# 5

God doesn’t just speak in epigrams.

Although a Friend, in a meeting I used to attend, did.

Why do we have such a bias against vocal ministry that lasts more than two minutes?

Is it for fear that some one will preach a sermon with a scriptural reference, three points and a conclusion?

Is it because too often vocal ministry is not truly inspired and it bothers us when bad ministry goes on and on?

I think this is connected to the expectation that all vocal ministry will be completely spontaneous, without preparation or prior reflection needed or wanted.

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Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Hi Robin,

I've been dipping into the blogworld again after a period of relative inactivity and have been enjoying "What Canst Thou Say?" in general and your "top ten" list in particular. This one about the prejudice against longer messages would be on my list of "things that drive me crazy" as well, though maybe that's a result of my own defensiveness. I've given some pretty short messages in my day: I think the shortest was "Jesus is the well that never runs dry." But there have also been some longer ones. Last December I felt deeply moved and delivered up a pretty long one that I then wrote down (more or less) about a week later and posted here on my blog. I know that there were some Friends who considered it entirely too long and who darkly suspected it had been prepared in advance. I personally felt that it was a message moved by the spirit, and I hope it was helpful to someone, and that it served somehow to build up the body (i.e. the Meeting). I know very well that my discernment can sometimes be faulty, and I think it's probably healthy for me to be a tad nervous about going on too long, but "too long" is entirely a function of the message itself. As in so many areas, I deeply feel the need for more seasoned elders among us.

I was a little unsure of your point in the final paragraph about the "expectation that vocal ministry will be completely spontaneous, without preparation or prior reflection." It sounds as if you are questioning that expectation. If so, I'd like to hear more about why. At least as stated, that is my expectation also. Of course one must come to meeting with "heart and mind prepared", but not - - at least as I see it - - with message prepared, or even with an intent to speak or not speak.

Say Hi for me to Chris M and to any other Friends out there who may know me.

Peace and Friendship,
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

2/08/2007 10:38 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

For anyone else reading this, it was ministry by this very Rich Acetta-Evans early in my experience of meeting for worship that helped me understand that vocal ministry didn't have to be so short. He would often start out with some story and it would go on for a while and then just when I was wondering where it was going, he would come to the point and it would take my breath away, and it became clear to me, every single time, that the whole story had been necessary for the message to be effective. I know that some other Friends thought he went on too long but I don't.

Later in my Quaker career, another Friend, Peter Crysdale, gave somewhat lengthy and erudite vocal ministry a few times when visiting my regular meeting. He would somehow combine the things he was learning in graduate school with the stories of people he knew with the insight he gained in meeting for worship. Not that he rehearsed or planned to give vocal ministry, but he didn't check his brain or his education at the door of the meetinghouse either.

This was somewhat of a revelation to me: vocal ministry that builds on rigorous religious education, disciplined mid-week spiritual practice, and examined personal experience is more powerful. This is what "heart and mind prepared" means to me.

2/09/2007 5:30 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Robin,
One of the most remarkable moments for me when I read Samuel Bownas's journal (early eighteen century minister who more-or-less "wrote the book" on the topic) was his description of his earliest vocal ministry. Apparently he berated himself afterwards because the ministry lasted "only" about fifteen minutes. He picked up and gave real sermons later, but just imagine the fireworks if someone in a liberal unprogrammed meeting strayed past about seven minutes.

Bownas also has some interesting things to say about semi-prepared ministry. Early in his career he was very cautious against repeating any spiritual opening he received while ministering. Over time he realized that it was okay to have themes in his ministry. He needed to check himself against the Spirit to make sure he wasn't just repeating himself to have something to say, of course, but repeating oneself did not necessarily mean he was "outrunning his Guide."

2/10/2007 1:35 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Martin, I remember that same point in Bownas. I can not imagine the drama of fifteen minutes of vocal ministry. But then, we don't allow as much time for the whole meeting for worship as they used to either.

I would also refer Friends to a post about the nudge to vocal ministry by the pseudonymous Elizabeth Bathhurst.

2/10/2007 2:32 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

I remember when I was first struck by the idea that not all vocal ministry is entirely spontaneous.

When I worshiped with Milwaukee Friends, one Friend told me that sometimes she feels she is given a message midweek, and that message weighs on her heart until Way opens on First Day. And only then is the Friend--and the message she was carrying--released by speaking it.

It changed for me what is meant by the question, "How do we prepare for Meeting?" God prepares us throughout the week; not just during the hour or so of unprogrammed worship.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

2/10/2007 3:29 PM  

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