with divine molding of everyone’s understanding during a business meeting, as God opens up a way through which people with previously very different points of view can go forward together. That divine leading usually results in more than a secular compromise or agreeing on the least common denominator. Rather, through Christ everyone gains a new perspective. Friends sometimes quote a piece of scripture (Revelations 21:5) to the effect that God makes all things new. Although the “all” in that verse has sometimes puzzled me, I can see its truth in this finding a new answer in a gathered meeting for business.
How can members assist in maintaining corporate seeking and finding?
- Speak only when moved by God, but do speak then.
- Be concise; speak to the question
- Do not quibble with each other or with the wording of a minute, but
- Be willing to say so if something seems to be wrong or more should be added
- Expect to speak only once on a topic; avoid an ongoing interchange with 1 or more other people
- Listen carefully, to God and to each other
- Actively pray, probably silently, when contention or confusion arises
Exercise gift of eldering:
- – When led, and with love, when contention has halted progress, point out to the meeting that a time of waiting to refocus on God’s guidance might be useful
- – Gently and lovingly, and only as led, after the meeting say a few private words to a Friend who spoke without Christ’s guidance – or to a Friend who was noticeably helpful in furthering God’s work for the meeting
I’ve mentioned several things that happen to and through Friends as they participate in meetings for business. I have not yet said anything about the clerk. The clerk certainly has an important role to play, but it is not the same role as that of the president of a secular organization. The clerk is not the leader of the meeting. Christ is the leader. The clerk is the servant, first in service to God, and also to the meeting. The clerk helps the meeting find the answer that God intends. That idea may raise up in you a flag of warning, and indeed, there are errors into which a clerk can easily fall. Let me get back to that, and first talk, partly from my own experience (OYM for 13 years, monthly meeting for longer than that, various other gatherings), about what a clerk can and usually does do.
Preparation is important for successful clerking. In terms of outward preparation, the clerk should have at hand information Friends will need about each topic, or know that another Friend will have it at the meeting. The clerk should understand the questions that need to be answered with regard to each topic. It might be easy, particularly by offering only certain information, for a clerk to influence the meeting’s decision. That sort of influence, however, is not appropriate. The clerk should be careful not to have a particular outcome in mind, or even “in hope.” It is good to intend to be yielded to the Lord’s will, but even that is impossible in one’s own strength. Undergirding the whole process with prayer, before and during the session, is also essential.
The Agenda. Another aspect of preparation is developing the agenda. I have found that it works best to have a few “easy” items first. For our monthly meeting, that may be the report of our Representative Meeting, or a treasurer’s report, for we rarely disagree over them. Then it is good to get to something more substantive but still not divisive, something on which Friends can settle down and seek deeply and come together. I find that answering our regular queries are often good here. Then the meeting is ready for a hard item, one on which people are likely to start from different viewpoints.
Scripture. Another part of my preparation, which I often do first, is choosing a scripture with which to open the meeting. As I wait before God, it is only very occasionally that a particular verse or story comes to mind. However, I often feel led to some part of the Bible – the psalms, Isaiah, a letter from Paul, etc. I open the book in what I suppose is that place (The psalms are right in the middle.) and read what I see. If what I read first doesn’t fit with my sense of what is needed, I keep reading more or less where I am. If after several minutes of reading I haven’t found “the right” passage, I go back to the place where I started, and wonder if I was resisting that passage in my own will, and maybe settle on that original place.
To summarize this section so far, the clerk’s task is to present topics in a helpful order, to offer relevant background information, and to help the meeting to seek God’s answer. In facilitating progress during the meeting, the clerk can ask questions that clarify confusion and can remind the meeting of the original topic if speakers stray afield. In our meetings the clerk does not extend permission to Friends to speak. We leave that function to God and to members’ sensitivity to His prompting. It is unnecessary to get the clerk’s attention before speaking; the clerk should be paying attention to all that is happening. In our meetings it is considered inappropriate for a clerk to call on someone, except for a specific report, again because God will be doing the calling. I have, however, occasionally done so when I saw clearly that someone was struggling to get started speaking.
Writing Minutes. In addition to all this, of course, somebody writes minutes. In some yearly meetings, a second person, the recording clerk, writes the minutes. In OYM one clerk both facilitates the corporate seeking and writes minutes. For me, the two functions have always seemed like aspects of the same process. We do sometimes have a reading clerk, whom the clerk can ask to read documents aloud.
Writing a minute involves discerning truth. This is a weighty responsibility. It absolutely cannot be done in one’s own strength, any more than giving a true message in meeting for worship can. God opens to the clerk what the bits of truth are in what people are saying. The gift of clerking includes the ability to listen with an outward ear to what is being spoken, while at the same time listening with an inner ear to the prompting of God.
I might liken that prompting to highlighting in a written text. As I hear what a Friend is saying, God highlights in my awareness a sentence or two of what is being said, so that they stand out as a kernel of Truth. I then write that down, usually verbatim, while still listening to what continues to be said. Sometimes I write a lot of a person’s statement, but usually a sentence or two captures the essence. Occasionally I written nothing, especially when a person is saying no more than a repetition of what has already been said, but that is a judgment that is not lightly made. When Friends’ speaking is over, I have written down a series of “kernels of Truth,” but they are usually not in a logical order. All that remains is to arrange them into a coherent minute. Numbering them down the side of the page, and drawing a few arrows back and forth, results in a minute that can be read back, usually quite promptly.
At that point the meeting needs to discern whether the minute reflects the course of the deliberation, includes the important bits of understanding offered, and states a conclusion which does reflect Truth, as the meeting has come to understand it. If that is not the case, everyone waits upon God some more, and the process continues. Sometimes reading out a minute settles the meeting into a good sense of unity. Sometimes it opens the need for going farther in resolving the question. The clerk needs to be alert to the sense of the meeting after the minute has been read.
Reading back each minute as it is written is important. Each minute clarifies for the meeting what business has been accomplished. Reading back each minute affirms the servanthood of the clerk, for it is the meeting that decides on each minute. It maintains a deliberate pace and rhythm, allowing time for prayer and reflection between topics and preventing a rush. It avoids misunderstanding, or trying to remember later what really had been decided. Everyone knows where unity has been found before going on to the next item of business.
On a few occasions over my years of clerking, I have written a minute with which the meeting united but I did not. I remember concluding one such minute in tears, explaining to Friends that my tears flowed from my own deep regret at the outcome, and proceeding to the next item. The clerk is the servant of the meeting – the helper and articulator, but not the director – and I believe that this role should not be compromised. I do not think that a clerk should “stand aside from the table” in order to add his or her own perspective on the matter being considered, unless God makes very clear that that is necessary.
I mentioned that there are errors into which a clerk may fall. One is acting as head or president of the meeting – presenting optional outcomes from which the meeting should choose, arranging a presentation to facilitate a certain decision, stopping deliberation before unity is reached. Another error is a feeling of owning the wording of a minute. The clerk helps the meeting find God’s answer, but the clerk is not God and does not know the right answer – either beforehand or after having written something. The meeting’s unity must confirm it.
The Meeting’s Customs
These also affect the process of a business meeting. Our custom of reading a passage of scripture immediately after the meeting turns to business provides a transition and focuses everyone’s thoughts on one piece of wisdom or praise. Our expectation that people will speak to an item as they are led by God, rather than by seeking or being given permission by someone else, helps focus Friends’ attention on God’s guidance. We also expect each person to speak no more than once on any item of business. This is, in my experience, never enforced by the clerk but is commonly understood and followed. Similarly, we expect only members to address business items, and we mention that in our printed agenda for yearly meeting. However, in all of these traditions, there is room for an exception under the hand of the Holy Spirit, and we advise visitors that if they feel clearly propelled by God to speak to our business, they should be obedient to Him.
Corporate self-discipline. Another of our expectations is that the gathered body will maintain much of its own discipline, through the words of someone led at the moment, rather than always through the clerk. I have often appreciated the work of some OYM elder who gently said aloud that we needed to return to the question at hand or to wait a bit longer for relfection between spoken contributions.
Another tradition that assists the work of the clerk is the expectation that Friends will wait in prayerful silence while the clerk finishes a minute. Friends gathered there make it clear by their behavior, and occasionally by a few words to a neighbor, that whispering or even unnecessary writing is to be foregone while the clerk is finishing, and that rather everyone should be in prayer for the clerk’s faithfulness.
Unity. Whether we find unity immediately or after a long search together, we interpret unity as a sign that we have found Truth. By that we mean more than “a good answer.” We mean the right answer, the one toward which God has been directing us. Similarly, we interpret disunity as a sign that we have not found the right answer, and that some or all people are holding onto their own understanding. The best thing to do in that case is wait, and pray for more divine guidance.
Common faith in Christ. Once, some years ago, the housing community where my parents lived was experiencing a lot of contention. Mother, who is not a Friend, wondered if I could come and explain to the assembled homeowners how Quakers work out their differences, so that my parents’ friends could do likewise. I regretfully told her that there is an important difference between sense of meeting, as we experience it, and consensus. Our process is based on our common faith in Christ as our shepherd, something my parents’ friends did not share. Furthermore, not only do we share a common faith, but that faith includes our experience-based conviction that as we each grow in hearing and obeying Christ, we grow in love and in unity with each other. Christ wants to bring us into that unity, and He will guide us to it as we trust Him.
Trust. As we undertake business, we are called into trust – trust in the business process, trust in our meeting’s members, trust in the clerk’s exercise of his or her gift, and trust in God.
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Note: This was a presentation made on Thursday, June 28th, 2007, to QuakerCamp at Stillwater. Susan Smith is Clerk of Ohio Yearly Meeting and a member of the board of the Friends Center of Ohio YM.
by Jack Smith, Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative)
“The Word Of God” — The various meanings of this important phrase illustrate the range of theological diversity that exists among those who call themselves Friends or Quakers.
Universalist Friends do not even agree that there is a Word of God, with some of these Friends denying its. reality altogether. The use of the Bible is much reduced among these Friends and even suppressed in some ways.
Evangelical Friends insist that the Bible is the Word of God, making it the final authority for all matters of faith. This is the position of all Protestant denominations. English Friend Joseph John Gurney in the mid 19th century had a major role in its acceptance among some Friends. As these Friends accepted this understanding, it was the source of considerable change in the faith and practice of those groups influenced by it, resulting in the introduction of a paid clergy, a programmed worship service with the preaching from the Word (the Bible) as they understood it, Sunday Schools where there was teaching about the Bible etc.
Conservative Friends resisted these changes in belief and practice, preferring to continue the faith and practices that had come down to them over the centuries largely intact. Conservative Friends, like the original Friends, believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God and that this Word inspired the writers of the Bible. We feel comfortable with the theology of Barclay’s Apology, including his section on the Bible. We note that the word “Bible” does not occur anywhere between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21 but that word used for these writings is “Scriptures” which term is what Jesus also used.
To further explore our topic, we can first examine what George Fox wrote about this topic followed by a bit from William Penn. Then we can spend some time on Barclay’s Apology before moving on to the understanding and use of the Bible among Conservative Friends today.
Early Friends’ Understanding Of The Scriptures
George Fox. Although a greatly capable, intelligent and gifted person, George Fox, as most people in his era, only had a rudimentary education compared to modern standards. Yet he has left behind extensive writings in eight volumes from which his beliefs can be determined. William Penn is the opposite, being relatively well educated for his day. He wrote a little volume entitled “Rise and Progress of the People called Quakers”. After describing Friends’ distinctives in the first half of the book, Penn turns to Fox, leaving the most comprehensive narrative describing him, based on what Penn describes as a “long and most inward converse and intimate knowledge of him.” (p. 62) Penn conveys that Fox “had an extraordinary gift in opening the Scriptures. He would go to the marrow of things, and show the mind, harmony and fulfilling of them with much plainness, and to much comfort and edification.” (p. 71) Frequent themes for Fox that Penn notes were “the mystery of the first and second Adam, of the fall and restoration, of the law and the gospel, of shadows and substance, of the servants and son’s state and the fulfilling of the scriptures in Christ and by Christ, the true Light”. (p. 71) Fox was very knowledgeable of the Scriptures, It was said that were the Scriptures lost, they could be recovered from Fox’s memory of them. Fox used the King James Version, which was recent in Fox’s day, and also used the older Geneva Bible.
To begin our investigation of Fox’s understanding of the Scriptures, it is clear that Fox considered Jesus Christ to be the Word of God and not the Bible. In Fox’s Epistle 249 written in 1667, Fox says “for the Scriptures of Truth are the words of God and the words of Christ,….so the Word was in the beginning, and Christ’s name is called the Word of God. But Christ is neither called scripture nor writings, for scriptures signify writings.” In Epistle 313, written in 1674, Fox quotes 2nd Timothy 3:16-7. In Epistle 316 (1675) he states, “and faith comes by hearing of the Word, by which all things were made and created, by which all things are upheld….which Word was in the beginning with God and God was the Word. Which Word became flesh and dwelt among us, who beheld his Glory, the Glory…of the only begotten Son of God, who is risen, whom you now come to hear and see; and not only so, but come to be partakers of his Glory and of his resurrection.”
In Douglas Gwyn’s important text Apocalypse of the Word he states, “It is perhaps Fox’s most valuable contribution that he rejoins the Spirit and the Word in prophetic experience of the risen Christ. While he presents Jesus Christ as the one Word of God, present and teaching by his Spirit, he places scripture, the historical record of the Word’s work, as the words of God. The true Word is the Christ who is speaking now.”
While Fox makes this witness with searing polemics against his Puritan opponents, we should not gather that he belittles scripture. He records in his journal that ‘I had no slight esteem of the holy scriptures, but they were very precious to me, for I was in that spirit by which they were given forth, and what the Lord opened in me I later found was agreeable to them’. His knowledge of scripture was legendary; when he preached hearers said’ they had never heard the scriptures so clearly opened before, for said they ‘he hath them at his fingers’ ends as if a man should read them in a book and hold it open before him.”
Conservative Friends continue to believe as Fox did concerning the Word of God and the words of God and the use of Scripture. Fox wrote in his Journal “And I saw that none could read John’s words aright with a true understanding of them, but in and with the same divine Spirit by which John spoke them, and by his burning shining light which is sent from God.”
William Penn wrote a little book called Advice to His Children, from which we can obtain a view into the attitudes of early Friends regarding many aspects of their life, including the use of Scripture. Penn states that from his youth he loved to read “the holy scriptures of Truth,” which “were blessed to me and which I charge you to read daily; the Old Testament for history chiefly, the psalms for meditation and devotion; the prophets for comfort and hope; but especially the new testament for doctrine, faith and worship.”
Robert Barclay. Barclay’s Apology was considered such a complete, well-developed theology by many generations of Friends that until recent times none have attempted to write a newer version. Plus, over the years Friends faith has had a strong experiential component that there has been a lesser interest in theology. This attitude has shifted in more recent times with a Friend, Wilmer Cooper, with Conservative Friends roots in this yearly meeting studying at Yale Divinity School and receiving a Ph. D. in theology. He was the founding Dean at ESR, and more recently in 1990 published a book, A Living Faith, that uses a theological framework to examine the various strands of faith among Friends. Let’s begin this section by looking at Barclay’s views about the Scriptures, drawing from his third section (or Proposition as he terms it), “Concerning the Scriptures”:
From these revelations of the Spirit of God to the saints, have proceeded the scriptures of truth, which contain,
I. A faithful historical account of the actings of God’s people in divers ages, with many singular and remarkable providences attending them.
II. A prophetical account of several things, whereof some are already past, and some yet to come
III. A full and ample account of all the chief principles of the doctrine of Christ, held forth in divers precious declarations, exhortations, and sentences, which, by the moving of God’s Spirit, were at several times, and upon sundry occasions, spoken and written unto some churches and their pastors:
Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty; for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that guide by which the saints are led into all truth: therefore, according to the scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader. And seeing we do therefore receive and believe the scriptures, because they proceeded from the Spirit; therefore also the Spirit is more originally and principally the rule.
Although Barclay places the Spirit of Christ as the Source and therefore primary basis for our faith, it should not be concluded that Barclay undervalued or desired that the Scriptures be ignored. Quite the contrary. In answering the assertion that Friends consider the Scriptures “are uncertain or useless” he writes that “we affirm them” and “what high rate we value them, accounting them, without all deceit or equivocation, the most excellent writings in the world; to which not only no other writings are to be preferred, but even in diverse respects not comparable thereto.” Barclay considers “the use of them to be very comfortable and necessary to the church of Christ.” “The Scriptures authority and certainty depend upon the Spirit by which they were dictated.”
For Barclay, the Spirit of the Living Christ is the primary or principle source of our faith. As Conservative Friends, this differentiates us from other Christians. To make a very generalized statement to illustrate this, for the Roman Catholics and other Orthodox groups, Christ went to heaven and left behind an institution the Church as having primary authority on earth. For the Protestants, Christ went heaven and left a book, the Bible, behind which is the primary source of authority of earth. For present day Conservative Friends, like the early Friends, Christ is an ever-present reality to be experienced as the Living Presence among us and the foundation on which we build our faith.
However, Barclay does see Scripture as a source of authority among Friends, secondary but not in opposition to the Spirit of Christ. How does this play out? Because both the Scriptures and the divine revelations experienced by individuals and groups come from the same source, they are compatible and in unison. Barclay states” these divine and inward revelations do not and cannot contradict the Scriptures of Truth”. Further, concerning doctrines, Barclay states that “whatsoever doctrine is contrary to their testimony may therefore justly be rejected as false. And for our parts, we are very willing that all our doctrines and practices be tried by them”. In sum, Barclay affirms the great benefit for Friends in the ongoing use of Scriptures, as a resource for us as we seek to know and follow the presence of the Living Word of God.
The Bible Among Conservative Friends
It is now time to further consider how Conservative Friends have maintained this understanding and practice in an unbroken stream that goes back to the first generation Friends. Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline includes a set of advices, to which we pay attention. Advice #16 opens with “Be diligent in the reading of the Bible and other spiritually helpful writings.” Conservative Friends today continue to value and use the Bible in a variety of ways:
- Monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting business sessions begin with a period of waiting worship, followed by a reading from Scripture before the business is begun.
- Upon the conclusion of evening programs at yearly meeting, a chapter of Scripture is read, followed by a period of waiting worship.
- We understand our gathering together for worship to be times to collectively wait upon the Lord in expectant listening, for His moving among us. As any are moved to minister, they do so, often using Scripture as an aid to the spoken message to keep us on track and as an anchor to prevent us from drifting from what was given us to speak. Through the Scriptures Friends find the Scriptures of Truth to be an aid to our walk with the Lord, including in worship.
- We continue to practice a traditional type of group Bible reading, where we gather, as in meeting for worship, in the presence of the divine Inspiration that gave forth the Scriptures. As different Friends are moved to read from Scripture they do so, without introduction or explanation of what was read, allowing the Word present to minister to us about what has been read.
- Many individuals and families have a regular time for the daily reading of the Bible.
- Some Meetings have a Bible study group in which a passage is read together and then discussed.
Both confidentiality and openness are important in the life our meetings, yet there is a potential conflict between them. It seems that these topics are not openly discussed in many meetings. Here are some queries that may encourage discussion and discernment.
How can we create places of safety within the meeting family where tender emotional and spiritual needs can be met?
In applying the expectation of confidentiality that is needed to protect us and others from gossiping, do we avoid straying into unnecessary secrecy?
Is each one of us careful of the reputation of others?
Do we seek the right balance in every situation between protecting people’s vulnerabilities and enabling them to access the love, care and gifts of others that could help them?
Are we willing to respect other people’s requests for privacy, while being open to inviting them toward greater openness and vulnerability?
When telling others about meetings or events that we’ve attended, do we focus on our own story rather than repeating information about others?
Are we aware of the danger of sub-groups meeting in confidentiality and creating pools of secrecy within meetings or other Quaker gatherings?
While protecting a tender topic in a small group, are we willing to share more generally or anonymously with the larger group, to be of benefit to those who were not there?
Are we careful in setting up structures or rules of confidentiality in groups to not exclude people unnecessarily?
Are we careful to explain ground rules involving confidentiality and the reasons for them in the announcement of a session?
Do we hold in our hearts the spirit of openness and vulnerability within the faith community that is so important to being known to each other as well as to God?
Do we consider that openness in our meetings and in our lives are both aspects of our testimony of integrity?
Do we listen to God’s voice for the right balance between confidentiality and openness?
Gathered in Barnesville, Ohio, on June 28, 2007
At the Monday evening session of Quaker Camp, held near Barnesville, Ohio, June 22, 2008, we considered the following question: What do we feel God encouraging us to do, or to do better, in our meetings at home to encourage and deepen ministry in our meetings for worship?
This is a summary of our responses:
A minister is a tool shaped and given by God, for God’s work. We need what God is offering us through the gift of ministry. Corporate naming of a gift encourages its continuing development within the person to whom it has been given. Naming the gift also encourages the group’s ability to support it. Eldership is the gift that nurtures ministry and other spiritual gifts. Lack of effective support of a spiritually gifted person causes personal suffering and risks the extinction of the gift. However, care must be taken that approval be given in ways that are not excessive and therefore harmful to the minister’s gift.
What can we do to support ministry in our meetings?
- Consider and do something to meet the spiritual and the outward needs of people whose vocal ministry speaks to your condition.
- Encourage discernment within the meeting about the spiritual gifts and the readiness of Friends who are appointed to represent our meetings to other groups; and likewise encourage discernment of the spiritual gifts of other members.
- Teach about and use the vehicle of clearness committees to support and encourage ministry and spiritual growth.
- Have explicitly called meetings of ministers and elders (that is, of Friends with those particular gifts).
- Encourage accountability in both directions between ministers and their meetings.
- Fears about spiritual authority and accountability quickly becoming oppressive need to be recognized and addressed. Over all and under all must be the Love and Power of God, guiding and bringing Life to our ministry and its support. We can open access to that Power through prayer, through sensitivity, and through faithful responding.
—Clerked by Susan Smith
Saturday (6/18) Meeting for Bible Reading:
Isaiah 53 Prophecy: He (Christ) has borne our grief….
Psalm 139 O Lord, you know me thoroughly. I will praise you. You are everywhere I might go.
Isaiah 44: 1-8 I will pour water upon those who are thirsty. Fear not. There is no God but me.
Psalm 30 O Lord, I cried to you. You heard me and turned my mourning into dancing. I will give thanks to you forever.
Romans 11:33 – 12:8 O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! … We, being many with differing gifts, are one body in Christ.
Jonah 2 Jonah said, “The waters surrounded me, even to my soul, yet you brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God. I will speak with the voice of thanksgiving.”
Job 3 I should have lain still and been quiet; then I would have been at rest. I was not safe nor was I quiet, and trouble came.
Micah 5:3 Prophecy: (Out of Bethlehem will come a man who is to be ruler in Israel, who has been in existence from the days of eternity.) And he will wait until the woman has labored through childbirth and then return to the children of Israel.
Isaiah 55 Whoever is thirsty, come to the water…. Seek the Lord while he may be found…. You shall go with joy and be led forth in peace.
Psalm 42 My soul thirsts for the living God….The Lord will command his loving kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song will be with me.
Sunday (6/19) Meeting for Bible Reading:
Luke 5:17-26 A crippled man is let down through the roof to Jesus and healed.
Luke 4:16-30 Jesus reads from Isaiah in the temple: The Lord has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted….
Romans 12 (see same citation from Saturday, plus) Treat each other with brotherly love. Be patient in difficulties. Bless people who persecute you. Overcome evil with good.
Zephaniah 3:11-12 ( In that day I will turn all the people to call upon the name of God.) Then you will not be ashamed of any of your deeds and all people will trust in God.
Acts 16:1-26 Paul travels in what is now western Turkey and Greece. He frees a slave woman from soothsaying for her masters, who then have Paul jailed. An earthquake frees Paul and the jailer is converted.
Isaiah 58:1-6 The “fast” God desires is not outward display but rather to loose the bands of wickedness and let the oppressed go free.
James 1:19-21 Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, and meekly receive the Word of God in your hearts.
Psalm 34:4-6 I sought the Lord and he heard me. He delivered me from all my fears.
Luke 1:26-39 God’s angel tells Mary that she will conceive a son to be called Jesus, and that her childless cousin Elizabeth will also have a baby.
Deuteronomy 24:5 For one year after a man has married he shall not go to war or be charged with any business but shall stay at home with his wife.
Job 40:4-5 42:1-4 and the next to last sentence of v.8 God said to Job, “Act like a man now. I will question you and you will answer.” Job said, “I know that you can do everything. I have talked about things I didn’t understand. Let me ask you questions.” And God said, “I will accept my servant, Job.”
Monday (6/20) Meeting for Bible Reading:
Jeremiah 31:31-34 The days will come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant. I will put my law in the people’s hearts and forgive their sins. I will be their God and they will be my people.
Acts 10:9-45 Cornelius sent for Peter. As the messengers approached, Peter had a vision in which God showed him that regardless of the person’s identity, anyone who respects God and does what is right is accepted by God. Peter visited Cornelius and explained the good news about Jesus. The Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household.
Lamentations 3 My strength and my hope perished, but God’s compassion fails not. His mercies are new every morning. I will hope in him.
2 Esdras 4 (found in the Apocrypha; a vision of the prophet Ezra, as summarized in Wikipedia) God’s ways cannot be understood by the human mind. Soon, however, the end would come, and God’s justice would be made manifest.
Revelation 4:1-11 The writer had a vision of a throne in heaven surrounded by four animals and 24 elders praising God.
Revelation 5:7-10 The vision continues, with the animals and elders playing harps and singing praise to Christ.
Isaiah 42 (This is the section of scripture that Jesus read in the temple at the beginning of his ministry. See second passage from Sunday.)
Revelations 22:16-17 I, Jesus, am the bright morning star. Let whoever is thirsty come and take the water of life freely.
Psalm 1 Blessed is the person who does not follow the counsel of the ungodly. That person shall be like a tree planted by the river, that brings forth fruit in season.
2 Timothy 3 Everyone who lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution….All Scripture is given by God for learning doctrine, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.
Luke 1 Mary’s song upon learning that she would give birth: “My soul does magnify the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior….”; and Zechariah’s prophecy about his infant son, John: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people….”
Luke 5:36-39 No one puts new wine in old wineskins, for the wine will burst them and be spilled. New wine must be put in new wineskins….
Psalm 121 I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.
2 Timothy 1:3-7 I thank God that I remember you constantly in my prayers. I very much want to see you, that I may be filled with joy. For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Numbers 14 The Israelites grumbled about Moses, saying they would have been better off if they’d stayed in Egypt. God was annoyed at their impatience and said he would disinherit them. But Moses pleaded that if God did so, the Egyptians would tell everyone that the Israelite’s God had failed. So God said he wouldn’t kill them, but that only those people who had trusted God would be allowed to enter the land that God had promised them.
Tuesday (6/21) Sharing in response to:
Matthew 5:1-4 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [or “How blest are those who know their need of God.” NEB] Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Wednesday (6/22) Sharing in response to:
Matthew 5:5-6 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 in Stillwater Meetinghouse
A panel of Friends was asked to speak about what they do in worship, how they experience the gathered meeting, and how they prepare for worship as we look for this interaction between humanity and God. This is a summary of their responses.
Micah Bales, Ohio Yearly Meeting
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Don’t you know that you are not your own? You are bought with a price.” In meeting for worship I discover that I am not my own. I belong to a human community gathered in Christ. And, most importantly, I discover that I am Christ’s. When I discover Christ’s presence inside me, I find a seat of consciousness within me where I can stand with Christ and see myself as I really am. He allows me to see my thoughts, my emotions, and all the knots that are inside me. He allows me to know who I really am, that I am with Him and am His.
Frances Taber, Ohio Yearly Meeting
Long before my memory begins, I was expected to go to meeting for worship on First Day and in the middle of the week was expected of me. I don’t think there was anything especially spiritual going on in my mind until I was a teenager. I remember when I was a child sitting beside my mother and looking up into the faces of the Friends who sat on the facing bench, including my grandmother. I tried to pick out the alphabet in the words carved on the back of the bench in front of me, and I mentally redesigned for better efficiency the labyrinth of pipes that made their way roof-ward from the heating stoves in the meeting room. I did pay attention to vocal ministry as it was given, and to vocal prayer.
By the age of 18 I was reading religious writings, although not always making sense of them. The Cloud of Unknowing stirred in me an interest in a spiritual process similar to what today is called “centering prayer.” I often use this in meeting for worship, focusing on being steadily present, available, and consenting to the work of God within oneself, while incorporating vocal messages as they are given by other Friends. As a kindled fire becomes brighter when additional sticks are laid upon it, my sense of the presence of God is increased by the presence of other focused worshipers.
I often find my role to be holding open a space for the work of God in the meeting. I enjoy sitting on the facing bench, where I am enabled to be aware of who is gathering and reaching out in my heart to include other people who are not present. I may hold in God’s presence specific people, but usually not with articulated prayer. As we sit in worship, I am aware of a palpable, deep silence, a Presence in the room like an enveloping, translucent mist. I am aware that the depth of focus of each person in the room affects the gatheredness of each other person and of the group as a body. Vocal messages that come from a deep spiritual place contribute to that sense of centeredness.
Patricia Barber, Baltimore Yearly Meeting
My husband asked me once why, if Quakers are so concerned about the environment, we don’t just all stay home and sit quietly in worship by ourselves. What is so important about meeting for worship?
As we gather, we become the receptacles and channels of the Spirit of God. God’s Spirit flows over and among us, picking up what is in our hearts. Each person present is important, a part of the spiritual community in the room. George Fox said, “Christ has come to teach His people Himself.” Christ’s teaching comes through many forms – in silence, in vocal ministry, in eldering – and each person needs to find how he or she is led.
When I first began to speak during meeting for worship, I just felt compelled to stand and share. I did not realize that I was experiencing a leading from God. The simple feeling that it was important to share what I was thinking bore the hallmarks of an immature seeker. It took me a while to realize what it is to give vocal ministry. I realized that if I was to stand to speak, I was doing something special, that I was to articulate a part of God’s Spirit that was flowing through the meeting.
I then realized that I had to sort out what was me and what was of the Spirit. Ego has a loud, insistent voice and wants to speak. It is a struggle to empty oneself of ego, which supports you to stand up and speak but which can lead you so far astray. There was no one present in my meeting to elder me, but only a lot of pleasant, well-meaning people.
I remember a number of mistakes I made in speaking from what was important to me rather than from the immediate moving of God’s Spirit. Once I stood up and shared about the difficulties I was experiencing in preparing my income tax report. Too late I realized that God has not given me those words to speak. Later I began to memorize poetry, but I had no audience with which to share the poems that meant a lot to me. Although some people enjoyed the poetry that I spoke in meeting for worship, I came to realize that the motivation for reciting those poems was coming from me, not from God.
God led me to see that what God would have me share were the fruits of faithfulness, watchfulness, loving conduct with other people, and listening to the Spirit within me. I was becoming more mature in ministry. As I was speaking during worship rather frequently, someone in my meeting suggested that I be recorded as a minister. I was appalled, but for all the wrong reasons. I feared it would place too much pressure on me to speak at a time when I was still struggling to discern which ministry was Spirit-led and which was not. I realize now that that fear in itself was ego-driven. There was no one to elder me, no one to remind me that the gifts we have for vocal ministry and for eldering are for the service of the meeting and are not our own to use or withhold as we please. God uses the tools that we have, but we are to sharpen them and keep them ready for His service.
I don’t speak during worship as often now. I have learned that I need to lead a life of intentionality and deep seriousness, knowing that I am imperfect and will still make mistakes. I spend a lot of time during meeting for worship trying to step into that stream of God’s Spirit as it flows around me and all of us. If something washes up on the banks near me, I sit with it and ask God, “Is this for me or is it for me to share aloud with everyone here?” If I speak too soon, I may prevent someone else from speaking a true message. Breaking the silence is serious business. One can be personal, but speaking as if in therapy is not fine, nor is articulation of one’s own enthusiasm or political rage. Those topics and others arising from oneself are better left to discussion on other occasions.
Kathleen Wooten, New England Yearly Meeting
We were each asked to speak from our own experience about how we prepare for and experience meeting for worship. I prepare by paying attention to how I am. Interestingly, I was prepared for being on this panel before I knew about it by a searching conversation I had recently had with another QuakerSpring attender.
I have been exploring what gifts of eldership lie within me. I have been a Friend for about four years. When I first sat down in meeting for worship, I felt like I had come home. Now when I sit with my eyes closed in meeting, I can feel the room, and often it seems that I need to keep focused on the room. Sometimes I feel something like energy. Then it drains away and someone stands up and speaks. Now I know Whose work that is. I can feel if a meeting is gathered. I have sometimes felt gatheredness in a secular meeting, when the sense of God’s Spirit was deep and real, with spaces between messages that came from a deep place.
We do have spiritual struggles in meeting for worship, but we do not talk much about it. Perhaps that is because we do not have a suitable vocabulary. I do not mean the kind of struggles that precede or accompany mental illness, for the struggles I have in meeting are often good ones. Until a few weeks ago, I had never spoken in meeting. Then I got kicked to my feet. I said one sentence, which I remember, and a few other things and then sat down, drained. Recently I have found some people who can talk about it with me. Talking about those experiences in worship frees me up and enables me to continue to grow spiritually, but I still have to learn by doing, supported by other people.
Questions, comments, and replies
For Fran: Can you say more about how you find The Cloud of Unknowing useful? Ans: I find it useful in providing a structure for private, contemplative prayer and a model for an approach to reaching out to God in meeting for worship.
The “gathered meeting”. What are the distinctions between meeting for worship and a gathered meeting? “Gathered meeting” refers to a unique and special experience in meeting for worship. It is profound, intense, deep, and sweet, with everyone gathered together in, through, and by the Spirit of Christ. “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me” invokes that gathering. In describing the move into gatheredness, one Friend said, “All of a sudden the bottom dropped out of our meeting for worship and we were gathered together.” He continued, “The point of gatheredness is not how it feels, but being transformed by Christ. There are many gifts, but there is one Spirit that activates them. There are many linguistic frameworks, but one Lord. It is important to know who that Lord is.”
Speaking in meeting for worship. We must be careful not to stand up to speak in meeting on the basis of our feelings. I need to remember to determine whether God is asking me to deliver this message or whether I am motivated by my feelings. Emotions can very easily lead you astray.
What does one do when one gets a message that has a kernel of truth embedded in a tapestry of other thoughts? Ans: Wait for real clarity and give the kernel with only the essential supporting explanation.
When a meeting for worship gets off course. There is a lot of mystery embedded in our understanding of worship and our individual parts in worship. Being led to rise and speak has a physical component for me. When a meeting gets off track, I go to the place in my physical body where Christ is and invite the Presence of God back into the meeting.
What else should we do to help when a meeting gets off course – in a specific meeting? Over the long haul? What everyone in the room is doing during meeting for worship is important. Praying “underneath” the group helps. I need to learn better how to gauge when my message is over, and to then sit down.
Sometimes a Friend will stand up and say nothing when a message has been upsetting or when a few friends are debating with each other. Does that help?
Intervention when a meeting is not going well can come from a vocal message or vocal prayer. It seems to help a lot to address God (in prayer) rather than addressing the body.
What about intellectual and therapy-related messages? Do we need orientation materials for newcomers to help them get their bearings?
Bill Taber’s Pendle Hill pamphlet “Four Doors to Worship” has been useful for many people.
Orientation materials are fine up to a point, but ultimately giving a message that is spiritually encouraging for the body depends on rightly sensing God’s immediate motion to speak. We need to differentiate between God’s time and our own sense of time. God has a lot more time than we do.
In a sustained period of dryness and emptiness in our meeting, we realized that we were all tired and not preparing or praying beforehand.
Transformation through meeting for worship. I’d like to get back to the idea of transformation. How transformed are we after meeting for worship? What are the consequences of silent worship? How are we transformed, and why do we sit on these benches?
Worship is an integral part of my relationship with God. Transformation happens as part of a continuous cycle. Transformation may be as slow as a snail, or it may happen in a burst of fireworks, but it is deeper and more complete when I have taken the time frequently throughout the week to sit and be with God.