This brief paper offers some background, on the 2nd of 4 religious education sessions, offered by the Worship and Ministry Committee, at the rise of meeting for worship in the fall of 2012. These sessions are based on the Third Haven "Essence of Our Quaker Faith and Practice," approved by the meeting for business on 4.11.10. The "Essence" addresses That of God in each person, the core belief of our faith, from which follow our principal practices—silent worship, testimonies and community.
Silent worship is the principal form of corporate worship in the Religious Society of Friends. Silent worship is the nearly universal practice among "un-programmed" Friends, especially in the Yearly Meetings of Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, New England and Britain. There are other programmed traditions in the Religious Society of Friends.
As with other parts of our faith and practice, Third Haven Quakers turn to our own version of Faith and Practice (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1997 and 2002). We also turn to one another in our Third Haven faith community for opportunities to learn. I have had many Quaker teachers and mentors, many inspiring examples to learn from and follow. I am grateful.
Meeting for Worship
As with other faiths, corporate meeting for worship is central to the faith and practice of Quakers. Faith and Practice states:
The meeting for worship is the heart of the Religious Society of Friends. It draws us together in the enlightening and empowering presence of God, sending us forth with renewed vision and commitment. ...When Friends worship, we reach out from the depths of our being to God, the giver of life and the world around us. Our worship is the search for communion with God and the offering of ourselves—body and soul—for the doing of God's will. ...In worship we know repentance and forgiveness in the acknowledgement of God as the ultimate source of our being and the serenity of accepting God's will.
In worship we discover direction for our lives and the uses of our resources. Leadings are often made clearer by reference to the life and teachings of Jesus and the transformative power of the Inner Light. From worship there comes a fresh understanding of the two great commandments: to love "your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27) (pp 17-18)
Preparation and Opening
The most important thing is to attend meeting for worship. Friends are reminded to come to meeting for worship with hearts and minds prepared, as free from preoccupations and distractions as possible. Arrive punctually before the hour of worship. Enter silently; do not disturb the silence. The meeting for worship begins as soon as the first person enters the place of worship. If you arrive late consider waiting till the children go out. In 1660 Alexander Parker recommended:
As the first that enters into the place of your meeting ...turn in thy mind to the Light, and wait upon God singly, as if none were present but the Lord; ...Then the next that comes in, let them in simplicity of heart sit down and turn into the same Light, and wait in the Spirit; and so all the rest coming in, in the fear of the Lord, sit down in pure stillness and silence of all flesh, and wait in the Light. Those who are brought to a pure still waiting upon God in the Spirit are come nearer to the Lord than words are; for God is Spirit and in the Spirit he is worshipped. (pp 18-19)
"Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20).
Worshipping together in gathered silence strengthens and deepens the worship for everyone. The wonderful historic setting of our grounds and old meetinghouse help. Our own Spirit or the Light Within each of us is strengthened by corporate silent worship.
Arthur Larrabee has called the meeting for worship,
"the meeting for relationship with God."
"Direct communion with God constitutes the essential life of the meeting for worship."
Friends often speak of the opening minutes of meeting for worship as the time for settling in or centering, clearing time and space in the heart, mind and soul for communion with God. Sometimes Friends find that worldly matters press upon them in meeting for worship, making it difficult to find and stay in the stillness and openness for communion with God. Still, Friends use a variety of ways to find stillness in the silence.
Discernment and Vocal Ministry
The Worship and Ministry Committee suggests that Friends come prepared to worship, clear of any predetermination to speak or remain silent. Attentive silence, waiting upon God, is essential to the meeting for worship and the vocal ministry of Friends. Await the movement of the Spirit to prompt leadings or the discernment of vocal ministry. There is a great deal of thought and writing about the discernment of vocal ministry, deciding to speak in meeting for worship. Some have suggested queries, or even a flowchart for such discernment:
- Is this a divinely inspired message?
- Is it for me or for the meeting for worship?
- Can I articulate it in a meaningful way?
- Am I ready to speak or should I save this for afterthoughts, news of Friends or announcements?
Each of us has to proceed through our own process of discernment in meeting for worship. Many Friends report finding themselves, led by the Spirit, on their feet, speaking before they realize it. We are Quakers.
Be open and attentive to the leadings of the Spirit. The inspiration of the meeting for worship depends on every one of us. We are all called to be ministers. There is both vocal and silent ministry. If a message is meant to be spoken, it is meant to be heard. Stand and speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard throughout the meetinghouse, even by those who may not hear so well. Build upon another message as appropriate; do not disagree with another. Speak only once. Release your message to the Spirit at the center of the meeting. Each message may not touch everyone, but every message is meant for and meaningfully received by someone in the meeting for worship. The Spirit is the guide in meeting for worship.
The meeting for worship closes when the Clerk or others on the facing bench shake hands, customarily after1 hour. The rise of meeting for worship follows. At Third Haven, we have a tradition of staying in the Spirit of the meeting for worship and turning to afterthoughts, which seem to flow naturally out of the meeting for worship. Then follows joys and concerns, news of Friends, welcoming visitors and announcements. Friends are encouraged to consider in which of these categories their comment might best fit. For example, do not make announcements in afterthoughts.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM), Faith and Practice, 1997, pp 17-21, and 100-112.
—Third Haven Friends Meeting
Worship and Ministry Committee, Quaker Religious Education
10th month, 7th, 2012