On Speaking in Meeting for Worship
The Meeting for Worship has been referred to as “the pearl of Quakerdom”. The Committee on Ministry and Counsel hopes to enrich our Meetings for Worship by reviewing with Friends some of the qualities of a good Meeting.
There are two aspects of our Meetings for Worship
The first is the silence of group worship, in which we gather in the Presence of the Spirit to hear, inwardly, the ministry of God to us individually and as a group. A Meeting in which this Presence is sensed strongly is called a “covered or gathered. Meeting. In such a Meeting, we are led to listen most of the time in silence to the ministry of the Inward Light, since this silence may say more to us than any spoken ministry.
The second aspect of Meeting is the spoken ministry, in which the Spirit of God moves one or more particular individuals to speak a message of ministry to the whole Meeting. Many Friends have described the true leading to speak as a strong impulse which makes them so uncomfortable that they are unable to keep their seats but feel that they must speak. John Woolman described it as “that rise which prepares the creature to stand like a trumpet, through which the Lord speaks to his flock”. It is rare that the Spirit moves any individual, even a very experienced friend, to speak every week. Almost never is one truly led to minister twice during one Meeting for Worship. All Friends are urged to “Learn to wait for the guidance of the Spirit to show them when and how their message should be uttered.”
If you feel a leading to speak in Meeting
Ministry and Counsel suggests that you hold that leading up to the Light with these considerations in mind:
- Does the Spirit require that I stand and deliver my message, or can I comfortably sit quietly and not speak?
- Is my message a religious or spiritual one: a message of worship?
- Is the message I want to share intended to be given in ministry to others, or is it a leading meant for me alone?
- Is what I have to say part of our shared worship or is it just speaking of my own feelings?
- Is what I say short and to the point?
- Am I speaking my message before the Meeting has had ample time to reflect on the last message, keeping in mind that considerable silence between messages deepens the ministry of the Meeting?
These guidelines are not intended to inhibit those who feel truly led to speak, but to caution all of us against using the Meeting for Worship as a place where we can unload purely individual thoughts or frustrations. Friends should keep in mind that some insights and concerns are best shared outside the Meeting for Worship. Ministry and Counsel hopes these suggestions will make our meetings more truly worship-filled for all of us.
Annotated Bibliography of Books on Quakerism
The Journal of John Woolman
John Woolman lived and traveled in the American Colonies in the decades prior to their independence from England. His journal is a detailed account of the travels and ministry of one of the best known Quaker figures, written in of matter-of-fact style that endears Woolman to the reader. His plainness of speech thinly masks the passion with which he approached life and Spirit. John Woolman had the gift of being able to erase his ego in his search for Cod’ direction, and he was so open to divine love that he was able to speak with utter compassion to people about even such volatile issues as Friends’ keeping of slaves. The Journal is an interesting view not only of John Woolman, but of the language, practices, and interrelationships of Quakers of his day.
by Elizabeth Janet Gray ( Elizabeth Gray Vining) This book is a gripping, clearly written tracing of the journey of William Penn– from his birth in 1644 as the son of a famous admiral, through his convincement as a Quaker, his sacrifices as a champion of the oppressed, his establishment of Pennsylvania, to his final days in England –against the background of stormy seventeenth century religious and political conflict. In England, Penn’s resistance established once and for all the right of trial by jury. In America, his treaty of peace and friendship with the Indians remained unbroken until after his death. His colony’s constitution, with its guarantees of civil liberties, served as a model for the Constitution of the United States.
Quakerism– A Faith to Live
by Elfrida Ylpont ( 1965) This book consists of sixteen short biographical sketches of prominent Quakers starting with George Fox and ending with Amy Lewis who died in 1951. It deals mostly with the British Friends; Lucretia Mott and Rufus Jones are the only Americans described. The first half of the book records early Quakers who were personally influenced by George Fox, many of them incredibly strong people who became martyrs for their beliefs. The books is easy reading.
The Story of Quakerism Through Three Centuries
by Elfrida Vlpont ( 1977 edition) This rather detailed chronicle of the development of Quakerism begins with the seeking of George Fax and finishes with the condition of the Society of Friends in the 1970’s. Although dense with information, it is not difficult to read, and has enough personal details about the many people mentioned to make them seem real and worth learning about. This book deals not only with Quaker beginnings, but with all aspects of the modern Quaker movement, including the development of Quaker schools, the service organizations cod the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. It deals with the diversity of modern Quakers and the concerns for renewal of the Quaker message in the world today.
The Quiet Rebels
by Margaret Bacon This is an extremely readable account of the development of Quakerism and the piece of Quakerism in the cultural life of America today. The first part deals with the British beginnings, tracing the growth of the movement to the American colonies in a way that ties together the historical names and events that may be already somewhat familiar to the casual student of Quakerism. The final sections on “Quakers in the World” and “ American Quakers Today” provide a perspective that is valuable. Even my daughter enjoyed Margaret Bacon’s style and highly recommends this book.
Beyond Majority Rule
by Michael Sheeran This book is a study, by a Roman Catholic priest, of the way Meeting for Business functions in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. Sheeran starts by reviewing some of the history of the Meeting for Business and the way Friends do business. He comments on the development from an extremely individualized, almost anarchic system to one which tries to balance central authority with the autonomy of individual Monthly Meetings.
Most of the book is devoted to a description of Meeting for Business process and procedures. Sheeran discusses what normally happens in consensus decision-making, including some of the pitfalls, and how Meetings handle it when consensus is difficult to reach. His discussion of the roles of the Clerk, the Recording Clerk, and all participants in the Meeting for Business IS well thought-through and quite insightful.
While not everything Sheeran says seems to apply to Twin Cities Meeting, his introduction to Quaker consensus-building and decision-making in the Light makes worthwhile reading both for those unfamiliar with the process and for long-time participants in Meeting for Worship with attention to Business.
Quaker Journals: varieties of Religious experience Among Friends
by Howard Brinton ( 1972) In this collective approach, similar to that of William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, Brinton provides the first comprehensive approach to Quaker journals, which he believes to be the most characteristic form of Quaker writing. He explores the spiritual autobiographies of 350 Friends, taken from his personal library.
Brinton maintains a fine balance between quotes and commentary as he collects for the reader these experiences of ordinary persons: farmers, housewives, merchants, shoemakers, doctors, and others, educated and uneducated. Almost all of them were travelling ministers. He provides a clear picture of 1 7th and 1 8th century writings, which follow similar, consistent patterns. He points out various stages of spiritual progress which each journalist believes s/he has passed through.
These writings contain little material about the writers’ families and undertakings not directly related to their inner lives. Some 1 9th and 20th century writers are also included, as well as an extensive bibliography.
Friends for 300 Years
by Howard Brinton More than a history of the Religious Society of Friends, this book seeks to analyze the religious character and development of the Quaker movement over the centuries. The book tries to examine man’s religious nature and the nature of mysticism as it applies to the developing Quaker religious practices. Brinton presents Quaker thought and practices in the context of the individual’s spiritual search and the individual’s relationship to the Meeting community and to the world Brinton was member of an old Quaker family, taught at Earlham, Guilford and Haverford colleges, and was, with his wife, a co- director of Pendle Hill.
Quakerism: A Study Guide on the Religious Society of Friends
by Leonard Kenworthy This 215 peace book lives up to its title admirably, and can serve as a study guide both for individuals and groups. The book is divided into three parts. The first section deals with the history of Quakerism, with a chapter devoted to each of four centuries, the 1 7th, 18th, 19th and 20th. In the middle section, subtitled “Some distinctive features of Quakerism”, Kenworthy gives lucid descriptions of the Meeting for Worship, the Meeting for Business, the Queries, Advices and State of the Society Reports, Quaker Testimonies and Concerns, and the unique role of women. This section will be especially helpful to those new to Friends Meetings. The final section entitled “Some Other Aspects of Quakerism” has a more detailed coverage of Friends organizations, a helpful treatment of Pastoral Friends Meetings and how they developed their present status, discussion of Friends around the world, a particularly useful enumeration of 10 plus characteristics of vital Meetings, and a final chapter on “Quakerism….Today and Tomorrow.”
Published in 1981, it is an up-to-date compendium of information about the history of Friends as well as thought provoking insights regarding modern Friends and their organizations. Throughout the book there are sketches of prominent Quakers. At the end of each chapter there are study questions and bibliographic references. Although some of the study questions seem a bit stilted, the references are extensive and very helpful.
Early Friends were well versed in the Bible and were trying to return to a primitive uncorrupted Christianity. They interpreted the scriptures under the guidance of the Inner Light rather than relying on ecclesiastical authority. Since they believed that the source of the scriptures and their Inner Light was identical; right understanding would dissolve apparent contradictions between the two. Jesus, for them, was both a historical figure and a spiritual presence in their lives.
It is a shared experience of transcendence in worship that unites modern Friends more than a common belief system. Out of this experience grows an approach to life and a shared commitment. This is confusing to many who ask what Friends believe and find a wide variety of answers. Within our Meeting you will find people who express their understanding of this spiritual experience in Christian terms, the language of the mystics, terms borrowed from Eastern religions, the concepts of religious humanism, or a combination of these or other frameworks.
However, most members agree that there is within each person a spark of the transcendent; a center which is a source of guidance and insight. Various Friends speak of this as the Inner Light, the Light of Christ, that of God in each person, Divine leading, the true Self, or the Holly Spirit. It is our experience that in individual and corporate silent worship grows a clearer and stronger awareness of this Presence. We believe that the insight which comes to us needs to be tested against other sources of truth – such as scriptures, the traditional testimonies of Friends, the collective leading of the worshiping community, and even secular sources of truth. Understanding ourselves as seekers who have found some measure of truth helps to keep us from both doctrinal arrogance on the one hand and a total relativism that may prevent commitment and action on the other.
From this core belief one can begin to understand Friends’ traditional beliefs: the belief in continuing revelation, the belief that each person must be treated with respect, the belief in equality, and the belief that it is best to avoid creedal statements. Friends believe that it is important to live, speak, and worship simply and truthfully even if this brings us into conflict with the surrounding society. Yet even when in conflict Friends have tried to call forth and respond to “that of God “ in their opponents. In trying to attend to the Inner Light, Friends have come to believe that they should avoid participation in war and instead work for peace by trying to remove the root causes of war and domestic conflict.
Structure and Organization
Many of us share with the founders of the Society of Friends a wariness of religious bureaucracy. The vitality and spontaneous life of the spirit often seems restricted by the tendency of bureaucratic structures to reduce flexibility and narrow our vision. Over the years Friends have tried to develop spiritually centered ways of coordinating and carrying out our activities. These approaches try to put in practice the testimonies of continuing revelation, simplicity, equality, honesty, and non-coercive concern for each person. Yet there always remains a tension between conserving the wisdom of past practice and remaining open to new Light.
Meeting for Worship
Our Meeting for Worship is unprogrammed. There are no set creeds, hymns, prayers, and no leader or priest. The Meeting is based on silence, and in expectant, silence we invite “that of God” in ourselves, or “the Light within” to touch us and guide us. As individuals and as a fellowship we “center down” into our deepest selves. We believe that God speaks and lives in this deepest, best part of our selves, and when individuals touch the place of light within them, they also enter into communion with each other.
We invite the Spirit to enter our daily lives, and bring us closer into conformity with the Light. If this silence seems strange to you at first, relax and try to put down your ordinary, daily load of thoughts and worries and be quiet, knowing you are in the presence of God. Don’t strain, but try to be quiet in mind and body, and attentive to the Still Small Voice of the Spirit.
From this expectant silence someone may rise to speak of a moral concern or spiritual insight. We believe that the finest messages are inspired by the sources of Light within us, but we also realize that an individual’s own experiences, needs, feelings, and even inadequacies may help shape the message.
The privilege of speaking is available to all who attend the Meeting – young or old – when they feel a strong spiritual leading to do so. No message represents an official Quaker position. If the message does not “speak to your condition”, try to reach the spirit behind the message. Friends cherish the diversity we can embrace in our fellowship. The meeting is in part a school for spiritual growth and sometimes mistakes are a part of the process of learning.
Attenders are encouraged to arrive for Meeting for Worship a little early and to settle into the silence as soon as we enter the meeting room. After about one hour, Meeting for Worship “breaks” or closes, with the shaking of hands. Visitors are invited to introduce themselves and the Clerk may make a few announcements.
Members who can answer questions about Twin Cities Friends Meeting and Friends beliefs and practices are also identified at this time.
History of Twin Cities Friends Meeting
The true history of a worshiping community lies in the lives of the people whom it touches. It is in the discovery and nurture of our spirituality; the facing of personal and group challenges in a loving and supportive environment; in the marking of the important occasions of birth, marriage, death; and in significant life transitions in which we seek to know God’s will for our lives. The following brief outline of the history of Twin Cities Friends Meeting is only a skeleton of a living, dynamic association of spiritually seeking people from World War II to the present.
Out of the needs of those making a witness of conscience during the Second World War and the sense of isolation that pacifists experienced, a worship group was begun in 194445. It was re-established as University Friends Meeting in 1949 and met in the Nolte Center for Continuation Studies. The name change to “Church Street Meeting” and a move to the University YMCA reflected a decreasing identification with the University. During this time we undertook the task of caring for the children of the growing number of families seeking a Friends community (1952-60). Joining Illinois Yearly Meeting in 1956 gave us the much desired status of an independent monthly meeting. Although still small, the meeting was vital and growing, both inwardly and outwardly. We used more and more space at the YMCA . In 1960 we renamed ourselves the “Twin Cities Friends Meeting” and became more active with other new Friends groups in the new Half-Yearly Meeting. In the years from 1958 to 1964 we were actively committed to the development of the local American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) programs and committees. This led to the opening of our first AFSC office in 1965, giving Friends more visibility in the wider community and drawing more seekers to us during the turbulent sixties and seventies.
We can point to the mid-sixties as the close of the founding period. The central issue was no longer the survival of the Meeting. With the acquisition of a permanent meetinghouse in 1969, an increase in members, and greater structural maturity; other issues became dominant. We withdrew from Illinois Yearly Meeting in 1971 and participated actively in the growth and establishment of Northern Yearly Meeting which was founded in 1975. Three small new meetings were established (1978-83) by long term members of Twin Cities Friends Meeting. After much discussion and reflection, the meeting united to declare itself a sanctuary for Central American refugees in 1983. Five years of corporate seeking led to the decision to sell the 295 Summit Ave. Meetinghouse in 1984 and to seek a home which would more adequately meet our needs. In 1987 the Meeting purchased a house on Grand Ave. in St. Paul. When the construction of additional space is completed to the rear of the house, it will become our new Meetinghouse.
Meeting for Business
If Meeting for Worship is the point from which our corporate and individual spiritual insight grows; Meeting for Business is the point at which this insight takes fond in decisions and planned action. The expectant silence of the Meeting for Worship also serves as the basis of the Meeting for Business. In Meeting for Worship our individual defenses soften to the point that the Inner Light penetrates our consciousness. In meeting for business our individual agendas, fears, needs and defenses soften so that we often find previously unperceived leadings for spiritually grounded collective action. The sensitive guidance of the clerk and the maturity and discipline of the members contribute greatly in creating the conditions for such a meeting for business.
It is at the monthly meetings for business that important decisions regarding the meeting take place. Meetings for business often follows a potluck meal held at the home of a member or at the meeting house. It is open to attenders as well as members. The Clerk starts the meeting with a period of silence, asks for corrections and the approval of the previous minutes, and then presents an agenda for review. Items of business are brought up and committee reports are given. Rather than voting on decisions an attempt is made to find unity within the meeting by searching for a way forward which is not in con-flict with the leadings of individual members. The Clerk listens carefully and sensitively to what is said and at an appropriate moment tries to express the sense of the Meeting in a statement called a minute. Approval of the minute is asked for and members respond either with approval or indicate points at which they believe that the minute still does not accurately reflect the sense of the Meeting. The Recording Clerk keeps a written record of the minutes which is published in the newsletter. For important decisions where the Meeting needs more time to discuss in detail various aspects of an issue, special programs and special Meetings for Business are sometimes called. Regular attendance at the Meeting for Business is very important because it contributes a sense of continuity, background, and understanding which enable each member to take an active part in the decisions being made.
Guidelines for Meeting for Business
The following guidelines for Meeting for Business were developed by a committee of people who have been clerks of Twin Cities Friends Meeting. The committee included David Harper, John Martinson, and Marjorie Sibley and were presented to a Fall 1987 Meeting for Business.
- The Meeting for Business is primarily a Meeting for Worship, with attention given to the business of Friends.
- The purpose of Meeting for Business is to find the Light, not to get any individual’s point of view adopted.
- Participants in Meeting for Business need to be self-disciplined:
- in listening carefully to all persons as they share their measure of the Light.
- in waiting for others to speak.
- in speaking only when led by the Spirit.
- in waiting for recognition from the Clerk before speaking.
- in letting their speaking flow out of the silence, not just as a response to what someone else said.
- in forgoing needless repetition of what they or others have said.
- in trying to avoid speaking in anger, being thoughtful and respectful of others.
- in forming opinions only after thoughtful consideration and holding them up to the Light.
- in stating their views if others haven’t, even if those views are subject to change.
- if they hold a position different from the majority, in being sure that their opposition to a Meeting decision comes from a real leading, not just from personal interests.
- The relationship of committees to Meeting for Business:
- most issues should go through committee process for recommendations, not directly to Meeting for Business.
- not everything needs to come before Meeting for Business (committees can should handle much of the detail work).
- if there is a problem in a committee, it should be taken to the Clerk for possible consideration at the Meeting for Business.
- it is important for participants in Meeting for Business to listen carefully to committee recommendations, trusting that the committees have done their work competently.
Members of Meeting need to trust the Meeting for Business process, even when they aren’t present. Since the purpose of Meeting for Business is to search for the Light, the Meeting can proceed without particular individuals being present.
Participants in Meeting for Business should keep in mind that the worshipful progress of Meeting for Business depends on all persons present.
The role of the Clerk:
- to set and guide the agenda with approval of Meeting for Business.
- to state what the questions are and to remain neutral.
- to evoke comments from those who have not spoken and to limit comments by those who have.
- to exercise diplomacy while maintaining priorities in conducting the Meeting.
- to articulate the sense of the Meeting and to propose minutes for adoption.
- when individuals feel in opposition to the movement of a Meeting toward a decision, to help them clarify the degree of their opposition