Gospel Order—Setting Limits

March 4, 2016 § 2 Comments

A checklist of questionable behaviors in meeting

A guide intended to help clarify the role of eldership in the meeting.

Meeting for worship

  •        Consistently arriving late
  •        Speaking too early in the meeting
  •        Leaving too little silence between messages
  •        Bringing a prepared message
  •        Dialog, or answering another’s message
  •        Speaking too long, “running past the guide”
  •        Speaking too often
  •        Speaking more than once
  •        Harangues, threats and other assaults on the worship
  •        Eldering a speaker without the inward or outward authority to do so
  •         Conversation, moving about, and other disturbances to the silence; reading and cell phone activity


  •        Inappropriate unauthorized eldering of others
  •        Quenching of the spirit of Christian or biblical (or any other) vocal ministry
  •        Sexual harassment; assault and/or battery
  •        Deceit and theft
  •        Refusal to work in good faith toward resolution of conflicts
  •        Tale bearing, backbiting, and rumormongering; “sense of the parking lot”
  •         Civil suit between members

Quaker process and meeting for business in worship

  •        Knowingly and consistently violating Quaker process
  •        Holding the meeting hostage: “if you do “x,” I will do “y”, withholding financial contributions in protest
  •        Forming political alliances
  •        Blackballing or stacking nominations
  •        Biased or forceful clerking; ignorant clerking
  •        Secret or improperly publicized meetings
  •        Failing to record minutes or changing the minutes without meeting approval
  •         Presuming to speak or act for the meeting on weighty matters without the approval of the meeting

The testimonies

  •        Civil suit between members
  •        Joining the armed forces
  •        Gambling
  •        The use of dangerous or addictive drugs
  •        Improper sexual conduct
  •        Unrepentant prejudice



Quaker-pocalypse—Advancement: Fellowship

May 24, 2015 § 3 Comments

When newcomers come to a meeting, the first thing they encounter is the culture of the meeting, the way it feels and the way it operates. Even if they go directly into the meeting room, even here they are surrounded by the unspoken assumptions and agreements about identity, behavior, and relationship that comprise a community’s fellowship.

But hopefully, they don’t get a chance to go directly to the meeting room (unless that’s what they want to do) because someone has greeted them at the door and  then the greeter and the rest of the Friends in the gathering space offer them the meeting’s hospitality.

If we want our meetings to grow, we must be warm, welcoming, and interested in new people. Fellowship is the second item under “a vital religious life” in my list of the three essentials for Quaker advancement.

Hospitality. Is your community warm and welcoming to all? Do you have greeters who meet newcomers at the door on First Day and help them find their way into worship, mentally, emotionally, and physically? Do all the members take responsibility for making newcomers feel welcome, well informed, and comfortable, not just when they first come in the door, but also after worship, and when they return, if they do?

Inclusiveness. How homogenous is your meeting population and are people of all races, all classes, all sexual orientations, and all cultural styles welcome in your meeting? Is your meetinghouse accessible? Is your bathroom? Do you have equipment for the hearing impaired? Do you welcome children into your worship?

Pastoral care. Do the Friends charged with pastoral care in your meeting feel confident in their roles and responsibilities? If not, how can you help them? Does your meeting regularly encourage the members and attenders to come to the pastoral care committee with their concerns and do members know whom to approach? Are you prepared with a network of mental health and other professionals who can give your committee advice or to whom they can refer Friends when the concern seems too deep or difficult for the committee, or seems to require professional attention?

Membership. Is there any meaningful difference between being a member and being an attender of your meeting? Is your meeting clear about what membership in your meeting means and what it expects from its members? Are your clearness committees for membership clear about these things? Is it easy for attenders to find out what membership means in your meeting, what the meeting expects from them, and how to apply for membership? Does your meeting think of membership as a covenant, as a set of mutual promises and responsibilities in which members expect to contribute to the spiritual and material life of the meeting and in which members invite the meeting to proactively engage with their spiritual lives? Or is your meeting too afraid to intrude to be proactive in its spiritual nurture and/or do your members consider their religious lives to be a completely private domain in which the meeting has no business?

Willingness to change. New people bring new energy to the meeting, energy that might change the culture of your meeting. Does your meeting reflexively resist change? Is your meeting overly attached to the way your meeting “feels” today and its unspoken assumptions and agreements?

Eldering authority and mandate. Does someone in your meeting have clear authority and a clear mandate to protect your fellowship from inappropriate behavior? Are you and they clear about what “inappropriate behavior” deserves attention? Do these Friends feel equipped to act with some confidence when needed?

Conflict. Does your meeting forthrightly address conflict when it arises in the meeting? Do you have members who are not attending because of some conflict with the meeting or with other members? If they have left because of some difficult person, is that person still attending? (If your meeting has lost even one member because of a disruptive person, you might as well have lost the disruptive person.) Does your meeting seek outside help if it finds it too difficult to deal with a conflict on its own? Is your quarterly or regional meeting and/or your yearly meeting prepared to respond to such a request for intervention with people who have the gift of mediation and with resources? (See the video and other resources available from New York Yearly Meeting’s Conflict Transformation Committee.)

Emotional blackmail. Do you let members hold the meeting hostage with their emotions, threatening to leave or to do something else if the meeting does “x” or doesn’t do “y”, especially in meeting for worship with attention to the life of the meeting?

Quaker-pocalypse—Advancement and Worship

May 23, 2015 § 2 Comments

In my first post on Quaker-pocalypse and Advancement, I said that, to advance Quakerism we needed three things: a vital religious life, a message, and vehicles for outreach. The first item under a vital religious life was worship. Here are some queries designed for meetings to assess how they are doing with worship, to plum what is the experience of people who come into your worship—newcomers, attenders, and members.


The gathered meeting

  • The one solid indicator of a vital worship life, of worship that offers “true communion with God”, is an occasional gathered meeting for worship. When was the last time your meeting was gathered in the Spirit? What are the chances that someone who comes to your meeting a few times over a few months would experience a gathered meeting? Do you talk about the gathered meeting, especially with attenders who may not yet have experienced one?

Attitudes toward worship

  • Do you know what the members of your meeting think of your meeting’s worship and its vocal ministry? Would you consider conducting an anonymous survey to determine how your members and attenders feel? Would your meeting act if you found out that a meaningful percentage of Friends were unsatisfied with some aspect of the worship?

Vocal ministry

  • Ministry and the Spirit. Do you think your meeting’s vocal ministry is mostly spirit-led? Does your meeting do anything to explain the conventions around vocal ministry to attenders and new members, or are they left to figure it out for themselves? Does your meeting offer members opportunities to share their experience of vocal ministry, or to learn about vocal ministry?
  • Calling. Does your meeting have people who seem to be called to vocal ministry? Not just Friends who speak quite often, but Friends for whom this seems to be a calling, who take the calling seriously, and whose ministry is pretty consistently spiritually deep and edifying? Is your meeting recognizing their gifts? Is your meeting engaged with these Friends, offering them support for their ministry, if they want it?
  • Christian vocal ministry. Are Christian, biblical, and even gospel ministry welcome in your meeting? Are they common? If not (in either case), why not? Do you agree that we are a Christian religion, even if many or even most of the members are not Christians in their own experience?


  • Authority and mandate. Does someone in your meeting (your ministry committee?) have clear authority and a clear mandate to protect your worship from inappropriate behavior? Are you and they clear about what “inappropriate behavior” deserves attention? Do these Friends feel equipped to act with some confidence when needed?


  • Noise. Do Friends socialize right outside the meeting room door up to and even past the beginning time for meeting? Can you reroute the conversation to some other location?
  • Tardiness. Do Friends consistently enter the meeting room late? How late? Have you considered holding latecomers at the door and then letting them in together? Would that feel even more disruptive?
  • Seating. Did you know that the most effective way to foster a gathered meeting, after loving one another, is to sit close together? * And that the most effective way to obstruct a gathered meeting, after letting conflict go unaddressed, is to sit far apart? Does your meeting room allow Friends to sit far away from each other? Would you consider reconfiguring the meeting room so that Friends are near each other when they worship? (I personally believe that the human aura is the primary medium for the psychic sharing that one experiences in a gathered meeting for worship; pure conjecture, of course.)
  • Afterthoughts. Do you have “afterthoughts” after meeting and, if so, have you reconsidered their usefulness recently? I personally suspect that afterthoughts distort the vocal ministry, but I think it’s basically impossible to know how they distort it. The fact that afterthoughts might have some unknown feedback effect on the ministry is reason enough to discontinue the practice, in my opinion.
  • Announcements. Have you considered moving announcements to the social room and social time after meeting for worship, especially if you are a large meeting with many announcements? My meeting actually has a small PA system for this in the social room, so that it’s easy to interrupt conversation and do the announcements.


* These ideas come from a State of the Meeting Report of New York Yearly Meeting some time in the early 1990s. The Yearly Meeting sends queries to the local meetings for them to use in writing their state of the meeting reports, and the state of the meeting reports are used to write the Yearly Meeting’s State of the Society Report. The queries that year had to do with the gathered meeting:

  1. How do you define a gathered meeting?
  2. How often do you experience a gathered meeting?
  3. How do you know when a meeting is gathered?
  4. What fosters a gathered meeting and what hinders a gathered meeting?

The most often occurring answers to number four were sitting close together and sitting far apart.

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What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Corporate Spiritual Nurture

December 29, 2013 § 4 Comments

I’ve written quite a bit already about the next items in my outline of What the Religious Society of Friends is for—the role of the community in nurturing the spiritual lives of its members and attenders. I want to revisit some of those themes here and to expand on them to include more of the corporate worship life and fellowship of the meeting itself. Here’s the excerpt from the outline:

What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Spiritual nurture in covenantal community: Engage in each other’s spiritual growth through a robust and nurturing culture of eldership; protect the communal fellowship and the community’s worship.

Take responsibility for the corporate side of personal spiritual nurture; that is, work together to name each other’s gifts and discern and support each other’s ministry.

By “covenantal community” I mean a meeting in which the members invite the meeting to actively participate in their spiritual lives and offer their own active participation in the life of the meeting. In concrete terms, this means:

  • Sharing your spiritual and religious experience with the meeting. Does anyone in your meeting know what your spiritual practice is? How you came to Quakerism? Why you stay? What you want from the meeting and whether you are getting it? If you were going through a crisis or a dry period in your prayer life, your family life, your work life, your creative life, would your meeting know? If you were facing an important decision and didn’t see clearly what to do, would you ask for a clearness committee?
    • If you asked for a clearness committee, would the meeting know what to do? Would your meeting welcome deeper knowledge of your spiritual life? Would they be prepared to help you with a crisis in your spiritual or prayer life? Does your meeting have elders whose own depth of religious experience would equip them to mentor you or help you with your spiritual life? Are you yourself such an elder, at least potentially? Do you look for opportunities to serve the members of your meeting in these ways?
  • Eldering. Do you feel that there are people whose behavior disturbs your meeting’s worship or fellowship? Do conflicts trouble your meeting? If you were yourself bringing conflict or disturbance to your meeting, would you welcome loving eldering—the meeting’s caring attention to your behavior?
    • Does your meeting act with confidence to protect the worship from inappropriate behavior? Does your meeting act with confidence to protect the fellowship of the meeting? Is your meeting in denial of the conflicts that trouble it? Does your meeting bring accountability up in any way with applicants for membership in its committees for clearness on membership?
  • Inviting the meeting to help you deepen your spiritual gifts, your vocal ministry, and the other ministries to which you feel called. Have you identified your gifts of the spirit? Are you engaged in some activity outside of meeting that is a ministry, that the meeting doesn’t know about? Do you think of it as a ministry yourself? Do you speak fairly often in meeting? Do you want to deepen your vocal ministry? Do you feel some obstacle to speaking in meeting?
    • Would your meeting welcome knowledge of your leadings? Does your meeting do anything concrete to name each other’s gifts of the spirit? Does your meeting know the faith and practice of Quaker ministry well enough to take responsibility for it? Do they know how to conduct a clearness committee for discernment of leadings? Does your meeting provide opportunities to discuss ministry, especially vocal ministry, in general? Does your meeting provide its ministers with committees of support or oversight, or engage with them in any other way?

What if your answers to some of these questions are no? If our “no”s involve the personal queries about our own relation to the meeting, we can start thinking about how to reengage with the meeting. But often, our reticence stems from our sense that our meeting will not be there for us. So what then? What do we do when our meeting does not meet our spiritual needs, either because it does not have the resources, especially the human resources, or it doesn’t have the interest or the will?

Meetings often lack the will to be a true covenantal community in the way I am describing (that is, to work with their members and attenders in a meaningful way to enrich their spiritual lives) because it isn’t in unity about it whether to do it, let alone about how to do it. Some Friends just wouldn’t want to go there, and through tacit understanding, it just never even comes up. And we are so cautious about possibly hurting people or driving them away. In my experience, very often a solid majority of people in the meeting would be uncomfortable with this kind of meeting life, for a variety of reasons.

People come to a meeting and to religious life wanting different things. Most want comfort, support, spiritual companionship, renewal, recharging—peace. Far fewer want transformation, let alone the fire of the spiritual crucible. And yet a meeting should try to meet all these needs, both the comfortable and the uncomfortable.

So a meeting should try to accommodate those of us who want more engagement around our spiritual lives, but hopefully in ways that don’t threaten others, or force them to change in ways they don’t want to, or that pulls the community rug out from under them. This is a delicate balance and hard-to-achieve. Any experiments along the path toward greater engagement and accountability between members and the meeting would inevitably meet obstacles and inevitably, we would make some mistakes.

I’m not sure what to do about this. Naturally, we can’t force our meeting to change just for us, especially if we really are in the minority about this sort of thing. Some meetings might be led in this direction over time—a long time, probably—given some deft leadership.

But it’s awkward—and not often successful—to try to be the leader yourself, the person who teaches the meeting to how meet your needs; to teach the meeting how to conduct clearness committees for discernment, for instance, when you are the one who needs help with discernment; or to teach the meeting how to write a minute for travel when you are the minister who feels the leading to travel.

And it’s even more complicated when eldering is called for, when conflict or inappropriate behavior or weak clerking trouble the meeting. In these cases, bold and wise leadership is called for, and it’s not easy to take the initiative, especially if you’re not serving on a committee that would normally deal with such things.

Very often, in fact, the nominating process is one of the sources of the problem—people appointed to positions for which they lack the depth or knowledge of the Quaker way, or who in areas in which they have a strong opinion or an axe to grind that would obstruct the committee’s effective action. I have seen more than one committee on worship and ministry with a member or two who either know very little about Quaker ministry and/or are uncomfortable with its faith and practice, especially with the role of eldering, and would resist action in these areas. I am not sure what to do in these situations, except perhaps speak with nominating committee about one’s concerns, and see what the next cycle of nominations brings about.

In the easier case of personal ministry and spiritual nurture, the only thing I can think to do is to try the meeting first, to see how far you can go. And then, if it looks like the meeting isn’t going to be able to respond to your needs in a timely fashion, to try to create for one’s self, with others of like mind, a non-formal structure for spiritual exploration, support, nurture, and accountability independent of the meeting’s formal structures. For many Friends in smaller meetings or meetings less amenable to these ideas, this will mean some kind of regional group. In New York Yearly Meeting, the networking for this kind of engagement is quite lively at the Yearly Meeting level, but it hasn’t moved down into the regional meetings very much, as far as I know.

What I’m getting at is that, in many yearly Meetings, there might be opportunities for grassroots networking at the local meeting level around this kind of spiritual nurture that could converge with similar efforts taking place at the yearly meeting level, which could then be relocated at the regional meeting level without too much difficulty. New York Yearly Meeting is too big geographically and meets too seldom as a yearly meeting body to host groups that serve these kinds of spiritual needs very well. But a New York City spiritual nurture group, or an outer Long Island group, or a central or northern New Jersey or Finger Lakes group might be able to meet more regularly.

The model here might be the Experiment with Light groups, which are usually organized, if I am not mistaken, at the local meeting level, but often with participants from nearby meetings; and the spiritual nurture groups formed by the School of the Spirit and by the spiritual nurture programs sponsored by Baltimore and other yearly meetings.

And what would such groups do? The following ideas assume that the local meetings are not willing or able to serve your needs in these ways:

  • Hold extended periods of open worship, hopefully without a programmed time to end.
  • Provide opportunities to share the joys, challenges, and evolution of each others’ inner lives, personal practice, and the life of the spirit in general.
  • Conduct clearness committees for discernment of leadings.
  • Name each others’ spiritual gifts in some way, and find ways to help each other mature in your gifts.
  • Share your spiritual practices with each other and provide mentoring in them, if you feel qualified and others show interest.
  • Create structures for sharing and learning together the faith and practice of Quaker ministry and Quaker spirituality.
  • Provide support and oversight committees for those following a leading, especially those led to travel in the ministry or to pursue some specific service, and for those who feel called to vocal ministry.
  • They would not, however, intervene in local meeting situations that require eldering. This, I think, remains the prerogative of the meeting, even if it’s dysfunctional in this area.

Hopefully, within some meetings, such non-formal groups would prove to be seeds for a more robust culture of eldership based in the meeting, once members saw how it worked and how valuable it was for its participants. So these groups should not hide their light under a bushel. Nor should they evangelize out of spiritual pride. But they should be open and inviting to any who would want to participate. For this is one of the things that the Religious Society of Friends is for—corporate nurture and support of personal ministry and spiritual life.

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