I have been thinking a lot about open worship these days. Many of the larger evangelical Friends churches no longer practice open worship in their big venues for many reasons. I guess I am searching for a contemporary definition of open worship and ideas for how other large congregations incorporate their concept of open worship into their weekly big event(s).
What canst thou saith?

Tags: Willoughby Hills Friends Church, central yearly meeting, convinced friends, eastern region, evangelical friends, evangelical friends church, greensboro, new garden friends, north carolina, open worship, More…pastoral, programmed friends, quaker, religious education, unprogrammed, worship

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Hi Adrian,
This is a great question and I'm really glad you're asking it. I am sure there are different ways of thinking about Open Worship, but for me as a Quaker preacher I treasure it as a "time of worship that creates a space for us as a community to practice listening and responding to God." I think that's the most simple way I could explain it. To go into it a bit more I'd say that there are at least five characteristics of open worship that are helpful:

1) It creates a space where God can have a chance. In programmed churches it is really easy for one person to take up all the space in a room, and let's be honest, often this is the preacher. Open worship embraces the rich insight of early Quakerism that human nature tries to dominate and control space, thus crowding God out. This is, in my reading, much of the problem of church history: people going at it alone, without God. So open worship gives time and energy into listening and practicing, allowing space for God to "have a chance."

2) Along with this, it can be seen as a discipline for the (Quaker) preacher to embrace. We typically do open worship after my sermon. I end with queries instead of applications (I am more interested in how we are implicated in the story than how we sum it up in a couple bullet points). ((cf. Doug Pagitt's, Preaching Reimagined)) The queries then offer a guidepost into open worship (but are surely not necessary). The disciple of making sure that we do indeed have open worship (we try for 15 min) is one that I am trying to take very seriously. It helps me keep a cap on how long I allow myself to preach because it reminds me that I do not have the final say in our community and cannot take up all the space in the room. It also reminds me of the value of learning from those in our meeting. When we do open worship before the sermon I try to blend in people's contributions into my sermon and am usually awed by the amazing insights people have that never crossed my mind.

3) Open worship Invites participation. I see Quakerism as the most inherently participative of the Christian traditions. All its practices from the bottom on up are meant to create space for people to participate with God and with others together as a learning community. I see unprogrammed worship, when it is at its best, as a fully participative space. Now, over time, this space has been often co-opted and controlled by what is and is not allowed to be said or done - this is true both in the unprogrammed and programmed meetings. This space has in many of our meetings become more oppressive rather than participative. So if participation (the movement of listening and response) is really the heart that is to be captured here, then open worship is to be radically "open." Not only can anyone share if they feel led, but we also allow for other ways to participate. Sometimes we invite people to make art, we light candles, use prayer stations, write out paraphrases/remixes of passages we've just discussed in our own words, share poetry, sometimes we do body prayers, lectio divina, and other forms of liturgy (liturgy can be highly participative), we've played with compost, went on walks around our meetinghouse, and lots of other things that encourage an active participation. To me open worship is a (decentralized) space to allow for God to move, how that look is, well, open to interpretation. Though, I must stress that actual silence (and then responding if led) is itself very important and Quaker formative practice (for everything else we do, including our business practices) that we do this just as much (or more) than we do these other things.

4) It Invites a learning-while-doing mentality. In my research around "convergent" Quaker worship one thing I have noticed is that what is important is that people learn while they practice or do something. Often in Quaker worship there is such high expectations for what can be said, how it gets said, when, etc. that people are less and less willing to actually stand up and offer ministry. Instead, open worship, embraces apprenticeship within the faith community. Here we are "practicing the practice," so to speak. I am convinced we learn by doing. One way I like to think about it is learning by reading and learning by writing. Often, those of us in the church are good readers, we've read the Bible through and through, we can quote verses, we know all the "right" answers to hard questions, but we haven't internalized it. In other words, we still need to learn how to write, reflect, put it in our own language, with our own experiences and "remix" it. Or to put it in the words of Quaker theologian T. Vail Palmer Jr., we need to learn how to, as the early Friends did, empathize with the Scriptures.

5) Finally, open worship trusts the spirituality of people. When we talk about open worship, a lot of people instantly think about the one "crazy" person who will say "scary" stuff. Even as rare as this occurs (I haven't experienced this yet in the 8 months I've been pastoring at our current church) we need to make ourselves vulnerable to this because all people have a spirituality to be shared. This is an embracing of the priesthood of the believers in a way that recognizes the risks involved, and yet believes in it enough to open one's self up. I like the example one of my teacher's uses on this issue. Think about websites that do reviews, like Amazon for instance. There are tons of people who share their thoughts on a given topics, commodity, what-have-you. And there are some crazy posts that will ensue, but for the most part the community recognizes the out-of-place comment, the remark that seemed off base, or the person who does not yet have a reputation in the community. We can trust the spirituality of people, and by opening ourselves up to that, I think we will see wonderful movements of God and spiritual growth not possible any other way.

Sorry, this is a lot, but I've been meaning to reflect on this in writing for sometime so I used this as my excuse to get some of this out. I am open for additions, corrections, and discussion around this but it is how I've been thinking about it. (I've cross posted this on my website http://bit.ly/7FH5lZ).
Adrian, I'll assume that you are aware that "unprogrammed" Friends of both conservative and liberal meetings practice open worship as the main or perhaps exclusive component of corporate worship and that you are asking about contexts other than those. Is this correct?
Hi David,
Yes I am aware of the unique worship style of the non evangelical branches of Quakers and have a great respect for their position in Quakerdom. I guess I am searching for ideas that can be implemented in a programmed setting of a larger evangelical meeting that would honor this treasured component of our rich heritage. In my mind it is time for a contemporary theology of open worship that is can be taught and practiced in the context of larger Friends churches.

I hope this explanation is clearer than Ohio mud! :-)
I think it's a useful discussion for those of us in the unprogrammed tradition too. Outside of the hour alloted to worship, a lot of the larger liberal meetings are pretty programmed. From paid staff to programatic solutions to questions of education and organization, we're not nearly as pure as we like to make out.

As someone interested in outreach I have wondered what would happen if unprogrammed meetings started attracting newcomers in larger numbers. The comfortable size of most liberal meetings just wouldn't work if Friends made up any real percentage of the population. We're so haphazard about religious education that the only way to really grow as a Friend is to stick around long enough to pick things up by osmosis. To use modern lingo, our model doesn't scale well.

I've had this dream of an off-hour worship time (a mid-week or Sunday evening) which would be preceded by an hour of religious education (e.g., reading classic Quaker books) and followed by period of semi-organized socializing. Although my sympathies and identification is largely with Conservative Friends, this model is essentially coming at Adrian's question from the other end. How can we combine a solid teaching ministry with the need to have Friends regularly practice waiting upon the present & living Christ?

I sometimes think of waiting worship and business as spiritual fire drills. We practice so that we can recognize Christ when He comes to us with instructions on one of those other 167 hours of the week.
I am so glad, Adrian, to be having a conversation about this. I have a few sort of related thoughts about it.

I would point out that even in programmed worship, the core beliefs of Friends should influence how things operate. The cadence of truly Quaker programmed worship often has a less rushed feeling than many other services. There is not a rush to move on to the next thing from singing to prayer to announcements to the sermon to another song, on and on, one after another. For example, the pastor doesn't rush up to the pulpit to pray as the last chorus is being sung. There is time allowed between each programmed element. This encourages a sense of listening, contemplation and rest. This allows time for God to move and people to respond.

Part of the problem for programmed meetings is that so many people are convinced Friends or might not even know they are attending a Friends church at all. And so many people have no knowledge of Quaker history or practice and so have no way to interpret a time of silence with the possibility of vocal ministry. There needs to be some pretty intentional teaching around what is going on collectively and individually during that time and around how to discern when one is called to speak. There has been at least some materials put out by unprogrammed Friends to help explain this. I would encourage this teaching not to be framed as "Some Quakers worship in this way. We're going to try this out as something different and quaint this Sunday." But rather, "One of our core beliefs is that God speaks to each person and we must be attentive to his call. We believe that the pastor is not the center of the worship and not the only one who has a message. And so we are allowing space for us to hear God and respond." This is an understanding that has to be cultivated, taught and reinforced over some time and in a variety of ways (Bible study and discussion, business practice, expressed roles and expectations of the pastor and others, what happens when the pastor is out of town, etc). All these things can help point to the fact that we all are ministers and give the community the understanding and spiritual depth to do waiting worship.

As a side note, I was thinking of what programmed meetings I've experienced waiting worship at and who you might be able to talk to about this. Goshen Friends Church near Bellefountaine, Ohio has long practiced about 10 or 15 minutes of open worship after singing and prayer and before the sermon. I haven't been there is several years, and so I hope they have continued the practice, but you could speak to whoever is the pastor there now or the former pastor Bruce Bell might be interesting to talk to. Also, University Friends Church in Wichita, Kansas is an Evangelical Friends church that has open worship. Their pastor, Cliff Loesch, would also be a good person to talk to.
Adrian, Thanks for opening this up on Quakerquaker. Between the lines in my response to Martin, below, are my thoughts that on any scale, open worship (what my YM calls waiting worship) isn't hard-wired for many of us (most of us?), and so some preparation would make sense, on everybody's part - whoever does most of the talking in the front of the room on First Day, and the rest of the people who do most of the listening. Understanding what is going on (ideally) can make a difference. Groups that are not used to listening quietly together for any length of time have, (again in my limited experience), seemed to give in to the urge to fill in the silence with something - anything - and it doesn't always sound like Gospel ministry.

Martin, There has been a tradition of midweek meeting for worship among Ohio Conservative Friends that usually (in my limited experience) is connected with a shared study time. Usually the scriptures are studied, but sometimes other helpful spiritual literature is considered, and there is a light meal.

One meeting in my YM also developed their own written resource for learning more about Conservative Friends' history and theology together.

I have heard a few Friends say that though their meetings don't have it regularly any more, that midweek meeting was a great benefit to the life of the meeting.
Chiming in from Klamath Falls, Oregon. My meeting is programmed, but we have a time we call centering, which is about 5 minutes of silence before the message, and then about ten minutes of open worship after that. Also, the last Sunday of the month is totally unprogrammed. I find this to be my favorite Sunday. There is something so powerful about worshiping (mainly) in silence with others who are doing the same. God seems so close during that time. I would hate to give it up.
During my first visit to Central Yearly Meeting (U.S.A.) in the 1990's, participating in their worship w/pastors and sermons and planned music, I commented on the fact that my meeting had "unprogrammed" worship. A woman quickly informed me that their worship is also unprogrammed, meaning that they are open to following God's lead and do not claim to know what will happen. Just because they begin with a plan and structure does not mean that God won't change their plans. I have been at several Central YM worship services when God did change their plans (including once when a guest speaker had come to give a sermon and never got a chance to share his sermon). Central Yearly Meeting does not have quiet time, but there are times when there seems to be more of an open invitation for God to minister through the congregation. One is during prayer time when everyone prays at the same time. One person is asked to pray aloud, but everyone else prays as well, so that there is a loud constant murmur of voices. At times individual prayers seem to join together and I have sensed a gathered meeting similar to what I have experienced in complete silence. These Friends also share a time of testimonies, when people share about how God is working in their lives. This is sometimes when the Spirit takes over!
I prefer to begin worship with centering silence, but I have come to recognize that there are multiple ways to center in, listen, and open oneself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and there are more vocal Friends such as Central YM Friends who still experience "worship in the manner of Friends." I believe we all need to remain open to God speaking to us in new ways.
My Friends -
I have been pondering this post and the responses since it went up.
I cannot imagine a meeting without centering worship, and I cannot imagine even getting started at centering in 5 minutes time, much less having time to hear what the inner Light has to say to me.
I came to unprogrammed Friends from a liturgy based denomination. So freeing was it, the first time I was able to sit quietly through an hour (or more~) of silence, punctuated only by the deep leadings of the ministers of the day, that I knew I had at last experienced what George Fox described.
Over the years, I have experienced times of felt barrenness, and times of great harvest. I have watched newcomers attend and express both confusion and profound connectedness. I have been ministered to in poetry, song, scripture and prose, not by people but by God.
As the years have unfolded, I have come to trust that the mystery that is God is able to provide in so many more meaningful ways than I could ever imagine, and I feel incredibly blessed to have been led to an unprogrammed agenda.
Have we become such a fast paced and selfish society that we cannot afford to wait on the Lord?
Have we mistaken deep thinking for the leading that comes from a place far deeper?
Are we so concerned that the voice of God be a voice we know and understand, that we have forgotten that the inner Christ may speak differently to all of us, thereby creating newness?
Are we in danger of wanting to define God, only to lose the Light?
Thee will never persuade me to give up not just what I have been led to, but what has pulled and prodded and spoken through me. That Presence is my intimate Friend.
Today thee has ministered to me to help me understand just a little bit more why early Friends were willing to give up their lives for their faith.
Very interesting conversation, how can we find more ways to incorporate this. I have heard of other denominations that are having open worship in the services like pentecostal churches, they are thinking that is an original idea of theirs but we have been doing for centuries, and how do we bring awareness of this in the evangelical circles?
Yes Faith you are right many people aren't even aware of the fact that they attend a Friends Church (Quaker) and as you may know many people in our yearly meeting use the word "Quaker" to clasify the liberal and unprogramed branch. How can God help us change this situation among evangelical circles? and listen to him more? and have a closer relationship with HIM?
Thank you for opening this discusion. I grew up in the Hispanic Evangelical Friends tradition where my dad was a pastor, I discovered unprogramed worship when I was around 18 years old. I knew there was something of God in those meetings but didn't feel totally comfortable with the meetings because I knew that many of the people there and I differ in theology and in Boston many people feels led to speak about political and social issues such as peace, war, enviroment, human rights etc. and this is fine with me but I see this kind of worship as God and I time. So I kept exploring more of the branches of Quakerism and landed in Indiana where I attend Indianapolis' First Friends Church they have my perfect conbination. I know that I am worshiping with Cristcentered folks very Cristian church its programed but it also has its good mixture of unprogramed worship which helps as time of how the mesage given by God through the pastor applies to my condition. Its too bad EFCI doesnt hang out enough with FUM. I think that we both would learn from each other.

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