Starting out right

Two worship experiences over the holiday season reminded me strongly of the things I hope for in this new association of Friends.

On Christmas Eve, four congregations – three Quaker, one Brethren – gathered for a simple service hosted by First Friends here in Richmond. There was lovely music interspersed with a series of readings by folks from each congregation. At the end, we left our seats and formed a large circle round the room. Each person was given a candle, and as the candles were lit, a circle of light grew, and we sang Silent Night together. It was a lovely example of how a simple worship service can draw people together.

West Richmond Friends values both prepared messages and open worship. Any month where there are five Sundays, we set aside the 5th Sunday for completely unprogrammed worship. So on December 30th, we gathered in the library for a more intimate setting, and spent our last Sunday of the year in traditional quiet prayer. We always welcome vocal ministry, but we never feel disappointed if a whole hour passes in silence, with no one speaking, and last Sunday was one of those special occasions when we were blessed by being gathered quietly in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Both times, after the rise of meeting, no one wanted to leave. Everyone stayed to talk, to visit with friends, to hear news and share what’s been going on in their lives.

There’s a lot of discussion going on among Friends about the structure, budget, and possible staffing of our new group. I hope that our new association – whatever we call it, whatever shape it takes – is built first and foremost on worship.

For way too many years, Indiana Yearly Meeting has felt like a battleground. Even at our best moments, there has been jockeying for position, judging of one another in our expressions of worship and in our spiritual convictions. Back in November, I quoted from London Yearly Meeting in 1668:

“We did conclude among ourselves to settle a meeting, to see one another’s faces, and open our hearts one to another in the Truth of God once a year, as formerly it used to be.”

For me, the central purpose of our new gathering is to get together as often as possible for worship – deep worship, grounded in a sense of gratefulness that we are together, and setting aside any other agenda except being gathered and led by the Spirit.

Other things may grow out of worship – I confidently expect they will. But the old yearly meeting – its power struggles, overburdened finances, mutual distrust and general tiredness – became the tail that tried to wag the dog. Let’s not do that again!

If we set up any kind of committees, I’d like the first one be a committee to plan and encourage times when we can worship together – as two or three meetings in a convenient area, as individuals under shared concerns, as people hungry for fellowship and glad to spend time together.

Let’s be Friends, before we do anything else.


6 Responses to “Starting out right”

  1. 1 Christine Greenland January 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I am in a small prayer group… last 7th day, there were but two of us rather than the usual three. Our sharing afterwards focused on living together as a loving community — not an over-arching institution. The one Friend’s comment was that “love” of an institutional structure — whether within the Catholic Church or among Friends was inappropriate — verging on idolatrous.

  2. 2 Howard Brod January 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I have found that the modern human tendency, like the Israelites in the desert, is to want something to idolize. Yet once we do that, we begin to feel robbed of the real life in the Spirit. Once you have become the victim of idolatry in any of its many forms, you begin to understand why early Friends found such power. freedom, and communion in waiting worship surrounded by silence.

    All Quaker branches struggle to this day with the trap of idolatry. As a liberal Friend, who worships in silence each Sunday at my meeting, I have become acutely aware that liberal Friends often idolize Quaker history and traditions; thereby, shutting out the full action and promptings of the Spirit.

    Your post is a reminder to me that there is real power in silent worship if we have the discipline to not bring the things we seek to idolize with us when we commune with God.

  3. 3 Wess January 1, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful time of listening, growing and movement. Even if at times it is painful, God will continue to lead you. Thank you for sharing.

  4. 4 julie young January 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I think you meant December 30 rather than January 30th in the 3rd paragraph.
    I enjoyed your post.

  5. 5 Bill Samuel January 6, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Blessings on you and the other Friends who find themselves left out of Indiana YM as you find your way forward. The right place to start, as you understand, is in worship. If the Friends involved focus on finding times to worship together and listen to the Lord’s leading, all the things which need to fall into place will fall into place in God’s time and in God’s right order. Don’t rush it. It is critical how the something new develops, for the spirit in which it develops will likely remain throughout history. Let it be a spirit of worship, of openness to wherever God may lead, and of love for one another and for those from whom you are now organizationally separate. Let the amazing love and grace of God through Jesus Christ permeate your beings as individuals and as a body. You will see that God does amazing things, and God loves to do them among us.

  6. 6 Helene Pollock January 6, 2013 at 9:40 am

    I believe that a strong emphasis on worship goes hand in hand with a commitment to pay attention to each person’s relationship with God, in a community that has a strong program of adult religious education that includes small groups where people talk about the ups and downs of their relationship with God. Just as a community encourages married people to be intentional about deepening their marriage through the years (not letting it stagnate), the community needs to help people deepen the way they relate to God and Jesus Christ. This will help people grow in understanding why they are worshipping and why they continue to choose to be part of a community that puts worship as central.

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.



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