Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
This past week I took a five-day visit to the Pacific Northwest. Though I was there to play tourist and visit family, I also wanted to examine a very different worship style than the unprogrammed silent worship where I learned to be a Friend and how I worship to this day. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, and what I experienced was certainly different enough.
The Worship style was very different from one hour of silence broken periodically by vocal ministry. It reminded me somewhat of the Methodist service of my childhood. Most of the music was provided by a choir. No hymnals. No responsive reading. No Apostles Creed. Not even a passage of Scripture, though Bibles were provided at each pew. As a Methodist, I was used to standing up and sitting down quite regularly. This Quaker church where I spent time relied heavily on their choir, and in one or two very rehearsed and ornate songs. For the most part, I stayed seated, as did everyone else.
The only nod to unprogrammed worship was a period of silence fifteen to twenty minutes long. No one really seemed to know what to do with it. I will say for myself that it takes a minimum of fifteen to twenty minutes to center adequately and provide clear vocal ministry in unprogrammed worship. I didn't know what to do with it, either, anymore than they did. Passing a microphone around from person to person seemed odd and clunky. In any case, it passed quickly.
The congregation sang two hymns alone, included in the order of service, and I listened to the concluding sermon of the minister. It lasted barely five minutes. In a different religious tradition, I was used to twenty minute sermons or even a little longer. I found I missed lengthier talk, much as I prefer chatty Meetings with multiple speakers. In meeting up following Worship with one of the long-term members, she indicated that she wished the sermon would go longer, too, and considered it a lacking of the current pastor.
The Church was apparently having money troubles. I figured this out during the passing of the collection plate (remember that?), where my $20 polite donation won me a robust and hearty pat on the back. It was also sadly dying, due to the fact that there were no children present and membership numbered no more than 40 at a space that could have easily accommodated three times that. The church had been removed from its previous Yearly Meeting and had a year to decide its next move. Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) has recently split and regrettably opted for schism, much like North Carolina, and the church is now debating which faction to embrace.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I did know an influential member of the church who gave me the full background and history. I'm not going to share church gossip in this forum, but I will say only that the gathering is in very bad straits. A group of old guard members is convinced that only it will save the church from itself, regain its children, and grow its membership. Based on what I have been told and observed at an admittedly minimal level, I think the gesture is heavy-handed and bound to fail.
Once again I learn that churches and Meetings are comprised of flawed people. We tend to forget that, or perhaps we willfully forget it, denying reality for the most favored interpretation of the house of worship in which we'd like to believe and take part in. That's the lesson that speaks to me most profoundly about this troubled church which is in part due to a dysfunctional yearly meeting, as well. Quakers have split so many times and in so many ways. This was just another example.