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Biblical Roots of Quaker Worship

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The Biblical Roots of Quaker Worship

The traditional Quaker form of worship is unique among Christian groups. It represented, when it first began to be practiced in the 17th century, a radical departure from the forms of worship utilized by other Christian sects up until that time.  Early Friends frequently cited the New Testament as support for their positions on theology, oath-taking, war, and even the role of women in the church.  For those of us who see the biblical record as an invaluable channel for God's work within us, it is helpful to explore the precursors in that record to the form of worship that Friends have been given as our most central way of being held, transformed, and taught by the Living Christ.

Sacramentally-oriented Christians look to Matt 26:26-8 as the key biblical passage undergirding their practice of group worship.  Faith communities, such as Mennonites and Brethren, that focus more heavily on preaching and Bible study as central to worship often look to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7).   Although there are many Friends concerned about the anti-Semitic content in the Gospel of John (especially in John 18 &19), the clearest biblical passage undergirding Friends worship is John 4:19-24. 

Jesus' call for ritual-free worship.  The story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is one of the most extraordinary in the entire Bible. She concludes that Jesus is a prophet based on his in-depth knowledge about her personal life in spite of never having met her before.  She proceeds to ask Jesus to tell her whether God wants to be worshiped in the Temple in Jerusalem (the central location of worship in Judaism) or on Mt Gerizim (the sacred mountain that is the locus of Samaritan worship to this day).  Jesus tells her that the old worship expectations have been superseded by new ones, as "the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."  The reason for this is breathtakingly simple: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." In the 11th Proposition "Concerning Worship" of his Apology for True Christian Divinity, Robert Barclay asserts that

This testimony [in John 4:23-4] is the more specially to be observed, for that it is both the first, chiefest, and most ample testimony, which Christ gives us of his Christian worship, as different and contradistinguished from that under the Law. For first, he showeth that the season is now come wherein the worship must be "in Spirit and in Truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him": so then it is no more a worship consisting in outward observations, to be performed by man at set times or opportunities, which he can do in his own will and by his own natural strength: for else it would not differ in matter but only in some circumstances from that under the law [i.e. the commandments regarding worship God had given to the Jewish people now superseded by Christ's new commandment]. Next, as for a reason of this worship, we need not to give any other, and indeed none can give a better than that which Christ giveth, which I think should be sufficient to satisfy every Christian, to wit, "GOD is a SPIRIT, and they that worship him must worship him in Spirit and in Truth."

Early Friends (for the reasons Barclay explains) forcefully rejected the sacramental forms of worship that had been practiced in Christendom for well over a millennium. When they gathered together large groups of potential converts, Friends relied heavily on periods of preaching with limited doses of silent waiting. These "public" or "threshing meetings" may have had similarities with the type of preaching-focused worship practiced by Baptists, Anabaptists and Calvinists.  Fox and other leading preachers, however, apparently made a practice of waiting in silence (though we cannot say how long) until God gave them the words that they were to deliver. More significantly Friends insisted on the need to refrain from preparing messages in advance, relying instead on the Spirit to guide them extemporaneously in the message they were to deliver in such meetings aimed at sharing the good news of what they had discovered with non-Friends..  From the extensive discussion of this subject in Barclay and other 17th century Friends' writing, it seems safe to assume that other Christian preachers routinely prepared their messages in advance.

When Friends gathered in "retired meetings" with already convinced Friends, on the other hand, their form of corporate worship differed radically from preaching-focused Protestant worship as well as the sacramentally-focused worship practiced by Roman Catholics and Anglicans.  In this second style of worship service, Friends settled into silence to open their hearts together to deep communion with the living Spirit of Christ.  When vocal prayer and preaching occurred in such worship gatherings, it sprang out of this closely-knit silent communion among the faithful.  Again, spoken messages were under the spontaneous direction of the Holy Spirit.  It is easy to understand why Barclay believed that this type of worship was the true form of worship in "spirit and in truth" that Jesus called on his followers to practice in John 4:23-4.

The living water of silent communion with God.  Earlier in the same "Woman at the Well" story Jesus tells the woman that he could have given her "living water" had she asked for it. She misses his point badly, thinking he is talking about a literal source of physical water.  He clarifies for her, however, that "the water that I will give will become [in those who ask for it and receive it] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." Jesus' words hearken back to Isaiah 55:1-2, where the prophet speaks about true spiritual food and drink, available without price.  (Early Friends, incidentally, also rejected the usual Christian principle that ministers should be paid for exercising their gifts.) 

When our hearts are knit together in powerfully gathered waiting worship do we not enter into living water and drink deeply from it?   What deeper spiritual refreshment could be available to us than this drawing on the living water that Christ offers us every time we gather with Friends to wait expectantly upon this gift? 

The bread of spirit-led vocal ministry.  A few verses later in John 4:31-38, Jesus' disciples are equally clueless when he starts talking about spiritual food. He says that "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."  He goes on to talk about the spiritual harvest that is ripe and waiting to be gathered. Again, Jesus' words are rooted in Isaiah 55:2-3 where the prophet says to "Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live."

If we hear authentic prophetic vocal ministry directed extemporaneously by God springing out of deeply gathered silent communion with God, we will be fed. If we are given this kind of ministry, listen to it, and heed it, then we will be directed by God in how we can address the great crises facing our world today. Where can we find (or nurture?) Friends willing to go out and reap this harvest today?  (I wrote a poem called The Harvest at the beginning of the new millennium on this subject.)  Is it surprising that many of our meetings are not growing if we are not feeding those who attend with the living bread of this kind of prophetic ministry that changes lives and the world?

Barclay cites the instructions that Jesus gave his early disciples in Mark 13:11 as clear indication that they will be given words that they can speak by the Holy Spirit.

Now, if Christ gave this order to his disciples before he departed from them, as that which they were to practice, during his abode outwardly with them, much more were they to do it after his departure, since then they were more especially to receive the Spirit "to lead them in all things" and to "bring all things to their remembrance" (John 14:26). And if they were to do so when they appeared before the magistrates and princes of the earth, much more in the worship of God, when they stand especially before him, seeing, as is above shown, his worship is to be performed in Spirit; and therefore, after their receiving of the Holy Ghost, it is said (Acts 2:4): "They spake as the Spirit gave them utterance," not what they had studied and gathered from books in their closets in a premeditated way.

In popular lay terms, prophecy is thought of as predicting the future. As the term is used biblically, however, prophecy means God speaking through an individual, using that individual as God's mouthpiece to communicate important truth to God's people. Clearly such prophecy is neither logically thought out nor does it spring from human wisdom.  In fact, I believe (as Barclay does) that the term prophecy as it is used in the Book of Acts and especially in the letters of Paul (e.g. in 1 Cor. 14) refers to the kind of spirit-led vocal ministry that was so evident amongst the first generation of Friends and that we aspire for, at times experience, and need much more of in our Quaker waiting worship today. 

Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus' first disciples are described in the gospels as baptizing with water. In Acts the new churches also utilize water baptism as an outward sign associated with entrance into the new faith community. In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.  In Acts 1:4-5 Jesus states: "But wait for the promise of the Father, which," saith he "ye have heard of me: for John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence." Believers in the new church are described through out Acts as experiencing two baptisms, the second being baptism of the Holy Spirit. 

It is usually assumed today that spirit baptism refers to speaking in tongues, drawing especially on the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. If we have experienced deeply gathered worship in God's presence, however, is this not baptism with the Holy Spirit?  As mentioned earlier, Jesus said in John 14:17-26 that when he left his followers he would send a Comforter in the form of the Holy Spirit. Are we not deeply comforted and nurtured by God's presence when our waiting worship is truly "covered"?

I have only limited experience with speaking in tongues. I recognize that it is deeply comforting and transforming to many Christians who experience it. For me personally, however, baptism with the Holy Spirit describes the worship we experience regularly amongst us during gathered meetings for worship, certainly far more than ecstatic speech.

Friends reject the need for water baptism.  We say that spiritual baptism is sufficient to provide us with the return to primordial chaos and fresh creation that water baptism symbolizes.  Past generations of Friends' journals often described a tumultuous period of self-doubt and dark discouragement prior to convincement or in the very early stages of spiritual transformation. God works with us, often painfully, in prayer and in shared worship to "accuse us" and help us to face blocks and rock-hard places within us as an important step in our growing loving relationship with God.  The spiritual baptism available to us in covered worship is the door to change and new birth for us, without the need to either be sprinkled with water or to enter into a font or a river. The way Barclay states this is that "this baptism is a pure and spiritual thing, to wit, the baptism of the Spirit and fire, by which we are buried with him, that being washed and purged from our sins, we may walk in newness of life..." [Apology, 12th Proposition "Concerning Baptism"]

Holy Communion.  Friends have never felt that the Last Supper story in Matt 26:26-8 required them to carry out a ritual with bread and wine. Friends like to say that we believe in spiritual rather than outward communion.  Is not our communion the experience of being knit together in covered worship? 

It is difficult, perhaps to, discern what Jesus meant in the words he spoke to his followers at the Last Supper.  When I have attended Episcopal mass from time to time (bless me Quaker fathers for I have sinned!), I have often been moved by these services.  Nonetheless, like Barclay, I find it impossible to believe that the same prophet who spoke the words to the Samaritan woman that worship henceforth must be in spirit and in truth intended the events that took place during his last hours with his closest disciples to be endlessly repeated as an outward ritual representing the primary or even exclusive way of entering into communion with God or of gaining access to redemptive transformation.

Need to listen in silence for God's voice.  In 1 King 19:11-13 God comes to the prophet Elijah in the wilderness not in a great wind or fire or earthquake but in the "sound of sheer silence" (NRSV) or a "still small voice" (KJV).  The gospels describe on a number of occasions situations where Jesus went into the desert or to lonely isolated places to pray.  Solitary prayer is similar, in a way, to the kind of stripping away that we do in the beginning of waiting worship, seeking to move to a place deep within us away from the day's - and the world's - worries, thoughts, and ideas to allow God to worry secretly within us.

Many of us object (as I expect Barclay might have) to referring to our form of worship as "silent worship".  We do not worship silence.  We worship the Living Christ, the God at the heart of All.  We do, however, need a period of silence to enable God to work within us and amongst us - preparing fallow ground for God's living water to knit us together and enabling us receive open-heartedly the sustenance of God's prophetic word through the mouths of those called to prophetic ministry.  If we do not enter deeply into silence, our ears are blocked, our hearts are not yet sufficiently opened to their inward Teacher, and we remain in our own human wisdom.  Barclay lists many additional biblical passages (see the appendix below) that point towards the importance of waiting on the Lord, use of silence, wordless prayer, and the necessity that spoken ministry be directed extemporaneously by God.

Although it is not difficult in reading the works of early Friends to determine the form that their worship took, it is much more difficult to know with any certitude what form worship took in the early Christian churches.  Early Friends may or may not have been correct in assuming that the form of worship they practiced was a return to the worship used in these early apostolic church communities.  Barclay marshals a convincing argument, however, to suggest that the early church did, in fact, take seriously Jesus' call to worship in spirit and in truth and place a high value on spirit-directed prophetic utterance as a critical source of guidance in their new Christian communities.  It is hard to imagine how different Christianity would be today if the Church had interpreted these New Testament passages over the millennia as early Friends did - and shaped its worship, as a result, in a manner similar to that which early Friends grew quickly into.

The same can be said of the Religious Society of Friends today.   It is hard to imagine how different the Religious Society of Friends would be today if Friends had continued to worship with the power, authority, and direct reliance on the Holy Spirit as they did in the 17th century.


Additional Biblical References in Barclay's Apology regarding Waiting Worship
[Note: all emphases below are my own, not Barclay's.]

Barclay lists a number of biblical quotations that support the importance of "waiting upon the Lord":

That to wait upon God, and to watch before him, is a duty incumbent upon all, I suppose none will deny; and that this also is a part of worship will not be called in question, since there is scarce any other so frequently commanded in the holy Scriptures, as may appear from Psalm 27:14; Psalm 37:7, 34; Proverbs 20:22; Isaiah 30:18; Hosea 12:6; Zacharaiah 3:8; Matt. 24:42; 25:13; 26:41; Mark 13:33,35,37; Luke 21:36; Acts 1:4; 20:31; 1 Cor. 16:13; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:6; 2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7. Also this duty is often recommended with very great and precious promises, as Psalm 25:3; 37:9; 69:6; Isaiah 40:31; Lamentations 3:25-26, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," &c. Now, how is this waiting upon God, or watching before him, but by this silence of which we have spoken? 

He goes on to clarify Friends' belief that praying and preaching must be preceded by silent waiting:

From what is said it doth appear how frivolous and impertinent their objection is, that say they wait upon God in praying and preaching [without actual waiting in silence], since waiting doth of itself imply a passive dependence, rather than an acting; and since it is, and shall yet be more shown, that preaching and praying without the Spirit is an offending of God not a waiting upon him, and that praying and preaching by the Spirit presupposes necessarily a silent waiting for to feel the motions and influence of the Spirit to lead thereunto. And lastly, that in several of these places where praying is commanded, as Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36; 1 Pet. 4:7, watching is specially prefixed, as a previous preparation thereunto. So that we do well and certainly conclude that since waiting and watching are so particularly commanded and recommended, and this cannot be truly performed but in this inward silence of the mind from [women and] men's own thoughts and imaginations, this silence is and must necessarily be a special and principal part of God's worship.

He addresses directly the suggestion that worship in silence is not found in Scripture:

I answer, we make not silence to be the sole matter of our worship, since, as I have above said, there are many meetings, which are seldom, if ever, altogether silent, some or other are still moved either to preach, pray, and praise, and so, in this, our meetings cannot be but like the meetings of the primitive churches recorded in Scripture, since our adversaries confess that they did preach and pray by the Spirit. And then, what absurdity is it to suppose that at some times the Spirit did not move them to these outward acts, and that then they were silent, since we may well conclude they did not speak until they were moved, and so no doubt had sometimes silence (Acts 2:1) before the Spirit came upon them, it is said, "They were all with one accord in one place"; and then it is said, "The Spirit suddenly came upon them"; but no mention is made of anyone speaking at that time, and I would willingly know what absurdity our adversaries can infer, should we conclude they were a while silent.

And that examples of a whole silent meeting cannot be found in Scripture:

I answer; supposing such a thing were not recorded, it will not therefore follow that it is not lawful, seeing it naturally followeth from other Scripture precepts, as we have proven this doth, for seeing the Scripture commands to meet together, and when met the Scripture prohibits prayers or preachings but as the Spirit moveth thereunto, if people meet together and the Spirit move not to such acts it will necessarily follow that they must be silent. But further, there might have been many such things among the saints of old though not recorded in Scripture, and yet we have enough in Scripture signifying that such things were. For Job sat silent seven days with his friends together (Job 2:13); here was a long silent meeting. See also Ezra 9:4 and Ezekiel 14:1 and 20:1. Thus having shown the excellency of this worship, proven it from Scripture and reason, and answered the objections which are commonly made against it, which though it might suffice to the explanation and probation of our proposition, yet I shall add something more particularly of preaching, praying, and singing, and so proceed to the following proposition.

On the difference between inward and outward prayer, and the critical importance of inward prayer as well as outward verbal expressions:

Prayer is twofold: inward and outward. Inward prayer is that secret [and silent] turning of the mind towards God whereby, being secretly touched and awakened by the Light of Christ in the conscience, and so bowed down under the sense of its iniquities, unworthiness, and misery, it looks up to God, and joining issue with the secret shinings of the Seed of God it breathes towards him and is constantly breathing forth some secret desires and aspirations towards him. It is in this sense that we are so frequently in Scripture commanded to "pray continually" (Luke 18:1; 1 Thess. 5:17; Eph. 6:18; Luke 21:36), which cannot be understood of outward prayer, because it were impossible that men should be always upon their knees, expressing words of prayer; and this would hinder them from the exercise of those duties, no less positively commanded. Outward prayer is when as the spirit (being thus in the exercise of inward retirement, and feeling the breathing of the Spirit of God to arise powerfully in the soul) receives strength and liberty, by a superadded motion and influence of the Spirit, to bring forth either audible sighs, groans or words, and that either in public assemblies, or in private.  [cf. Georffrey Kaiser's interesting article on the subject of audible sighing and groaning as these relate to singing in meeting for worship in the Sept. 2011 issue of Friends Journal.]

He quotes Paul's passage in the 8th chapter of Romans on the role the Spirit plays in our efforts to pray:

This necessity of the Spirit's moving and concurrence appears abundantly from that of the apostle Paul (Rom. 8:26-27): "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Which first, holds forth the incapacity of men [and women!], as of themselves, to pray or call upon God in their own wills, even such as have received the faith of Christ and are in measure sanctified by it, as was the Church of Rome, to whom the apostle then wrote. Secondly, it holds forth that which can only help and assist men to pray, to wit the Spirit, as that without which they cannot do it acceptably to God nor beneficially to their own souls. Thirdly, the manner and way of the Spirit's intercession, with "sighs and groans which are unutterable." And fourthly, that God receiveth graciously the prayers of such as are presented and offered unto himself by the Spirit, knowing it to be according to his will. Now it cannot be conceived but this order of prayer thus asserted by the apostle is most consistent with those other testimonies of Scripture commending and recommending to us the use of prayer.

On the necessity of the Spirit to true prayer in Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20,

where the apostle [Paul] commands to "pray always in the Spirit," and "watching thereunto"; which is as much as if he had said that we were never to pray without the Spirit or watching thereunto. And Jude showeth us that such prayers as are "in the Holy Ghost" only tend to the "building up of ourselves in our most holy faith."

Paul saith expressly (1 Cor. 12:3) that "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost." If then Jesus cannot be thus rightly named but by the Holy Ghost, far less can he be acceptably called upon. Hence the same apostle declares (1 Cor. 14:15) that he "will pray with the Spirit," &c. A clear evidence that it was none of his method to pray without it!

Paul suggests the danger of trying to understand matters of the spirit by "human wisdom".  He suggests that we can only be taught by the Holy Spirit.  Barclay cites several passages in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians where Paul emphasizes the importance of spiritual over human understanding, e.g. 1 Cor 1:17 and 1 Cor. 2:3-4 and 2:13.  In 1 Cor. 4 Paul also describes the key role that prophecy (which I have defined earlier in this essay as Spirit-directed vocal ministry) needs to play in Christian worship.

I suggested earlier in this essay that Barclay associated the term prophecy, as Paul uses it, with Spirit-directed vocal ministry in Quaker worship. Whether or not we agree with Barclay on this, it seems clear that he sees Paul's advices about worship in 1 Cor. 4 as describing a form of worship close, at least in spirit, to what he participated in regularly with the Friends of his own day. At the very least we can join with Barclay - and Paul - in believing that prophecy plays a critical role in shaping the life of the faith community.  Without it, we are without a sure guide, as a community and as a prophetic people capable of making a difference in our world today.

Excerpts on Vocal Ministry

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Excerpts from various YM disciplines on the subject of
Spirit-led Vocal Ministry

The EARLY disciplines of American YM's (those written before the 1827 schism) have a great deal in common in structure and language.  The issue of spirit-led ministry is addressed in sections specifically addressed to the meeting's ministers & elders, as these are considered the members with special responsibility for this area of meeting life.

Philadelphia YM:  "Ministers and elders watch over one another for good, to help those who are exercised in the ministry in the right line, discouraging forward spirits that run into words without life and power, advising against affectation in tones and gestures."

Each of these early American disciplines had special queries that were to be answered by the committee of ministers and elders, such as these:

Baltimore YM & New England YM:  "Are ministers, in the exercise of their gifts, careful to wait for divine ability and thereby preserved from being burthensome?"  ["Divine ability" is a term frequently used to refer to the specific calling from God to speak during meeting.]

New York YM [Do ministers & elders] "discourage forward persons whose communications do not proceed from the right authority?"  [Are the mtg's ministers] "careful to minister in the ability which truth gives?"

Later, perhaps in response to the concerns generated by the Hicksite-Orthodox split, the emphasis seems to shift from divine ability or leading to asking whether ministry is "sound in word and doctrine".

I particularly like this version from Virginia YM's 1814 discipline:  [Ministers and elders should exhort the meeting's ministers to] "earnestly seek the mind of the spirit of truth to open the mysteries thereof, that abiding in a simple and patient submission to the divine will, and keeping down to its opening of love and life in themselves, they may witness a gradual growth in their gifts, and be preserved from extending their declarations further than the power of truth shall be experienced to accompany them."

Here are three fine excerpts from MODERN DISCIPLINES

Pacific YM (1985) and North Pacific (1993) include the query: "Is the vocal ministry exercised under the divine leading of the Holy Spirit without pre-arrangement and in the simplicity and sincerity of truth?"

New York YM (1998) asks: "Are we careful that our ministry is under the leading of the Holy Spirit?"  Direction is also offered: "Friends are advised to observe our Christian testimony for a faithful ministry of the gospel under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Members are reminded that all have a responsibility in ministry." This same query was strengthened in the 1986 revision of New England's discipline.

A very similar query was among the queries adopted jointly for use by the Hicksite and Orthodox YM's of Philadelphia in 1948 but was dropped from the 1997 revision. 

(Although I was unable to discern from those on the revision committee the reasons why it was dropped, my strong suspicion is that this was due to a deep-seated discomfort with "judging" the quality of others' spoken ministry within the meeting.  I attempted without success to urge Philadelphia YM, which I was a member of at the time, to reintroduce this important query to their discipline during a minor revision around the year 2001.  This is an interesting commentary on the difficulty many Friends today have, even those on ministry and worship committees, feeling the authority to actively nurture the quality of waiting worship and vocal ministry within their meeting.)

Britain YM does not appear to address the issue directly in its discipline.

Although Ohio YM still has committees of ministers & elders, its 1992 discipline no longer has specific queries for ministers & elders.  Ohio' general queries do not really address the quality of vocal ministry directly.  The following instruction is provided, however, in the section on Meeting for Worship:  "Though the nearness to God may result in spoken ministry or vocal prayer, the distinctive excellence of heavenly favor consists in the direct communication with the Heavenly Father by the inward revelation of the Spirit of Christ."  The same message is reinforced later:  "Vocal service in such a meeting, whether prayer or exhortation or teaching, should be uttered under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit." 

Created for as a handout for a course entitled "Gospel Order Exploring Some Challenging Issues in Quaker Faith & Practice" offered at London Grove (PA) Meeting, Jan. 14-Mar.18, 2001.  For the full curriculum for this course see: Gospel Order Course

Nurturing the Gift of Vocal Ministry

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Nurturing the Gifts of Vocal Ministry

The Quaker Movement grew explosively during its first few decades. A key reason was that it included a large number of charismatic public ministers willing and able to communicate powerfully the basic message of the new movement. The men and women who made up the Valiant Sixty crisscrossed England and neighboring countries preaching in inns, marketplaces, religious debates, courtrooms and the meetinghouses or steeplehouses of other Christian groups. On one afternoon in June 1652 on a windswept field in an isolated area of Northern England, George Fox preached for about three hours to over a thousand people. Many were members of the loose religious movement called the Westmorland Seekers. A large number of those present were "convinced" by Fox's message and became key players in the movement that in a sense was born on that day.

Early Quaker journals and other writings are filled with accounts of the way in which people were deeply affected by such messages. Clearly, these Friends were able to be vessels of God's voice in a way we rarely , if ever, see today.

Although exponential growth of the Quaker movement came to an end by the latter part of the 17th century, inspired vocal ministry, including public ministry to non-Friends, did not. Later Quaker writings often give expression to the deep impact of a message in meeting for worship or delivered by a Friend "traveling in the ministry". It was not at all uncommon for Friends to rent large halls and publicize meetings when a powerful minister traveled to their area. Many non-Friends joined Quakers as a result of hearing such Friends speak.

I believe there is a deep longing for the Quaker message in the world today. I also believe there is a tremendous need for inspired ministry within the Society of Friends. What, if anything, are Friends doing today to encourage or nurture such gifts among us?

Spirit-led Vocal Ministry

The disciplines of all of the larger unprogrammed yearly meetings in the United States include some form of a query along the lines of this one:

"Is the vocal ministry in the meeting exercised under the leading of the divine Spirit?"

I have discovered that Friends have very different reactions to this query. Many Friends feel that this query zeroes in on the very essence of Meeting for Worship. There are quite a few Friends, however, who find the query offensive and threatening to their concept of Quaker meeting. "How dare someone question or evaluate whether my ministry is from God?" Such Friends express a fear that some Friends will act as judges or censors stifling the true workings of the Spirit in the Meeting.

More disturbing to me is the fact that the query simply makes no sense to many Friends. I think it is fair to say that many Friends in unprogrammed meetings feel they have no idea what spirit-led vocal ministry means. The fact that Friends cannot tell whether they have ever heard spirit-led ministry is to me a likely indication that they have not. I know that when I first heard deeply inspired ministry, I was simply bowled over. Even though I had grown up as a Friend and had been attending meeting all my life, I felt I was hearing and experiencing something radically different than the messages I had been hearing in meeting all those years or the talks delivered at Quaker gatherings.

I do not claim to have a perfect ability to discern when the Holy Spirit inspires a message and when the message comes only from the mind of the speaker. There are times when I have felt out of sorts or completely unmoved by a Meeting where others appear to have been deeply affected. But there are many, many occasions over the past few decades where I have been blessed to be present when messages have been given that I did not feel came from the ideas or intentions of the person giving them. It's not that the brain of the person speaking was not involved - it was simply that I felt something on a very different level was happening. As a result I will never doubt the meaning or the critical importance of the above query.

Recording the Gift of Vocal Ministry

It is interesting that this query that exists in so many YM disciplines today is of fairly recent origin. It is not present in any of the 19th century disciplines. This may well be because Friends assumed without question that vocal ministry would be given in this way. In many meetings during the past the bar may have been "too high" for vocal utterance so that Friends were intimidated to speak*, rather than "too low" as often seems to be the case today.

Another reason, however, why the question was not included in early disciplines' general queries to meetings was because Friends at the time had a very different way of nurturing inspired ministry in the meeting. This earlier approach had two key dimensions:
1. The formal recognition by the meeting of those having a special gift in this area and
2. The ongoing practice of oversight and nurture of such recognized ministers' use of this gift.

The practice of formally recognizing a gift of ministry seems to have begun in England in the early 18th century. Its beginnings lend credence to those today who see the practice as fundamentally antidemocratic. A regular Meeting for Worship known as "Second Day Morning Meeting" was held at the time in London for any outstanding Quaker leaders who happened to be in London at the time. This meeting for worship was seen as a special place for mutual nurture and support among those Friends exercising the gifts of vocal ministry. Some Friends felt that certain Friends speaking in this meeting were not doctrinally sound. As a result a rule was established (after much wrangling at the YM level) whereby only those Friends who had been formally recognized as having a gift for vocal ministry by their local monthly meeting were permitted to speak in Second Day Morning Meeting.

The practice of officially recognizing the gift of ministry continued in most unprogrammed meetings for the next 200 years. It often served a very positive function. It enabled those with a real gift in this area to receive support and nurture to develop and carry out their gift through out their lives.

Ongoing Nurture of Gifts through "Eldering"

Certain Friends were seen as having a special gift of recognizing and supporting those with the gift of vocal ministry. These Friends have often been identified with the Meeting's elders, although obviously there is no guarantee that the individuals appointed to this formal office are individuals who, in fact, have genuine spiritual gifts in this area. Nonetheless, the Meeting elders were given the job of recommending to the meeting the names of Friends for recording as ministers.

After the monthly meeting concurred in recording Friends as ministers, the ministers met regularly with the meeting elders. The "Meetings of Ministers & Elders" were an occasion to pray and reflect on the spiritual life of the meeting and the meeting for worship in particular. It was also an opportunity for the elders and fellow ministers to provide support for the meeting's ministers around the ways in which the ministers were exercising their gifts in the vocal ministry. This could include prayerful discussion of any blocks that had developed in an individual minister's gift, any leadings to carry a message to other meetings, or any perceived sense that a minister was speaking more than the words provided by the divine spirit. These groups thus provided a powerful opportunity for mutual accountability, with Meeting members holding other members to the fire to be living out the gifts that had been given to them to the fullest and in the right spirit as guided by God. This is not unlike what often occurs today in clearness committees intended to help an individual meeting member discern the voice of God in an important personal decision. Meetings of Ministers & Elders also took place regularly on the quarterly meeting and YM level.

This process is well illustrated by this passage from Virginia YM's 1814 discipline: [Ministers and elders should exhort the meeting's ministers to] "earnestly seek the mind of the spirit of truth to open the mysteries thereof, that abiding in a simple and patient submission to the divine will, and keeping down to its opening of love and life in themselves, they may witness a gradual growth in their gifts, and be preserved from extending their declarations further than the power of truth shall be experienced to accompany them."

Abuse and Change

The practice of recording ministers and providing support through eldering was by no means an unmitigated positive force in the history of Friends practice. In many areas elders and ministers evolved into a kind of second category of membership, exercising fairly tight control over the life of the Quaker community, particularly on the YM level. In the Hicksite YM's in particular, the ministers & elders came to be seen as a conservative force that resisted change and fresh ideas. Many of the Hicksite YM's, in fact, dwindled and were laid down towards the latter part of the 19th century. Opposition to the practice grew and it largely was abandoned by 1900 in the Hicksite YM's and by the 1930's in the unprogrammed Orthodox YM's in London and Philadelphia. The practice continued in its original form only in the Wilburite ("Conservative") YM's in Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina. (It continues to be utilized in pastoral YM's as well but for a very different purpose - as a kind of Quaker substitute for ordination procedures.)

Renewed Interest in Recording and Eldering

The impetus, of course, for abolishing the practice is the assumption that all Friends are ministers and that God may choose to use any of us as channels for God's divine instruction of the community. The great risk, however, is that in assuming that all have equal gifts for a particular ministry, we may end up having no ministers at all. Our present system does not appear to this writer to be raising up outstanding public ministers among us of the kind that played such a powerful role in shaping our movement in the past.

In recent years there has been a minor renewal of interest among the liberal American YM's in the practice of recording gifts of vocal ministry. This interest has been strongest in NEYM where perhaps as many as a half dozen Friends have been in the last couple of decades.

My own monthly meeting in Philadelphia YM is seriously considering recording one of its members. This particular Friend has extraordinary gifts in this area. He has not only exercised his gift often in our own meeting but has traveled extensively among Friends elsewhere. **{His gift is so obvious to me and many others in the meeting that I did not know whether recording would be meaningful to him. To my surprise, this Friend wept when the idea was raised and he indicated how much it would mean to him. }

When the idea was first raised in monthly meeting, I expected there to be considerable resistance to it. A number of the older members of our Meeting, however, remember vividly the recorded ministers of our meeting who had been active in the meeting when they first attended here and the tremendous impact they had on the spiritual life of the meeting at the time. These members have recognized this particular Friend as being cut from the same mold. I also discovered to my surprise that our current YM discipline still contains a fine passage authorizing recording (although it states that it is "rarely utilized today") with the emphasis being rightly placed on the ways in which the meeting can nurture the minister's gifts after recording takes place.

Chuck Fager among others has expressed deep reservations about the idea of reviving the practice of recording ministers. Chuck is acutely aware of the antidemocratic abuses that developed from the practice, particularly in Hicksite YM's in the 19th century. He has expressed the fear that recording ministers will create a new elite enforcing spiritual orthodoxy on others in our movement. Chuck's aritcle

I have not heard anyone advocating, however, that a multi-layered structure of ministers & elders meetings be re-established in Quakerism today or that any particular prerogatives be given to Friends who might be recorded. If anything, my sense is that recording is seen as one way of recognizing and nurturing a variety of spiritual gifts within the life of the meeting. In our own YM informal gatherings of those interested in ministry and eldering are held every few months. I am told that these meetings for worship have been powerfully touched by the spirit and have continued for several hours!

Whether or not any Meetings in New Zealand are interested in the formal act of recording, I hope Meetings are taking seriously the ways they are nurturing the vocal ministry of the Meeting - including the particular gifts of individual members. These queries may be helpful:


1. Is the Meeting open to the possibility that God may give specific messages to specific individuals? Has the Meeting experienced spirit-led vocal ministry during its meetings for worship?
2. How does the meeting recognize and nurture the particular spiritual gifts of its members? Is a gift for vocal ministry considered along with other special gifts of members (such as clerking, nurture of young people, counsel & support for those experiencing hard times, intercessory prayer or the ability to discern gifts in others)?
3. If a member does have a special gift in vocal ministry, how would the meeting support and nurture the flowering of that gift? How could it provide support if the gift became blocked in some way?
4. Do you feel the bar for speaking in your meeting for worship is too high (so that Friends with inspired messages may feel inhibited to express them) or too low (so that frequent messages coming from a different place may get in the way of divinely inspired ministry occurring)?
5. Does the ministry and worship committee feel empowered to keep tabs on the extent to which worship is deeply gathered and vocal ministry inspired by God? If the committee discerned the need for change in these areas, what actions might it take?
6. Do we see it as possible that our Quaker movement could be given Elizabeth Hootens or Edward Burroughs or James Parnells in our day?


Marty Grundy, Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry & Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, Pendle Hill Pamphlet # 347, 1999.
The Spring 2000 issue of The New England Friend is about the practice of recording gifts in the ministry. This can be viewed at the NEYM website.
Samuel Bownas, A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister, 1750. Reprinted by Pendle Hill Publications in 1989 with an introduction by William Taber (who was himself a recorded minister in Ohio YM).

Appeared first in New Zealand Friends Newsletter, 84:8 September 2001.

Differences between Ministry and Eldering

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Type of gift



Vocal messages in worship

Broad, extensive



Increasing faith:

Encouraging right beliefs & immediate relationship with God

Increasing faithfulness:

Encouraging acting in & from right beliefs

Message conveyed

God's Truth

God's Way

Emphasis (usually, not always)



Mode (usually)

Public, general

Private, personal

Part of the "body" emphasized

Mouth (speaking)

Ear (listening)

Birthing image

Mother:  delivering God's message

Midwife:  Encouraging, admonishing, clarifying; maintaining right conditions for "birth"

Agricultural image

Pouring feed into trough

Guiding into green pastures & away from thorns


- Compiled by Susan Smith, 4th Month 2001

On Praying for Others

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I noticed something not long ago which surprised me: Vocal intercessory prayer appears to be experiencing a major revival among liberal unprogrammed meetings!  Friends may not recognize it as such.  The language used to refer to it varies from meeting to meeting, but often runs something like the following:  "Please hold my friend Jane in the light. She's going through a really hard time with her youngest child." Or, "My father is going into surgery on Thursday morning for his prostate cancer: I would ask you to hold him in your hearts during his surgery." 

This language may have a bit of a New Age ring to it. in my view, however, the same deep process is at work whether the speaker is asking others to pray for someone explicitly or asking them to hold her/him "up to the Light".  After all, what is this "Light" we are holding the person in or up to if not God? 

Some meetings provide a special time for this kind of request or information sharing following meeting for worship.  It may be called "twilight meeting" or "joys and sorrows".  Sometimes such requests are made during meeting for worship itself. They may enter in between introductions and announcements.  Other meetings set aside a completely different time such as a prayer group or healing circle for sharing these kinds of requests.

All this praying for others started me reflecting on what it actually means to bring up another person's needs to God.  If you think about it, mentioning someone's needs to God involves some deep paradoxes.  The first paradox of intercessory prayer involves what theologians call "omniscience."  If you believe (as I do) that God knows all about us including all of our needs even better than we do, why should we need to tell God about our own or someone else's special needs? 

The second basic paradox of intercessory prayer involves the equality of God's regard for all of her/his children. Since we assume that God loves all of humanity (perhaps even all of Creation) equally, it seems wrong that God would direct more healing or caring energy towards one person than other just because one - or even many - people are praying for that individual.

A great puzzle that many of us struggle with is whether God can, in fact, resuce indiviual humans from death despair, illnesss or suffering.  Because we believe God's concern and love for us are without limit, we presume that God longs for each of us to be happy and healthy - to live long and, as far as possible, free from unnecessary pain.  Nonetheless, there may be fundamental reasons why God either might not choose or might not be able to rescure individuals from suffering and death. This is something that both theologians and simple people of faith have been wrestling with for centuries. The reasons, however, why healing fails to occur in a specific instance are unlikely to include either God's unfamiliarity with the problem or the shortage of supportive friends and family praying for the person in need.

Some people avoid needing to wrestle with these questions about the nature of God because they focus on another important benefit of prayer.  This involves the good that flows towards those being prayed for from sensing the love and caring in the hearts of those who are praying for them.  Certainly we know that people heal more easily and flourish emotionally when they know others care about them.  There has been significant scientific research that suggests that those who are ill or in pain receive benefit from others praying for them even when they do not know by any direct outward means that others are doing this.  My own family has extraordinary stories of hearts knit together across distance that is hard to explain: such as people who knew the moment that a loved one was dying at a great distance.  As real and important as such indirect benefits of prayer are, I personally am unable to leave God out of the prayer process. 

Another important reason why many of us pray is because we have been asked to do so:  Jesus, Paul, Francis of Assisi, Fox and many other great spiritual leaders have enjoined us to pray for one another.  But again, this cannot be an entire answer.  It is important for most of us to understand the deeper reasons why we are doing something, even if we feel great trust in those who have asked us to do this. And so I am brought back to the original question, why am I praying in relation to the God who is at the heart of my universe and what am I hoping will happen as a result?

Perhaps when we pray for another what we are asking for above all is not for God to do something different with that person.  God is already doing what needs to happen: loving that person, sending her/him healing energy and reassurance and hope.  Perhaps what we are asking for is something to change in the heart of the person being prayed for - to enable her/him to receive the love and healing that are flowing already from God.   In some cases this may involve being able to face suffering or death if that will be the ultimate outcome.  Or it may be that what we are praying for is a transformation in the situation that will enable the prayer recipient to open up her/his heart toward God and toward the universe without fear and anxiety. 

But when we pray we are also inviting a change to happen in ourselves. I learned this additional reason for praying for each other from my limited understanding of Al-Anon, the network of support groups for family members of alcoholics.  Family members often discover that they have been trying for years to rescue a family member from her/his addiction.  They sometimes find this a critical, though very difficult, step to ending their codependency with their loved one's addiction.  This can lead to finally reaching the point where they are ready and able to turn their loved one struggling with addiction over to God.  When we pray for someone else we are asking God to work in that person's heart for healing and change rather than trying to take on the responsibility for change ourselves. 

So when we pray, we express our longing for God to work change in our own lives and hearts as much as in the heart and life of the person we're praying for.  We are asking for the capacity to let go of our own anxiety, fear, or the sense that we are ultimately responsible for our loved one. We are asking our community of faith to join with us in placing the entire situation at God's feet: bringing about a graceful willingness both in ourselves and in the person in need to lean on God and let go of fear or whatever may be interfering with God's powerful love touching all who are involved.

© 2000 Peter Blood   Published in Friends Journal, August 2000

Ministers and Elders at NYYM

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Experiences of the relationships of minister and elders

at New York Yearly Meeting Sessions 1991

by Jan Hoffman

When a message is to be offered to a gathered people, there are two motions necessary to its faithful delivery.  The first is the rising up of the message from deep within the speaker / minister.  The second is the drawing out of that message by elders.  These are people who nurture the place in the minister from which the message will arise and are attentive in preparing both the physical surroundings and the listening hearts in the attenders so that the minister's message can be fully liberated. 

This story tells of one experience I have had with these two motions.

Sometime in 1990, I was asked to give a series of three talks on corporate discernment to the 1991 sessions of New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM).  When I asked God if he had a message for me to give to New York Yearly Meeting, the response was "Yes," so I accepted.  After I accept such service, I ask God for guidance about the "eldering function" for that occasion.  What will help draw out my message most faithfully?  I know that while some of the message will come up through my own efforts, I need eldering to draw out most faithfully what it is I am to say.

Established Relationships with Elders

In this case, I knew that substantial eldering would come from a group of elders from my own Yearly Meeting with whom I had worked before.  Bill Kreidler, Fred Evans, Chuck McCorkle and myself had met often as a group, with three of us serving as elder for the one who was the "minister" (i.e. the one who had accepted a call to speak).  So when I informed them of my decision to speak at NYYM, I knew their prayer support would began immediately - that I would be rightly led in my preparation and faithful in delivery.  So as I prepared, I had a sense of the prayers of all three sustaining me. 

As it happened, Bill was also speaking at NYYM that year, so the prayers of the group had a double focus, and I had a particular sense of relationship to Bill since we would each be both minister and elder at those sessions. 

Another piece of eldering - of drawing out my message - was getting to know NYYM as much as I could, taking them into prayer, and allowing this heart knowledge of the Yearly Meeting to draw out what I might say.  So I asked to receive the minute books from 1989 and 1990 and a subscription to Spark, the YM newsletter.  I also asked that the state of society reports for 1989 be sent, as well as the state of society reports for 1990 as came in. Thus my own preparation began, both taking New York's "condition" into my heart and prayers after reading these materials, and allowing texts relevant to corporate discernment to rise up in me - which I then put in a folder to await further discernment. Much of this guidance happened in my prayer time, recorded in my prayer journal.


The Message Arrives Early

Quite early on in my prayers, I asked God what message he had for me to offer NYYM.  The response: "Tell them to repent."  "Well, you can forget about my giving that message," said I.  The second message God gave me was, "Tell them God loves every single one of them."  I immediately expressed my willingness to deliver that one.

As the work of letting a message rise up continued, I felt sustained by the prayers of my elders, though I rarely spoke with them.  The following description submitted earlier for the May issue of Spark shows the clarity I had reached by that point:

A Gathered People: Corporate Discernment Among Friends

As Friends, we have chosen not only to affirm and live out our individual integrity according to the faith we have been given through our life experience.  We have also chosen to live out our truth in a community of faith which seeks to affirm and live out a corporate integrity which is not the sum of the individual truths of its constituent parts, but a truth revealed to the corporate body gathered in worship.        

These three sessions will focus on the image of a gathered people seeking truth together. The first session will be reflections on Quaker history, some dynamics of meetings for worship with attention to business as I have experienced them, an exploration of the grounding necessary for corporate discernment, and disciplines which can help us find corporate truth.  I leave the second and third sessions to continuing revelation, though my sense at this moment is that they will be based on the experience of the actual sessions of the Yearly Meeting. My hope is that we will all be seeking truth together as we try to better perceive who we are as a gathered people and see more clearly our corporate call.

In May, Bill and Chuck and Fred and I met all day for an eldering session, first focusing on Bill, and then on me.  Fred would be accompanying Bill to NYYM, and would elder for both of us until he left with Bill, which would be after two of my three talks.  At this meeting, I received clarity about taking some handouts to accompany my talks.  My elders also affirmed the sense given in my description that I would only be given a clear sense of the first talk, and the other two would come out of the NYYM sessions themselves, when elders would be present to work with me. 

An Additional Elder Appears

In addition to these elders chosen by me, God sent an additional elder.  I received a letter from Carol Holmes, a women from NYYM I knew only slightly who said she was led to come to NYYM that year specifically to elder for me - so that added a third elder to Bill and Fred at the sessions besides the one praying at home (Chuck). 

A week before NYYM sessions began in July, Carol sent me a letter ("It came on me in worship today to write you a letter").  Her letter contained many things she had been led to tell me, from spiritual realities to the rhythm of the day at Silver Bay and the traditions and expectations of New York Friends to "Bring a beach towel if you want to swim."  This grounded me in the realities surrounding the release of my message and made me feel more at ease with an unfamiliar place.

The Message Persists

As I usually do, I took a retreat for some days before leaving for Silver Bay, allowing the first talk to clarify a bit more in me, and to feel consistently the place where my message would arise from.  On the retreat, the two messages God wanted me to give NYYM were still crystal clear:  "Remember God loves every one of you," and "Repent."  I still was eager to deliver the first and fighting with God about delivering the second.

Once arrived at Silver Bay, I ran into Bill and Fred almost immediately and reassured them of my prayers and presence as they reassured me of theirs.  We were also clear that their place during my talks would be in the front row, gazing encouragingly up at me - a solid presence to remind me of their prayers.  Also almost immediately, Carol Holmes appeared to remind me of her call to elder for me and to urge me to ask her for anything I needed.  Meanwhile, she would be praying for me. 

I spent the evening before my first talk with the person who was to introduce me. We began with simple conversation, as she asked questions about my spiritual life and journey toward faithfulness.  I then articulated the piece of eldering she could do to nourish that faithfulness here:  Arrive 30 minutes early to begin worship with me.  Be sure there was water on the podium.  Arrange for the set-up and sound test to be done earlier in the day.  In introducing me, she was not to focus on me personally, but to open the space in people's hearts into which I could speak.  She would also be responsible for closing meeting. 

For the beginning of the first session, the person introducing me did well everything we had spoken of the previous evening, and in introducing me did indeed open up a wonderfully deep space into which I could speak.   I was a little uneasy when she walked down into the body of the meeting after introducing me, so that I was alone on the stage, but there was such an atmosphere of prayer that I did not feel alone. 

The First Talk: Sustained and Faithful

For this first talk, I felt sustained and faithful. Normally when I speak I do not have a prepared text, but only "anchor threads" on paper. Then I'm led at the time to more extensive words - and in this case, I felt rightly led.  As part of the message given, I spoke one of the specific phrases given me:  "Remember God loves every one of you."

This talk was at 3:00 in the afternoon, and the second was the next afternoon at 3:00.  I saw Bill and Fred only briefly after this talk, as Bill was beginning preparation for his talk that evening, and I turned my attention to prayer and grounding for him.  I began serious preparation of my second talk on Tuesday morning, and was not nearly as clear at the conclusion of this preparation that I was close to the message God wanted.  The key words at the top of my page were "authority," "fear," and "evil."

Panic in the Second

When I arrived early for the second talk, expecting my elders, nothing was set up, and I felt very alone.  I began opening windows, moving the clerks' table and chairs off the stage, finding the podium.  Bill and Fred and Carol had somehow all been prevented from arriving early, so that we were not able to settle into worship until quite close to the time I was scheduled to speak.

Since no one from Ministry and Counsel had spoken to me about closing meeting, I fortunately had the foresight to ask Bill and Fred to close meeting if no one else did.  There was good reason in the old days for the responsibility of closing meeting to be given to the elders: as a minister, I know that when I have faithfully delivered a message, I am often exhausted spiritually, and need to just sink into the worship.  The necessity of closing meeting requires a complete switch of focus, from a focus on what is coming up in me to a focus on the group in order to discern when worship is over.  Elders can focus on the Spirit moving in the group during the entire worship and thus are more fitted to close it. 

Once we were settled into worship, I realized all three elders were in the body of the meeting.  Thus I was alone on the stage, and felt this keenly, which increased my sense of unease.  I prayed to feel God's presence and tried to remember the elders in the body of the meeting holding me in that Presence. 

During the talk, it seemed to me that I looked at my paper more than usual, yet didn't see things.  I seemed not to discern from a centered or grounded place.  At one point I realized I might just go on talking about the "organics" of meeting for business and not ever get to fear and authority, which was the rhythm God had given me for the talk.  At this point I said to those gathered, "I need your help.  I realize I could go on talking about meeting for business and not go on to fear and authority because I think I'm afraid of what I might be given to say ."  I was not able to feel such help forthcoming.

At the conclusion of my second talk, I burst into tears.  I felt terrible; hot, tired, sweaty and confused, and unclear if I was faithful - even though people were coming up to say how much they appreciated what I said.  When they went away, I was left with Carol and Bill and Fred - and I wept, "I was unfaithful.  For the first talk at least 'repent' was on the paper.  Today it wasn't even on the paper." 

An Elder Clarifies

Carol then asked, "But who in that room was more faithful than you?  Those who listen need to be faithful, too.  You can take some responsibility, but not all of it."

I said, "Yesterday I felt the group call me out.  Today I didn't feel that." 

Carol replied, "That's right.  You weren't called out.  Maybe the right listeners weren't there."  I then mentioned a conversation I'd had with someone wondering what to do with the suspicion that he was abused as a child.  I'd said, "Wait and pray.  You need to have the right people listen you into your truth - therapist, friends, whoever.  Sometimes you can't let your own truth out unless someone draws/ listens it out."

Carol commented,  "Did you hear what you just said?  That's what happened to you this afternoon."

Time to Go Swimming

Fred and Bill said, "Time to go swimming."   They took my sense of unfaithfulness seriously, but affirmed that what I said sounded clear and good from the outside.  Fred made a distinction between my speculating whether my message made sense - which it did - and my feelings about it, which only I know and would have to deal with.  However, they felt it was time to stop speculating and move our bodies, so they took me swimming in Lake George where we just floated about, letting go - a wonderful release.

I had a free day before my third talk was to be given, and so began the process of trying to listen for God again and faithfully speak what I was given to say.  In my own private worship the next morning, it came clear to me that I had not been faithful and that I needed to apologize to the meeting and ask for help - to repent, in fact.  Thus God was raising up in me a feeling condition of the message of repentance I was being asked to give.       

Prepare to Deliver Any Message

I called Kenneth, an elder in Philadelphia, to say I'd been unfaithful and asked for his guidance.  He said, "First, do not be afraid.  I know you know this, but I'm reminding you.  Second, I do not know if 'repent' is the message God is calling you to give, but I do know that until you are willing to deliver any message, you won't know if it is the message you are to give.  So there's your work - being willing to deliver any message - and I'll pray for you.  Remember also that God works through unfaithful people."

I also told Kenneth that I felt I might not be given a message with a "flow" to it, but some words on one subject, then silence - then words on another unrelated subject, then silence.  His advice: "If you speak and then have silence, think of yourself as clerk: don't let the meeting go.  Hold it in that silence with you."   

So I opened myself to give any message, and then I met with Fred and Bill.  They said, "Well, if you were to tell NYYM to repent, what might you say?"  Then words started coming out of me, drawn out by their listening.  When the flow stopped, they said, "That sounds right to us."  They were leaving Silver Bay immediately after this meeting with me, but assured me of their prayers and their faith in my capacity to be faithful.

Do Not Do This Alone

That night I woke up in the middle of the night with a message, "You can't be alone on that stage again.  You need to ask Carol to find people to sit up there with you to ground you and hold you in prayer."  This message repeated one I had been given in prayer, but apparently had forgotten.  In my prayer journal June 3 I wrote, "You need to have elders praying behind you at NYYM for you to be faithful - and to ask those in the body who feel such a call to do so as well.  There is a danger of evil.  Leave an item when you are no longer in worship about it, since that's when the spirit of strife and confusion enters."

At breakfast before I could find Carol, she came to find me.  "It came to me last night that you can't be up there on that stage alone and that I am to find people to sit there and in the audience to pray for you.  And I'm supposed to say some words before you speak." 

In addition to persons she asked through her own discernment, some came to her during the day to say, "It came to me that I'm supposed to pray for Jan Hoffman.  Do you know how I might do that?"  Again, God does much of the work, and we just have to accept it gratefully.

When I came into the room 30 minutes before the third talk, there were people on the stage and some in the audience, already in worship - so I entered a living silence in which for 30 minutes I could be with the message that was about to emerge, feeling held in a deep way.  I felt tremendous power in the prayer around me, and the possibility of a faithful, deep message being drawn out.

A Call to Deepen the Silence

Near the conclusion of that period of worship, Carol spoke, "In the kind of ministry that Jan Hoffman is bringing to us, it may feel more comfortable to understand that if Jan should go into silence while she is speaking, it's a call to center down with her, to deepen the silence, and to deepen the prayer around her.  If she should ask, as she did on Tuesday, Friends to call the message out, this would not be a verbal calling out, this would be calling out by virtue of a listening heart."

So my third talk began with the words, "I feel myself so bathed in prayer at this moment that I don't feel the need to verbalize one" (as I had the other days).  That sense of prayer was definitely the many elders at work, seeding a listening prayer that others in the room could join and make stronger.


Then I continued by confessing my own unfaithfulness in the second talk and my need to repent of this unfaithfulness - which I then did.  I spoke some of my own efforts and those of others who had enabled this return, with God's grace and guidance.  Then I spoke the message God had given me for NYYM: "Repent."  Then a message that I had spoken the second day in anger - "I'm tired of hearing about your differences and your diversity" - was transformed in the third talk through my repentance and reconnection to God's love into "It's time to stop talking and start praying."  Thus God led me through my own need to repent before I could speak that message - "Repent" - to NYYM, using many elders as his instruments in the liberation of that message.


Some of those elders had no conception of what power lay in the exercise of the gift of "drawing out." I later asked one of those who had been eldering from the audience about her experience.  She said, "I felt weird about doing this because I've never done anything like this before, but the strangest thing happened.  A question would come into my mind, and the next moment you would answer it, as if I had spoken it aloud."

"Yes, that's exactly how it can work," I responded.

I hope this story illustrates how necessary elders are to a minister in bringing a message to birth.  They must work together, each with his or her own function, to bring to life the message intended for a given meeting.  There are usually unexpected twists and turns along the way, challenges of cowardice or lack of faith, and much unexpected grace and mercy.  In the end, the fruits of the effort will hopefully be a sense that everyone was faithful together, participating in a larger Life which blesses and empowers.


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Quote that speaks to me

Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies

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They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  
Death cannot kill what never dies.  
Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  
For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
 - William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude, 1702.

Note: This passage was quoted by J.K.Rowling as the epigraph of her novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Braithwaite on Outreach

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Men & Women with a Message of Power

It is as a "religion of life" that Quakerism will be presented in the future and is being presented now.

Its distinguishing note will be its resolve to bring all this human life of ours under the transforming power of spiritual life.  It will stand out against all divisions and compartments that separate the sacred from the secular, the sanctuary from the outward world of nature, the sacrament from the days' common work, the clergy from the laity. 

It will tell of a Christian experience that makes all life sacred and all days holy, all nature a sanctuary, all work a sacrament, and gives to every man and woman in the body fit place and service.  Its concern will be to multiply men and women who will have a message of power because they are themselves the children of light.  It will claim the whole of man's life, and the whole of life, individual, social, national international, for the dominion of the will of God.

William C. Braithwaite and Henry T. Hodgkin, The Message and Mission of Quakerism (Philadelphia, Winston, 1912), 25-26.