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 Keith Saylor on 9th mo. 5, 2017 at 1:40pm

"I find it strange that one person I knew -- a Meeting Clerk with a particularly strong confidence that Quaker Process did work -- insisted to the end of her life that she just couldn't find anything she would call "God".

I do not find this strange at all. I have come across it often. Could it have been, as far as you know,  that she was saying, while she couldn't find anything she would call "God," that she had found something else that was not of the nature of the outward construct "God?"

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 5, 2017 at 3:49pm

Keith, I think I'm agreeing with you (oh-oh!) that it isn't any process -- or the agreement of any number of people -- that we could count on to crank out Absolute Truth or to achieve flawlessness or to suggest measures that could save a meeting.

Whether or not _we're_ "in a relationship with the Source", the Source is in a relationship with us (and I'd bet on that Source to have the last word on how we and It really stand!)

The real essence of that process is reliance on the direct impulse of the Source. So you might well reject any particular method of implementing the process -- or any reliance on the group to see Truth better than its members.

But we're still using the essence of that process, even though we practicing it as individuals.

It's right to insist that this Source is the necessary and sufficient source of Truth... but Its job is "to lead us into all Truth" -- and look where we're having to start from! Do we really have the ears to hear everything It's working to teach?

So It may well make use of other people, even make use of disagreeable disagreements with disagreeable other people (like us!) to move us-all a little further along the path.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 5, 2017 at 4:12pm

Um, we're getting our timing tangled a little here...

but as to your last question, it comes down to whether 'God' is 'an outward construct'.

People's concepts of God are constructs -- but God is not anyone's concept of God.

So it may well be that she was wrestling with a concept that she believed stood for what people mean by "God" -- and simply couldn't buy into that.

It also looks to me that a great many respectably prosperous people just hate the notion that something beyond our concepts really does  have the powers and virtues commonly ascribed to, um, God -- and that the only security and life and love we have is entirely beyond our control -- but rests with that Something.

Comment by James C Schultz on 9th mo. 5, 2017 at 4:40pm

Keith, my reference is to those who go through the motions but are not open to the possibility that the process works or just don't want it to work because they already know how to proceed.  Those people are judged by the success or lack thereof of the result of the purported "Process" itself and not by an individual.  As for determining if the resulting decision is a success or not we have to leave that judgment to History.

As for those who operate outside of the communal system utilized within the QP they are judged by the same criteria by the same Judge.  In my opinion the QP when followed faithfully just gives us a better chance of such success and by the way discernment of personal decisions of those of Great Faith are probably better left to the faith of such men and women.  I think when it's time to part the Red Sea, it's time to part the Red Sea and not time to submit the question to the body.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 5, 2017 at 5:31pm

"When it's time to part the Red Sea, it's time to part the Red Sea and not time to submit the question to the body."

Amen!

Then again, Moses had to come along in a time when that body was ready to go. Were the legendary plagues really about smiting Egyptians? -- or about making relations between them & Israel so awkward that his people were finally willing to move out?

Comment by James C Schultz on 9th mo. 5, 2017 at 8:01pm

Like everything in life, when it works you are a hero, when it doesn't you are a goat.  Most of us spend time switching from one to the other, but it's better than never going for it (personal opinion not shared by my X).

Comment by Keith Saylor on 9th mo. 6, 2017 at 11:53am

Hello James,

Thank you for your patience in the face of all my questions. I appreciate the clarity and honesty of your responses to them. You highlight for me that I do not participate in the Light in the way you do. The inshining Light has discovered to me a different way that is come out of institutionalized and established process. What do I mean by coming out of process? I mean to say; I do not enter into any set pattern of actions designed to bring about or help nurture a particular spiritual result. Through the appearance of the inshining Light itself in itself in my conscience and consciousness, it is discovered to me that I am come out of participating in and identification with the act engaging in a set of actions designed to nurture and help spiritual being. I simple do not value engaging in process, because I live and have being and consciousness in the inshining Life itself. The Light itself in my consciousness and conscience is ever presence in all things and activities in my daily life. I am the Life and the Life is in me in all things and is sufficient in itself without regard for any process. I am the Light and in the Light there is no value or need to enter into a set of actions to participate in and be informed and guided by the Light. Again, I am the Quiet and the Quiet is in me experientially, everywhere and in all things. Entering into a set process on a set day of the week, in a set and established context, is artificial and contrived in the Light itself. It is no different than being out on a sunny day and deciding to go into a building and looking a picture of a sunny day in order to experience the sun. It is without a doubt helpful to some, however, it is of no value to who I am as I live in the sun directly in everything I do in my daily life. I do not decide to do something so that I may live and have being in the Light. I’m already in the Light, I am the Light, it is the full measure of my life. I live the Gospel Day, it is come, and is the foundation of my relationships with others and my activities.

Your reflection on those as “Flawed” who go through the motions of institutionalized and established process and practice is significant to me. For, among those flawed people, there are those who are coming out of the valuation of and identification with the very process of entering into a process. They are going through the motions of process because engaging in process does not nurture them or guide and inform their conscience and consciousness. They are coming into a different way. It is mine to minister to those people and encourage their experience and growth into a different witness. There are to many people who will attempt to led them back into institutionalized process by telling them it is not possible to come out of process and identification with outward forms and practices. However, they are coming intuitively, through the inshining impulse of the Light itself in their conscience, to the knowledge and experience that it is possible. I suggest to you there are many of those who you reflect on as flawed who are just not nurtured by the process of entering into a process and who, when in fellowship and love are encouraged in their laying down of institutionalized process and outward forms, are born again into a new Life as the inshining Light pours into their conscience and the Spirit of Christ settles onto the throne and it is discovered to them a different way. To see the Light spark in their eyes is to experience spiritual rebirth.

Thank you again, for your patience with my questions.

Comment by James C Schultz on 9th mo. 6, 2017 at 1:00pm

While I have no doubt that what you do works for you individually, how does it work in interfacing with others in communal decision making, if it does at all?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 6, 2017 at 5:42pm

If I have the position in question right, the concise answer might well come down to "We don't need no stinkin communal decision making!"

I can't argue with that -- nor am I at all fond of communal decision making myself -- but I think the difficulties involved are precisely what we most need other people for.

God, in theory, ought to be sufficient -- but we were made to need (and deplore -- and develop irrational spontaneous natural affection for) other embodied human beings. That's not a bug in Creation; that's a feature!

Comment by James C Schultz on 9th mo. 7, 2017 at 7:43am

Proverbs 27:17

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