Reflections from extended worship, and other moments of clarity

On Sunday morning, we had extended waiting worship, somewhat in the manner of San Francisco Monthly Meeting. We planned for it to last two hours, with the first half hour being loosely dedicated to Bible reading in the manner of Conservative Friends.

I was worried a little bit that this wasn’t good enough for such a big chunk of the workshop time. Would people think that we, as leaders, should be presenting more? I comforted myself with the notion that this was the period of the workshop to be led by the Holy Spirit. It turns out that two hours of worship weren’t enough. People were still going strong at the two hour mark. Should we have planned for three hours? Four? I haven’t done it that long myself, but what if we tried? I think Marcelle Martin wrote a Pendle Hill Pamphlet about her experiments with extended worship. Maybe I should re-read it.

One of the messages that I received that didn’t rise to the level of vocal ministry but seemed like a clear lesson for me came from watching the rain out the windows of the Casa de Luz.

As the clouds passed in front of the ridge across the valley, from time to time I couldn’t see the horizon. But when the forest on the horizon was obscured, I could focus better on the tree right in front of me.

One Friend read to us the parable about the farmer who sows his seed on the road, in the weeds and on fertile soil. Another Friend said to us, “Mind the fire.”

In the middle of the two hours, I noticed that the fire that had been burning hotly in the woodstove when we came in was dying down. I tried to get up and put another log on the fire quickly and quietly so that we wouldn’t get cold, but not waste too much wood since we would be leaving in another hour. By the end however, I was given to understand that you can’t stoke a fire on the cheap. It may flare up but it will also burn out quickly. You have to lay the foundation properly and put in the time it really needs. A later suggestion from another Friend: always add two logs to the woodstove at one time. It greatly increases the chances of them catching fire.

I think the same is true with ministry.

For more reports on this weekend workshop, visit the Event Coverage page on QuakerQuaker.org.

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Blogger Bill Samuel said...

It's very hard to predict time when you want to allow worship to go as long as the Spirit leads. Reportedly early Friends meetings were often 3-4 hours long. I remember an extended meeting for worship at the first FUM Triennial I attended. After it had already gone on quite a bit longer than scheduled, the folks at the front shook hands. That didn't stop the meeting, which went on for quite some time more. I think it was about 3 hours total.

3/01/2009 9:22 PM  
Blogger Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

You write, "I think Marcelle Martin wrote a Pendle Hill Pamphlet about her experiments with extended worship. Maybe I should re-read it."

Could you share the title here, if you find it? I would be interested to read it, too.

Our meeting has been experimenting with having folks exit the meeting room silently (after announcements most weeks; no spoken announcements one week in four) so that others can remain as long as they wish in silent waiting worship or in worship sharing--it is left unstructured that way.

There are almost always half a dozen or more who remain behind, and it has become a tradition I am grateful for. Not extended worship of the length you describe here, but still... it is very sweet and often rich.

Thank you for writing about this. I just can't get enough stories about worship.

3/02/2009 6:19 AM  
Blogger anj said...

Our regional meeting hosts quarterly three hour extended meeting for worship, and our last two yearly monthy meeting retreats have been centered around three hour extended meeting for worship. I am a big fan of extended meetings for worship. :)

I often wonder why Friends feel the need for so much workshop time -- isn't our core ethos that Christ has come to teach His people Himself? And isn't that meeting for worship is an expression of? Making space in expectant waiting for Christ to teach. Why do we rely so much on earthly teachers who may, or may not, speak to our condition?

3/02/2009 12:09 PM  
Blogger anj said...

PS - Invitation To A Deeper Communion, by Marcelle Martin, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 366

3/02/2009 12:12 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Bill, of course you're right about unpredictability of the Spirit. I thought two hours might be a good compromise, but I underestimated the folks who came to the workshop.

Cat, I'm glad that Anj was able to answer your question before I was. I am intrigued by your meeting's practice. I hope others will write here about other experiments.

Anj, thank you for everything you wrote here. I'm just nodding my head as I read along.

3/02/2009 11:47 PM  

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