Monday, 8 February 2010

Meeting needs in worship

There has been much threshing in our large meeting about our meeting for worship arrangements now that our main Sunday morning meeting is nearly filling the space available. A lot of this threshing has focused on meeting the many and diverse needs of those attending the meeting. Many feel that the big main meeting is too 'busy' with lots of ministry and want a 'quieter' meeting, mainly in silence.

I for one am becoming settled on having two meetings for worship on a Sunday morning. But this is simply to accommodate the numbers. Each meeting would be a full and proper meeting for worship, and whether or not it is 'busy' will depend on the leading of the spirit on that day. After much concern about the 'busyness' of our main meeting, exercising discipline in giving and receiving ministry seems to be paying off, and we have had some much more centred meetings recently. In other words, it is not the size of the meeting that determines its quality, but the extent to which those present are attentive to the leadings of the spirit.

However, I became much moved in our recent business meeting to what might go wrong if our two meetings did evolve into meeting two different sets of needs. I saw myself wondering what it would be like to be the clerk at a business meeting where the two worshipping groups faced each other to the left and right of the table, and the clerk needed to judge the sense of the meeting in coming to a difficult decision. I would not want to be that clerk.

Of course, there is no reason why we cannot have two meetings for worship and still be one community. People can attend either the earlier or later meeting depending on their circumstances on each Sunday. We could still all meet each other, especially in the time between the two meetings, and we would still all share the concerns and work of the community.

But what if the earlier meeting became the 'quiet' meeting? Then what if I was well known and respected for giving regular ministry, and decided to attend the early meeting one Sunday? I can imagine it might be like what I have experienced before, when going into the snug of an avowedly local pub, and noticing that the conversation stops as I go towards the bar to order my drink. I feel distinctly not welcome, a stranger in their midst, and beat a hasty retreat to the tap room next door.

The problem with these scenarios is in seeing the purpose of the meeting for worship as meeting our needs. The actual purpose of a Meeting for Worship is to celebrate the life of the community – to give 'worth' to that community, in its sorrows as well as its joys, in its pain and hardships as well as its rejoicing and successes.

If we bring our needs into the meeting, we will find them amplified and frustrated, but if we leave our needs at the door, we will find them miraculously met. We must put aside the pride that has been bred into us by western individualism and learn the humility of forbearing one another in community. We must come with hearts and minds prepared.

We need to submit to one another in love. Submission does not come easily to us proud westerners who think ourselves masters of the universe because our science and technology has given us so much. We could do worse than learn from our Muslim neighbours: Salam, Islam, Inshallah – Peace, Submission, If God Wishes.


Laura Kerr said...

Thanks Gordon! very helpful. How poignant that image of the Friend who regularly gives spoken ministry turning up and getting the cold shoulder at the meeting which had become known as the quiet meeting! Like the stranger in the pub! I really dont think it will happen, but no harm at all in articulating the idea. Sometimes individuals have times in their lives - very traumatic experiences, during which they simply want to be supported in a small group - our main meeting of 70 or 80 would just be overwhelming. Equally there are people who psychologically cannot cope with large groups. These situations need to be borne in mind when we are discussing the diverse needs amongst us.

Craig Barnett said...

Thanks for this challenging post Gordon.

I agree that the sole focus on 'getting my needs met' by the Meeting creates a barrier both to authentic Quaker Worship, and to building community.

I'm not sure though about your statement that:

"The actual purpose of a Meeting for Worship is to celebrate the life of the community – to give 'worth' to that community, in its sorrows as well as its joys, in its pain and hardships as well as its rejoicing and successes."

This is very much part of what belonging to a community and participating in its shared life is about.

For me, though, the principal purpose of Meeting for Worship is neither to meet my spiritual needs, nor to celebrate the life of the community. It is to join with my community in seeking an encounter with God. I expect that for some of us this encounter will answer our deepest needs - for meaning, healing, acceptance or encouragement. For some it may disturb and challenge us, and push us to act in new directions. For some it might shine a Light on the most painful areas of ourselves or the world that we would rather not be aware of. All of this is good.

Vocal Ministry in Meeting can be a part of this encounter, deepening the experience of Worship and sharing what we have found there. For this to happen though, we need a shared discipline that creates the stillness for this encounter to happen:

‘Ministry should be of necessity, and not of choice, and there is no living by silence, or by preaching merely’.
(John Chuchman, 1734)

(With thanks to Beth for this quote).