Though many Quaker meetings happen in silence, there is a distinct feeling when a meeting really “goes there.” What can we do to encourage that experience? We talk with Friends from New England Yearly Meeting about how to deepen Quaker meeting for worship.
Debbie Humphries: Sometimes our silence is silence, and sometimes it’s “gathered.” And when it’s gathered, sometimes there’s messages, and sometimes there are not messages, but there’s a different quality in the room, that is alive.
How to Deepen Quaker Meeting for Worship
Brian Drayton: When our meeting has tried to, has grappled with, the question of how to deepen its worship when we’re in a dry spell, a thing that has worked more than once is to take a deep breath and to ask each other—set aside some time and ask each other—what we mean by deep worship. What are we missing? What are we longing for? What do we mean by worship? And any Friend will tell you that if you get into that conversation, you’ll hear really wonderful stuff and really surprising stuff.
What is Deep Worship?
Roger Vincent Jasaitis: Deep worship in the Quaker meeting is about possibility. It’s the possibility of the Divine breaking in. And in order for that to happen, there’s a certain level of openness that has to be there.
Abby Matchette: When I feel I’m in deep worship, I feel like my feet are grounded, as if in, like, the sand; I’m on the ocean shore, and the sand has really sucked my feet in but the waves are continuing to crash at my waist or chest and that crashing—that uncertainty—my feet are just grounded.
Brian Drayton:There’s a sense of freedom, and openness, and complete safety. It starts, I think, with a feeling of my moving out of a sense of my own quietedness to a real awareness of the other people in the room.
Honor Woodrow: One of the things that I value so much about Quakerism in particular is the way in which I think that we are all on this journey together and that we can hear God more clearly when we’re in worship together. So I think I come for communion with the other people of the meeting and looking for guidance and wisdom in how to most fully do the work of God the rest of my week.
Greg Williams: And maybe you’re not thinking about anything in particular, but you just have this peace, this calm, this sense that God is with me, Spirit is with me, Christ is with me—however one wants to name the Divine. And you’re quite comfortable just sitting there. And there are some days they start shaking hands and you’re like, “Oh, that was quick.”
Holding Care of Meeting
Roger Vincent Jasaitis: In Putney Friends Meeting, we have a custom of having somebody host the meeting, which is basically closing the meeting, but also being a worshipping presence during the meeting, even before the meeting begins. Many times, Friends will come and sit and ground themselves, and act as an example for Friends walking in that now is the time to settle.
Greg Williams: So if you have care of meeting you’re sort of holding the gathered meeting as your ministry. I’m holding everybody in prayer. I’m focused on the community.
Cultivating Vocal Ministry
Callid Keefe-Perry: There are times in Fresh Pond where there’s vocal ministry that kind of, like, swoops out of the corner, and I wasn’t ready for it, and it makes me go “uh-oh.” And then there’s the response to say, “Oh, I’ve got some work to do.” But I think that’s part of what the power is in that meeting. It’s not just a quiet gathering. It’s the fact that we expect, and then experience, that sometimes the words we’re given are bigger than us.
Pat Moyer: I think the key to the deepening worship part is letting the messages sink into the silence and letting the whole meeting begin to digest it. It allows the group of people to begin to sink into the spiritual realm and absorb whatever has been said in their own way. We’re not really listening—we’re listening to each other, but we’re listening to God through each other.
Honor Woodrow: I think it’s really important to talk about the vocal ministry that happens in meeting for worship. I think particularly when people who are giving vocal ministry are able to talk to one another about it and to talk about the experience of “What was that like? How did you know that you were supposed to speak? How did you know when to stop speaking? How did you know when was the right time to speak? Did you feel that you were faithful in your speaking?” Because I think that helps us to understand for ourselves what vocal ministry feels like, and what it looks like, and how to develop that as a skill.
Deepening Your Own Spiritual Practice
Debbie Humphries: When I think about a depth of worship, it starts with every individual. And if you are struggling with it and hungering for something deeper, the first place to start is with your own spiritual practice. My own experience is that we are hungry and we’re all waiting and jumping in—diving in. There’s a wealth and a richness there.
Abby Matchette: I think there’s just, like, an acknowledgement in knowing that my personal spiritual practice greatly influences and deepens my worship in meeting, and that if I’m able to have those times individually with God, within community, and when I’m one-on-one with someone, that those three aspects really create a deepening worship.
Other Ways of Deepening Worship
Debbie Humphries: Some of the things we’ve done include having a period of “joys and concerns” so there is a definite space for people who feel a need to speak but whose messages may not rise to the level of ministry.
Callid Keefe-Perry: If you want to talk about deepening meeting for worship you have to ask: “Is the Gospel present?” Well, you don’t have to use that language, but: “Is there good news, and is there power here?” And I want to say, if you want to really talk about deepening worship, blow the lid off of what it looks like and seek after the power, do whatever you need to do to get after that power. That’s what’ll deepen it. And it’ll look different in Poughkeepsie, it’ll look different in urban Detroit, it’ll look different in a worship group somewhere tucked up in Alaska, but that’s what you want to do. If you want to deepen worship, go after the Power of God, and keep playing with stuff until you feel like you touch it. And then do that more.