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.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.
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.
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.
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).