SYCAMORE GROVE: I have been faithful and punctual in attending Meeting for worship, excepting several weeks when our region received heavy snowfall and a few weeks when I overslept after late nights at the office. A new rotation in my work schedule should reduce the number of Saturday midnights I’m on duty, thus easing my rising in time to drive to Meeting and still be alert during worship.
Friends in the Meeting where I am sojourning, have been blessed in their assembly. I appreciate the diversity of those drawn to Meeting, and have become more aware and sensitive to their backgrounds, hungers, and wounds; but I also yearn for a greater understanding and appreciation of Christ Jesus, scripture, and supplication throughout the Meeting, and a greater commitment to weekly attendance and active participation by many individuals who are seen less regularly. I am encouraged, though, by growth throughout the Meeting and by an openness to free Gospel ministry.
I am realizing the importance of punctual attendance at Meeting for Business as well, and am hoping to be more regular in my participation in a twice monthly Bible study held before worship hour.
All Friends Meetings need to be more faithful in welcoming others into our fellowship. We need to find ways of extending that invitation throughout our communities, of greeting those who venture into our worship, and of nurturing those who are part of our body but irregular in their attendance. Yet as I look around my neighborhood and at many of the other cars on the road First-day mornings, I am reminded that I have no idea at all of how to reach out to the greater society. In many ways, my neighbors are strangers.
Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
– Psalm 119: 1-3
AGAMENTICUS LANDING: We recognize that our preparation for Meeting for Worship embodies varied disciplines, each one strengthened by personal consistency. Oftentimes, a Friend can bring to the worship only as much silence as he or she has gathered during the week. We are counseled to learn to pace ourselves during the week, to regard what we really need to do. Keeping a daily spiritual practice alive, even if for just a few minutes or a half-hour, is vital. Turning off the telephone may help in maintaining a time of prayer or of singing hymns and praises. Done daily, as one Friend has found, this becomes “time with God” rather than “preparation for Meeting.”
To sit together in an hour of “warm silence” is a gift. Each of us will encounter occasions when centering is difficult, yet we know how precious its arrival always feels. The corporate worship, as we mutually search for unity in the Holy Spirit, differs from our personal daily practice. This time of “group mysticism” has its own charge, a special call for everyone in the room to listen to the Divine. Meeting for Worship is best when we sense that happening.
When we rush distractedly into the meetinghouse, our worship can feel restless and scattered. Yet even on days when we enter in turmoil, some of the deepest messages may arise – usually late in the hour, after we’ve unified in Spirit.
We appreciate how some among us hold the vocal ministry in encouragement and love. We value their openness to God in patient listening and their reminder that God can and does speak through people, no matter how unexpectedly, if you’ll only give ear.
Not all ministry among us here appears to be prompted by the Holy Spirit. We realize that not every single vocal message ministers to all, and admit our own individual amazement in those instances when we later hear honest appreciation for words we had discounted. Even so, we are reminded of the circle chart regarding the decision whether to speak, with its repeated advice, “Return to center.” Friends do receive messages that might better be kept to oneself, although we admit difficulty in defining them when they are voiced in our worship. Sometimes during a vocal message, it becomes important to hold the speaker in silent prayer, “Get to the point,” and we have found times when that has helped both the listener and the speaker. When we rise in vocal ministry, we need to be careful not to respond to a previous message in a manner that becomes discussion.
We find our Meeting for Worship is generally held in expectant waiting for divine guidance. A core group of Friends is regular in attendance. In the end, we never know when the covering is going to happen or where it will come from. We must simply wait and hope.
Three or four Friends who maintain midweek worship report a personal closeness and deepening, while desiring that more will join in. For people who encounter scheduling conflicts on First-day mornings, the Fifth-day evenings should be a welcome alternative.
If an hour of “warm silence” is ultimately a divine gift, then we can also admit to feelings of disappointment, too, after worship some days.
Some Friends hunger for more ministry that leaps to its feet to preach to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Some agonize over obstacles to communal prayer or communal singing, two intimate expressions that rarely appear in our worship, in part because we have not yet established a comfortable common language within our diversity. Even so, with practice, prayer and song have the potential of engaging all of us, not just one person. Like children, we must trust, without worry of offending others; trust, that we will be heard and accepted.
Physical distractions can also impede worship. The ticking of the wall clock as well as comings and goings through the door have caused more than one Friend to sit on the far side of the room.
Late arrivals are a perplexing problem. Although they can disturb the gathering silence, we are grateful for all who join us. Sometimes the latecomer is the one who most needs to be present, who most needs love and compassion. We don’t know the inner workings of all who come to Meeting or what they undergo to get here. Often there are children and distances to contend with. Expectant waiting, then, can include expecting our brothers and sisters to arrive! It can include holding latecomers in prayer as they enter into the worship.
Friends in other locales have adapted their own solutions to this problem. In some, Friends arrive directly into the room, rather than clustering on the other side of the shutter beforehand to chat (even if it is Meeting business). In some, individual Friends will arrive a half-hour or more before the appointed time, to center down and “warm the room.”
Some name individuals to “watch the door,” greeting Friends as they arrive and then, once Meeting has settled, sitting with latecomers outside the room until the children leave for their classes and the new arrivals can enter with least disruption.
Since Agamenticus’s practice is to include the children in the first quarter-hour of worship, punctuality with children has presented its own dilemma: Do we wait outside the door for the fifteen minutes, depriving the children of a taste of the worship, or do we intrude on the gathering silence?
For parents, the first fifteen minutes can be scattered, stressed, and difficult. It can be a different experience from the rest of the hour, and that in itself may be the only time some get for their own relief and refreshment during the week.
As we addressed this set of queries, we felt comfortable in proposing the use of greeters, which is a more personal touch than posting a sign on the door for latecomers. Should Meeting move forward on this matter, we suggest giving Friends a month of warning before it is implemented. As one person said, some of us are always five or ten minutes late, and if we know what to expect, we’ll have no reason to feel surprised.
Support was also voiced for reserving a set of benches near the door for use of latecomers, as was the custom of Agamenticus Meeting not too many years ago.
Our Meeting for Worship is only one part of our practice of communal worship.
Full communal worship also demands opportunities for knowing each other in daily life. Regardless of our individual situation, we should make efforts to find times outside of the hour of worship to meet with other Friends, to help us be more fully integrated into this body of faith. Living at distances from each other can leave us less able to help one another or to know one another through casual encounters. There may be skeletons in our closets, or unacknowledged bright spots, that ought to be addressed. Some of us come for the hour of worship, get what we can, and then run home. Others work hard for the entire community. Sometimes we fail to see that if we don’t step in to help the other parts of the community, our experience of Meeting for Worship can also fall flat – especially if a sense of unresolved guilt sets in.
When communal service flows out of worship, as some Friends have found in volunteering at the soup kitchen, organic moments teaching and nurturing arise in the ministry of washing pots and pans. Vocal ministry can present itself in everyday encounters, as well as during open worship.
We ask whether the Meeting’s committees fail to be an extension of worship. These bodies can be a rewarding means of drawing newcomers into fellowship, as long as we keep the work itself from being perceived as a chore. Some committees feel joyful and energized; others, heavy. Some see fruits of their labors; for others, it’s theoretical. As a community, we are currently stretched to have enough people take responsibility and consistently fulfill it for all of the work before us.
In this, we are reminded of the joyful support that appeared for the Peaceable Kingdom quilt undertaken through the children’s religious education, and see that as a model for the entire Meeting. We are also reminded of the power of prayer, both before each gathering and then, at the end, in giving thanks for all that has happened.
WILLOW BROOK: Despite the typical depth of our hour of worship, our broader ministry falls too heavily on too few. As the community “grays,” the lack of a new generation to mentor and move up becomes apparent. How we redress this will be crucial to the survival of our circle.
As I’ve expanded my service into the yearly meeting’s Ministry and Counsel committee, I’ve felt a calling to refocus on Friends in places other than my own monthly meeting but have been unable to respond until others assume work I’ve been carrying here.
I long for a break … a release from the yoke of responsibility … a desire to be fresh and new.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.