FWCC 2010: Worship, Old Town, and an Idea for the Future

I try to call home each night when I’m traveling, after dinner but before bedtimes. Last night, as I talked to each of my sons, I told them, “I got to go to worship three times today.” Both of them, independently, just said, “Wow.” I don’t think they envied me. But I was happy about it. Each worship opportunity was quite different.

First was morning worship at the FWCC Section of the Americas Annual Meeting, organized by the Conservative Friends. Perhaps surprisingly, they were the only ones to make use of the audio-visual (AV) equipment in worship. They had a single slide projected on the wall at the front of the room that said something like, “We are already engaged in worship. Please join us in expectant waiting upon the Lord.” Then it quoted Advice # 24 of Ohio Yearly Meeting to encourage Friends not to quench the Holy Spirit but to respond when the call to vocal ministry comes. I think this was a good example of advices being written for a particular community that are beneficial to a wider range of people. I imagine that among programmed Friends there could also be a tendency to think that vocal ministry is only for a few people. (In my own yearly meeting’s advices, there are reminders that not every thought that comes into your head is meant for vocal ministry and that if a particular piece of ministry doesn’t appeal to you, you can just let it go.)

The second opportunity was the closing worship at FWCC, which was organized by a very international group of young adult Friends. It opened with a moment of silent worship, then there was a passage of scripture read in English by a young man from Kenya and in Spanish by a young woman from Bolivia, with commentary by the Friend from Kenya. There
was another short period of silence, then a small group including North American Friends led us in a song,and then another period of silence.

Next was supposed to be a message by a very young pastor from Guatemala, but instead some woman got up in the silence to read a Native American prayer that she “just happened to have with [her].” I’m sure she felt deeply moved, but I still think it was rude to interrupt a programmed worship service like that. The Friend from Guatemala did a fine job anyway, but it’s hard to be preparing to preach and then have it unexpectedly postponed.

This really brings up for me the question of what is the purpose of silence in a programmed worship service. I think there’s a difference between a period of open worship which is intended for Friends to speak as moved and a few minutes between elements of the program to let a message sink in or to open ourselves to the next element.

Anyway, then we sang another song and then it closed with a prayer by a young woman from a Hispanic Friends Church in the U.S.

The third opportunity for worship was with an emerging Quaker worship group in Baltimore, Old Town Friends Fellowship. Several months ago, I realized that if I was going to Baltimore anyway, this was a chance to visit this group I’ve been hearing about, that has been worshipping together, in various places, for about two years now.

It was a chance for a little bit of FWCC to come to local Friends, and a chance to support this small worship group. This second purpose turned out to be more important than we could have known in advance. Just hours before we gathered, the worship group’s request to be taken under the care of Baltimore Meeting – Homewood was turned down. The worship group folks were really very gracious about the decision, but I was personally shocked. I am certain that there is more to the story than I know, or than could be shared on this outsider’s blog, but I just don’t understand a decision like that. The Old Town Friends will go on, and way will open somewhere else, another day. However, it felt really good to be with them on a depressing day like this. I’m glad that a much larger group came to worship with them, to hold them in the Light, to hear their stories, and to affirm the Holy Presence in their midst.

I arrived with Nancy C, a Friend from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), who gave me a ride. Fortunately, it was on her way south anyway. David M, from Ohio Yearly Meeting, met us there. Susanna R, Clerk of the Oldtown Friends, welcomed us to the Aisquith St Meetinghouse, the oldest house of worship in Baltimore. (More history here.) Other local Friends soon joined us for some juice and cookies. Bill Samuel, a long time Friend now attending Cedar Ridge Community Church, and an occasional commenter on this blog came in person as did Stephen D, who came to the convergent Friends workshop at BLQC last year. Joan L, who participated in my workshop at FGC in 2008, and her husband Rich are semi-regular attenders at Old Town Friends, as is Ken S. Other Friends came from the DC and Baltimore areas. Martin Kelley and his whole family came, although Julie and the boys didn’t stay for the whole worship period. Altogether, I counted 19 people, from 5-6 Yearly Meetings.

We started with reading Propositions 5 & 6 from Barclay’s Apology and a lively discussion of the possibilities and limits of universal salvation, of free will vs. God’s power to save. It was interesting to be in a group with some people who have clearly read and studied Barclay at length and people like me who are just reading it for the first time. I didn’t realize before that the original 15 Propositions are not that long. A lot of what is published as Barclay’s Apology are his later refutations of his contemporaries’ criticism of his points. I think I could read just the Propositions a lot sooner than I would be motivated to read the whole enormous book, even in the modern English version. They are available online or through Quaker Books. I also recommend Will T’s series of blogposts on Barclay, starting in 2006. If this encourages anybody else to read it, let me know.

Then we moved over to the other side of the room for worship. The meetinghouse still has the original partitions for the men’s and women’s meetings, but the building has been adapted slightly for another worship group that meets there on Sunday mornings. Their AV and praise band equipment, including full drum kit, are set up on what used to be the facing benches. The acoustics are really good in the building that at one time held 350 people for worship.

We began with introductions, then joys and concerns, then a couple of Taize chants, led by Kevin-Douglas Olive’s fine voice, and then about 45 minutes of open worship, followed by announcements. We had a really good discussion of how the worship group can welcome children to worship with them in the future.

And last we had potluck. As with Friends everywhere, the food was good and plentiful, and the opportunity to talk with old and new Friends was wonderful.

I am very grateful to Oldtown Friends for welcoming us into their normal routine. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to worship with them. Each year, when I have made the time to stay over after the FWCC meeting for a visit with local Friends, it has been so enriching for me. I think it has also been a gift to the local Friends to have some of the diversity of FWCC come into their regular lives, not just as a conference but as intervisitation. I also know that many of the Latin American Friends were hosted this same evening by the Iglesia Evangelica de los Amigos de Baltimore, and I expect that interaction was also valuable for visitors and locals.

It is the hope of many in FWCC Section of the Americas that the proposal to hold a series of local gatherings on the Being Salt and Light in a Broken World theme in preparation for the 2012 World Gathering of Friends will also give some of this rich experience to many more Friends in the next couple of years. I encourage all of you who read this to find out what the plans are in your area. Ask the FWCC reps from your yearly meeting. See if you can help make it happen.

If you are an Evangelical Friend, please think hard about how you can encourage other Evangelical Friends to participate in the World Gathering itself, and in local convergent gatherings in their areas, especially if they are not used to working with other Friends near them.

For everyone who has wished for something convergent to happen near you – this is it, folks. It’s not the only thing, of course, but this project is coming to a location near you some time in the next two years. If you need to start saving now for a trip to the next state, or if you have always wanted to visit Friends in another region of the Americas – Friends in that region would be so happy to have YOU come.

More information will become available over the next few months. Since the proposal was only approved on Saturday morning, not all of the plans are clear yet. But this could be a amazing opportunity for Friends everywhere to connect with the wider world of Friends, to find the kindred spirits out there, the ones we already have something in common with but we just haven’t met yet, and to influence the voice of Friends in the world. And this time, we have all the institutional support of FWCC Secion of the Americas: staff, committees, relationships, experience, fundraising and vision.

Dear God, please help us to see with your eyes the possibilities for Friends to truly be salt and light in the world. Help us to hear with your ears the cries of the world, the suffering of the poor and of the lost. Help us to listen to voices we have ignored before. Help us to mend our broken covenant to share the Earth with all creation and with all generations to come. Help us to be models of righteousness and right sharing. Help us to be brave when we are afraid and humble when we are right and when we are wrong. Help us to feel where the winds of the Spirit are blowing, to welcome the new things that you are doing, and to be patient for the arrival of the fruits of the Spirit. Amen.

Friends, is this the vision for the appointed time?

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Blogger Micah Bales said...

Hi Robin,

Thanks for this report. I'm glad to hear that you were able to visit Old Town Friends at such a sensitive time.

You talked in your post about how you wondered what the purpose of silence is in a programmed worship service. Having grown up in the pastoral Friends tradition, I would say that the silence serves the same function in programmed Meetings as it does in unprogrammed Meetings: It is for waiting upon the Lord and, if led, delivering a prophetic message or vocal prayer. You may be right that the person who spoke during the FWCC service was not rightly led; however, when rightly led, speaking out of the silence during a programmed service is not a faux pas - at least not where I am from. On the contrary, it can serve as a comfirmation of the presence of the Spirit gathering and guiding us as a Meeting.

Blessings on you, and thanks for sharing.

Micah Bales


3/24/2010 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Mertic said...

I hope you will post more about the Baltimore Friends you visited. They are courageous to ask for what they believed would be agreed to. I want to follow this.

3/24/2010 10:36 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hey Micah, thanks for the reminder. It's a complicated balance.

Elizabeth, I probably won't know any more specifically about what happens with the Old Town Friends until it's all over. But I'm sure that your prayers would be welcome.

3/27/2010 11:17 PM  

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