What was the Quaker Basics session on worship really about?
A few weeks ago, by request we posted a ‘handout’ from the session. It was called ‘Quaker Practices about Ministry’. But the handout was merely an add–on to the main part of the session. So what was the session about?
We talked about four aspects of worship: the nature of Quaker worship, silence and stillness, ministry, and silence and ministry in our daily lives. Mostly we referred to sections from QF&P, and George Gorman’s ‘The Amazing Fact of Quaker Worship’.
We thought about silence and stillness in terms of prayer, drawing on George Gorman p.37 (centring down) and p.39 (the ‘gathered meeting’). I’m so sorry I can’t quote these because I went and lent my copy to someone! In 1937 Rufus Jones wrote of ‘the intensified hush’:
[The early Friends] made the discovery that silence is one of the best preparations for communion [with God] and for the reception of inspiration and guidance. Silence itself, of course, has no magic. It may be just sheer emptiness, absence of words or noise or music. It may be an occasion for slumber, or it may be a dead form. But it may be an intensified pause, a vitalised hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God.
Rufus Jones, 1937
In the ‘ministry’ aspect we thought about ministry from three angles: in Meeting for Worship, practical ministry (to minister = to serve), and outreach. Mainly but not completely we focused on ministry in Meeting for Worship, both vocal and non-vocal.
We recognise a variety of ministries. In our worship these include those who speak under the guidance of the Spirit, and those who receive and uphold the work of the Spirit in silence and prayer. We also recognise as ministry service on our many committees, hospitality and childcare, the care of finance and premises, and many other tasks. We value those whose ministry is not in an appointed task but is in teaching, counselling, listening, prayer, enabling the service of others, or other service in the meeting or the world.
The purpose of all our ministry is to lead us and other people into closer communion with God and to enable us to carry out those tasks which the Spirit lays upon us.
London Yearly Meeting, 1986
Ministry is what is on one’s soul, and it can be in direct contradiction to what is on one’s mind. It’s what the Inner Light gently pushes you toward or suddenly dumps in your lap. It is rooted in the eternity, divinity, and selflessness of the Inner Light; not in the worldly, egoistic functions of the conscious mind.
Marrianne McMullen, 1987
We acknowledged the challenges of worship in our daily lives.
QF&P 2.18, 2.20 and 2.21
Be still and cool in thy own mind …….
George Fox, 1658
Do you make a place in your daily life for reading, meditation, and waiting upon God in prayer, that you may know more of the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Do you remember the need to pray for others, holding them in the presence of God?
I read that I was supposed to make ‘a place for inward retirement and waiting upon God’ in my daily life, as the Queries in those days expressed it… At last I began to realise, first that I needed some kind of inner peace, or inward retirement, or whatever name it might be called by; and then that these apparently stuffy old Friends were really talking sense. If I studied what they were trying to tell me, I might possibly find that the ‘place of inward retirement’ was not a place I had to go to, it was there all the time. I could know the ‘place of inward retirement’ wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, and find the spiritual refreshment for which, knowingly or unknowingly, I was longing, and hear the voice of God in my heart. Thus I began to realise that prayer was not a formality, or an obligation, it was a place which was there all the time and always available.
Elfrida Vipont Foulds, 1983
In small groups, we used the creative listening process to consider these four questions:
- What are you seeking in a Meeting for Worship?
- How do you ‘centre down’ or enter the silence? What gets in the way?
- How do you respond to ‘Quaker routines’ about ministry?
- Does your life feel different or changed from being associated with Friends? If so, how?
These questions have stayed with me since the session, making me re-visit my initial thoughts. What would your thoughts be?