In her pamphlet The Meeting Experience: Practicing Quakerism in Community, Marty Walton touches on what she identifies as the stages of worship. These stages resonate with me, and while I'm working on other posts, I thought I'd lift up this jewel of a pamphlet and share a bit about these stages.
Friend Marty offers these stages of corporate, unprogrammed worship:
1. Welcome and greeting one another. Being conscious of who is in the room; greeting one another with smiles, head nods, etc.Marty writes beautifully about each of these stages--my booklet is filled with underlined sections and notes in the margin.
2. Separating from one another. Beginning to focus inward; sinking into the silence; self-reflection.
3. Opening ourselves to the Light. Becoming aware of how we are or are not living in accordance with the Light, with "God's love and order." Often it is from this stage when opportunities for vocal ministry arise.
4. Experiencing communion with the Living Presence. Gathering of the meeting as a whole; joining together with God; transcending the earthly plane; sinking together into that Stream.
I found, though, that as I finished reading about these stages, that she does not address what I consider to be two additional stages of worship:
5. Emerging from the worship. Feeling released or detached from the inward seeking, self-reflection, or corporate worship; becoming vaguely aware again the physical space and of life beyond the meetingroom.As I look at these stages, I begin to see where and how disruptions might interfere with the overall process and experience of worship.
6. Closing. The actual shaking of hands and saying "Good morning"; restoration of the earth-bound consciousness and pre-meeting awareness.
For example, if the closing happens too early in the midst of the emergence from worship, Friends might feel that meeting was not completely over yet, that worship was broken too soon. Or if vocal ministry is offered while many Friends are still opening themselves to the Light and to each other, it may sway others to consider the message and the speaker more than necessary, thus interfering with the ability for the meeting to drop further into the stillness to experience a gathered meeting.
On the other hand, there are times when vocal ministry helps deepen the corporate worship. There is no way to know, except through testing and personal experience, how these stages of worship, and worship as a whole, are helped or disrupted by our individual offerings.