Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Midlothian (Virginia, U.S.) Friends Meeting has inadvertently simplified things so that our Spiritual Nurture committee could spend more time and effort on spiritual endeavors that serve the meeting, rather than on administrative items that consume their energy - but could be handled in a more natural manner.
Our Spiritual Nurture committee is similar (but not the same) as what might be called Ministry and Worship committee or Ministry and Counsel committee in other meetings. In our liberal Quaker meeting Friends on this committee are not considered "Elders" in any way. They facilitate the meeting with programs and issues relating to the spiritual environment of our meeting.
For decades this committee has also been responsible for closing worship and supplying a greeter each Sunday at the front door. In late 2013 the committee hit a dry spell and the meeting was also going through one of those slumps that all meetings and churches do. So, those at worship on Sundays found that there was no one supplied by that committee to close worship; nor to greet Friends at the front door.
One Friend found that he was consistently serving both roles; and became stressed that substituting for the committee did not seem to have any end in sight. Although the meeting itself was coming out of its slump, the Spiritual Nurture committee (for lots of legitimate reasons) could not get itself resurrected.
So, this Friend sent a frustrated email about the situation to the meeting clerk and a few long-time Friends of the meeting - asking that the matter come to Meeting for Business. One especially wise long-time Quaker 'replied to all' that meanwhile the stressed Friend shouldn't worry about it because someone will close meeting eventually, and our meeting is so friendly and welcoming that it wouldn't be the end of the world if we had no greeter on Sunday.
When the matter came up at the next Meeting for Business, after a bit of discernment the meeting actually came to a sense that we should try the long-time Quaker's suggestion just to see what happens - a sort of pilot while the meeting's Nominating committee attempted to reconstitute our Spiritual Nurture committee. It was soon brought up that we would need to temporarily put a clock on the meetinghouse's fireplace mantel because most people don't wear watches any more, and Friends would need to at least have a sense of the time in order to close worship if they are the one so moved by the Spirit to do so. This 'clock on the mantel' suggestion in itself was controversial because our worship room has traditionally been kept completely bare. But having no other choice, Friends agreed to this temporary arrangement. Additionally, all agreed that indeed we are such a friendly, outgoing group that everyone would act as "the Greeter" to new ones that might visit us.
The end of this story is that it has been more than a year since we instituted this temporary solution. And, it is still going strong. And Friends LOVE it. After about the first three months of this temporary arrangement, our Nominating committee indeed reconstituted our Spiritual Nurture committee - but Friends wanted to make the temporary arrangement to close worship and greet visitors permanent. They did not want the Spiritual Nurture committee to assume again these duties. Why? Because we have been so blessed by the many different Friends who have been moved each Sunday to close worship. On the mantel in front of the clock a small card has been laid that lists the threes items that the closer should cover at the close of worship: Holding Friends in need in the Light, Introduction of visitors, and Announcements. That way, no Friend who is moved to close worship needs to worry that they won't remember the three items to handle at the close of worship.
This experience has blessed our spiritual community so much. Even shy ones among us have felt the Spirit's nudging to close worship. Instead of the three same people from the Spiritual Nurture committee closing worship each Sunday, the person closing changes each Sunday. It's been just amazing! And the whole meeting takes very seriously its communal role to be our Greeter. When someone new comes into the meetinghouse - they are greeted by whoever is near them, and after worship they are swamped with people wanting to meet them.
I have also noticed more joy within the Spiritual Nurture committee itself. I think this is because they are now fully focusing on spiritual endeavors that enhance the meeting community - rather than scheduling closers and greeters. They are consumed with their core purpose, rather than being administrators. The burden of making sure one of them is there each Sunday, has been lifted.
I wonder if other liberal Quaker meetings have tried this experiment, and if it has gone as well for your meeting. Would this be something that might be a positive change for your meeting?
I have attended meetings that close in both manners, one by the meeting's clerk and one by whomever "is led".
In the case I'm familiar with the "being led" was not so official an understanding as at your meeting and was not necessarily a spiritual leading -- I wasn't aware of it as a spiritual choice but knew that anyone was welcome to close meeting who happened to know all the things to say or was comfortable reading the lengthy instructions about this in real time.
A simpler version instead would have facilitated others being led to close and not being shy. But on the other hand the lengthy version allows us to state as a meeting the things you mention, as well as an introduction of EVERYONE (the name reminders are nice!), visitors welcomed separately from that, a statement of the mission of this particular meeting (which is very welcoming), a chance to express "afterthoughts that did not rise to the level of a message during worship", and a request for contributions.
We enjoy the spiritual abundance of the "afterthoughts" time a lot. It is a generous and spiritual way to encouage: a) meeting to be more silent unless one has a true message for others, b) shy people to share their messages without thinking of them as messages, and c) a time of community post-worship. It does feel like the most natural way to close and move gently from silent worship to social community. Perhaps what you are feeling the blessing of is similar?