“Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings—Worship
January 20, 2017 § 10 Comments
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Friend who closes meeting then invites newcomers to introduce themselves and the body enthusiastically replies to each person with a collective vocal welcome.
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.
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.