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.

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Comment by Howard Brod on 8th mo. 6, 2017 at 11:15pm

Wow Kevin,

You experienced the worse of liberal Quakerism!  Both pettiness and being 'controlled'.

Based on your perception of this experience and the brief description of your new'ish meeting that you gave, I would say you should rest easy because positive eldering was given to you by a number of Friends so you might be healed from this rude experience.  Within most egalitarian-leaning meetings (which your new meeting sounds like it is) when there is conflict involving two Friends the eldering often first takes the form of positive reinforcement towards the offended Friend, with later eldering of the offender to first inquire about their perceptions and suggest better ways to have handled the situation.  Then there may be some circling back to the offended (attacked) Friend to provide any advice on how to deal with such a situation in the future.  And in a healthy egalitarian meeting, all of this could take place by any one or more Friends in the community at their own initiation (rather than a committee).  The affected Friends are encouraged to look to their own Inner Teacher to process all of the eldering given to them, rather than to a committee. 

There is nothing wrong with this style of eldering,  It is quite an organic process that can work naturally and quite well.  It is a common eldering style in many liberal Quaker meetings that do not have appointed elders (on purpose).  I find it more holistic and respectful then what happens in a hierarchical meeting that provides eldering by "elders" in more of a parent/child style.  It sounds like this egalitarian culture does work well in your new meeting, and to attempt to hoist a more formal structure on it would do damage and in my opinion, and would take it a step backwards spiritually.

In a more structured (hierarchical) meeting, the eldering occurs from an appointed committee who is expected to carry out such eldering when needed.  This more often than not comes off as cold, intrusive, and parental by the receiver(s).  I have been part of both types of meetings and prefer the more egalitarian meeting where there tends to be no official hierarchy at all.  Just F(f)riends.  It has really benefited my spiritual growth.

Some meetings are routinely silent.  But anyone who expects complete silence needs to learn about putting their trust in the Spirit who is really the only leader in a Quaker unprogrammed meeting.  If your vocal ministry is not abusive, political, or unnecessarily lengthy - it is odd in my opinion for someone to be so upset unless they have personal issues that need some compassion.

If the meeting was usually worshiping entirely silent and you now find yourself there, perhaps the Spirit has decided that a little vocal ministry is needed there, and you are the tool being used to make that acceptable to those Friends.  It is not uncommon for some Friends to have a gift of vocal ministry and to provide a message nearly every week.  Many great Quakers are in that category.  And it also is not unusual for that Friend to be very sensitive - because that sensitivity is fertile ground for the Spirit to harvest a needed message.  So, I'm not sure it is a good idea for you to stifle that gift if you truly have it and the messages are not coming from your ego (masquerading as the Spirit).  Perhaps consider speaking as briefly as possible when conveying your message so Friends can adjust to having regular vocal ministry.

I wish you the best, Friend.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 8th mo. 7, 2017 at 12:48am

A spirituality that seeks only to be content with a quiet place to sit out the world's suffering -- That isn't really Buddhist, let alone Christian!

But the first people who spoke at the Meeting I attended today, with messages about the need for compassion and hospitality to refugees,  very much annoyed one newcomer who then wanted to know, wasn't there someplace she could just sit and enjoy the silence.

God (however you might name or describe the spiritual reality at the foundation of the universe) does have a political agenda... not for us to set up one regime or law or leader or another, but for people, governments, corporations to see clearly what harm they're doing, and turn to more benign ways and policies. This is not a concept popular with people who depend on the present way of the world for their physical and emotional comfort.

And, due to the astonishing naivete of Americans about how this country operates and how it affects the rest of the world, you really can't say much about that without running into considerable disagreement, much of it downright indignant. That, too, is part of what we need to work out between ourselves -- not just for the sake of committing ourselves to some action or another (which probably wouldn't matter much), but (far more important) to be able to disagree intensely and still recognize each other as people in need of reconciliation.

Comment by Kevin Camp on 8th mo. 7, 2017 at 8:03am

Howard, I want you to know that your comment really helped me. I think that I have become a proficient vocal (some would say gospel) minister. By now, I've honed my craft for ten years. I make a point of holding myself and what I say to a very high standard.


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