Monday, 9 November 2009

Quaker Quest: Quaker Worship

I thought it might be interesting for people to see what I said at Quaker Quest about Quaker Worship.

We three speakers had to speak twice during the evening, once on Faith and once on Practice - broadly, what we believe and what we do.

In the Faith section, I started by saying I love Quaker worship because it is unique. I came to Quakers because of the worship - I used to be an Anglican, and then a Methodist, and in both denominations I used to feel that I was just settling into the time for silent prayer when it would be time to sing another hymn.

Another reason I appreciate the Quaker way of worship is that I am rabbiting on to God all day in my head, and it gives me a chance to sit and listen for a change! I also explained that I don't mind what other people say they're listening to - God, Yahweh, Allah, the Earth, their own conscience - as I believe those are all names for the same thing : Truth. I believe that Truth comes from the Christian God, and, if pushed, I would say that all other believers (and non-believers) are listening to Him/Her too - they just have other names for Him/Her.

Because we are all listening together, with no words to cause divisions, Quaker worship brings people together in a way that no other type of worship can. We may not agree on the words to use in worship, but we can all listen together in silence. It can also be a very healing time for people who have had bad experiences in more traditional churches.

Later I spoke to the idea of the practice of Quaker worship, although to be honest my ideas were pretty well entwined between the two parts! I explained that a Meeting for Worship is not like a dentist's waiting room, with a whole load of disparate people sat in silence - there is a palpable air of expectancy and of a gathered community. I always get very excited when there is ministry, as you never know what is going to be said, and whether it will be pertinent to you, or even to the whole Meeting. I also explained about online Meetings for Worship at Quaker Faith and Fellowship, which no one else in my Meeting has experienced; and about the smaller MfW held at my home every month, and how it has a different atmosphere, more intimate than the weekly MfW at the Meeting House.

We had a lot of questions about how you know when you are supposed to give ministry, why we don't discuss ministry when it is given, and how to settle into the silence and prepare our hearts and minds. The room was about three quarters current members/attenders and one quarter new visitors, with between 40 and 50 attending in total. Everyone said they had got something from it, no matter how long they had been a Quaker - we so rarely discuss the finer points of our beliefs that it was interesting to hear what different people actually thought.

If your Meeting is considering running a Quaker Quest, I strongly recommend it. There is a certain amount of work in setting the course up, but it benefits everyone who attends (including the speakers!) so much, that it is well worth it.


Jan Lyn said...

Absolutely wonderful, Heather, and I am so glad that you could participate. I too, get very excited when a Friend shares vocal ministry.

Benjamin Lloyd said...

Yay Quaker Quest! Our meeting did it in 2008 (see link below) and are going to offer it again in 2010! I hope your Quaker community was as enriched by it as we were. Sure sounds like it!

Bill Samuel said...

We need to be careful not to worship a form. In a heterodox meeting, too often what is being done is following a form without the substance thereof.

Yes, sometimes the spirit of Christ can break through in a meeting where a large proportion don't acknowledge Christ as head of the meeting, but my experience is much more often it doesn't really break through. What you frequently have is silence with people getting up and speaking, but often not corporate worship.

I don't know the quality of meetings where you go, but I feel that frequently Friends make claims for their meetings for "worship" (some Friends won't even acknowledge they are worshipping) that aren't really true.

A Quaker meeting for worship can be really powerful, but how often is it in most of our meetings? I have experienced it with some regularity in a small group seeing Christ as head of the meeting, but infrequently in meetings at large.

The form is very demanding. Because there is no plan for the time or persons appointed to provide regular vocal leadership, it is particularly subject to disunity in reality, because each person can come for something quite different. IMHO, it requires a certain unity of faith to really work.

Matt said...

I also was drawn to the meetings, from a long spiritual journey of ups and downs, due to the absence of a "led" congregation though not what I would deem at all heterodox.

There is an synergetic flow in our meeting and it is quite tangible if one is open to that force as it flows through all the people communing together, led by no one person, but yet by all at once.

Can it be interrupted? Yes and it does, but it much more organic and natural than any humanly led sermon or study.

I miss it like a piece of my soul when I cannot attend and rejoice when I can.