Report on Extended Meeting for Worship

A belated report on a wonderful experiment.

Our Ministry and Oversight committee proposed that on the fifth Sunday of July, we hold meeting for worship from 9:30 a.m. until 12:00 noon, instead of our usual one hour from 11-12.

The first half hour was proposed to be Bible reading in the manner of Conservative Friends. (This was later expanded to include any holy writings.) One way it was explained was as a kind of guided meditation. As led by the Holy Spirit, a person could rise, name the book, chapter(s) and verse(s), and then simply read from the Scriptures without commentary. As it worked out, one Friend read from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, another from the Psalms, another from the Upanishads. It all felt well led.

The next two hours were simply open to waiting worship in our usual manner. It was clear in the announcement that it was okay to come later if one wanted, or to leave and come back if necessary. This allowed Friends who still wanted to just come for their regular hour of worship to come at the usual time. For me, I liked having two and a half hours. I noticed a sense of spaciousness in worship, an open feeling that was delightful. At the end, I still felt like it could have gone on longer.

In that length of time, I had the experience of feeling a nudge to vocal ministry but not the urgency, the worry about, “What time is it? Is the hour almost over? Will I get to say this before we’re done?” Instead I had plenty of time to listen to that nudge, to allow the message to become clearer, to hear what the message had to say to me personally, to consider whether it was still meant for the whole meeting, to sit with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and then to rise and deliver the whole message, when it felt ripe, without haste or confusion.

I also had the sense that this was a workman-like message. Not an earth-shaking, magical experience, but still good, basic craftmanship in vocal ministry. This is a new phase in my ministry lately – of recognizing work well done, yet calmer than has sometimes been the case in my nudges to vocal ministry.

The one thing I would do differently would be to prepare my children better. We had arranged for them to come in during the last 15 minutes rather than the first period. That was fine. But next time, I will ask the nursery worker to be sure that they have a snack before they come down to worship. Bored and hungry is not a good combination for children in meeting.

The next extended meeting for worship at SF Monthly Meeting will be September 30, 2007, at 9:30 am. All are welcome.

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Blogger Will T said...

The sense of spaciousness was one of the joys I found in my experiences of extended worship as well. In his journal, Elias Hicks often makes reference to his internal exercise during the "forepart of meeting" and then how it turned into ministry later. I sometimes wonder how much we loose because our entire meetings are completed in the time he would have considered the "forepart."

Will T

PS. Enjoy your new digs.

9/06/2007 9:52 PM  
Blogger kathy said...

Robin, this sounds like a very cool experience. I'm drawn to the idea of having adequate time to wrestle with a nudge until it's "ripe." I sometimes feel quickened by something but then don't have time to sort out who it's for exactly, me or everyone, and whether or not I can screw up the courage to stand and speak it. Our short open worship doesn't allow time for all that so I've never stood to speak. (Screwing up the courage to speak takes me a LONG time!) I sometimes wish we would have an occasional silent worship service at our church. A neighboring church does one but I want to be with the people I worship with regularly.

9/07/2007 10:15 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Will, I will pass on the words from Hicks to our Clerk and M&O. And thank you, we are enjoying our new place!

Kathy, this grew out of several years of a small group meeting for Bible reading in the manner of Conservative Friends on fifth Sundays before our regular meeting for worship. The big experiment was to do it large, as part of our main worship service.

I think you're right that it takes time to work up to good vocal ministry. Even without fear of public speaking, which is real for many people, good discernment takes time, and just settling into listening deeply enough to hear that still small voice takes time. I've heard of other Friends Churches offering once a week or once a month an extended period of waiting worship, which for some churches just means a whole hour. I have been impressed with NFC's willingness to experiment in other ways - I'm sure y'all could work this in somehow. For us, the experiment is also in having some semi-programming in the first half hour. Not everyone here is comfortable with that idea, but in actual practice, it worked out fine, and even after that first period, there's still two hours of completely unprogrammed time, and it was richly blessed.

9/07/2007 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really appreciate that your meeting is doing this. Our very small meeting contains an abundance of chatterers and getting them to settle into silence often cuts a significant amount of time off the designated hour of silence. There are times when I wish we would meet longer.


9/07/2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Thank you very much for sharing this. I have mentioned several times about wanting a meeting for worship with no pre-determined ending time. While that's not quite what you have, it sounds a lot closer to that idea. Ceal and I have started to go in for worship earlier to get more time, but it is not quite the same. I hope you will update us on how this extended worship is embraced by the meeting.
With love,

9/07/2007 5:53 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Early Friends did not stop worship by the clock. Those that have studied early Friends feel that probably they often went 3-4 hours.

So the timed meeting is an adaptation to the world. It is not traditionally Quaker.

I think often one reason for trying to keep closely to a set time is the practice of segregating children, so you want to have the separate groups ending at the same time.

That practice is also not traditionally Quaker. When I was first exposed to Quakerism as a child, we attended different meetings. When we attended a Conservative meeting, there would be no age segregation, but there would be at liberal and FUM meetings. Many Friends at the liberal meeting we often attended were annoyed because I would habitually escape the segregated setting and sneak back into worship. But my parents refused to bar me from worship, and eventually Friends accepted, or at least tolerated, me being there.

I wonder if meetings were deep and gathered if children would exhibit the restlessness that parents fear in contemporary meetings?

9/07/2007 7:22 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

I've never made it to any of the extended worships in my parts, more a function of time and logistics than curiosity. I think it's always a good things when Friends spend more time together. I've been to a lot of meetings where the building was cleared out within half an hour of the break of worship. The meeting is obviously just one more stop in the busy rush of the weekend. It seems almost a defeat, like "we know enough about all the people we know there and know enough about what will happen at worship that we don't have to invest in it." Extended worship helps move us past this, not just because of the worship but because of the commitment to spend more time. Realizing the personal irony of course that I haven't gone because I can't/haven't made that commitment!!

9/07/2007 7:42 PM  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Bill's story about sneaking back into worship reminds me of a story I heard when visiting Friendship Friends in Greensboro. A young man had just gotten married and his mother told a story from when he was young. He preferred to sit in worship rather than going to First Day School. The First Day School teacher kept asking him if he wanted to join them, but he never would. Finally, she asked him "what do you do in worship?" He replied "I listen to God, what do you do?"

Martin wrote: Extended worship helps move us past this, not just because of the worship but because of the commitment to spend more time.

I think the commitment is the key. Perhaps when we aren't willing/able to participate, we should ask "is this other thing more important than God and if so, why?" I hope that for me, the answer to that first part becomes "no" more and more often.
With love,

9/07/2007 8:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was struck by this passage from Martin's comment:

"I think it's always a good things when Friends spend more time together. I've been to a lot of meetings where the building was cleared out within half an hour of the break of worship. The meeting is obviously just one more stop in the busy rush of the weekend. It seems almost a defeat, like "we know enough about all the people we know there and know enough about what will happen at worship that we don't have to invest in it."

This really speaks to my experience-- I've only recently begun attending a Friends Meeting, after many years as an ambivalent Catholic. So often the congretation at Mass (often a quite large group!) would clear out of the parking lot in record time after the service-- or would even slip out after communion, off to more pressing concerns.

I find, though, that a similar pattern is at work at Meeting, and sometimes I feel a bit disappointed.


9/08/2007 2:46 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Mary, would it be possible for your meeting to agree at least to meet for one hour from whatever time you begin?

Mark, no, it's not completely free worship, but it was freeing to know we had so much time. I think that some people were more concerned about the semi-programming of the first half hour than about the extended period. Every one I talked to afterwards who had come early was glad they did. And some people who just came at their regular time were also glad they did.

Bill, in our meeting, children who want to stay in worship are allowed to. But few of them choose that. My own children are required to come for fifteen minutes usually at home, and often for half an hour to an hour at meeting retreats or quarterly meetings. But then we often provide them with drawing materials to use during worship, which is not quite the same as waiting worship. It does accustom them to being part of the community. I think it was Julie DeMarchi Heiland who commented once about the blessings that children receive simply by being present in worship, whether we think they're paying attention or not.

I also read a story once about a Mennonite community that had worship services that lasted for several hours. Their children were present for the whole thing, but they also offered their children a small pie, maybe like a turnover, in the middle of their worship. I don't know how older Friends would feel about that but it makes sense to me.

Martin and Andy, one thing I can say for sure about SF Meeting is that it is never empty in less than an hour afterwards, sometimes two, even without a special second hour presentation, which also happen regularly. Several years ago, we set up a toy box in the corner that is only available during the fellowship time to allow children to play in the worship room while the adults drink coffee in the adjoing room - within sight of the children but with less risk of spilling and less need to shush the children.

9/09/2007 11:42 PM  

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