March 25, 2005

FAQs about the worship group

Here and there, readers and others ask about the worship group in which I participate. I thought I'd post a few "Frequently Asked Questions" so they'd be in one place for now.

[UPDATE, Second Month 2008: Details about Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group can now be found at our website.]

[UPDATE: Based on some counsel from one of my blog elders, I want to remind readers that the writings I offer here and throughout The Good Raised Up are my own. In particular, I recognize that the language used to describe the Divine may not accurately reflect Friends' own experience of the Divine. —Liz]

1. How did the worship group get started?

It depends on who you ask.

One Friend in the group will point to a book group I organized 3-4 years ago, on Lloyd Lee Wilson's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. The book group brought a few of us together who liked what we read and hungered for more. [Update: Other Friends in the group remind me that a few of us had begun a Bible study group, which was also a very significant experience and added yet another thread to the tapestry.]

But I always point to Friend Elizabeth: in her classic Minnesotan way, one summer she quietly began making a few phone calls: "Oh hi. I'm just calling to see if you would like to come by for a visit today or tomorrow, maybe have a bit of worship..." Some days there'd be just Elizabeth and me; other days, each of our partners would show up. And every now and then a third couple would join us, and we would spend a little more time in worship each time we'd get together, along with a bit of 'visiting.'

Our summer 'visits' transitioned in the fall into monthly meetings for worship at someone's house, which later transitioned into gathering for worship every other Monday night, when we were all free. Eventually, as we recognized that we were being spiritually fed and nourished by communing with the Spirit during our time together, the worship group became the primary spiritual home for a few of us, and we became clear to begin meeting weekly on First Days (Sundays).

We've been convening ourselves for more than two years now, meeting weekly since maybe September 2004. In addition to the original three couples--and the original two wee ones--we've had two other Friends join us regularly, a few drop in visitors, and a new baby join us... with another one on the way!

2. Is the worship group currently under the care of a monthly meeting or affiliated with a yearly meeting?

No, it's not. We are in a long, rich, and deliberate discernment process (which sometimes looks like plain ol' waiting) about whether to affiliate with liberal Friends (Northern Yearly Meeting) or Conservative Friends (Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative). (See #4 for more about Conservative Friends.)

We know NYM pretty well, since each of us comes with years of experience among these Friends. A few of us have visited IYMC annual and midyear sessions and have found our hearts and spirits made tender by the experience, in a way that hasn't happened for us at NYM. We continue to await clearness and Guidance, and we have asked to meet with Conservative Friends as Way opens, so we might learn more of that tradition and so they might help us understand how we are being called.

We are clear not to affiliate with a meeting at this time, physically or symbolically: we continue to meet in our homes, despite invitations to rent space from a local meeting.

3. How are other Friends in the area responding to your worship group?

Earlier there had been some talk among Friends about ours being a "secret" group or an exclusive one. We're relieved that the rumors about us being "secret" or "exclusive" are no longer around, from what I can tell. Though members of one monthly meeting in particular views the worship group as a "bud" of itself, we aren't spending energy diffusing this perspective, since it is a very sweet sentiment at its core.

4. Elsewhere you've mentioned that the worship group is "Conservative leaning" and that the group is discerning whether you are liberal or Conservative Friends. What does that mean?

Among us as a worship group, we have taken time to consider the different weight given to certain Quaker principles. What follows below, though, are my own expression of these principles, since we have not minuted formally any of our beliefs or practices:

• We unite in seeking and listening for the Spirit during our Meetings for Worship. With the variation of theology and spirituality among contemporary liberal Friends' meetings, there may be little or no commonality of how to participate in corporate worship.

• We give more weight to corporate discernment rather than to individual ideas. Liberal Friends more often seek to incorporate individual ideas and uphold individual leadings with less testing through a larger body.

• We are intentional and hold ourselves to greater discipline around seeking Divine Guidance and God's Will for us as we attend to business. Liberal Friends seem to be less disciplined around maintaining this intention: sometimes business sessions seem to tip the balance more to finding common ground and approving a particular good idea, rather than going a bit deeper into spiritual discernment to consider if in fact a certain direction is where God is wanting the meeting to go.

• We share and openly express a common belief in the centrality and presence of the Divine (God, Jesus, Spirit, the Light, etc.) in our individual and corporate lives. Liberal Friends typically have among them a spectrum of belief and practice that reflects "hyphenated" Quakers: Buddhist-Quakers, nontheist-Quakers, Jewish-Quakers. My limited experience of Conservative Friends seems to speak more to being Quaker-Quakers.

I use the phrase "Conservative leaning" because I--and we as a group--have not learned enough from Conservative Friends to know if we are Conservative Friends. I also use this phrase because it speaks more truthfully to my difficulty in remaining fully affiliated with the Hicksite monthly meeting that has care of my membership. Not to mention, it helps get a good conversation going about the branches of Quakerism!

The worship group is still learning what these principles mean, traditionally as well as geographically. Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative,, North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, and Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative apparently each have a different feel in their faith and practice from one another.

5. How do you deal with the children in your worship group? And do you have regular business sessions?

The children are with us for the first part of worship, and they do well to join us in the silence. When we first started meeting regularly for worship, we would allow whoever was led to be with the children during worship, with one of the parents occasionally poking their heads in or whisking away a very discontented child. It was clear that some of us have less developed gifts to be with children than others. I surprised myself by wanting to be involved with the kids, and it's been easier for me to stay connected with them as they're getting older. Recently we've been experimenting with regular paid childcare, which for me is hard because of a sense of loss of personal connection... and we're not clear and have barely talked about any sort of religious education, either for the youngest of us or for the eldest of us. Stay tuned!

We don't yet have regular Meetings for Worship for Business. [UPDATE: In Fourth Month 2005, we approved holding MfWfB every other month.] We seem to wait for a few things to arise before we realize we need to carve out time to listen more intently to the Spirit as a body about how to proceed with certain concerns and ideas. The few times we've gathered for business, though, have also been rich and nourishing, and the sense of the Living Presence among us has been powerful as we seek to understand the sense of the meeting.

Here is the minute we approved at our first business session, describing who we understand ourselves to be:

Friends talked about a sense of cohesiveness among us and attributed it to the size of the group (being a small group) and to an intentionality to come together to seek, listen for, and love the Holy Spirit. We had a sense that what draws us together is the Spirit as opposed to historical concerns, social justice concerns, or Quaker literature. We give weight to how we wait on the Spirit--we talked about the discipline of patience, waiting, and listening.

We are laboring with the tension between the experience of worship and putting language to our experiences because language can be too small to describe the experience of worship.
All in all, this worship group has strengthened and sustained my Quakerism, which in turn has helped me stay connected, ironically perhaps, to the monthly meeting.

It's clear to me that the fruit of the Spirit is plentiful among us, and I pray we remain faithful as the worship group continues.

Blessings,
Liz

UPDATE: On 1 Sixth Month 2005, one couple within the worship group gave birth. Welcome, Grace! Out of curiosity, and with Grace's arrival, I calculated that the average age of Friends within the worship group is just under 26 years old. (Before Grace, it was 28.) The oldest Friends are 51 and 42; plus there are now 4 children under the age of 5. We are blessed...

UPDATE: On 28 Eighth Month 2005, the worship group warmly embraced the name Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group. We still are discerning if we are to affiliate with liberal Friends (Northern Yearly Meeting) or with Conservative Friends (Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative).

13 comments:

Robin Mohr said...

Dear Liz,

Thank you!

This is very, very interesting. My husband and I have joked that what we need is San Francisco Friends Meeting (Conservative) but then we realize that 95% of the active members would go with us, so what's the point. We just haven't gotten clear enough with each other, to actually say that out loud in Meeting for Business.

I am curious about how much the written books of Faith and Practice of the various Yearly Meetings you're considering vary, both from each other and from the lived faith and practice of each. I am going to a retreat next weekend about Pacific YM's F&P. The question posed is "What is the powerful message of Friends for the world? And how is that reflected, or not, in F&P?" The good news is that our YM is considering just this question. The bad news is that of the 10 fine people who signed up, I'm the only one under 65. If you have any inspiration or would be willing to share your experience in this area of F&P, please, I would be much obliged for your input.

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Robin. I'm a bit confused: if 95% of the monthly meeting wishes to return to (i.e. conserve) traditional practices of Friends, what gets in the way of doing that as a meeting?

I know you've posted some of your experience in other places as well as on my blog, so in a way I'm asking you to pull the individual pieces together for me. (See the advantages of having a blog...? wink)

I should also let you know that even though the worship group has now been warmly received by the monthly meeting, no one who attended the adult education program has inquired further or shown up to worship with us. Not everyone has the fortitude to leave behind the comforts of familiar faces and known routines in order to explore "starting a church," as one among us declared excitedly, early on.

Laboring with a meeting is long, slow work. In my case, it has required planting lots of seeds... and waiting. There is no way to know how the individual pieces that emerge (or don't) through ad hoc committee work, through offering adult education forums, through writing pieces for the newsletter, through having one-on-one conversations with members of M&C, through discernment committees... There is no way to know how or when the individual pieces will suddenly fit together to allow for a corporate Ah Hah! moment. Still, we must be faithful; we must yield to the prompting of the Spirit even as we cannot know how the Shepherd will reunite the flock.

Specific to your question about the Books of Discipline (F&P) of each of the three Conservative yearly meetings, I have not read them cover to cover. I have looked a bit at Iowa's online; I've looked even less at North Carolina's and Ohio's. I will be the first to acknowledge that reading is not my forté: I am much more experiential. So I cannot speak to how the Disciplines compare.

I will say, though, that I recall having heard the three Yearly Meetings described this way, by a Friend from Iowa YM (but my recollections are always clouded by that which I wish to hear!): Iowa Conservative is apparently closer to Liberal Friends in terms of theology and practice; Ohio is closer to Evangelical Friends; and North Carolina is in the middle of the two.

Like you, I have concerns in reading that of the 10 Friends participating in the F&P retreat, only one (yourself) is younger than 65. Given the query that is being lifted up to guide the work of the retreat--and potentially the ministry of the YM in the near future--how then can our elder Friends effectively transmit a rich, vibrant faith and practice (written and embodied) to our younger ones, without hearing from them and being spiritually intimate with them? How can a written document avoid the hazards of becoming mere rhetoric as it is handed down from generation to generation? Might the answers to the query, What is the powerful message of Friends for the world? And how is that reflected, or not, in F&P? be answered rather differently by young adult Friends than by our aging Friends? And if that is the case, what then are the implications for moving forward with this process as is?

I wonder if this retreat group, as a cohort, is really wishing to document what it has come to know as it's own "powerful message for the world," and hope that others will then add to the discernment, discussion, and process as Way opens.

I'm afraid I am only asking more questions, rather than providing answers. I hope you'll let me (us) know how things turn out, and I pray that you are faithful in this work, however that emerges.

Blessings,
Liz

Robin Mohr said...

Well, your concise comparison of the three conservative YM's was helpful. I think I know most about Ohio YM(C) and now I realize I should look more closely at the other two.

Maybe 95% was an exaggeration. One of my real struggles with plain speech. In sheer numbers, it's probably half and half. But the weight and degree of involvement of the conservative leaning Friends puts them at a much more influential level. However, each of the conservative leaning Friends I can think of has come in a slightly different path, a highly individual path. I think we are just getting brave enough to say to each other, if I'm serious about this and you're serious, let's go forward with this.

We started last May to hold worship sharing where we asked each other, what sustains you and what frustrates you about our Meeting? We started in September having monthly worship sharing on the Advices & Queries of PacYM. We started in December dedicating every third Business Meeting to practicing a deeper level of discernment - to building up our Quaker muscles, so to speak, rather than just hearing committee reports and other routine business. In January, we had a session after Meeting asking Friends to identify what spiritual gifts they felt led to contribute to the Meeting. Now we are in the process of trying to write a State of the Meeting report that reflects not just what we've done, but where we are, who we have become. The interest and support of our first day school program has grown dramatically among non-parents.

There are several areas of our life together that are not living out full spiritual discernment. Our committee structure is outdated and our nominations process is faltering. We are still not doing a good job of reaching the YAF's who visit our Meeting every week and don't come back. Some people are now feeling like there's too much going on and they can't do it all. Some of the projects that have been started are feeding a few people's needs but maybe they're not what God really needs from us now. But really, we are in a healthy enough place to ask direct religious questions.

Some of this has been active, let's not call it manipulation, but active efforts by some Friends, including me, to say, let's talk about this. Let's put this on the table. To organize the event and call people up and ask them to come to Business Meeting, because hey, something important will be considered this month. But we are still pussyfooting around the central question of what is God calling us to do as a Meeting.

I'm now trying to read this as if I were someone else in my Meeting and wondering if others would recognize it from my description, and whether my recollections are too clouded by what I wish to hear!, but no. I will probably copy part of this comment into my reply to the Clerk of Meeting about the draft of the State of the Meeting report.

More on F&P later.
Thank you.

Robin

Liz Opp said...

It sounds like you and others in your meeting are engaged in an important part of deepening Quaker identity and of covenant community: wrestling with the Spirit, laboring with one another, committing to stay in the process as long as thou canst. John Woolman and other earlier Friends use the word "exercise" to describe some of this activity as well. Here is a definition offered by Phillips Moulton:

Inner turmoil; concern; awareness of a burden or obligation. The word has many nuances of meaning, all of which concern intellectual or spiritual, as distinguished from physical, exertion.

I wonder if what you call "pussyfooting around the central question" is also a form of preparation to go deeper. But of course, each of us has a different tolerance for such pussyfooting, and I hope that Friends are able to take deep breaths and hold one another lovingly and tenderly through this birthing process. Another resource that might be helpful in understanding what you and others are going through is Marty Grundy's essay The Individual and the Meeting.

One last comment for now: Has the meeting considered asking for support from FGC's Traveling Ministries Program? (Mine never has, though a few of us continue to bring it up, when there is an opening to do so.) Sometimes an outsider can name things that "insiders" can't or aren't ready to. Other times, when "insiders" have to articulate certain situations to an outsider, it can help Friends get clear on what really is going on, or what might be the next step for them.

Thanks for staying in touch. If it would help for you to be able to reach me privately, you can email me at lizopp AT mn DOT rr DOT com.

Blessings,
Liz

Robin Mohr said...

OK, here's my brush with Quaker fame: Phil and Mary Moulton were the first ones to take me to a Quaker meeting for worship, because I was, due to a random series of coincidences, staying at their house in Ann Arbor for the weekend.

We as a Meeting have not considered asking FGC for anything, largely because Pacific YM is not a member of FGC. A number of Friends are carrying a concern that we ought to affiliate, but that hasn't quite happened yet. We're too busy being Independent.

Locally, We had our Quarterly Meeting's committee in for a State of the Meeting clinic (like a well-baby clinic for Meetings) about six years ago. Which was good, but now we need more of an Olympic conditioning program than a few vaccinations.

Peace,
Robin

Liz Opp said...

I believe that Traveling Ministries Program doesn't restrict its visits to affiliated meetings, given that FGC's Long Term Plan and Minute of Purpose states it serves "primarily" affiliated meetings. I'm sure the coordinator of the program, Deborah Fisch, would be happy to hear from you to talk at least about the possibility of a traveling Friend or two to visit.

Also, you may or may not know that monthly meetings are able to affiliate directly with FGC, independent of a Yearly Meeting's affiliation, though I don't know the process for pursuing this. I'm sure someone at FGC could answer these sorts of questions.

Northern Yearly Meeting turns 30 this year, and there is no Quarterly Meeting or Representatives Meeting or Half-Yearly Meeting. We might be long overdue for any sort of vaccinations or spiritual check-up!

Blessings,
Liz

Joe G. said...

Holy Cow! I finally got through (Blogger problems, I guess).
Thanks for the FAQ regarding your worship group, Liz. Very intriguing. I wondered how your group started and has sustained itself (on a practical level, I understand how the Spirit is part of the sustenance part. :))

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Liz!
Such great stuff here. I'm so glad you've put this together. I've been wanting to know just how this worship group has functioned--it's a real service to put this up for everyone. And great comments, I'll try to return after I get off work!
Martin, Quaker Ranter

Rob said...

Hi Liz,

As always, many thanks for your blog. I find that when I reread things for the third and fourth time, they make so much more sense and perhaps, resonate with where I'm at today rather than the first time I read it. Anyhow, I wanted to know more about your experiences as a lesbian at IYMC and perhaps find out more about the Yahara meeting in Madison. If you have a chance, could you drop me an email at quaker_lilies[at]yahoo[dot]com? Thanks again, Rob

Liz Opp said...

Since Rob seeks to "know more about [my] experiences as a lesbian...," I want to be very clear in this moment that I do not identify as lesbian. I identify as bisexual. My partner is a woman which is why many people think or assume I identify as lesbian.

(To be honest, I have made the same assumption when I see straight couples--maybe one of them is bisexual--or even same-sex couples.)

Rob, I'll be in touch with you soon!

Blessings,
Liz

Rob said...

Hi Liz,

I'm re-reading this post (again!). It speaks to me more now than ever. I will forward it to Friends who I think may find it helpful.

Also, I recall apologizing earlier in an email, but let me restate it here: I should know better then to project identities onto others. My sincerest apologies.

I hope you are well.

Much love,

Rob

Liz Opp said...

Rob, all is well with me. No worries.

And thanks for being a repeat reader! I too enjoy re-reading other bloggers' posts from time to time.

Blessings,
Liz

Allison said...

I'm interested in the Conservative-leaning Liberal thingamajig. And to me, being a Quaker-Quaker doesn't mean I can never learn lessons from other religions, so that is how I cleared myself from the hyphen label, but if someone were actively practicing another religion maybe it makes sense to them.

One of my fears - which is a fear and not necessarily substantiated, or is it? - is the word conservative itself. It is a word that means so many things to many people I would never want to scare the liberal people of San Francisco away from a very good religion simply because of a word. Like... does conservative mean lifestyle or political/social views? Are LGBTQ folk more welcomed in one branch than another? How would multiculturalism fit in?