Worship, Life & Witness
Index to Section 2
- Meeting for Worship
- MInistry in Meeting for Worship
- Rights and responsibilities of being a Quaker
- Quaker concerns
- Quaker testimonies
MEETING FOR WORSHIP
Meeting for Worship is the centre of the life of the Society. All that is required for a meeting for worship is for worshippers to come together and to turn their hearts and minds towards God. A meeting may be held at any suitable time and place, and as often as the group wishes and needs. All are welcome.
Worship is an experience that transcends words. The living silence is central to Meeting for Worship. Worship can be:
- a response of the human spirit to the presence of the divine and eternal, to the spirit of God reaching out to us;
- an offering of ourselves, body, mind and spirit, to God to carry out God's purposes;
- a searching for the sacred;
- a stilling of ourselves, a liberation from internal and external commotion.
We may respond in wonder and awe, in peace and stillness, in receptiveness, in pain and struggle, in laying down things that weigh upon us, in laughter and joy, in thanksgiving, in a sense of challenge and calling, in a sense of being at home. In the living silence, we can feel the flowing of the divine spirit amongst us.
2.1.3 Being open
When we come to worship willing to be open, to give as well as to receive, the full possibilities of the meeting for worship may be realised, and its influence may spread and grow throughout our community.
2.1.4 Preparing for Meeting for Worship
Each of us is a living part of the meeting for worship. Our spiritual life from day to day and our preparation for coming to the meeting will affect the quality of worship. Gathering in outward silence is not enough; we should seek an inward stillness from whose depths may come a renewed sense of the power of the spirit, a consciousness of the presence of God. In this experience we may find direction for our lives and strength for our needs, we may be bonded to one another in love, and we may know one another in the things that are eternal. In our united search each of us may be enabled to open the riches of the spirit to all in the meeting.
Ministry in Meetings for Worship
2.1.5 Ministry of Silence
Silence and the spoken word are both part of Quaker ministry. The ministry of silence calls for the committed involvement of every participant in the meeting. In silence we wait on the leadings of the spirit; at the same time we are active, loving and supporting one another, bringing our own lives into the worship yet letting go of them. The shared ministry of silence is strengthened when we settle to worship in good time, and take up a position which helps us to remain still.
2.1.6 Vocal ministry
Vocal ministry grows out of the silence, and comes as a gift which the speaker is called to contribute to the worship. It should not, therefore, be lightly undertaken, but should be offered in obedience to a clear and carefully tested prompting of the spirit. The words which are given draw upon, but may also transcend, the natural gifts, experience and inward life of the speaker.
A prompting to speak can be tested by asking oneself: "Is this a message for the group, as well as for myself? If so, is it right for these people on this occasion at this stage in the worship? Is it 'in the life' of our worship?" Waiting in trust, we can receive a sense of whether we should offer these words.
Some struggle within themselves to discern the true source of the prompting to minister. Friends may hesitate and hold back. At these times ministry may be lost in the search. There needs to be a trusting that ministry from the depths of our being can be offered for the Meeting to sift and filter out God's message. The whole weight of responsibility is not ours alone.
If we come to meeting with an insight or message ready formed, we should offer it only if so led during the worship. Often it is better to lay it aside or let it be transmuted as the spirit guides. We may find ourselves given words which do not have meaning for us, but which speak to others present. Sometimes it will not feel right to speak, and we find another Friend has been given our ministry more effectively. When the meeting is fully gathered, different contributions are powerfully connected by the flow of the spirit.
2.1.7 Listening with open minds and hearts
While someone is speaking, others present can help them by attentive listening, prayer, or holding them in the light. The meeting needs to return to silence after vocal ministry so that each can hold the ministry in their heart, and the inward work of worship can continue. Words which do not speak to some people may meet the needs of others present, or may become helpful in association with later ministry, or at a later date. Judging the ministry of others does not add to a spirit of worship; receive it in friendship, or let it pass.
2.1.8 Simple ministry
A very simple but heartfelt message or prayer may be of great value. Ministry from the diffident or shy who seldom speak is often particularly helpful to the meeting. A message which appears to be incomplete may lead to further vocal ministry and a sense of wholeness by the close of worship.
2.1.9 Prophetic ministry
Prophetic ministry points to spiritual truths which are new or imperfectly recognised, and goes to the heart of our relationship with God. It shows us a way to follow, and how we can respond creatively to the challenges of our time. It may offer a disturbing challenge to the meeting itself.
2.1.10 Teaching ministry
Teaching ministry combines the power of prayer and reflection, recalling to the meeting how God is perceived to act in the lives of individuals and communities. It may focus on the effort to understand and interpret the lasting significance of Jesus of Nazareth and his place in history. It reminds us how men and women down the ages have sought to relate the results of their own seeking and finding to their understanding of eternal truth. This ministry may include quoting from the Bible, Questions and Counsel,Advices and Queries, other writings of Friends, or other works.
2.1.11 Sharing ourselves
Another form of ministry is the expression of one's own joys, griefs or perplexities within worship. These contribute to the life of the meeting as one body, and are received lovingly in the stillness. Items of personal news, or topics to be talked over with Friends, come more fittingly in the period of greetings and notices at the conclusion of worship.
2.1.12 Variety of ministry
Some Friends have the gift of song, or of forms of ministry other than the spoken word.
2.1.13 Ministry in the Spririt
All forms of ministry need to be offered in a spirit of worship under a sense of leading.
2.1.14 Variations in worship
Friends may recognise a need for worship of a more prepared or programmed form, or to include prepared contributions in silence-based worship. Sometimes this is associated with a particular event, such as a wedding or memorial meeting. However, caution is needed when prepared elements are introduced into silence-based worship, as they may be seen as the most important part.
Worship which is substantially programmed or experimental can be particularly valuable at residential gatherings and all-age events, but it should complement silence-based worship, not displace it. Each type of worship should be valued for its own qualities. The preparation of programmed worship is an occasion for seeking the guidance of the spirit.
2.2 THE RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES OF BEING A QUAKER
General. All of us who associate ourselves with a Quaker meeting are called into ministry. We have the right and the responsibility to contribute as we are called, to the meeting for worship, to the decision-making and activity of our local group, to Friends' work and witness in the world, and to being part of a community of faith and fellowship.
2.2.1 The nature of membership
Application for membership and continuation in membership of the Religious Society of Friends is a declaration by individuals that their experience of Friends and their practices have led them to feel at home, and to accept Friends' way of seeking for the light as appropriate for them. It shows a willingness to seek for a life under inner guidance, a wish to be publicly associated with and committed to the Society, and an acceptance of the responsibilities and the disciplines of corporate religious life. Acceptance by the Society of an application for membership is a recognition of this commitment, and a declaration of welcome and continuing support for the member. (See applying for membership in Section5)
2.2.2 Responsibilities of membership
a) Members are called on to attend meeting for worship regularly, not only for their own benefit and as a way of spiritual growth, but also for the contribution their presence makes to the life of the meeting.
b) Members are in broad agreement with Friends' insights as expressed in our testimonies and endeavour to embody them in their lives.
c) The Quaker method of conducting business (see 3.1—3.4 ) relies on the attendance of members at business meeting; members are called on to participate to the extent that family and other circumstances permit.
d) Members have a responsibility to give monetary support to the work of their meeting and of Yearly Meeting, within their financial capacity.
e) Members need to share in the many responsibilities within the Society; a number of these tasks may also be undertaken by attenders.
f) Members share in the collective responsibility of the Meeting to build a community and to care for all connected with it.
These responsibilities are not to be understood as rigid obligations. There is a continuum of involvement in a meeting, and our physical and emotional capabilities, our personal commitment to family members and others, our financial state, and the demands of our occupation or other activities will vary from time to time in our lives. Some Friends will find that they are called mostly to personal responsibilities, or to work for some cause to which they are committed. We all have differing and valuable gifts. Friends can encourage one another to find the best use for these, and can support one another's choices. We all need to review the extent of our availability as life changes occur.
Religious life involves learning, seeking and growth, which can be experienced as discipleship. It is a process of continuing revelation for individuals and the group. Those who worship must be prepared to meet surprise and change in things that matter deeply to them, and a meeting must be prepared to be surprised and changed by the gifts and leadings of those who come to. A meeting cannot demand that those who are part of it accept every aspect of Quaker faith and practice. We help one another explore and understand Friends' insights, testimonies and practices, and the background of faith from which these arise. We try to apply in our lives what we learn in this search, and to support the efforts of others.
A meeting values all who take part in its worship and work. Those who are not members but attend with some regularity may be among the great strengths of the meeting, and take an active part in its life, in contributions to worship and service. Others, although prevented by circumstances from attending or being active, may clearly be part of the meeting. All these people who are not members are recognised by the meeting as attenders. They receive newsletters and other information, and can be included in the printed list of Meetings, Members and Attenders.
Some may remain attenders for a considerable period before applying for membership and some may never wish to be other than attenders. A meeting should take care that attenders are aware of the process of coming into membership and are warmly invited to explore this when they feel ready. An attender may like to seek guidance from individuals, or to spend time with a small group, a 'clearness committee' (see 6.4 ), considering what decision is right. No one should let a sense of unworthiness or inadequacy hold them back from applying. Those contemplating membership should be honest with themselves and with the meeting as to what direct involvement in Quaker activities is possible for them at present.
(On applying for membership, see 4.9.7-8. )
The term 'enquirers' is used for those who have made some contact with the meeting, or who occasionally attend worship.
2.3.1 Introduction: the Quaker understanding of a concern.
Religious commitment implies love of one's neighbour, which may be put into action in many different ways.
Sometimes an individual Friend may feel an imperative call or leading to undertake a particular service or form of witness, or to support a particular cause. This can be experienced as an over-riding obligation, not necessarily of the Friend's own choice. Such a particular experience of Divine guidance is known to Friends as a 'concern'. The concern may be laid upon one person, or it may appear to be for a group of Friends, for a meeting, or for the Society as a whole.
2.3.2 Testing a leading. Friends can encourage one another to be attentive to possible leadings. A leading is more than a strong conviction or enthusiasm: it is an experience of being rightly guided. Some ways of testing it are:
- reflection and prayer over a period;
- other Friends being convinced of the rightness of the leading;
- harmony with Friends' testimonies, and with general moral principles;
- considering the consequences to other people, especially family;
- considering the consequences to oneself — is one prepared to accept them?
- whether one has the necessary gifts, and is clear of obligations which would compete;
- whether necessary resources and help are likely to be available;
- whether the time is right.
A concerned person needs to have patience and humility in seeking support. It is helpful for a Friend to bring such a sense of concern to the Meeting, which may help to test and foster it in various ways:
- by arranging for the Friend to meet with a small group of Friends in a "clearness committee", which can listen, ask questions and seek a way forward with understanding and honesty ;
- (On clearness committees see 6.4.)
- by considering the concern in the local Meeting or Worship Group;
- by forwarding it to the Monthly Meeting.
This practice of testing expresses the mutually accepted obligation of each Friend to test a personal concern against the counsel of the group, and of the group to seek the guidance of God in exercising its judgment. In this exercise everyone can be enriched. Both the individual and the group need, in a spirit of tender acceptance, to consider it possible that they may be mistaken.
2.3.3 Supporting a concern. If a Meeting decides to support the concern of an individual, this may be done in various ways:
- a 'support group' of a few Friends who can meet with the Friend at intervals, listen, advise and encourage;
- other Friends joining in the work;
- freeing the individual from responsibilities in the Meeting;
- practical and financial support, e.g. child care, postage, travel costs;
- providing an income for a period so that the Friend may work full-time on the concern.
If a concern is taken up by a Meeting as a whole, or by Yearly Meeting, a working group or committee may be appointed to pursue the concern with the support and involvement of the rest of the Meeting.
2.3.4 Civil disobedience.
A Friend or group of Friends may become convinced that, as a matter of witness, conscience and obedience to God's leading, they are obliged to break the law in some respect. This needs to be tested sensitively, with the help of others. Those concerned need to take into consideration the possible harm to others, the effect on society as a whole, and the possibility of alienating people of goodwill. To be done in good conscience, civil disobedience needs to be done openly, and those involved must be prepared to accept the legal consequences. If after thorough and worshipful consideration, the action appears right, the Meeting may be able to unite with it, or some Friends may be able to give support, of a personal, practical or public nature. Where Friends disagree as to what action may in conscience be undertaken, there is need for especial tenderness and humility, both in worship and in personal relations.
2.3.5 Travelling under concern.
If a Friend under concern needs to travel outside the area of the Meeting (usually the Monthly Meeting) which supported the concern, the Meeting may supply a 'travelling minute'; this introduces the Friend, outlines the concern, and expresses the Meeting's support. This minute is presented by the Friend to other Meetings visited, and is usually endorsed by the clerk or other representative, with greetings, and is presented to the home Meeting on return.
Such a travelling minute, offered specifically for a journey under concern, should be distinguished from a simple 'letter of introduction' which a Meeting can give to any member or attender who is travelling for whatever reason and expecting to make contact with Friends elsewhere.
2.3.6 Laying down a concern.
An individual Friend who feels ready to lay down a concern may wish to ask for the help of the Meeting in the decision; it may be that it is time for the concern to end, or that there may be others who are prepared to take it up.
If a Meeting or group feels that it should lay down a concern, this needs to be considered carefully in a context of worship. Whenever a concern is laid down, Friends should be careful of the needs, rights and feelings of others who have been involved, in particular of any people employed and of those whom the concern has served.
The promptings of love and truth in the hearts and minds of early Friends convinced them that they should live in simple discipleship. Their understanding of the teachings of Jesus, combined with their experience of divine guidance, led to certain principles, which are held as 'testimonies'. (See also 2.4.10 )
These are not rules or creeds but values which Quakers stand for. There is much that one can read about Friends' testimonies, for example in Quaker Faith & Practice. The following is only a brief description of the main ones.
2.4.2 Religious practice
Our religious practice grows from and testifies to the understanding that there is "that of God in everyone".
From this arise the following distinctive features of Quakerism:
- a simple, non-hierarchical structure without ordained clergy;
- universal ministry — worship is open to contributions from anyone who is led, since we recognise that each has gifts to offer (see also 2.1.1-2.1.14 );
- refusal to bind one another to creeds and dogma;
- universal sacredness — any place, day or season is as holy as any other. Traditionally we have not marked religious festivals.
Each person has value and dignity, and is precious to God. On this basis Quakers work for equality in all areas of social, cultural, legal, political and economic life, rejecting artificial distinctions of race or social status. We try to treat all people on a basis of equality; we prefer to address people by their names without titles.
Friends recognise that ministry can come from any person — God may choose anyone at any time (see 2.1.5-13.). Decisions of the Society are made at business meetings open to all members. Friends have always recognised the ministry and service of both women and men. (See also 2.4.8 & 2.4.9 )
Friends' peace testimony arises from the belief in "that of God in every one". Early Friends recognised that they must seek to bring about God's will without the use of force or violence — a person labelled as 'enemy' is equally precious to God. Quakers have refused to take part in war and preparations for war; we resist the culture of military values and the social and economic distortions which militarism causes. In a broader sense, the peace testimony includes action against unjust structures of society, racism, the denial of human rights, and other forms of oppression, which are themselves forms of violence. On the positive side, Friends have acted to end slavery, to relieve the suffering caused by war and oppression, to mediate between parties in conflict, and to promote worldwide economic and cultural development on a basis of self-determination and dignity.
A full testimony to peace includes a harmonious relationship with the many life-forms and diverse riches of our planet, and a commitment to live as part of earth's systems, not as their proprietors. Responsible living means choosing not to waste, exploit or destroy. We encourage a reverence for life and a sense of the splendour of God's continuing creation.
A life centred in God will be characterised by integrity, sincerity and simplicity. Simplicity does not consist in following a strict formula, but in basing our choice of purchases, activities and life-styles on moderation rather than extravagance.
Moderate living avoids over-indulgence and slavery to fashion; it requires a responsible attitude to alcohol and drugs of any kind.
Children and young people are under particular pressure to acquire, consume and do what is fashionable or aggressively advertised. Adults can help children to develop inner strength by their own example, and by working out together what is right and possible, given the family's circumstances.
Simplicity has its own beauty. It does not exclude artistic creativity, which is a deep human need, and can be an expression of the divine.
Friends seek for an inner stillness in worship and in personal spiritual life, and a simplicity which lets go of inessential commitments in order to be truly centred.
Quakers aim to be honest and straightforward in speech and in all our dealings. We try to honour our financial responsibilities, as family members and as citizens.
The longstanding testimony against oaths is based on honesty — we reject the implication of a double standard of truthfulness. On any occasion where an oath is expected, all citizens are entitled to make a legally acceptable affirmation; it is helpful to let the official responsible know in advance that you wish to use the alternative.
Quakers have a responsibility of stewardship over our possessions. Historically, Friends have avoided gambling, on the principle that money should be acquired through honest work. Today we continue to frown on gambling, and raising money by games of chance, in view of the adverse social consequences.
2.4.7 Speaking truth to power
From early times Quakers have felt called to remind Governments and other powerful bodies of their obligations to act justly. This may be done by letters, submissions, delegations or other means. Friends try to ensure that their own lives are clear of any practice to which they propose to object. Be willing also to give praise where praise is due.
2.4.8 Racial harmony
The efforts of Friends in many places to promote racial harmony and reconciliation can be seen as products of the testimonies to equality and peace. In the post-colonial setting of Aotearoa/New Zealand, Quaker Meetings try to educate themselves on the racial and cultural issues that arise in a population with a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
In particular, Quakers have been led to support Maori efforts to gain reparation for past injustices and effective equality of opportunity. Our Yearly Meeting has affirmed the ongoing importance of the Treaty of Waitangi, and a Yearly Meeting committee monitors Government policy on Treaty Issues. (See also 1.5.E1, appendices 2 & 4 and sections 1.4, & 5.7.9 )
2.4.9 The Testimonies in Aotearoa/New Zealand
The testimonies have been put into practice in New Zealand in many ways: Quakers have always been part of the movement for nuclear disarmament (peace testimony) and of the anti-apartheid movement (testimony on equality). Statements on peace, reconciliation, social concerns and Maori-Pakeha issues will be found in the Appendix.
2.4.10 Developing Testimonies
Testimonies grow out of Friends' corporate life and worship. They develop to meet the needs of differing times and places. Re-examination of testimonies can be a process of renewal for a Meeting.