Vocal Ministry in the Meeting for Worship
The dynamic, spoken word has always had an important place in bearing witness to the faith of Quakers. When nurtured in prayer, our vocal ministry has the power to change life. Vocal messages can be as effective in a few halting but spiritually filled words as in the most learned and articulate message given in a meeting for worship. Friends should be encouraged to share in the gift of vocal ministry.
No Quenching of the Spirit
When we gather together in worship let us remember that there is committed to each of us, as disciples of Christ, a share in the priesthood. We should help one another, whether in silence or through spoken prayer or words of ministry. Let none of us assume that vocal ministry is never to be our part.
Our daily lives should be linked with the meeting for worship. Day by day we can dwell prayerfully on thoughts which may at some time lead to ministry. We should try to discern and to interpret the spiritual meaning of the movements of thought and action at work in the world around us, entering into understanding sympathy with our fellow worshippers.
If the call comes, there should be no quenching of the spirit; the sense of our own unworthiness must not exempt us from this service, nor the fear of being unable to find the right words.
Faithfulness in speaking, even very briefly, may open the way for fuller ministry from others. The tender and humble-minded utterance, given faithfully, can carry its message to the hearts of hearers. Above all in vocal prayer even broken and imperfect words springing from a deep place in the heart may wonderfully draw those present into communion with God and with one another.
London Y. M. Proceedings, 1949, p. 32, and amended p. 297
Keep Close to the Divine Opening
From one month to another this love and tenderness increased, and my mind was more strongly engaged for the good of my fellow creatures.
I went to meetings in an awful frame of mind and endeavoured to be inwardly acquainted with the language of the True Shepherd. And one day being under a strong exercise of spirit, I stood up and said some words in a meeting, but not keeping close to the divine opening, I said more than was required of me; and being soon sensible of my error, I was afflicted in mind some weeks without any light or comfort, even to that degree that I could take satisfaction in nothing. I remembered God and was troubled, and in the depth of my distress he had pity upon me and sent the Comforter. I then felt forgiveness for my offense, and my mind became calm and quiet, being truly thankful to my gracious Redeemer for his mercies. And after this, feeling the spring of divine love opened and a concern to speak, I said a few words in a meeting, in which I found peace. This I believe was about six weeks from the first time, and as I was thus humbled and disciplined under the cross, my understanding became more strengthened to distinguish the language of the pure Spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart and taught me to wait in silence sometimes many weeks together, until I felt that rise which prepares the creature to stand like a trumpet through which the Lord speaks to his flock.
John Woolman: The journal and major essays, ed. Phillips P Moulton, 1971, pp. 30-1 (entry for 1741 or 1742).
All Are Called
In the earliest period of the Christian Church His Spirit was, agreeable to ancient prophecy, poured upon servants and upon handmaidens; and we believe He continues to call from the young and from the old, from the unlearned and from the wise, from the poor and from the rich, from the women as well as from men, those whom He commissions to declare unto others the way of salvation.
From the address issued by the London Y M., 1841.
Keep Close to the Gift
We do not regard those who have the gift of "ministry" as infallible, or even as necessarily closer to God than many of the silent worshippers who form the great majority in every congregation. We feel that the gift is from above, and that on all of us lies the responsibility of being open to it, willing to receive it, should it be bestowed, and to use it faithfully while entrusted with it. But we fully recognize that to do this perfectly requires a continual submission of the will, and an unceasing watchfulness. We know that to "keep close to the gift" is not an easy thing. We know that the singleness of eye which alone can enable any one always to discern between the immediate guidance of the Divine Spirit and the mere prompting of our own hearts, is not attained without much patience, and a diligent and persevering use of all the means of instruction provided for us.
Caroline E. Stephen: Quaker strongholds, 1891, p. 58.
True Ministry Comes from Life
The Quaker group silence, the cooperative team work of the entire assembly, the expectant hush, the sense of divine presence, the faith that God and man can come unto mutual and reciprocal correspondence, tend to heighten the spiritual quality of the person who rises in that kind of atmosphere to speak. But that group situation, important as it is, will not work the miracle of producing a message for the hour in a person who is sterile and has ','thing to say. Even the miracle of feeding the multitude in Galilee needed at least a nucleus of loaves and fishes to start with. Vital ministry is not abstract and doctrinal, it is charged with insight for the meaning and significance of life. It answers back to specific human need. It "speaks to the condition" of souls. It correlates with concrete reality. It sets hearts beating. It quickens drooping spirits. It restores waning faith. It fortifies the wills of those who hear it. It makes the world look different. That means that it must come out of life and, if it is to have value, it must refresh life.
Rufus M. Jones: The trail of life in the middle years, 1934, pp. 45-6.
A Truly Covered Meeting
In a truly covered meeting an individual who speaks takes no credit to himself for the part he played in the unfolding of the worship. For the feeling of being a pliant instrument of the Divine Will characterizes true speaking "in the Life." Under such a covering an individual emerges into vocal utterance, frequently without fear and trembling, and subsides without self-consciousness into silence when his part is played. For One who is greater than all individuals has become the meeting place of the group, and He becomes the leader and director of worship. With wonder one hears the next speaker, if there be more, take up another aspect of the theme of the meeting. No jealousy, no regrets that he didn't think of saying that, but only gratitude that the angel has come and troubled the waters and that many are finding healing through the one Life. A gathered meeting is no place for the enhancement of private reputations, but for self-effacing pliancy and obedience to the whispers of the Leader.
Thomas R. Kelly: The gathered meeting, 1941 ed., p. 6. The Tract Assoc., Philadelphia Y M.
How Ministry Comes
Out of this leveling and this "gathering" of the meeting, some vocal ministry often develops. It is not the abolition of ministry but the abolition of the passive laity that the Society of Friends has ever striven for. One never brings anything to meeting with the certainty of giving it there, but one tries not to come empty. Under the influence of the quiet prayer and this sense of unity in the meeting, what light one brought is often completely set aside, or one feels that this should be reserved for another occasion, or it is made over, or new accents, new illustrations, new simplifications are effected. The mind is often drawn to an entirely fresh seed that unfolds itself there in the consciousness of the worshipper.
When I feel drawn to share something in the quiet meeting for worship, I simply rise and say it as briefly as I know how, seeking ever to "keep close to the root" and to avoid all vain and distracting ornamentation. The other worshippers often do not raise their heads or open their eyes. If they feel in unity with what I have shared and if it speaks to the condition of the meeting, out of which, if it be genuine, it originally sprang, then it becomes a seed for their meditation and something to search themselves in regard to. If it does not, they pay little attention to it and continue in their own worship. If this or something given by one of the other members of the meeting interprets the common need and exercise of the meeting, it is often added to by others and a common theme is developed that grips the mind of every participating worshipper who is present. I say "participating" worshipper, for it is possible to come to a Friends' Meeting and just "sit" or perhaps wait and often wait in vain for someone to "say something." Perhaps in no service of worship is so much left to the worshipper as in a Friends' Meeting.
Douglas V. Steere: A Quaker meeting for worship, 1941 ed., pp. 9-11. Leaflet published by Philadelphia Y M.
Moved to Speak
If I have not been moved to speak before arriving, such an impulse, if it comes at all, is likely to arise after I have been waiting a while. It arises within my silence. An insight or understanding flashes into my mind. A prayer or a pleading or a brief exhortation comes upon me. I hold it in mind and look at it, and at myself. I examine it.
Is this a genuine moving that deserves expression in a meeting for worship, or had I best curb and forget it? May it have some real meaning for others, and is it suited to the condition of this meeting? Can I phrase it clearly and simply? If it passes these tests I regard it as something to be said but I am not yet sure it should be said here and now. To find out how urgent it is, I press down and try to forget it. If time passes and it does not take hold of me with increased strength, I conclude that it is not to be spoken of at this time. If on the other hand, it will not be downed, if it rebounds and insists and will not leave me alone, I give it expression.
If it turns out that the words were spoken more in my own will than in the power, I feel that egotistical-I has done it, and that this self-doing has set me apart from the other members of the meeting. I am dissatisfied until again immersed in the life of the group. But if it seems that I have been an instrument of the power, I have the feeling that the power has done it and has, by this very act, joined those assembled even closer. Having spoken, I feel at peace once again, warmed and made glowing by the passage of a living current through me to my fellows. With a heightened sense of fellowship with man and God, I resume my silent practices.
N. Jean Toomer: An interpretation of Friends' worship, 1947, pp. 26-7 Friends General Conference.
Guidance in Ministry
What it is that constitutes guidance in ministry, and the means by which it is to be sought and found, is a difficulty with 'many. Some are afraid to speak in a meeting for worship, because, though they know something of the love of Christ, they do not seem to have any experience of a call that is undeniably supernatural. Others may be too readily taking their own thoughts and feelings as a warrant for obtruding them on others. Our natures differ greatly, and it is not possible to lay down any precise rules that all can follow. To some it seems that God speaks, as it were, by the earthquake and the whirlwind; to others it is in a very still small voice. There are strong impulses which make the heart beat and body tremble; there are, on the other hand, faint whispers which we need to be on the alert to hear. Both may be equally the voice of the true Shepherd, calling us to follow His leading. What we can safely say is that His guiding hand and voice are not confined to meetings for worship, and that we need to recognise it along the common ways of life, and to find it through the right use of our natural faculties. If we are going our own way six days in the week, it is presumptuous to expect that He will guide us miraculously on the seventh. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."
London Y M.: Christian faith and practice, 1960, no. 291.
The Gathered Meeting Speaks
In the Meeting for Worship after the manner of Friends, it sometimes befalls that a person who feels moved to break the silence and share a fresh insight unknowingly expresses the thoughts of those listening. The speaker is not speaking to the Meeting; the gathered Meeting is speaking through one member.
Daisy Newman: A procession of Friends, 1972, p. vii.