August 2, 2007

Seeking a definition of "opportunity"


During a conversation tonight with a Friend, we stumbled across the word "opportunity," which is a word I have seen and heard Friends use in a way that differs from its secular use... but the Friend with whom I was speaking--and who has a longer history among Friends than I do--hadn't heard it before in a Quaker context.

So I thought I'd poll the Quaker blogosphere:

When have you heard, seen, or used the word "opportunity" in a way that differs from the secular meaning?

What working definition would you give it?

Do you have any knowledge of when or where this word appears in any Quaker texts...?

Do you have any other comments or thoughts about the use or meaning or origin of the word "opportunity"?
Thanks for any Llight you can shed on this subject!


P.S. I'll share a bit of how I explained this word to the Friend after a few of you have had a chance to respond.

UPDATE: Now that a few Friends have offered their own thoughts, here's a paraphrase of how I explained "opportunity" to this one particular Friend. You'll see that it mirrors some of what others have already mentioned:
In my own experience, there have been at least two uses of the word "opportunity."

One is when two or more Friends are gathered, usually for fellowship and conversation as compared to a workshop or worship--and the Friends find they have fallen into worship; the Spirit has covered them if only for a moment or a few passing minutes. So simply be being present to one another, we might experience this sort of Opportunity.

The other use of the word has been related to a planned event or a planned gathering of Friends, often with an intention of seeking to learn more of each other, to know one another more deeply in That Which Is Eternal, by way of engaging in the planned time and activity together.
I also made it clear to the Friend with whom I was talking that no one had ever given me a specific definition for this word, but rather I seem to have a small knack for picking up the nuances of terms and language over time. Quakerism and "Quakerese" is no exception.

And for Friends who happen to have the book that is mentioned in a comment below, On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry, Brian Drayton's own consideration of "opportunities" is on pp. 137-148. --Liz


Anonymous said...

Hi, Liz,

I read an article written by Bill Taber (Ohio YM, Conservative) on the Quaker understanding of "opportunity." I can't recall anything about where or how I found this article, but it forms the basis of most of my knowledge on the subject. The concept was new to me when I read the article, but since then I have been aware of its occasional use by others and I've used it a bit myself.

As I understand it, an opportunity is similar to spontaneous worship with 2 or 3 people. It seems connected with traveling in the ministry. For example, a visitor would meet with a person or couple in their home and have an "opportunity," or a time of worship, worship/sharing, stillness, prayer, and listening for God. It's less structured than a clearness committee, and a lot quieter. I don't think it is necessarily planned, although it may be hoped for.

As I recall, people talk about "having an opportunity" which I interpret as having an opportunity to wait upon and worship God. That's why the word is similar to, but more specific than, its normal meaning.

I may be garbling this horribly, because I read Bill's article many years ago, but this is my working understanding.

Cathy Habschmidt

David Carl said...

My understanding is similar to Cathy's although not limited to any particular number of people or to traveling necessarily. I believe Howard Brinton mentions this in Friends for 300 Years, but its been a few years since I read it.

Will T said...

I think that opportunity can refer to a spontaneous time of worship that occurs in a group. It can also refer to a situation created with more or less premeditation by someone bearing a concern, weather or not they are traveling. If you want to read more, Brian Drayton devotes two chapters to the subject in his book "On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry."

Will T

Liz Opp said...

Thanks, everyone! I hope others will continue to reflect and comment; I'll return with my own thoughts fairly soon--God willing!


Raye said...


Bill Taber spoke of opportunities, and an essay entitled "Opportunities" is in the book, "Walk Worthy of Your Calling" edited by Margery Post Abbott and Peggy Senger Parsons.

Cathy and Will explain it pretty well, based on my understanding of the word as Conservative Friends use it.


Liz Opp said...

At the bottom of the original post, I have now added an update, which includes how I defined "opportunity" to the Friend I was speaking to originally. I also include the page numbers in Brian Drayton's book that Will T had referenced in his own comment (thanks, Will!).


Liz Opp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz Opp said...

(NOTE: I am re-posting this comment, with a minor deletion. --Liz)

This comment comes via email from Lloyd Lee Wilson (through a mutual friend) and if offered here with his permission. He writes:

"There are a couple of uses of 'opportunity' in the old journals. One is a particular sort of opening, in the context of public worship, to offer gospel ministry:

On first day morning, we went to their meeting at Hailstown, which was largely attended by friends and others, amongst whom I had to labour in the discharge of duty; but not feeling quite clear, and the people living too distant to meet again that day, another meeting was appointed, at eleven on second day morning, which was also fully attended, and proved an open, satisfactory opportunity... -- Martha Routh.

"The other common usage describes a private meeting for worship, sometimes planned and sometimes not:

14th of 10th Month, 1794. On third day morning, after a precious humbling opportunity with them, and the near relations of my companion, under the melting influence of gospel love, we took leave of each other... -- Martha Routh.

"Both of the above examples come from Martha Routh's Memoirs for the date 14th of 10th Month, 1794.

"The second usage spills over into what was expected to happen during family visits in the 19th century, and when Bill Taber re-vitalized the term 'opportunity' while at Pendle Hill, it was in the context of home visitation.

"My sense is that today an opportunity can happen in a multitude of settings, and is the result of being attentive to the possibilities continually being presented to us by the Holy Spirit."

(NOTE: Martha Routh's memoir is online. --Liz)