REHOBOTH MILLS: In many of the Friends’ Meetings for Worship that I have attended over the past year and a half, punctuality has been observed more in the breach than in fact. Often the worst offenders are members of the Ministry and Counsel Committee, who find themselves trying to conduct business in the hallways rather than turning to the more pressing business of worship. One Meeting I attended has attempted to hold latecomers until fifteen minutes into the worship, the time the children leave for their First-Day school activities, before entering. This greatly helps foster the deep meditation and communion we seek, but the morning I was there, the first speaker denounced this practice and most of the messages reflected this issue. As some of us noted afterward, it was a great Meeting for Business – and perhaps it will be instructive to this particular fellowship, as it is attempting to return to the Quaker practice of a Meeting for Worship for Business. As part of my message that morning, I shared our 21st Advice, which came as a balm over the controversy. Several Friends came up to me afterward and marveled over the concise directness and loving power of the Advice. There is a great difference between the universalist Meetings for Worship I encounter here most First-Day mornings and a Meeting for Worship in the Name of Jesus. The former has great difficulty centering down; many of its messages are of the “I was thinking” or “I was reading last week” nature; and there is a resistance to our free gospel ministry, although I can also report that in every one of those Meetings I have spoken in, I find a few Friends who are hungry for the word of God and for fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of the messages these Meetings need are of a teaching nature – the Christian roots of Quakerism. In contrast, our Conservative Meetings are held in the Name of Jesus. Because of the deep unity we share in Christ, there is an almost instantaneous centering down: the Meeting for Worship begins almost as if someone had turned on a light switch or we all got into a fast elevator headed toward the top floor of some tall skyscraper. Fifth-Day last we shared a similar Meeting here in my apartment, a mid-week Meeting in the Name of Jesus (under the care of York Monthly Meeting). The messages are of a more prophetic nature, and urge us to greater and greater faithfulness to His loving commands. We come together to share testimony and confession as well, to urge one another to ever greater faithfulness in our Lord. We welcome others to share this fullness, this blessing with us: we share its good news through our all Quaker Meetings: there is a hunger for it. Often, I am finding it helpful to arrive a half-hour or so before the appointed hour, to center down early and help “warm up the room,” to pray for the Meeting for Worship and prepare myself for His work.
A question some of us are wrestling with: should we be going where our messages are needed, even though we know many resist us in the effort, or should we go on First-Day to a Meeting where we will find comfort and rest?
JANE’S FALLS: There is great need in these parts for free gospel ministry that builds up our Meetings “in the faith that is Jesus Christ.” But a core of mostly young Friends – some of them affiliated with New Foundations, some united in other, informal bonds of Christian love – is “taking due care to see that the basic principles of Friends’ worship are kept clearly before our members.” I feel great unity with this purpose and am overjoyed to be given such messages to proclaim. A Meeting for Worship in which we fail to acknowledge the presence of God and fail to turn to the Living Christ for our nurture is, for me, lacking Life. This acknowledgement does not have to be spoken; but we know when it is lacking. And I am finding, as I am being moved to speak in various Meetings, that many longtime Friends have never heard that Jesus is our Lord. But they have now. We are seeing everywhere an Invisible Church within our Meetings, one that needs encouragement and nurture, but one that is seeking Him and growing.
SYCAMORE GROVE: With the exception of a few mornings after those Seventh-days when I work at the office until midnight, I have been regular and punctual in my attendance at Meeting for Worship. I have striven to be faithful to the Lord’s service, waiting for His direction and a heightened and renewed awareness of His presence.
Beginning the Meeting hour with silent praise and thanksgiving helps, as does holding up in prayer those who appear in ministry. These days, being frequently given a message to share vocally in the Meeting in what I believe is free gospel ministry, I am finding great need to be especially vigilant in maintaining a waiting spiritual worship. Perhaps this leads me to be too hesitant at times to respond to that calling as promptly as I should.
Traditionally going forth in twos provided Friends with spiritual companionship in this work and allowed each one to keep watch over the other. Because of the temptations of running ahead of one’s leading, of succumbing to temptations, or of doctrinal error, there is great need of the presence of an elder or some other spiritual partner to help keep an ever vigilant faithfulness in that straight and narrow walk. Fortunately, New England has a small, informal group of Christ-centered, generally younger Friends (some of whom would consider themselves “neo-Wilburites”) who share in this concern of Christian watchfulness; they have been helpful in lovingly encouraging, correcting, and rebuking one another, as necessary. Some of these individuals have attended Ohio Yearly Meeting or our Conservative Friends gatherings and feel precious kinship with those they have met. Their shared faith has been a special blessing and nurture.
The purpose of worship is to gather before the Lord, for His service and not our own individual needs. Yet I find that when I miss Meeting, my spirit dives in the week that follows, and I am less likely to be the witness I might otherwise be.
For the past eight months, my personal study of scripture and practice of prayer have not been regular and persistent. Through that lapse, however, I have come to know their necessity and the subtle ways they connect directly to unsuspected aspects of my personal life – a crisis in one can lead to a crisis in the other. In the past few weeks, I have been discovering the need to be more active in many facets of my life. Perhaps much of the Oriental spiritual training in my past and over-emphasis on Quaker humility, Way opening, and so on have permitted me to be far more passive than I should. What I am beginning to learn is an active waiting, prayer in the form of questions, including “What can I do now, Lord,” giving fresh urgency and voice to the unarticulated – an experimental prayer seeking answers, if He will, in addition to holding individuals and situations in the Light or asking for His will. This is opening large sections of scripture to me, revealing an active confrontation with personal doubt, shortcomings, lapses, or major defeats that may ultimately achieve God’s victory.
It is important to be filled with the love and joy of Christ, to live a life that demonstrates qualities that will attract others to the fellowship we cherish. Perhaps then others will be more willing to accept the extended invitation.
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:46-47
WILLOW BROOK: Revisiting my earlier responses to this query has me considering the changes in my life in the three decades since the earliest entry. At the time, I was reeling from a divorce and subsequent broken engagement, exile from a region of the country I loved passionately, and career struggles that led me to redirect my ambitions. The one constant through all of that was Quaker faith, building on my earlier yoga experience. The questions I carried through the period – not just whether I would arrive at a kind of religious community and discipline sustaining my desires but also a hope for suitable marriage and family, along with an unspoken drive for book publication that would free me from the demands of daily journalism – have since been answered, to whatever degree.
I am faithful in attending meeting for worship and have long been central in its ministry. These days, I’m one who also carries a care for those sessions, rather than focusing solely on my own meditation. I am grateful for those mornings when I once again feel the lightness and freedom of my earlier sittings – or would welcome a revived sense of urgency throughout our Meeting, especially when we enter a phase of same old/same old routine. There are stretches, too, when I feel a restlessness settle over me. I anticipate a shift in my own activities, to once again find adequate time for Scripture study and prayer, as well as meditation and Hatha exercise, which would help me regain a comfortable posture.
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