An Unprogrammed Friend Experiences Programmed Worship

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.

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 9, 2017 at 11:19am

A speaker at my Yearly Meeting was a student of the Psalms, said that their word for "True" which they'd apply to God -- was not the Greek absolute mathematical kind of true/false distinction, but meant "trustworthy, dependable."

We don't always get to know the absolute truth of a matter. We do get a dependable Guide.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 9th mo. 10, 2017 at 11:21am

Howard, I own your words (and the words that James posted earlier) and have received them in my heart; that people gathered in and through the inshining Light are edified and strengthened by coming together and that you and James personally are gathered more fully into the experience of the inshining Light by coming together with others in a specific context. To be honest and open, I am edified and strengthened in and through the inshining Light as much (if not more) by living in it in my daily life and in my daily contact with others as I am edified by gathering with others specifically to hold to the Light. I do not experience an increase in the illumination of the inshining Light as a result of participating in a specific context with multiple persons. That is, the gathering together part is not connected, for me, to a more full participation in the inshining Light. I may experience an increase in the movement and impulse of the inshining Light while gathered with others in a specific context, however, it is never my sense that it is the gathering together part that is the cause of increase. In my experience, there is no specific context which manifests the inshining Light more fully, or, said another way, all contexts (I find myself in) manifests the inshining Light fully. There are no special contexts that manifests the Light more fully. This is why the early Quakers did honor special holy days (holidays), because all days were holy days. It is also, why some early and founding Quakers refused to honor set times, places, or buildings (Meeting Houses or Churches) as places of worships or sacred. Because all times, places, and buildings are sacred through the power of the inshining Light itself in itself upon the conscience. It is also one reason why many Quakers would not follow George Fox back into the building of institutional contexts and practices, stating they would not participate in rebuilding that which they were come out of, because it was the very act of building and participating in specific institutional contexts and practices that had led them into the eternal sleep.

Again, this is not to deny that there are those for whom the inshining Light manifests more fully when they come together with multiple people in a specific context. Many, many, early and founding Quakers found value in institutionalized process and contexts and readily set out to follow and support George Fox’s recommendation to rebuild new contexts out of the rubble of the old outward religious contexts and the resulting eternal sleep they had come out of.

Comment by James C Schultz on 9th mo. 10, 2017 at 1:47pm

I'm sorry if I ever implied that communal gathering was a better source of hearing from the Spirit than individual worship or prayer time or meditation (pick a term).  I just find it works for community decision making in matters affecting the community.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 10, 2017 at 2:29pm

Where it seems to improve the listening is  when I feel called to participate in some way.

I'm sure that God is equally present regardless. But how well I'm listening, how 'palpable' God is in my experience of an occasion -- is much influenced by situation. Large irate male pointing a kitchen knife in my general direction... very devotional experience. (The guy with the knife was a distraction, true, but I was strongly motivated to seek all the inspiration and guidance I could get!)

I think there are unconscious influences from other people trying to worship that do make it easier. God isn't broadcasting any stronger, but often my antenna seems a little better tuned. (But just a strong felt need for God, whenever and however that happens, works as well or better. That, however, is not something I can switch on or off.)

Guaranteed to work? -- No. Arranging occasions when it might work better, yes.

And being needed by other people...? I can't contrive occasions and expect that a little token service is going to align me better to God's workings... but when I'm (rarely) Invited to do what I can, that can make for a powerful link. 

Do the Mary role when you're called to that, the Martha thing when that's how you're assigned?

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 10, 2017 at 3:14pm

Keith, 

I am pleased to hear of your consistent and constant experience with the inshining Light.  Unfortunately, I am not always in awareness of that True Presence consistently and constantly, and am therefore grateful to the Light for any opportunities it provides me to align more fully with it at all moments, so that I may become as you are witnessing.  I am also willing to be a tool of the Light to raise within others an awareness of their own inshining Light by my own public example whenever possible.  'Meeting for Discernment' (the term my meeting uses instead of  'Meeting for Business') just provides another opportunity for any and all Friends to model living in the inshining Light within a context of group decisions - so that we might help one another to fully identify with the Light that we truly are.

I think for most (if not all) liberal Friends, 'Meeting for Discernment' is another very spiritual experience where the group awareness of the Light during decision-making is used to help move us individually to consistent and constant identification with the inshining Light.  The thing being decided is regarded as simply a 'prop' of sorts to be used to teach us to be our inshining Light in our daily lives.  It's an opportunity to awaken that which we are - if it is not already in a consistent and constant state (which for most of us it is not).

From conversations with Evangelical and pastoral Friends, I am not clear that this is the root purpose of their 'Meetings for Business'.

I hope this makes sense.

Comment by James C Schultz on 9th mo. 10, 2017 at 8:43pm

There's a scripture that reads the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  I am in agreement with Forest that my most fervent prayers have come in times of great stress.   Those prayers are also, in general, my shortest: "Help me Jesus!"

Comment by Keith Saylor on 9th mo. 12, 2017 at 11:37am

Howard,

We  own the inshining Light and have received it in our hearts. In that inshining Light, I am and you are and we are the Light. In that Light is our unity and our fellowship. In that Light, I am come out of all forms and images. I, personally, am come out of looking upon group Meeting for Business as a way or help toward discernment or identification in or with the inshining Light or in relation to decision-making. Personally, it is of no value; it is chaff as some of the early and founding Quakers testified. In the inshining Light, there is no individual or group. There is the Light itself in itself and it is not of the nature of the outward constructs of individual or group. That you find meeting in a group context helpful in bringing you more fully into participation in and with the inshining Light is not where I am in unity with you. I am in unity with you in our shared experience of  the inshining Light itself in itself  in our consciences; and that unity is the only unity I value.

Likewise with James. I do not value group discernment over individual discernment in the Light. Because I do not see in my conscience the value of the distinction. The direct and immediate experience of the inshining Light itself in itself in the conscience is not of the nature of individual verses group. Discernment through the inshining Light in the conscience is not individual discernment or group discernment, it is different from individual discernment and group discernment. Decision making through direct and immediate waiting upon the inshining Light itself in itself in the conscience is not conditioned upon nor is it of the nature of the outward constructs and contexts of "individual" or "group." The conscience guided and informed by the inshining Light itself in itself is different than individual and group contexts. It transcends these contexts, and in so these contexts are not of value. The impulse and motion of the inshining light upon a person or group of people is not of higher value or import whether it is in a group or individual context when the Light itself in itself is the impulse. It is the impulse itself in itself without regard for any context that is of value. That James finds decision making helpful in a group context is not were James and I are in unity. We are in unity and oneness in the context of our shared owning of the Light itself in itself in our conscience and that direct and immediate witness, as with you, is the only unity I value. 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 12, 2017 at 1:09pm

This is what I find missing in all this "being called out of" one thing or another:

http://gatheringinlight.com/2017/09/11/on-passive-and-active-silenc...

If those pesky Israelite slaves would just stop making such a fuss and dwell on the Light in their hearts... They might really find that it's time to walk!

Just walking -- without that Light -- would have been futile. But it's a dim vision that thinks the Kingdom is not to be "of this world."

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 12, 2017 at 2:36pm

Yes, Keith, in a group decision whether it is within a family, between spouses, among friends, with neighbors, or at a Quaker meeting - unity in the Light is the natural state of true being in the decision.  Otherwise, the outcome from any interaction between people ends up being a distraction from the Light that we are burdened with. What has been labeled "Quaker Process" is just 'unity in the Light' when it is indeed experienced as unity in the Light.

The more one has that True Light experience, the more one will seek that reality. That's all I am saying.

I'm certainly fine if you don't agree with that for yourself.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 9th mo. 12, 2017 at 2:52pm
Amen, Howard.

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