Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Every Meeting for Worship has its own character. Some are more silent than vocal, others more vocal than silent. I've been present for both iterations. Due to a divorce, I've been forced to relocate back home. I arrived around six months ago and believed I was assimilating well until today. I attend the Meeting where I first found the faith and was convinced, so it is very comfortable to me. I am so blessed to be in the presence of such warm, compassionate, and loving people. This gathering is mostly silent when it comes time for unprogrammed worship, but even if I am the only person to share vocal ministry, I routinely receive supportive commentary when we break for coffee and refreshments prior to whatever activities are planned for Second Hour. I take care to listen to the messages within myself that are truly Spirit-led and share them with regularity, though consciously never every week.
Today was a notable exception to the way things usually proceed. Mostly through a vocal ministry about the nuances of war and pacifism, someone seated across the room interrupted my ministry and informed me quite energetically that, in her words, this was a place and a space for meditation only. How she responded took the form of an abrupt, annoyed act usually frowned upon and discouraged. If she had objected so strongly to what I spoke into the silence, I could think of a million better, more Friendly ways to go about it. If she had approached me following Worship in a spirit of kindness, for example, I know I would have been receptive to whatever grievance she held and we might have had a constructive conversation.
I haven't been eldered in this way since my days in a very different Meeting in a very different city. Back then, without fail, I would give a vocal ministry, be always and immediately criticized strongly by the very next speaker (always the same person), then vigorously defended by the next Friend to stand (also always the same person). This happened multiple times and the reason why I'm so upset today is that what transpired reminded me of how I felt routinely elsewhere. The good news is that I know this probably won't happen again. Ministry and Nurture will discuss it at their next meeting, and almost everyone who was present has been sympathetic and taken care and effort to let me know it. That really helped.
There would have been a time where I would have been too mortified to approach whomever felt it necessary to behave in such a fashion, but times have changed. I hope I responded properly, but I was very hurt and very angry, though I tried to keep my temper in check. I confronted her face to face after Worship and inquired as to why she had taken such offense to my vocal ministry. As it turns out, she took umbrage to all my vocal ministries, regardless of length or form.
To her, Meeting for Worship was a meditation group only. I can understand how a semi-regular attender without understanding of Quaker practice might have formed a conclusion that Worship was always meant to be a full hour of silence alone. Still, I did inform her that vocal ministry was a hallmark of Friends Worship and that if she wanted a solid sixty minutes of quiet, a Buddhist meditation group, Anglican or Catholic centering prayer, or a silent retreat would be appropriate venues for what she wanted. I told her that I did not wish for her to call me out in the middle of Worship again, and she responded that if I ever gave a message again that she would immediately leave. She then stormed out of the Meetinghouse and drove away in her car.
Gratefully, I was backed up and treated with much sympathy to almost everyone who had been present there. My purpose in writing this is to process my pain and share an anecdote of how Worship should not be conducted. I don't intend to shame or belittle the person who responded to my vocal ministry with such disdain. I'm a very sensitive person and behavior like this really hurts me. There's probably no way to avoid these sorts of events. But perhaps this does underscore again the divide often present by Friends to prefer chatty meetings rather than more silent ones, or vice versa. I am in favor of the former because it helps me center more effectively, whereas sixty minutes of silence can easily cause my mind to wander.
And, as I conclude, misunderstandings like these might be addressed best by regular Quaker 101 classes, which some Meetings work to perfection. Should one wish to become a Catholic, one must go through weeks of classes. When I was growing up, I went through Confirmation, which filled in the gaps for me. If a person is raised Jewish, he or she is often sent to Hebrew school. I think there is a lot of confusion around unprogrammed worship, and dabblers of any stripe can easily form incorrect conclusions.
In the mind of the person I spoke to, she'd gotten used to exclusive silence, that is until I arrived. I was away for eight years and then returned to add my voice to the usually quiet once again. This is when it is to everyone's benefit to be on the same page, and the laid-back Meeting I now attend is likely not the kind to vigorously reinforce Quaker ways. I came from the East Coast, where Worship was very Type A and conducted with extreme seriousness. Knowing Quaker history intimately was expected of all, especially those who gave vocal ministry. Both ways of conducting Worship have their strengths and their weaknesses, as evidenced here.
But I won't lie. My feelings have been hurt and I've realized again that sharing messages comes with risk, even though in an ideal world it shouldn't. Should the person who so harshly criticized me return, matters are going to be awkward. I've proactively decided to space my ministry out more from week to week, even though part of me will still be compelled to share in the way only the Holy Spirit can produce. There aren't a lot of good solutions here because I was essentially given an ultimatum. That said, I'm still going to share vocal ministry, as is my right. I don't think I'd be a faithful Friend if I didn't.