Virtual Worship IV – Zoom and the Gathered Meeting

May 29, 2020 § 8 Comments

In my last post, I revised my original evaluation of virtual worship. Before our meeting switched to Zoom for worship, I was skeptical. After that first meeting, I was thankful. Now I’m skeptical again. And for me, this comes down to whether a virtual meeting for worship can be gathered in the Spirit.

In my Pendle Hill Pamphlet The Gathered Meeting I identified five qualities that distinguish the gathered or covered meeting for worship: energy, presence, knowledge, unity, and joy.

Energy. The gathered meeting is thrilling; it fills my mind and even my body with an unmistakable sense of aliveness and focus. But “focus” is not really the right word, because there is no point of focus, but rather a whole-field sense of heightened awareness, of presence to the animating energy of consciousness.

To be honest, I’ve had these feelings when in deep meditation, so presumably I could have them in a virtual meeting for worship. There is a subtle difference, though, I think, between the deep contemplative state and the state I’m trying to describe in a gathered meeting for worship, which feels induced, not by my own individual practice, but by our corporate practice. That difference is pretty subtle. But can we feel that frisson, that shivering shared awareness, that passes through the body (the gathered body) when it’s covered by the Spirit if we are not sitting next to each other in the same space, but only present to each other as thumbnail images on a screen?

Knowledge. The gathered meeting brings a knowing, a feeling that one has touched, not some specific truth, but a more transcendent Truth. It’s as though some spiritual organ for gnosis, for spiritual understanding, has been super-charged, but without being given, necessarily, any object to be understood. We become a Subject Who Knows. And we also feel like a Someone Who Is Known. Like the sense of energy, this sense of knowing, and of knowing that we are known, transcends our ability to articulate it; it “passes all understanding”. But it is real.

Once again, I’ve experienced this state a few times on my own, in deep meditation, on LSD, and in a sweat lodge. What’s different in the gathered meeting is a collective knowing: I Know; I know that you Know; I know that you know that I Know; and I know that you know that I know that you Know. This psychic, collective, mutually reflective knowing is a signature characteristic of a gathered meeting; you look up after meeting is over and there are the other worshippers looking back at you with that look of—I Know! How would I know in this way in a virtual meeting?

Unity. This pentecost, this psychic manifestation of gathering in the Spirit, fuses the community in communion. This union, this unity, is most obvious in a gathered meeting for business, which, in my experience, often comes after hard struggle in disunity. But whether in a regular meeting for worship or a business meeting, the participants feel at one with each other in a way that transcends mere outward agreement. This unity is, in a sense, just another face of the gathered meeting’s sense of knowing. And like the collective knowing, it needs the collective. How can we share this sense of one-body-ness when our bodies and our consciousnesses are miles away from each other?

Presence. Presence, what Thomas Kelly calls the “dynamic, living, working Life”, is the hardest of all these qualities to share virtually with others. It’s not too hard to be present to each other socially on Zoom, but (for me, at least) it’s really hard to be psychically present to each other virtually. Virtually psychically present—that is an oxymoron. Meanwhile, being thus present to each other is somehow the very foundation of being present to the Presence in our Midst. On Zoom, we don’t really have a Midst for a Presence to be present in.

Joy. Joy is the easiest of these to feel in a Zoom meeting, I think. The joy I feel in seeing these faces, hearing your voices, is real and strong. But still—it is not the same as that overwhelming sense of gratitude that I’ve felt in a gathered meeting for worship, in which the unity, the joy, the knowing, the presence, and the Presence all shake my being in a way I’ve never experienced any other way. Oftentimes it has literally made me quake.

But can’t the gathering on Zoom still be worship?

The first-order question is, what is worship? What is meeting for worship for? For me, worship is the corporate practice of listening at the door for the knock of the Presence and that Voice and then opening (Revelation 3:20). We come together in worship in order to be gathered collectively into the Spirit of Love and Truth, into what Paul called the body of Christ. We come to realize what is perhaps the signature tenet of our faith, that not only can every human commune directly with the divine, but also the worshipping community can commune directly with the divine—as a community! And sometimes this happens in this extraordinary and beatific way we call the covered meeting.

So—for me—worship is all about the gathered meeting. And I just don’t think a virtual meeting can be a medium for a gathered meeting.

Now it’s true that gathered meetings are rare, and so a meeting for worship doesn’t have to be gathered to be a meeting for worship. Moreover, I suspect that many of our members and attenders have never experienced a gathered meeting; a certain number might not even know there is such a thing. And yet a meeting for worship is still a meeting for worship.

So I attend.

A note—a minute of exercise, if you will—that arose from writing this post. I found myself using terms to describe one aspect of the gathered meeting that, in my pamphlet, I had used to describe a different aspect of the gathered meeting. This, I think, is because the gathered meeting transcends description. That hasn’t kept me from trying to describe it. However, I found in writing this post that my various descriptions of its various aspects all verge on each other. These various aspects of the gathered meeting are, in essence, all faces of the same thing. In this transcendental state, all is one.

Virtual Worship III

May 29, 2020 § 3 Comments

Virtual worship—I take it back—again.

Looking forward to the first virtual meeting for worship hosted by my meeting, I wrote a blog post in which I said that I thought it would be worth doing but that it would really be a kind of group meditation, not a meeting for worship. I proposed calling it something like “Meeting for Virtual Community”.

Then, after that first Zoom worship, I took all that back. It was so great to see my Friends’ faces, hear each other’s voices. I felt such a strong sense of community.

But now I’ve attended a number of these meetings and I feel my original concern has been confirmed. These meetings are good, really good, in some ways. But I don’t think they really are worship, not in the deepest sense, anyway. In the sense that we are meeting at the same time to turn together toward the Spirit, we can call it worship. But in the sense that we are collectively turning toward the Spirit in our midst . . . about that I’m not so sure.

Or, to put it another way: I can’t imagine a virtual meeting for worship being gathered in the Spirit. Can you? How would you know it’s gathered? How would you “sense” the qualities that are such a blessing in a gathered meeting?

Thus—for me—if a virtual meeting cannot be a medium for a gathered meeting, it rather strains the meaning of meeting for worship. I want to dig deeper into this question in the next post by looking at the qualities of the gathered meeting. But here I want to explore the more mundane aspects of meeting virtually and how they impact the quality of worship.

The holy communion that we feel with God (however you would describe this Mystery Reality) and with each other in the gathered meeting seems to depend on the subtle perception of small signals working with a mysterious extra-sensory capacity for psychic connection.

Sound. Take the quality of the silence. It’s not really silent in the meeting room. People shuffle, a horn is heard outside, maybe birds in the summer. In the meeting room, we share this quiet ambient auditory environment. The vocal ministry carries through a room whose acoustics we all share.

By contrast, here in my study, I hear the annoying grinding of the timer we have on lights we have in the windows. I hear the horns and sirens of my neighborhood, and so on. You my fellow worshippers do not hear these things. Your vocal ministry comes through not quite in real time accompanied by the acoustics of the room you are in (though at least I can usually hear you). My local “silence” is my own, our shared “silence” is artificial and dead, until someone speaks. Then it is artificial and yet oddly immediate.

Sight. Then there’s the visual—on Zoom, a gallery of little faces that it is wonderful to see, but weirdly static. In our meeting’s meeting room, my vision becomes increasingly unfocused; the room itself dominates and most folks are far enough away not to see very well (Central Philadelphia Meeting is large and our room is large). I keep my eyes closed much of the time, but when I open them, I am still able to continue sinking into the Deep because it is relatively easy to “unfocus”.

On Zoom, I’m looking at a small screen—a short-range focus full of inviting images. I am tempted to look at face after face, and to zoom through the panels to see the other faces not displayed on the screen. This pulls me up and out, not down and deep. And each worshipper’s background is another inviting distraction. If I keep my eyes closed, I am in my study with my sounds and not with you.

Activity. Occasionally in the meeting room, someone gets up and leaves. And of course, there are always latecomers. (How I miss those latecomers now.) On screen, people move around, pop in and out. I pop in and out to answer my spouse or whatever. People eat and drink, which they would not do in the meeting room. We seem to feel free to mix our worship with other activities when sitting in our own homes and using an electronic device.

Smell. Who knows what role the shared but subtle odors of the meeting room play in our worship experience?

Auras. I have said before in my pamphlet on The Gathered Meeting and in this blog that I believe one of the mediums for the psychic dimension of the gathered meeting is the human aura and the entwining of auras in the meeting room. This is pure speculation. But presumably there is some medium that makes psychic experience possible, and whatever it is, I doubt that it works through the internet.

This gets to the heart of what we’re doing in worship—collective focus on the Mystery Reality behind our spiritual and religious experience—and its consummation in the gathered meeting. As I said above, I want to look at that in the next post.

Vocal ministry. But first a final word about vocal ministry. It seems to me that the vocal ministry in my meeting has gotten noticeably better since we’ve been meeting virtually. Fewer people speak. The messages seem more concise. And often they seem to come from a deeper place.

Why is this? Is it the gravity of the circumstances that are keeping us from each other? A heightened sense of our feelings for each other and the need to be of spiritual service? A paradoxical effect of the technology that makes our messages more immediate because we are speaking to faces rather than to a room, and we ourselves are so visible to our listeners? All of the above?

I would like to know whether my readers are having the same experience with the vocal ministry in their virtual meetings for worship.

Sidwell’s Quaker Values

May 11, 2020 § 3 Comments

Where there is hypocrisy, there is hope.  ~ Kenneth Boulding

Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, where the Clinton and Obama kids went, has received $5 million as a loan earmarked for small businesses under one of the recent COVID-19 recovery bills. (See this article in the Atlantic, which Martin Kelley passed on in his blog Quaker Ranter.) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, normally one of the One-Percent’s staunchest allies, has suggested that Sidwell and other wealthy prep schools who received this money should return it. Sidwell has declined, citing its “Quaker values.”

Specifically, they invoked the wretched SPICES. Not simplicity, apparently, or equality, or integrity, or community, but stewardship. By this they seem to mean, not the recent Quaker “testimonial” sense of care for the earth, but the traditional ecclesiastical sense of faithfully taking care of the church’s resources, in general, and in specific, managing income through offerings. They kept the money because they are $64.4 million in debt, $11 million more than their $53.4 million endowment. They think they need the money.

We could look at this decision in the terms invoked by Sidwell’s own rationalization, by applying the SPICES to it as a set of outward guidelines for behavior. I started to do this for this post and realized what a distraction it would be. For one thing, it seems pretty obvious to me, anyway, that this decision violates all of them, except maybe peace, though it certainly has riled up many in their own community and in the wider Quaker community, myself included. The testimony of integrity suffers the most, except perhaps for stewardship itself, which the decision twists and then turns on its head.

But the real problem for me is the approach, not the application—looking to SPICES as a way to define Quaker values. I’ve railed against this before. Using SPICES this way objectifies the testimonies as outward forms, instead of turning toward the Light as the source of all decisions, from whence our “testimonies” come.

Quaker schools seem to love the SPICES. They make a nice short bullet list that you can put on a poster and hang on the wall in the hall. They are easy for kids to understand, and for teachers to teach. And they are, in fact, good principles to live by. Schools tend to put them all in a capsule called “Quaker values”. The Quaker schools in the Philadelphia area use this capsule all the time in their ads on the local NPR station, as do our retirement homes. I suppose coopting “Quaker values” as a marketing tool makes good “stewardship” sense. But do these schools also teach their students that they have a light in their consciences to which they can turn for guidance, healing, forgiveness, renewal, solace, inspiration, and creativity? 

The SPICES reinforce the decades-long trend in liberal Quakerism of defining Quakerism increasingly in terms of our “values” and our outward practices, rather than by the content of our tradition and our spirituality. Our “spirituality” is to look to the Light within us for guidance and to make our corporate decisions in a meeting for worship held under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, not by looking to a checklist of behavioral guidelines and then remolding them to fit our desires.

I suspect that Sidwell Friends School has some Quakers on its board, in its staff and faculty, and among its students. But does that mean that it makes important “stewardship” decisions in a Spirit-led meeting for worship? Would the Spirit of Love and Truth have encouraged them in such a gathered meeting for worship to overextend themselves in millions of dollars of debt, or to accept millions more that could have kept several small restaurants and day care centers afloat during this crisis?

Membership—Data, Observations, Conclusions, Part I: Data

April 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

Reflections on Alastair Heron’s book Caring, Conviction, Commitment.

In the 1990s, British Friend Alastair Heron wrote several little books on the subject of membership:

  • Caring, Conviction, Commitment: Dilemmas of Quaker Membership Today (1992), offering and analyzing the results of a survey of British meetings.
  • Now We Are Quakers: The experience and views of new members (1994).
  • On Being a Quaker: Membership – Past – Present – Future (2000); I believe this may have been based on a second, follow-up survey.

I recently reread Caring, Conviction, Commitment and was struck—as I was the first time I read it maybe fifteen years ago—by how relevant, even prophetic, it remains almost thirty years later. Since my own conviction in 1990 (which followed my joining a meeting in 1986 or 1987), I have carried a ministry focused on considering what Quaker membership means and how our meetings approach it. In the service of this ministry, I want to pass on some of Alastair’s data, observations, and conclusions. There’s a lot, so it will take a few posts.

Heron’s survey and remarks apply to Friends in Great Britain, but the correspondences are nevertheless still quite striking. My one caveat is that British Quaker culture, it seems to me, is ahead of liberal Friends in the US on the curve toward increasing individualism, liberalism, and secular humanism.

In the next posts, I want to make some observations about these trends.

Data

Some trends revealed in the survey (1981–1990):

  • Membership rose from 1981 to 1990, though . . .
  • The rate of recruitment of new members declined by more than 25%.
  • The ratio of women to men in membership increased.
  • The ratio of attenders to members increased.
  • Attenders waited a long time to become members.
    • Two-thirds attended for more than three years.
    • The largest group attended from four to nine years.
    • Twenty percent attended for fifteen years or more.
  • Age: Almost half were older then fifty, though the largest cohort was 40–49 at 24%.
  • Path to Quakerism. Most members came to Quakers through
    • another Quaker or attender (36.8%) or
    • family (20.5%); together, relationships accounted then for about 60%.
    • reading 8.5%,
    • advertisement for 6.1%;
    • the meetinghouse 5.9%
    • peace activities 4.4%;
    • Quaker schools 2.8%,
    • other 15.0%.
  • Learning about Quakerism:
    • reading 27%;
    • spoken ministry 17%;
    • Quakers at home 15%;
    • discussion groups 12%;
    • discussion at meeting 12%;
    • Enquirers Day 9%;
    • other 8%.
  • What attenders want:
    • more regular learning 30%;
    • short courses 29%;
    • advice on reading 17%;
    • more information 12%;
    • other 12%.
  • What attracted attenders: (responses combined into categorical groups)
    • friendliness+tolerance 42.8%;
    • worship+silence+meditation 28.9%;
    • pacificsm+social concerns 15.5%;
    • forms+non-creedal 10.3%;
    • other 2.5%.
  • Why attenders don’t apply for membership:
    • commitment unnecessary 22.1%;
    • not good enough 15%;
    • problem with peace testimony 14.1%;
    • too much diversity 12.1%;
    • never asked 9.0%;
    • membership procedure 8.5%;
    • no encouragement 8.2%;
    • other 10.2%.

The “commitment unnecessary” answer accounted for 44% (males) and 53% (females) among younger respondents; this dropped to about 27% for males and 13% for females among older respondents.

Kenneth Boulding – Introduction

April 4, 2020 § 4 Comments

This is an introduction to a new series of posts that I plan to develop over the next few weeks as part of my book Quakers and Capitalism, for which I’ve returned to my research.

The book is a history of Quaker contributions to capitalist culture and, in particular, to the industrial revolution and industrial capitalism, and a history of Quaker fortunes, with commentary. The work so far covers the period from the 1650s through the Second World War. (Note that a shorter version appears as a chapter in Quakers, Politics, and Economics, Volume 5 of Friends Association for Higher Education’s series Quakers and the Disciplines, published in 2018, David R. Ross, editor.)

I envision the rest of the book including biographies of key Quaker contributors to the political economics of the twentieth century: Herbert Hoover, Kenneth Boulding, John Powelson, A. J. Muste, Bayard Rustin, and George Lakey; and the emergence of Quaker organizations focused on political economics: the American Friends Service Committee, Right Sharing of World Resources, and the Quaker Institute for the Future. (I’m not sure whether I’ll discuss Friends Committee on National Legislation or the Quaker United Nations Office, as I’m not yet sure how much either of these organizations got into political economics.)

Kenneth E. Boulding

So right now I’m reading books by and about Kenneth Boulding (1910–1993). Many Friends know him best as a poet, the author of a book of sonnets. But he was an important figure in the field of economics. He coined the phrase “spaceship earth,” joining the fields of ecology and economics for the first time with a focus on the values inherent in an economic system, on assets and capital (the earth) rather than on income and flow (profit), and on the limits to growth inherent in the earth’s finite stock of resources.

He might have been at least as important, however, as a kind of whole-field theorist in the social sciences more broadly. He was a pioneer of interdisciplinary study in the academy and a major contributor to systems theory. He and a handful of mates created the field of peace research. But my main focus will be on his economic thought.

More to come.

Virtual Meeting Evaluation

March 22, 2020 § 2 Comments

Well, I take it all back. Virtual meeting for worship this morning was actually quite wonderful. We were joined by folks who could never have been there otherwise—a very sick member from her hospital bed, a distant Friend from Albuquerque, and another from Beirut, several from Pendle Hill.

We started the Zoom session at 10:30 and were almost all sorted out technologically by meeting time at 11:00. Sixty-seven people by my count at the peak; that is, 67 windows, but a number of windows included couples.

The vocal ministry was quite satisfying to me, and I am the most judgmental person I know when it comes to vocal ministry (though I withhold judgment of my own).

As for my own, here it is, somewhat expanded:

I’ve been reading Spiritual Nurture Ministry Among Friends by Sandra Cronk. Sandra is no longer with us. She was one of the founders of The School of the Spirit and the author of a great Pendle Hill Pamphlet on Gospel Order and of a book on The Dark Night of the Soul, which condition I would define as when all the things you thought were essential to your spiritual life, or even your being as a person, are taken away, leaving you bereft and naked before your own reality.

Sandra had been through a dark night of the soul herself and had nurtured ministers who were going through it. She knows that such times can crack you open and let in a new flood of the Light, a powerful breakthrough deepening of the life of the Spirit. (George Fox went through this himself, famously, which William James describes and analyzes in his classic The Varieties of Religious Experience.) But the nurturer of someone on that journey can’t fix it. All you can do, really, is be prayerfully present, to accompany them, to be a light in that darkness yourself, in the faith that God will eventually be more fully revealed and encountered.

I think our nation, and indeed, our civilization, is about to go through a collective dark night of the soul. The moment is fraught with danger; people get weird when they get really scared, especially when they’ve been taught to blame it on someone else. But it holds great possibility, as well, and will certainly call many people into Spirit-led service of all kinds.

It’s hard to be “present” to a nation, except for staying informed and then voting, and supporting the institutions that define us as a people, while at the same time looking for that in-breaking Light, for opportunities to really transform the system on behalf of the least of us.

And we can be present more locally. A restaurant around the corner from us here in Philadelphia offers take-out now at 20% discount. We got a great dinner night before last. They say the response has been good—they’ve got payroll for at least the next two weeks.

And we can be present to each other, virtually, as we did this morning, if not in person. It’s not as good as in person, it’s not the same. But it is way better than nothing. The meeting is beginning to organize Virtual Quaker 8s, which I think is a great idea. I plan to start holding virtual Bible study.

We still have much to be thankful for.

Virtual Meeting Resources — A Resources Page

March 21, 2020 § Leave a comment

I have created a page on this blog here on which I am pulling together all the resources I can find on holding virtual meetings and meetings for worship.

Virtual Worship — A Resource

March 21, 2020 § 2 Comments

Here is a great resource for meetings hosting virtual worship or virtual meetings from Woodbrooke study center in Great Britain:

A-Quakers-guide-to-online-worship-and-meetings-19-03-2020

Virtual Worship

March 21, 2020 § 9 Comments

My meeting (Central Philadelphia) is experimenting with online worship starting tomorrow (Sunday, March 22, 2020) using Zoom. I plan to participate; in fact, I will be part of a “tech support” team to help Friends who are having trouble joining the meeting. I think the virtual meeting is a good idea. However, I wonder whether we should call it worship.

What is worship?

A virtual meeting like this raises an existential question of just what are we doing when we worship? Not what do we think we are doing, but what is our goal and what is actually happening?

For me, the goal is the gathered meeting, the direct collective experience of the presence of God among us. By God I mean the Mystery Reality behind our experience of being gathered in the Spirit, however we might name that as individuals.

If the collective communion with the transcendent Divine is our desire in worship, then the act of worship is personal and collective alignment toward, attention to, attunement with, the Holy Spirit, with that ineffable link between the Light within each of us and our collective capacity for transcendental communion as a worshipping body, what Paul called the body of Christ.

How are we to be gathered into communion via the internet? I doubt that it’s possible, for several reasons.

Obstacles to a virtual gathered meeting

First, just what is the medium through which the Spirit is corporately manifest? I think there are two such media, one physical, the other metaphysical. The physical medium is vocal ministry. A virtual meeting for worship will have vocal ministry, albeit distorted by the technology. But at least, everyone will probably be able to hear the speakers, and the same discipline of discernment will theoretically apply for each minister. Or will it? How much is that discipline dependent on the physical presence of the listeners? Will the remote aspect of the technology encourage relaxed discernment, as it notoriously does with email, texts, and social media?

The metaphysical medium can be defined only through speculation, though we know it’s real because we’ve experienced gathered meetings. Communion really does take place, sometimes—but how? I think the metaphysical medium for the Holy Spirit in meeting for worship is our human auras and, by extension, the “ether”, or whatever you want to call the medium in which psychic events take place between people.

My study of auras points to two kinds of auras, an etheric and an astral. The etheric aura is a shade of “white” that emanates from the body. The astral aura is a rainbow of colors that emanates from the mind and, if you will, the soul, the spiritual self that knows right from wrong, makes choices, feels emotions and has intentions—and that is capable of psychic experience. These subtle invisible vibrations (to most of us most of the time)—what we used to call “vibes”—manifest with apparent physical limits to those who can see them, but they exist in an apparently nonphysical “space” that has no such limits. I believe this “space” is what the ancients called “heaven”, that is, the dwelling-place of the gods, of spirits, of Spirit.

In theory, then, this apparently limitless region for psychic experience could work with the internet and we could have a gathered virtual meeting for worship. But in practice, in the reality of reasonable expectations, we need to sit together in the same space where our auras can intermingle, creating a “network” of individual psyches that is greater than the sum of the parts. This is one of the reasons why sitting close together seems to foster the gathered meeting.

There are other obstacles to a gathered virtual meeting.

Central Philadelphia is urging participants to mute their microphones unless and until they speak, then to mute their mics again. This prevents the ambient noises in each participant’s environment from cascading with everybody else’s and potentially overwhelming the technology and the collective experience. For each participant, muting will create an artificial silence that is nothing like the silence in a meeting room full of worshippers. You will hear your own environment, but not one shared by the other worshippers. Can this disparate, individual scattering of personal artificial silences feed the gathered meeting? I doubt it.

Can fussing with the technology—logging in, solving connection and device problems, muting and un-muting mics, watching the screen flip from one speaker to the other if you’re in Speaker View, and the sudden intrusion of someone speaking out of that artificial silence—can all this outward business draw us deeper into the depths? I doubt it. Though we will probably get better at it with practice.

Conclusion

It will be good to see each other’s faces in this time of crisis. It will be wonderful to be together in some fashion, rather than stuck in isolation in a time of fear. But I don’t think it will be worship.

On the other hand, much of our worship is increasingly not the worship I have been describing, anyway. It usually is more like worship sharing, and often not even that. It is disturbed by latecomers. It is rarely gathered in the Spirit. We have lowered the bar for what constitutes worship and we no longer have a collectively agreed-upon understanding of what worship is, what it’s for, or whom—or what—we worship, if that last idea works for us in the first place.

So my final concern is that calling virtual worship “worship” reinforces this trend toward embracing something that is not true worship, practicing something that is not alignment toward God, however we might define that, but rather group meditation and an in-person blogging platform. So virtual worship will really be what we have already—group meditation with worship sharing added. So why not “worship” virtually? What’s the difference? In fact, why go back to meeting in person, once this is all over? We could all just sit at home in our jammies and worship.

So I think we should call this something else. Maybe “Meeting for Virtual Community”. And be deliberate in our characterization, that this really is not worship, but worth doing anyway.

Christ-centered worship

A side note here: For Christ-centered Friends, the object of worship is much more discreet and “tangible” than it is for us who are not Christ-centered. That is, (though I generalize) Christ-centered Friends worship a divine Christ, and by extension, God the Father, a theistic being possessing absolute attributes like omnipresence and ultimate power. For God so defined, anything is possible. Theoretically. So maybe Christ would choose to gather a virtual meeting of his present-day followers, just because he can and he wants to. No media required, physical or metaphysical. (Though metaphysical dynamics are still involved—how does Christ gather gathered meetings?)

I look forward to hearing from these Friends if they begin experimenting with online meetings for worship. Do they still program their meetings (if they were programmed before)? Does singing with each other remotely carry the same feelings of joy and presence to one another as singing in the same room? And so on. And will the Conservative meetings try this, who are centered in Christ but do not program their meetings? Somehow, I doubt it. But if they do, I hope to hear how it goes.

Supporting Quaker Ministry – Resources

March 11, 2020 § Leave a comment

As a follow-up to my previous post on Supporting Quaker Ministry, I offer the model that my meeting (Central Philadelphia Meeting) uses for supporting ministry.

A page with other resources—click the link to go to a new page of Resources for Quaker Ministry.

The Central Philadelphia Meeting model

My meeting (Central Philadelphia) has a Gifts and Leadings Committee set up to supply this ministry of eldership. So Friends who feel they may have a leading or a call to some ministry have a place to go where Friends are waiting and ready to provide discernment, support, and oversight. Between their occasional appeals for financial support of the handful of ministries under their care, their occasional reports to the meetings for business in worship, and adult religious education programs on Quaker ministry by our ARE committee, I think the members have a fairly good idea that such support is available and they know where to go with their own leadings.

The meeting has a clear process for taking a ministry under its care, which includes a clearness committee for discernment, which reports back to the Committee, which then sends a recommendation to the meeting for business in worship. Once a ministry has been taken under the meeting’s care, a spiritual accountability group is formed to support the minister. This can be either a Dedicated Spiritual Accountability Group (SAG), as the one I serve on is, or a Mutual SAG in which two or more ministers meet together with the group, when the ministries are similar in nature and/or the ministers feel ready to hold one another’s work in their care.

The Gifts and Leadings Committee has also set out guidelines for this eldership work in documents available on the meeting’s website and from the Committee:

  • Nurturing Faithfulness to the Leadings of the Spirit in Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, which describes how the members of the meeting try to “support one another in faithfulness in every phase of the life of our community.” It’s akin to the faith part of the meeting’s faith and practice of supporting ministry.