The Practice of Vocal Ministry
July 16, 2016 § 1 Comment
Prompted by recent experience in my own meeting with vocal ministry, I want to share a concise guide to the practice of vocal ministry among Friends, as I understand it. I have ordered these “conventions” chronologically, that is, as they apply during the progress in time of the meeting for worship. These are not hard and fast rules, but rather practices that Friends have found over the centuries to foster a deeper worship experience.
- Preparation. Ideally, Friends spend the morning before going to meeting for worship in quietude, rather than exposing themselves to the news, mass media, or anything else that might activate the busybrain. Even better if you can spend some time in spiritual preparation, in meditation, prayer, scripture or spiritual reading, fasting, walking in the woods, listening to music, playing an instrument, or whatever.
- The worship starts. We understand the meeting for worship to start when the first person sits in the meeting room and settles in to worship. At this time, conversations or other activities in the meeting room should move out of the meeting room or cease. Very often, these early Friends are spiritually preparing, not only themselves, but also the meeting space, so that others who enter the space immediately feel drawn into the worship.
- Arrive on time. Each person entering the meeting space causes at least a little ripple in the energy of the worship. The coming of Friends into the meeting space before the appointed time for worship adds a spirit of welcoming and warmth to those who are already gathered. This spirit continues for a while after the appointed time, too, but eventually this tardiness becomes a disturbance. Latecomers delay the time when those gathered can begin their deepening without this disturbance. If you do arrive late, be as inobtrusive as possible; do not traipse across the whole meeting room to some distant spot. Do not enter during someone’s vocal ministry.
- Time before the first vocal ministry. The convention is to leave about twenty minutes before the first vocal ministry. This is even more valuable if tardy Friends have been entering the meeting room during this time. Many traditions agree on twenty minutes as the minimum amount of time it takes for the circulatory and other systems of the body to adjust to deep stillness and for the mind to slow the busybrain enough to find the path into the spiritual depths. In the elder days, Friends called this spiritual space “the silence of all flesh”, understanding “flesh” as the Apostle Paul did in his letters to include, not just the body, but all of the world’s distractions.
- Time between messages. Allowing a meaningful time between messages allows those gathered in worship enough time to truly hear a message, to let the Holy Spirit do the inner work that is the Spirit’s intention in the ministry. It also allows anyone who might be feeling some prompting to speak to return their attention from the message to their own discernment, time to settle in with the inspiration, to know it and test it.
- We do not speak twice.
- Content. We rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire and shape the message. We do not come prepared to give a certain message, or to read a specific text, for instance. We do not enter into dialogue with previous messages or refer to specific previous speakers. This does not mean that themes do not develop in the course of the worship; they often do, and this often brings the meeting into a deep feeling of satisfaction. But direct response to a previous message tends to ignite or reinforce what we call a “popcorn” meeting, in which one message leads, often very quickly, to another and to another in a cascade of dialogue that keeps the messages on the surface of the meeting’s spirit.