I recently sat in on a committee meeting that was responding to an overall (and age-old) concern about how to encourage Friends to arrive on time on First Day mornings.
The concern was reframed for the small group of us, and we were asked instead to consider the question:
- How do we change the culture of the meeting that has (unintentionally) made it okay to be loud, talkative, and rushed outside the meetingroom until the very last moment before the doors to the meetingroom are closed?
Somehow over time, the entry area near the meetingroom, including the hallway and library, has morphed from being a transition space for people to slow themselves down to being the "red zone" where folks better hurry themselves up, all in the name of preparing themselves to enter worship.
The committee considered the popular advice about coming to meeting with "our hearts and minds prepared":
In worship we enter with reverence into communion with God and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Come to meeting for worship with heart and mind prepared...How can Friends be reminded of that advice? What needs to happen so that inward preparation is not just tended to when folks enter the meetinghouse but when they get out of their cars and cross the parking lot, when they leave their house to head to meeting, or when they rise in the morning on First Day?
--Britain Yearly Meeting 1.02.9
Is it enough to leave the radio off when driving to meeting? to turn off the television the night before? to ignore the newspaper that's tossed on the stoop at dawn on First Day?
Is it only about removing distractions from the first part of First Day? Can we also be intentional about where we do place our focus as well?
Can we read a snippet of a Quaker pamphlet that morning, or read a verse or two from Scripture, or spend a few moments considering what we are grateful for?
Can we help our children get accustomed to the practice of stopping in their tracks, taking a breath, and being still for even half a beat before grabbing the door's handle and going into the building?
Can we shift our focus away from worrying about getting to meeting "on time" and instead turn our intention to one of arriving at meeting "on purpose"?
It's not about when we arrive, it's about how we arrive.
Not only that, but at what point do we move from focusing on helping ourselves prepare for worship as individuals and turn to recognizing and affirming that we are, in fact, part of a corporate body that is also preparing for worship?
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