Sunday, June 10, 2007

What are we called to as Friends?

I attended the World Gathering of Young Friends held at Guilford in 1985. We were very divided from each other during much of the week. Some unprogrammed Friends were pretty freaked out when some Bolivian Friends essentially made an altar call.
I was on the "epistle committee" and we tried very hard to discern what we shared in common. You can read the epistle at

I would differ very slightly from something Cherice said, I think, in her Beacon Hill talk. I think she said that what makes us unique is that we try very radically to hear and be obedient to God's voice. (I may have misquoted you, Cherice - I don't have it in front of me right now.)

I think that is true, but many Christians (as well as those of other tradtions such as Jews) also try hard to practice this. What is MOST unique about us, I think, is that Friends discovered in the traditional Meeting for Worship a totally unique (in my experience) way of hearing God's voice and experience God using us as God's mouthpiece. I have experience unprogrammed Spirit-led worship in pentacostal settings and it is powerful and the Holy Spirit is undoubtedly present but it simply is NOT the same at all as a Meeting for Worship in which the hearts of worshippers are knit together in God and in which some are led into Spirit-led vocal ministry. Sadly there are many many unprogrammed Meetings that never experience this kind of worship - many unprogrammed Friends have told me they have no idea what "gathered" worship is and many unprogrammed YMs have run away from even an intention much less realization of limiting spoken ministry to messages that are under the leadership of the Divine Voice of the Inward Christ.

And as much as I respect and even cherish the leadership of many Friends pastors and the good spiritual work that happens in many pastoral Friends' services, I personally have not experienced programmed services, even very good ones that I have attended such as at Reedwood, as being this same type of Christ-led worship.

I also believe we discovered what is (at least in my admittedly limited experience) unique vessel or tool in the traditional Meeting for Worship with attention to business - as a way in which a faith community can seek to be guided together into Christ-directed decisions for their community. I have not attended meetings for church business in any pastoral YMs so I cannot say whether they experience this type of Christ-leadership. Sadly, I think it is even more of an "endangered species" among unprogrammed Friends than truly gathered, Spirit-guided worship. But I have experienced it at work. I have read about something similar to this being practiced among other Christian groups such as the group that was seeking spiritual discernment to begin the Jesuits and certain post-Vatican monastic communities that were attempting to move away from having their superior make all of their decisions - but again I have no direct experience of whether these groups practice anything at all like Quaker business process at its best.

Between the move away from Spirit-direction in pastoral Quaker traditions and the move away from the Living God in unprogrammed Quaker meetings, these 2 unique vessels of God work nearly disappeared. I think they have a great deal to offer both Christianity and the world.


forrest said...

When my wife Anne & I were at Pendle Hill, our gospels teacher was a friend of Rabbi Marsha Praeger of the Jewish renewal (P'nai Or) Synagogue, and so the class was invited for a hint of what Jesus would have been doing each Saturday. The form of the Jewish services, of course, is highly programmed, but here we found some very talented and devoted people following this form with considerable freedom. The spirituality was palpable, though not to all of us. Anne and I were weeping when we joined in the (simplified) chants; so were others including a previously skeptical Unitarian who had an overwhelming mystical experience (involving Jesus, as it happens.) Anne & I were the only ones who returned on a regular basis, Anne mainly for the chanting and me most-especially-loving the Torah study--which was quite similar in feeling to our Pendle Hill classes. When people study inspired material--without imposing some standardized interpretation, but rather looking to God for understanding--This itself is a practice that connects them powerfully with God. I'd like to see something like this incorporated in the unprogrammed Quaker repetoire, not just in workshops at yearly meetings but as an ongoing practice! I see it as a potential antidote to the "move away from the Living God" you mention here.

Back here in San Diego, I have a small study group, not a popular one but it keeps me going. We've read through books on the Gnostics to Pendle Hill pamphlets to the books of Revelation and Acts, with occasional interludes of no-decision where we read from things like _The Empty Mirror_ and _The Essential Rumi_. ["Inspired" does not have to mean "inerrant," not if my poetry is any example!] It hasn't involved many Meeting members, who remain generally uninterested--but the Meeting is starting to include occasions for worship-sharing and similar study before and after worship.

Those periods of being silently open are essential--When Anne & I were briefly visiting an "apostolic" church here, we found the congregation and their preacher full of faith and aware of God in their lives--but it was like they never gave Him a chance to correct their misunderstandings or tell them anything they hadn't heard before!

So why and how do groups of "unprogrammed" Quakers sometimes get stuck sitting in outward silence while hearing only our all-too-human thoughts? (One old and respected Friend [talking about those right-wing ministers, of course] even rose in meeting (!) to say that it was dangerously deluded of people to think God tells us things!)

Without making a "set" form of it... might it help to remind ourselves frequently of James' suggestion that we pray to God for greater wisdom?! Why, while I mention it, do we seem so seldom led to pray aloud?

forrest said...

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