Let’s start this morning by giving some definitions for words we use regularly, often without thinking about their meaning…What about “worship”?
“Worship” means the giving of reverence and honor to the divine; it’s an act of devotion. The word has its origins in being used to express the idea of “worthship”; or to give, at its simplest, worth to something. Worship for Quakers happens as our scripture from Matthew describes whenever 2 or more are gathered who have an awareness of and desire for God, and God’s presence and impact and WORTH in their lives. It does not require anything but that awareness and desire to make it happen; not a specific building, or certain tools, or special people. As we can begin to comprehend, Quaker worship can happen anywhere under any number of circumstances: while we’re eating, working, playing, resting. Key here is that Friends understand that worship is an integral piece of a life of faith, and should happen often. That said; we can also state that Quakers obviously do focus specific times and places for corporate worship.
Let’s define what we mean when we say “meeting” or meeting for worship” or “meetinghouse”… Early Quakers viewed “the church” as the universal body of believers—the whole of all those who claim faith in the divine everywhere. This is, of course, different from the common usage where church primarily defines the building used by a faith community, or the worship that happens within a building ie. “I go to church every Sunday”. For Quakers, or Friends, “Meeting” signifies the gathering of a body of believers for worship together. We here together in this room are a “meeting”. The term meeting is used because of the expected participation of all; meeting or encountering God together. “Meeting for Worship” specifically alludes to a gathering that is under the leadership of the Spirit. Quakers most definitely place great emphasis on the understanding that our worship is guided and directed by Spirit, rather than human leadership.
The building we use then becomes the “meetinghouse”. Our founder George Fox was known for derogatorily referring to conventional church buildings as “Steeple houses”, in condemnation for what he viewed as an ostentatious display of wealth or power.
So here we are: Adirondack Friends Meeting, in the meetinghouse, for meeting for worship!
The WAY Friends worship, as defined by Wilmer Cooper, should be composed of four common elements: silence, communion, ministry, and fellowship. There are differences among the varieties of Quakers regarding the emphasis each one gives to these four. Of course, Unprogrammed Quakers or Friends are those who meet for worship with no previously arranged order, out of which any person may give ministry if led by the Lord. We will be focusing on silence more specifically next week. But since this is probably THE most noticeable distinction of Quakers, let me offer this quote by a New England Friend who says that unprogrammed meeting for worship is “the only radical alternative form of Christian worship where each is personally responsible for one’s own spiritual journey and which can only be grown and nourished in corporate gathering.” I think this highlights the importance of BOTH individual and group silence among Friends. Let me also say that this component—SILENCE– is also a vital, albeit smaller portion of programmed worship—which DOES follow an order of worship. More next week!
Communion is comprehended by Quakers in a way that separates us from virtually all other Christians. Friends do not observe communion through physical elements of bread and wine. Instead, we believe that the true communion that Christ enjoined to His followers is spiritual; it is when they gather and share and worship in harmony and love. While we also understand that this can happen anywhere folks gather corporately; for example, during any meal, it specifically is understood as being enacted as we gather in worship.
Ministry is the response of a participant in worship to the leading of the Divine. ALL Friends are called on to be ministers. Ministry at it’s most foundational, is the response or witness by a person to the action of God in the world. Early Quaker Robert Barclay understood ministry as the work of “exhorting, instructing, admonishing, overseeing, and watching over one another.” As programmed meetings grew out of the revival movement of the late 19th century, they emphasized the need to have someone designated to preach regularly and give care to converts. Today, pastoral ministers, who are often credentialed and named, continue to be one of a number of ministers in any given congregation. The calling of a minister by any meeting entails the designation of one who is released for study, outreach, visitation, preaching and leadership. Among Friends, there are NO acts or roles that only a pastor can do or fulfill. All members of a meeting can be seen to have unique and individual gifts in ministry that support the entire meeting.
Finally, fellowship in meetings is an integral facet of our life together. Care and support of individuals and families from the initial welcome they receive the first time they attend, through the all the joys and concerns of human life, are offered and received in a variety of ways, by all people in the meeting. The meeting understands one of its duties as being the respect for and nurturing of all individuals who participate in the life of the faith community. Quakers understand that a life of faith is one that extends to all parts and aspects of daily life, no matter how young or old a person is; the fellowship found among folks who are connected in spiritual ways accompanies and strengthens each individual’s faithful and faith-filled lives. Our fellowship is also guided and directed by the testimonies, which speak to ways we have found to live and act based on our beliefs. A meeting should be a focal point for where folks can live into simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality corporately.
Thus, as a distinct Quaker community worshipping through silence, communion, ministry and fellowship, we here at Adirondack Friends Meeting are a programmed meeting that finds great value in our meeting time, which includes crucial times of silence throughout our order of worship. We encourage folks to understand that physical attendance at meeting is not enough; one must arrive prepared to worship to reap the maximum benefits. We also understand that anyone is welcome to participate in worship in ways that are meaningful to them and to the whole meeting. Singing, speaking—either from the silence or by giving the day’s message, sharing a children’s message, or reading scripture can be offered by anyone as we experience communion with the Divine.
Another unique aspect of our worship here that is rooted in our Quaker tradition is the ministry of the facing bench. Under the care of our Ministry and Counsel, this important aspect of our time together gives support to the spiritual depth and quality of the gathered meeting. Specifically, folks who sit on the bench are holding and grounding our worship in the light and love of God, praying for the pastor or whoever is leading worship, and responding to nudges to pray for the faces they see as they look our on those gathered. While mainly Ministry and Counsel members fulfill this role, it is open to anyone who feels led to it and who is willing to be used by God to immerse our meeting time in the Spirit. This is a key way we at Adirondack live into the idea that EVERYONE is a minister, equipped with unique and important gifts to be shared.
Finally, most important to the identity of Quaker meeting is the end result. One has not truly worshipped until there is a distinct response to it. Friends have always understood their faith to be manifested in the actions or understandings or perspectives that are derived from meeting for worship. As William Penn said, “True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.” If one cannot identify a thought or activity or decision that has been the result of worship, I would suggest that the worship has been ineffective and unsatisfactory for both for the individual and the meeting. An important query to consider as one concludes their worship experience might be “have I or we been moved to experience the presence of the divine in a way that impacts or changes our daily life for the better?”
Again Friends, I can end with that question from last week: “what canst THOU say?” –what can YOU say? …About worship here or worship among Friends in General? Are there things that I haven’t mentioned that are important to you? Why does Quaker worship work or not work for you?
As we conclude, I offer this week’s QuakerSpeak video…