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.

Supporting Quaker Ministry—Thoughts & Queries

March 2, 2020 § 1 Comment

One of the fundamentals of Quaker spirituality is the faith and practice of Quaker ministry—watching, waiting, listening for when we may be called into some service on God’s behalf, and answering that call with faithfulness. One of the most important roles of the Quaker meeting is to nurture this faith and practice in our members, to help members who have some prompting of the spirit with discernment—is this a true leading or not?—and to support the minister when we are clear that they have in fact been called.

Every ministry faces obstacles. Every minister has moments of doubt, confusion, worry, and/or frustration in the face of outward obstacles and inward vagaries. So it’s really important that a meeting have a faithful culture of eldership, embodied in corporate systems of discernment and support, in the hands of earnest and caring Friends. The benefits are many:

  • Supports the ministry. Structures and processes in the meeting for the eldership of ministry answer that of God in the minister, they protect and further the work, and they serve the motion of love in the world which the minister serves. They serve the the work of the Spirit in the world.
  • Supports the life of the meeting. These structures and processes integrate the minister and the ministry into the life of the meeting, bring the meeting into the work, and deepen the spiritual life of the meeting as a whole.
  • Supports the elders. These structures and processes also deeply enrich the spiritual lives of those who care for the minister and her or his work. I have served on a couple of support groups for Friends who carry a ministry, and I want to testify to how important and rewarding this service is. I’m serving on one now, and literally every time our little group meets, we feel the Spirit moving within us and among us in love; it’s been one gathered meeting after another.

The spiritual nurture of Quaker ministry is a profound blessing all the way around.

Queries

So, some queries:

  • What do you and your meeting do to share the faith, practice, and history of Quaker ministry, so that members really understand this aspect of Quaker spirituality, know how to approach the meeting when they feel they might have a leading or ministry, and feel confident that they will receive the support they need?
    • Do you sponsor religious education programs on Quaker ministry, for both adults and children?
    • Do you have members who know this tradition well enough to teach it or who are willing to study it and then teach it when they feel ready?
    • Do you have members who are following some leading or carrying some ministry already, who could share their experience with the rest of the meeting and/or who might need your support?
  • Does your meeting have a committee that is prepared to provide corporate discernment and to support of leadings and ministries, with Friends experienced in this kind of eldership, or Friends eager to learn by studying and doing? This need not be a dedicated committee with this charge only, but if it is your ministry and worship committee, or some other committee with a broader charge, is the eldership of ministry on its agenda and receiving proper attention?
  • Do you have readily available resources that can guide these elders and inform your ministers in the faith and practice of Quaker ministry?
    • Does your meeting library have some essential materials on Quaker ministry?
    • Has your worship and ministry committee gathered the many resources available online into your institutional memory somehow, especially if you don’t have a meeting library or it’s not complete?

In my next post, I plan to offer these kinds of resources to make this part of the meeting’s job easier.

Supporting Ministry

February 2, 2020 § Leave a comment

I love exploring “theological” themes that I think are important to Friends, and I do this quite a bit in this blog. And I do think “theology” matters. It matters what questions we are asking ourselves and what are the answers that speak to us. It matters how we answer the questions of others, especially newcomers and our children. It matters how we approach our faith and practice and how we understand and express our religious experience.

But I have increasingly felt led lately to be more useful, to share resources that could enrich the spiritual formation of individual Friends and the religious life of our meetings. So I’m going to begin posting new material along these lines, and develop some resource pages in the pages section of this blog.

I have carried a ministry of seeking to recover and revitalize the faith and practice of Quaker ministry ever since my own first (negative) experience with seeking meeting support for a leading that I thought might challenge my spiritual well-being and the work to which I felt called. It’s a ministry on behalf of Quaker ministry. So this is where I would like to start.

Support groups for ministry

One of the fundamentals of Quaker spirituality is the faith and practice of Quaker ministry—watching, waiting, listening for when we may be called into some service on God’s behalf, and answering that call with faithfulness. One of the most important roles of the Quaker meeting is to nurture this faith and practice in our members, to help members who have some prompting of the spirit with discernment—is this a true leading or not?—and to support the minister when we are clear that they have in fact been called.

Every ministry faces obstacles. Every minister has moments of doubt, confusion, worry, and/or frustration in the face of outward obstacles and inward vagaries. So it’s really important that a meeting have a faithful culture of eldership, embodied in corporate systems of discernment and support, in the hands of earnest and caring Friends. The benefits are many:

  • Structures and processes in the meeting for the eldership of ministry answer that of God in the minister, they protect and further the work, and they serve the motion of love in the world which the minister serves. They serve the work of the Spirit in the world.
  • They integrate the minister and the ministry into the life of the meeting, bring the meeting into the work, and deepen the spiritual life of the meeting as a whole.
  • They also deeply enrich the spiritual lives of those who care for the minister and her or his work. I have served on a couple of support groups for Friends who carry a ministry, and I want to testify to how important and rewarding this service is. I’m serving on one now, and literally every time our little group meets, we feel the Spirit moving within us and among us in love; it’s been one gathered meeting after another.

The spiritual nurture of Quaker ministry is a profound blessing all the way around.

Queries

So, some queries:

  • What do you and your meeting do to share the faith, practice, and history of Quaker ministry, so that members really understand this aspect of Quaker spirituality, know how to approach the meeting when they feel they might have a leading or ministry, and feel confident that they will receive the support they need?
    • Do you sponsor religious education programs on Quaker ministry, for both adults and children?
    • Do you have members who know this tradition well enough to teach it or who are willing to study it and then teach it when they feel ready?
    • Do you have members who are following some leading or carrying some ministry already, who could share their experience with the rest of the meeting and/or who might need your support?
  • Does your meeting have a committee that is prepared to provide corporate discernment and support of leadings and ministries, with Friends experienced in this kind of eldership, or Friends eager to learn by studying and doing? This need not be a dedicated committee with this charge only, but if it is your ministry and worship committee, or some other committee with a broader charge, is the eldership of ministry on its agenda and receiving proper attention?
  • Do you have readily available resources that can guide these elders and inform your ministers in the faith and practice of Quaker ministry?
    • Does your meeting library have some essential materials on Quaker ministry?
    • Has your worship and ministry committee gathered the many resources available online into your institutional memory somehow, especially if you don’t have a meeting library or it’s not complete?

In my next post, I plan to offer these kinds of resources to make this part of the meeting’s job easier.