David Swain, New South Wales Regional Meeting
Well, I’m sorry, but I have. And I’ve been reading the articles on Speaking in Meeting in the last couple of issues of The Australian Friend. Apparently, the last thing you should do when preparing to speak in Meeting is to think. This is a bit worrying, as Quakers have been known for centuries as the religious group who think – right back from when George Fox said “What canst thou say?”
I don’t want to argue with any of the authors. Their articles are all interesting, deep and, above all, wise. Each is true Ministry. Each provides guidelines that should be considered before any of us rises to speak in Meeting for Worship. I would be concerned, however, if these were treated by Friends as rules, rather than guidelines. They doubtlessly describe ideals in a perfect Quaker world, but I am afraid that in our imperfect world they may well lead to uncomfortably silent meetings, and restrict truly spiritual Ministry.
We are counselled that Ministry should be spontaneous, and arise during the meeting. It is true that the quietness of the Meeting, when we are surrounded by loving Friends, will be more conducive to spiritual contemplation, but Quakers do not restrict the actions of the Spirit to any specific time and place. A Friend may receive inspiration anywhere, any day of the week. Should not this inspiration be shared at the next Meeting for Worship? Even Hoffnung’s lady would not be in right ordering. And if this inspiration arises at least partly from something read or heard, can this not be mentioned, even to the extent of quoting a sentence or two?
Politics, we’re told, is forbidden. Certainly we don’t want party political broadcasts, but politics at its best is based on spiritual, or at least ethical, values. The great Quaker reformers such as John Woolman undoubtedly spoke in Meetings about slavery, one of the day’s major political topics. Even the 2019 Quaker Earthcare Climate Emergency Epistle that we were urged to read in Meetings is in some respects political.
Cathy Davies, in her article in this issue, writes of the varied forms Ministry, and her disappointment as fewer people rose to speak. “Popcorn” Meetings can be annoying, but routinely silent Meetings can leave some Friends wanting.
Perhaps the best advice comes from a well-known (at least to me) Friend: “When in doubt I ask three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? If the answers are ‘yes’ I don’t think one’s ministry can do any harm”.