Faith and Practice encourages us to come to meeting for worship with our hearts and minds prepared. There are many stories throughout our community which lift up the efforts Friends have taken to prepare themselves and their meetings for worship. Here are stories from 4 meetings for worship where the worship has deepened in a clear and powerful way .
Wilmington Monthly Meeting was surprised by a serendipitous experience which deepened their community and their worship.
The meeting decided it wanted to offer religious education for adults. They created an ad hoc committee which settled on offering a class once a month before meeting for worship. The class format and content was very simple. They used the 2011 One Book One Yearly Meeting book selection, Leading from Within: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Lead. Each month, a different member of the committee would choose a poem for the group to read. During the class the facilitator would read the poem and talk about the imagery or metaphor that had meaning for him or her and then other Friends in the group would share their own responses. Over time a strong sense of community grew in the group as the sharing became personal. In response to the poetry, Friends shared their own struggles, needs, joys and issues. Over the eight months of the class, the experience bled over into meeting for worship; worship became more centered and the ministries that were offered became more powerful. In turn, this seemed to strengthen our meeting and we reveled in in it.
The surprise was that deepening worship wasn’t what the meeting was trying to do. Steve Dutton says of the experience, “We’re always having conversations about how to deepen or enrich worship but this class is what did it. You could say that participants were preparing for worship in a way we hadn’t done before. I think the fact that this group became a consistent group of people who got to know one another better and got to know personal needs and issues better meant that we grew as a community and that can only enhance worship. Maybe this is one way to think about religious education – it’s about helping to prepare for worship which is at the center of what we do. This was a spontaneous movement of the Spirit.”
About four years ago, Media Friends Meeting began extended meeting for worship on the third Sunday of each month. A handful of Friends gather one hour before the regular worship time to begin a period of extended worship. Other friends join worship in progress during the extended hour or at the regular worship time.
Since implementing this practice, Friends have noticed a dramatic difference in worship on third Sundays; there is a deeper experience for most people, and the messages that arise are experienced more profoundly. Friends have noticed that entering the meetinghouse where worship is already in progress has helped them to center more quickly and delve into a richer experience of worship, while simultaneously encouraging a sense of spaciousness and timelessness. Preparing our physical space, in conjunction with preparing our hearts and minds, has transformed our worship and our experience of the Divine.
The lower school at Friends Select held a concern for the quality of worship and vocal ministry in their worship. They addressed it in the manner of Friends… by forming a committee. The committee includes every 3rd or 4th grader who wants to participate and they meet during lunch and recess a few times a month. The classroom is packed with up to 20 kids who choose to join the work. Clerked by a teacher, the kids discussed how to help their meeting for worship be one that everyone felt they could participate in. They implemented several ideas. Older children are carefully charged with not just sitting next to their younger worship buddies, but helping them understand what is going on and serving as a mentor to them. They check in about how this is going on a regular basis. The kids are responsible for developing the queries that are shared in worship once a month. The committee decided that the query should be read several times by different kids in different areas of the room so that it was well-represented and everyone could hear it. Over the 2 years that this practice has been in place they’ve heard increased ministry from more kids, including the youngest. Additionally, teachers share that they experience a deeper meeting for worship. Another important result of this process is that care of worship is clearly important to the kids, evidenced by so many of them using their recess time to participate in the committee.
Several years ago, Lancaster Meeting* was going through a time when meeting for worship seemed noticeably unsettled, for a variety of reasons. In response, Worship and Ministry undertook a commitment that at least some of members of the committee would be present in worship, starting about 15 minutes before the appointed 10 o’clock hour. Thus, when people began to enter the worship room at 10, they found a core of people already deep in worship, providing, it was hoped, that critical mass of “kindled hearts”. Over time they noted that people no longer lingered in conversation just outside the door. Latecomers entered a still and centered meeting, so they knew that they were not only late by the clock, but that they were missing something eventful; and as a consequence, tardiness decreased in frequency. More importantly, their worship seemed to gradually grow deeper and more settled, less distracted. Several years later, a few minutes before 10 o’clock you would find five or ten Friends in worship, preparing to welcome fellow worshipers into a hushed and sacred space as they arrive.
A second example from Lancaster Meeting is their engaging in the Spiritual Formation Program. In 1999, twelve Friends from Lancaster went through the first cycle of the PYM Spiritual Formation Program together. After the program ended, they continued to meet and discuss readings on a regular basis for the next two years. With its willingness to regularly engage and discuss readings from our Quaker tradition, that small group came to have a ‘kindling effect” on the meetings for worship. The positive experience of the group in turn led them to plan and finally implement their own local adaptation of the Spiritual Formation Program. Almost 50 people participated. As readers may know, one key component of the Spiritual Formation Program is the encouragement of a daily individual spiritual practice. Having that number of Lancaster members participate in this program and in daily individual practice had a very notable and tangible effect on the quality of the meetings for worship.
Thanks to Lola George (Media Meeting), Friends Select Lower School, Steve Dutton (Wilmington Meeting) and Tom Gates (Lancaster Meeting) for sharing these stories.
*The stories from Lancaster Meeting are reprinted with slight paraphrasing from the PYM pamphlet Worship: “The Gathered Meeting” Revisited by Tom Gates. A larger selection from that pamphlet is excerpted as the Reflection from Experience Story in the November Worship & Ministry Threadletter. The pamphlet may be purchased from QuakerBooks of FGC or borrowed from the PYM library.