Felicity Rose, Tasmania Regional Meeting
What an awesome, amazing thing that it should be possible to access that space where Spirit (insert all your favourite words such as God, Christ, the Inner Light), can communicate some wisdom that, if heeded, can guide us in our lives. In Meeting for Worship, true Ministry, given through someone who feels urged to stand up and speak, is not likely to arise unless within a gathered Meeting.
Let’s start at the beginning. We are asked to come to Meeting “with hearts and minds prepared”. Thus, Advices & Queries, number 10 tells us: “In worship we enter with reverence into communion with God and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Come to Meeting for worship with heart and mind prepared. Yield yourself to God’s guidance…” So, we come to Meeting with an attitude of openness, letting go all our busy thoughts, plans and worries to create space to be perfectly still and silent, inside and out. When all or at least many are prepared to do this, we can wait in hope and expectation that as our Meeting moves into a gathered communion the Holy Spirit will be there amongst us and vocal ministry may occur. In an hour-long Meeting we are unlikely to be “centered down” to this level in less than fifteen or twenty minutes.
Many Meetings have an appointed elder, or it may be someone who feels led to take on this task for the Meeting. They come early to start the silence and hold the space, so that people come into a hushed and worshipful space which they can readily join. During the Meeting the elder continues to hold the Meeting with deep concentration.
Now the stage is set for Ministry to arise. The cue for this varies a lot. For me, I start to “see” a word or idea and at the same time I feel somewhat woolly in the brain as if I have had a sudden drop in blood pressure. I’m receiving an urge to get up, trust words will come out. That is scary and I will usually resist it especially if it is not a fully formed thought. I also need to apply the test: is this something just for me, or is it to be shared with the Meeting? When I cannot resist any longer, I stand up and start to utter the words I’ve been given. Sometimes it takes form into something quite beautiful and may develop into a complete statement. Other times an awkward sentence tumbles out and then I go blank. I sit down feeling a bit foolish, but I have been approached afterwards by someone who has thanked me and told me how amazing those words were for them. At other times, while I am still in the “testing” stage someone else has got up and said exactly what I had been struggling to express. How amazing! How wondrous!
Sometimes after a good period of time, someone else may rise and add to or expand the first Ministry. It is usually clear that this is not just a comment or desire to discuss the subject, but a truly deep elaboration. The Meeting receives it remaining at that deeply gathered level, not being jerked up into analytical thinking.
A completely silent Meeting should not necessarily be considered second rate. In fact, a deeply gathered Meeting where there is no spoken Ministry can be just as nurturing and encouraging when we all share in a loving silence too deep for words. However, it can be a hindrance to experiencing the full gift of Meeting for Worship if we become too comfortable there and don’t allow the further openness to happen which encourages spoken Ministry. The life of a Meeting and the Ministry emerging can go through cycles with high points of spirit-led Ministry seeming to open the way to others to speak their own opinions and ideas and it may become acceptable in a Meeting, to such an extent that elders are moved to explain to friends that not much of what is being said is really Ministry at all. Then the Meeting may go silent for a while because there is a fear of being wrong or spoiling what others are preferring to experience. Apathy and fear will quench the Spirit.
Finally, in these days of being prevented from gathering together physically, a word about Ministry in Meetings for Worship on Zoom. If the intent is the same then the outcome can be just as powerful and once we are familiar with the technology and are over our nervousness about turning our microphones on and off again we can take part in just the same way, “with hearts and minds prepared.” It has been wonderful to see isolated Friends in our Zoom Meetings and receive their contributions. I wonder if, when we are able to gather physically again, we will continue to invite those friends who are unable to join us physically to take part by Zoom set up in the Meeting House. It is certainly a time when we are invited to “live adventurously” (Advice & Query number 29).