“That of God” — A reprise of past posts

March 15, 2017 § 1 Comment

In 2015, I published a few posts on the phrase that of God in every person, and I took a look at those posts, now that I find myself returning to the subject.

Here’s a link to an aggregation of all the posts with the category “that of God”, for readers who are interested in what I wrote back then. The posts appear in reverse chronological order, so scroll to the bottom to read them in the order I wrote them. Several reiterate (or more accurately, “pro”-iterate, since they came first) the points I covered in my post quoting Lewis Benson. These posts also have a very lively conversation in the comments.

I want to bring readers’ attention to one post in particular: “That of God”—What Next? I am still very interested in the question, what next? So, since we’re not turning this train around; since liberal Friends DO believe in that of God in everyone, never mind the historical amnesia involved, the sloppy theology, and the distortion of our tradition, how do we justify and explain this belief? Where’s the evidence for this continuing revelation? The link directly above explores these questions in a little depth.

Lewis Benson on “that of God”

March 15, 2017 § 3 Comments

Lewis Benson on “That of God”

My post about “that of God” and the soul prompted a fair amount of comment and some interest in Lewis Benson’s essay on the phrase, so I thought I would digest its key points here.

In 1970, Lewis Benson published an essay in Quaker Religious Thought (Vol. XII, No. 2) titled “That of God in Every Man” — What Did George Fox Mean by It?” He hoped, I think, that this essay would reverse the trend among liberal Friends toward using the phrase as the foundation for their Quakerism, since he felt that “when we jump to the conclusion that “that of God” is the central truth of the Quaker message, then we cut ourselves off from that which Fox made central; namely, the message about Jesus Christ and how he saves men.” (Benson consistently uses “men” to stand in for all people in this essay; I do not change his usage in my quotes below.)

It didn’t work. His opening sentences are at least as true today as they were in 1970: “The phrase “that of God in every man” has been widely used in the twentieth century as an expression which signifies the central truth of the Quaker message. Many present-day Quakers, when asked what the Quakers believe, are likely to reply: ‘They believe that there is that of God in every man’.”

Probably no one knew the work and thought of George Fox better than Lewis Benson. He prepared a massive concordance of Fox’s works and if you look “that of God” up, as I have done, you find more than 700 entries, counting all its cognates, and there are many of those; Benson lists a few in his essay. I am persuaded by Benson’s historical analysis and his critique, and by aspects of his discussion of its implications, and I have taken up his crusade, though for different reasons and with different goals. I feel that his essay is essential reading for any Friend in the liberal tradition. (You can download a pdf file at http://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/qrt/topdownloads.html.)

So here are what I think are Benson’s salient points.

How Fox used the phrase “that of God”

Benson: “This phrase belongs to his [Fox’s] pastoral vocabulary rather than to his doctrinal vocabulary.

Two salient facts point to an understanding of what Fox means by “that of God in every man”: first, it is not used by Fox to designate the central truth that he is proclaiming; and, second, it is used most frequently to refer to the response that Friends were trying to evoke by word and deed.”

Where Fox got the phrase and the concept

Benson and others agree that Fox got the idea from Romans 1:19: “[Because] that which may be known of God is manifest in them [shown to them]; for God hath showed it unto them.” The context of this declaration in Benson’s essay suggests that this latter clause echoes John 1:9, which was a key passage for Friends: “That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

Romans 1:9 does not use the phrase “that of God”, but Benson quotes Fox showing how Fox connected the idea with the phrase: “That Fox saw ‘that of God in every man’ in the context of Romans 1 is evident from the following passage written in 1658: ‘So that which may be known of God is manifest within people, wjhich God hath showed unto them . . . and to that of God in them all must they come before they do hold the truth in righteousness, or retain God in their knowledge, or retain his covenant of light . . . ”

What did Fox mean by “that of God”

The phrase “that of God” is not an idea about human nature “but points to the work of God in Christ,” as Francis Hall puts it in his comment after Benson’s essay.

Benson elaborates: “The Creator imparts his wisdom to man. This is not human wisdom, but the voice and wisdom of the Creator.  We cannot produce the equivalent of this voice and this wisdom from our human resources. It must be heard and received. There is a hunger in every man for this voice and this wisdom—a need to be taught what is right by the Creator. In every man there is a witness for God that summons him to remember the Creator. This is ‘that of God in every man.’ It is not an organ, or faculty, or gland. It is a hunger and thirst that God has put in man.” (emphasis mine)

That of God is not a divine spark inherent in the human, some aspect of the divine in which the human partakes, as we modern liberal Friends tend to believe. Rather, that of God is a yearning for God and for God’s teaching and guidance that was put there as a kind of receptor for the gospel, for God’s wisdom, put there by God.

Answering” that of God

Benson: “The verbs that Fox usually links with ‘that of God’ are ‘answer’ and ‘reach.’ The goal of Quaker preaching, either by word or deed, is to reach or answer something in all men. Fox says, “it is the light that makes manifest to a man when he is convinced: it answers to something, and reaches to something in their particulars.’ “Answering that of God” is not recognizing the divine spark in others, but rather offering ministry that satisfies the yearning in us for God’s truth.

In the famous pastoral epistle that we quote all the time as our source for the phrase, we “will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.” “Cheerfully” here does not mean in a lighthearted mood, but rather so as to cheer in a sense mostly lost to us since the 17th century, that is to spiritually uplift—to be a blessing. It’s also notable that Fox uses “world”, not “earth”, as many liberal Friends today often misquote him. “The world” comes from John’s gospel and stands for the world as it rejected Christ: “That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” (John 1:9–10)

That which does the answering

Fox: “There is something in man . . . that answers the power which is the gospel.” Benson: “That of God in the conscience is not conscience itself, but the word by which all things, including conscience, were created.” This “word”, of course, is Christ the Word, John 1:3: “All things were made by him; and without hem was not any thing made that was made”.

The twentieth century usage

Benson: “Between 1700 and 1900 “that of God in every man” virtually disappeared from the Quaker vocabulary . . . How did this long-forgotten phrase get into the spotlight and stay in the spotlight?” What happened that modern liberal Friends have turned this phrase on its head and then made it the one slender pillar upon which all Quaker tradition was to balance?

Benson’s answer: “The earliest instance of the revived use of “that of God” that I have been able to discover is found in Rufus Jones’ “Introduction” to his abridged edition of Fox’s Journal, first published in 1903, in which he expresses his opinion that the “larger truth” implicit in Fox’s early experiences is the discovery that there is a ‘universal principle, that the Spirit of God reaches in every man.’ He then adds: ‘To all sorts and conditions of men, Fox continually makes appeal to ‘that of God’ in them or to ‘the principle of God within man’ . . . In every instance he means that the Divine Being operates directly on the human life.’ In the following year he [Jones] wrote: ‘What was the Inner Light? The simplest answer is: The Inner Light is the doctrine that there is something Divine, “Something of God” in the human soul.’ As a consequence of statements like these, the phrase ‘that of God in every man’ began to acquire a meaning for twentieth century Friends that it did not have for Fox. The new ‘interpretation’ made ‘that of God in man’ the central conception around which everything else in Quakerism revolves.”

Benson notes that in the last few weeks of his life, Jones began to have doubts about what he had done. It was only at this late time in his career that Jones actually began to systematically study what Fox meant by the phrase.  Meanwhile, Jones had been propagating his misinterpretation for 45 years.

In his failure to actually study the material he was interpreting, Jones prefigured our own practice. Most Friends use the phrase glibly, having read very little Fox, if any, who are ignorant of Benson’s essay, and haven’t thought through what either Fox or they themselves mean by the phrase beyond the divine spark idea.

The idea spreads

Benson believes that the AFSC is responsible for bringing this understanding of the phrase into common usage. “A major contributing factor in the dissemination of this idea has been the torrent of promotional literature and other publications that flows from the pens of the publicists and staff writers of the American Friends Service committee. . . . by frequently reminding us that its central motivating principle is ‘that of God in every man,’ [the Service Committee] has exerted a much greater influence on Quaker faith and thought than anything emanating from the Society itself.” This jives with my sense that you are most likely to see the phrase invoked as the foundation for the peace testimony and our other social testimonies, a topic which Benson takes up at length.

“That of God” and membership

But the phrase has come to dominate our thinking about more than our social witness. Benson: “Among Quakers today there is a widespread belief that the central truth of Quakerism is a principle that is not solely derived from the Christian revelation. . . . for a considerable number of Friends ‘that of God in every man’ is the symbol of a principle that transcends and comprehends Christianity. We know that it is the policy of some Monthly Meetings to make belief in ‘that of God in every man,’ which has been called ‘the Quakers’ creed,’ a primary and essential condition of membership, whereas faith in Christ is regarded as a secondary and non-essential factor in examining prospective members. I maintain . . . there is no such Christ-transcending principle in the thought of Fox.”

My own meeting (Central Philadelphia) does not use the phrase in this way as a credal test in its membership process, but its membership documents are, in fact, full of the claim that our faith rests on the belief in that of God in everyone.

Comments by T. Canby Jones and Francis B. Hall

The Quaker Religious Thought issue with Benson’s essay also includes two comments by these two Quaker thinkers. Jones points out that it’s really hard to distinguish in Fox’s thinking between the Light and “that of God in everyone”.  They have the same source, they work in the same ways. Fox was famously unsystematic in his thinking, and Jones confesses to still being “all hung up” on this distinction, even though he dwelt on the question for pages in his doctoral dissertation. “I can hear Fox laughing,” he says.

I agree with Jones about this. I find it quite hard to follow Fox’s thinking a lot of the time.  But I also agree with Benson about almost all of his points. We misuse the phrase “that of God” these days in ways that do violence to our tradition and to the testimony of integrity.  We have narrowed our belief system down to this one principle and ravaged an ancient and rich tradition in the process. We have forgotten where our “modern” interpretation came from, and when, and we have falsely retrojected it onto our prophetic founder, who, it seems, never meant by it anything like what we mean by it.

But, as my Friend Don Badgley often points out, it’s not what we believe that matters so much as what we have experienced. “Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light?” Whatever “that of God” within us is, a divine spark or an inward yearning for Truth, is it connecting? Are we answering the knock on our heart’s door? Are we rising to face and follow the light, in spirit and in truth?

But while direct experience of the Christ (and I will leave open for now the question of what and/or who the Christ is) may be the main question, the way that we present our beliefs still matters. The way we answer questions about our faith from the public, from newcomers, and from our children. What we say matters. As Fox put it, “What thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”

“That of God” as a replacement for the soul

March 6, 2017 § 23 Comments

Traditional Christianity believes that humans have an immortal soul that is our identity before God, that God judges us (our soul) on the scales of our sinfulness and our faith, and that the soul suffers an ultimate and eternal fate based on that judgment. In this tradition, the soul is a spirit-reality that is separate from the body, which has somehow been “poured” into the body as a vessel. In life, the soul is capable of learning and of making moral choices, and it continues to exist after death, retaining consciousness, memory, and identity. In the afterlife, it is still capable of joy and of suffering.

Liberal Quakerism has pretty much rejected this paradigm with its obsession with sin and a judging God and we have jettisoned the soul along with it.

But it seems the liberal Quaker impulse still wants to retain some kind of transcendentalism that would elevate the human above the mere material. Without belief in a soul and a deity—or something equivalent—we would be a secular humanist society rather than a religion. A lot of us are actually quite uncomfortable with Quakerism as a “religion” and do think of us as a humanist society. But enough of us have enough of a “mystical” temperament to want some transcendentalism in our faith. And some of us have had actual mystical experiences that demand something more from Quakerism than soul-less humans and a secular humanist society.

I think that this is where Rufus Jones was coming from. Both a mystic and a scholar, he sought to understand the mystical experience, so he studied it. And in that study, especially his study of neoplatonism, he found the notion of the divine spark. He also wanted to place his own mystical experience in both the mystical traditions of the world (or at least, of the West) and in his own tradition of Quakerism. He accomplished this by defining “that of God” as a divine spark after the neoplatonists, even though George Fox never had any such idea in mind when he used the phrase. Thus was liberal Quaker “theology” born.

To satisfy this impulse to the transcendental that some of us feel, we liberal Friends have run with this idea. I think we have seized upon “that of God in everyone” partly as a replacement for the metaphysics of the soul and the sin-salvation paradigm it undergirds. We understand this “that of God” implicitly as a kind of divine spark, or at least as some aspect of the human that is capable of apprehending a spiritual reality, which was previously the function and demesne of the soul.  We have replaced belief in a soul with belief in “that of God in everyone”.

We also have replaced the theology of sin, judgment, and salvation through Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross with an extremely simple theology that posits “that of God in everyone” as the source of our “mystical” experience, our testimonies, and just about everything else.

Both the soul and “that of God” are metaphysical speculations about the nature of the human. So far, liberal Friends have done little to elaborate on this speculation. Lots of questions remain unanswered. Where does the soul/that of God come from? The syntax of the phrase “that of God” suggests it comes from God, but we have done almost nothing to define the God that “that of God” is “that” of. We just glibly avoid the traditional theistic, supreme being definition.

And what about the afterlife? The primary and ultimate purpose of the soul, after all, is to give us a vehicle for life after death. Liberal Friends don’t talk much about the afterlife. I suspect that we don’t even think about it much. I think about death a lot, but not too much about life after death.

This is a natural consequence, I think, of our focus on direct, immediate experience of the Spirit. When what really matters is happening right here, in this life, in this body and mind, in this meeting for worship, in this moment, why fuss too much about the life after this body and life pass away?

“That of God” connects us to both the communion of the present and to a “Presence” that deserves a capital “P” but not much more detail than that. This connection partakes of the transcendental, if not of the eternal, much as the soul does. Did. It doesn’t get us to heaven, but it gets us somewhere in that direction. And it doesn’t get us to hell.

For another advantage of the soul cum that-of-God is that it’s not scary. The idea of a soul with an afterlife is scary; scary as hell. Who wouldn’t trade divine judgment for a nice little divine spark?

This fear helps to explain why, after decades of relying more and more on this little phrase, we have yet to elaborate on what “that of God in everyone” actually means. The vaguer it is, the nicer it is. Venture into the swamps of metaphysical speculation and you might just end up in hell. It’s going to be wet and nasty, for sure.

What, if anything, is a yearly meeting?

March 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

I want to direct my readers’ attention to this post and upcoming series from Joshua Brown in his blog arewefriends.

Here’s the url: https://arewefriends.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/what-if-anything-is-a-yearly-meeting/.

Quaker “Best Practices”—Pastoral Care

February 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

Best practices:

  • Dedicate a committee to pastoral care.
  • Develop a care list of members and attenders for each member of the committee.
  • Ask the members how you’re doing and what they need.
  • If possible, dedicate resources to helping members in material need.

A pastoral care committee

Central Philadelphia Meeting has a Membership Care committee charged with pastoral care of members. I know meetings that combine pastoral care and care of ministry and worship in one committee, and I think this might make sense for small meetings. But in medium and large sized meetings, I suspect that the pastoral care concerns will tend to take priority on the committee’s agenda and thus will tend to squeeze out attention to worship and ministry. Both roles are important and deserve our full attention.

It’s true that pastoral matters almost always have a spiritual dimension and spiritual matters can have a pastoral dimension, so these committees need to talk to each other when appropriate and keep the other dimension in mind when doing their own work. But that seems easier to me than trying to charge one committee with these two very important roles when you have only so much time in committee meetings.

Care list

I think it is very useful for each member and attender to have a Friend who checks in on them every once in a while, providing an opening and invitation to come forward with any concerns they might have, something they might not do on their own if the meeting did not provide the opportunity. Members should not have to struggle against obstacles if they need to seek help from the meeting; it’s hard enough to seek help. They shouldn’t have to figure out whom to approach. They should feel like they know at least one person, if only slightly, who has already declared their willingness to listen. And everybody should enjoy some contact from the meeting, so that we all feel known and included, and so the meeting is in a better position to serve its members and the Spirit in this important way.

Reality check

Over the past year, Central Philadelphia Meeting has held a series of potlucks to explore pastoral care in the meeting, asking what Friends’ experience has been and asking for ideas and feedback to the Membership Care Committee. This effort has grounded the work of the committee in a new and good way. I think our meetings need to be more deliberate than we usually are in sounding the life of the meeting in a number of areas—quality of worship and vocal ministry; openness and friendliness of the community to newcomers, children, families, and young adults, people of color, conservatives, and Christ-centered Friends;; support of leadings and ministries; spiritual formation in general; and the meeting’s witness life. The culture of silence that so often prevails in a Quaker meeting can mask discontent that should be more forthrightly addressed. I think we should periodically and proactively seek out the spiritual condition of the meeting in these various areas. Even an anonymous survey would be a help, though potlucks do a great job of building the very community you’re trying to sound out.

Material support

Central Philadelphia Meeting has a Meeting Community Assistance Fund Committee that responds to material needs of the members. Obviously, the meeting has some resources for this ministry, as well. The meeting is truly blessed in this way. Many meetings have no reserves that could be available to help members who face some financial emergency. This is an extremely delicate matter and requires the highest degree of discernment. But I think it should be central to a meeting’s mission.

My model is Jesus and the early church. When Jesus declared himself the christ in Luke 4:18, he defined his “christ-hood” in terms of “good news to the poor”. When the post-resurrection church was born in the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11), the very first thing they did was fulfill Jesus’ promise of debt relief for the poor by setting up a welfare system. The heart of that system was that members who had surplus wealth made those resources available to the community for poor relief. The positive example was Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37); the negative example was Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5: 1-11). And this was a community that was almost by definition already really poor to start with.

The question is, do we know who might be sitting on the bench next to us that is suffering under a crushing burden of debt or struggling to meet their basic needs? And if we did know, what would we do about it?

So how might small meetings and meetings with no reserves try to follow in the early Christian example? This is one of the roles that regional and yearly meetings should serve. How can we expand our pool of resources to meet this potential need? And money is not the only option. Pastoral care committees should research the resources available outside even the wider Quaker community. What programs are available from local and state governments and from other charity organizations? Our committees should keep a portfolio of such resources, so that, even if the meeting can’t be of direct financial assistance, at least we can help steer Friends toward the resources they need.

Quaker “Best Practices”—Meeting for Business

February 6, 2017 § 4 Comments

Best practices:

  • Distribute the agenda and relevant documents in the week prior to meeting for business in worship.
  • Consider one of the queries from your Faith and Practice.
  • Set aside time for exploring long-term issues, big picture issues, and other concerns that lie outside the usual business of the meeting.

Business materials

Central Philadelphia Meeting distributes materials pertaining to the upcoming meeting for business in worship by email during the week before meeting. The meeting also provides some packets of these materials on a table by the door into the meeting room for those who don’t use email or have not printed them or brought some mobile device to view them on. These should be in a format that makes mobile viewing manageable; pdf files work pretty well; html pages work better.

Queries

One of the first things on the agenda is to read and consider one of the queries in PhYM’s* Faith and Practice, rotating through them month by month. I think this is an excellent practice. My previous meeting (Yardley, PA) also read the queries in the meeting for worship on the same Sunday as meeting for business, so that the larger number of members attending worship could respond. It tended to shape the vocal ministry, sometimes, but that was the point. I liked this practice, also.

Dedicated time for exploration and reflection

On most business meeting Sundays, Central Philadelphia Meeting holds two meetings for business in worship, one before meeting for worship, and one after. The morning session is dedicated to considering the kinds of things that the necessary and regular business of a meeting almost always pushes to the side—exploration of issues facing the meeting, presentations from important outside groups, consideration of matters that affect the meeting but are not part of the meeting’s regular business, etc. We used this time a while back to work on the FCNL priorities survey. We’ve looked at the annual budget and the meeting’s priorities for the coming year. We’ve had a presentation from a local interfaith witness network that we’ve joined. We considered the report and recommendations from an ad hoc committee charged with addressing racism.

This makes for a long day for sure. For personal reasons, I myself am rarely able to dedicate that much time on a Sunday, so I often attend only one. I imagine that many meetings would never consider doing this. But I do think that it’s important to set aside time regularly for these kinds of concerns. Otherwise, they never happen. There is always too much regular and pressing business to attend to. Which sounds like an argument to not set aside such time. But realistically, how often would the meeting really suffer if some of the regular and even the pressing business didn’t happen until the next month? When you make an hour and a quarter available virtually every month to consider the important meta-issues of the meeting, as CPM does, the meeting grows into the future with self-awareness and a measure of confidence that is hard to get otherwise.

*  I use PhYM for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, even though members of the yearly meeting and the yearly meeting itself use PYM (it’s url is pym.org). I do this because Pacific Yearly Meeting also uses PYM, and I think it’s worth minding the distinction. PhYM’s historical importance, its venerable age, and its large size has given it first chance at PYM and this history encourages the yearly meeting to be a little self-centered. I have never heard anyone even mention the problem of the overlapping acronyms with Pacific. One could refer to Pacific Yearly Meeting as PaYM, I suppose, but that would suggest Pennsylvania and be confusing. Meanwhile, it seems to me that the “Ph” in Philadelphia lends itself nicely to an alternative usage for PhYM. PhYM can do nothing about its url, though, so I am resigned to being eccentric in this usage.

One day, I’m going to write a series of posts on “Bioregional Quakerism” and make a case for completely abandoning our historical nomenclature and boundaries and adopting bioregional names and boundaries. Then there wouldn’t even be yearly meetings named after cities, as Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore Yearly Meetings are. We already have some bioregional yearly meeting names, Pacific being one of them. But I suspect that most yearly meetings—maybe all—are virtually totally unaware of the bioregion they inhabit, its geology and physiography, its flora and fauna, its watersheds, its endangered species and invasive species, its water supplies and waste management systems, its fault lines and ecosystems. What would North American Quakerism look like if our yearly meetings had boundaries and identities that were directly informed by their bioregions, if the places we lived in really mattered?

“Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings—Worship

January 20, 2017 § 10 Comments

Best practices:

  • Match the seating in the meeting room to the size of the worshiping group.
  • Welcome newcomers before meeting and after.
  • Provide accessibility for Friends with mobility and hearing difficulties.
  • Invite Friends to share the deeper things on their hearts while we’re still all together.
  • Invite newcomers to introduce themselves.
  • Avoid announcements and afterthoughts in the meeting room.

Seating

Central Philadelphia Meeting is a large meeting with a large, historic meetinghouse, complete with raked facing benches and a sizable balcony. The meeting has roped off the back-most benches in the back and on one side. The result is that, when attendance is normal, a lot of people are sitting relatively close to each other. I believe quite strongly that proximity to each other fosters a gathered meeting, and that allowing the community to disperse too much (they will occupy as much distance as you give them) hinders the gathered meeting. I would rope off even more seating in our meeting room, but there we are. In the summer when attendance drops off, the meeting moves into another room that more nicely fits the size of the worshiping group. We sit inside each other’s auras when we worship and I think this provides a medium for the subtle psychic dynamics that mark the gathered meeting.

Welcoming

Greeters await you at the doors into the meeting room, ready to ensure that newcomers know what to expect and warming the hearts of the regular attenders. At rise of meeting for worship, a member of Ministry and Worship committee greets everyone, points out the guest book, which does NOT get you on any mailing list, and invites newcomers to visit the visitors table during fellowship for more information. Individual Friends often follow up on this “official” welcoming of newcomers with personal approaches.

Accessibility

Our meeting room has a ramp and several places in the meeting room that can accommodate a wheelchair and one Friend who uses them regularly. We also provide listening devices, which is especially important in such a large meeting room.

Joys and sorrows

Ministry and Worship has a “script” that the Friend who closes meeting (never say “break”) usually adheres to. After the usual “Good morning” and shaking of hands, she or he begins by asking us to remain in a spirit of worship, which helps to keep the meeting centered, and then invites Friends to share their joys and sorrows—whatever deep things are on their hearts at the moment. These can be uplifting and they can also be opportunities for prayer on someone’s behalf.

Introductions

The Friend who closes meeting then invites newcomers to introduce themselves and the body enthusiastically replies to each person with a collective vocal welcome.

Announcements

Central Philadelphia Meeting does NOT have announcements at the rise of meeting. It makes its announcements using a microphone and small amplifier about fifteen minutes into the social hour. This doesn’t reach everybody who was in worship, but it reaches most of the people who are likely to act on the information—and it doesn’t prolong the meeting for worship or degrade the worshipful feeling that we are able to maintain to a degree during the joys and sorrows and introductions in the meeting room. I highly recommend this practice.

Afterthoughts

I dislike afterthoughts and am very glad that the meeting does not encourage them or set aside a time for them. I fear that afterthoughts interfere with Spirit-led vocal ministry in worship. Do they allow a voice to Friends who feel too timid to speak in meeting? Maybe. Or do they get the potential minister “off the hook”, enabling him or her to avoid doing the deeper discernment that would clarify whether the ministry should be spoken or not? Do afterthoughts liberate the worship time from ministry that may not be so Spirit-led by making room for such messages later? Or do afterthoughts feed back into the worship, lowering the bar for what constitutes more deeply Spirit-led ministry? I’m pretty sure that afterthoughts do affect our vocal ministry somehow, but who knows how? The very fact that we don’t know what affect afterthoughts have on the vocal ministry is reason enough, in my opinion, to leave it alone. Why mess with something so sacred, so central to our way? Why isn’t traditional vocal ministry during meeting for worship enough for us? It’s enough for me. I am very grateful that Central Philadelphia Meeting does not invite afterthoughts, though sometimes a Friend will give us one anyway.