Giving ministry takes quite a bit out of me. Less then it used to, but still enough to warrant a nap. Last First Day I was sitting in bed after breakfast, planning on enjoying a little house-to-myself when I got that nudge. I grumbled, went to meeting, said what I was given to say and then managed to enjoy the rest of a fairly centered meeting. When it was time for introductions, I reintroduced myself since I had spoken and don't know many people and in doing so identified myself as an irregular attender.
One of the Friends who came up to thank me for my message teased that I should come more often. I snarkily replied that I would if they would have centered meetings more often. I thought at the time I shouldn't have said it, but now I'm standing by it. It's important for meetings to be reminded that there are young adults who are seeking quality worship and no amount of potlucks or programming is going to draw them in. (I know this isn't a singular quality of young adults). A loving community would be awesome, but what I'm looking for in a "church family" is a group that consistently has centered worship.
By the way, the Friend's response was that meeting was more centered when I attended. It's a pretty apt reminder that we each play a part in the quality of every meeting we attend and that chances are I'm not helping matters by quietly stewing when someone gets up to give a movie review in the middle of worship.

Elizabeth Bathurst


Robin M. said...

I think I was most struck by your point that you "got that nudge" at home and it made you go to meeting. I occasionally have that sensation well before meeting as well. Sometimes on the way there, sometimes before I even get up. The hard part for me is that as the mother of a family, I don't get to focus much on my spiritual life between 7 and 11 on Sunday mornings. If I really want to be at meeting at 11, other people have to eat and put their clothes on and brush their teeth too. And I become foggy. My husband has more than once thought I was mad about something because I wasn't talking to anybody, but I'm not irritable really, more in a daze, barely able to tie my own shoelaces. But I have come to recognize this as the beginning signs of God speaking to me.

I wonder if you could write more about how you know.

Peggy Parsons has also written on A Silly Poor Gospel about catching a message.

Rich in Brooklyn said...

I'm glad the Friend answered you as she or he did (assuming that it was a truthful answer and not just a flattering one). It shows the Friend's appreciation of your contribution to the Meeting. I agree with you that it probably doesn't help matters much to "quietly stew" about others' ministry, and I would add that it probably also doesn't help matters much to stay away from meeting.

Some Friends (and not only young ones, by the way) have made much the same point about my Meeting that you have made about yours: that they wish our worship were more centered more often. The thing is though, that a centered meeting for worship is not the kind of thing that can be willed into being. A gathered and centered hour of worship is a fruit of the spirit. If the meeting community isn't putting forth very much such fruit, it may be that the roots need watering, the branches need trimming, that the "season" for fruit has not arrived, or that the whole tree needs time to mature and grows.

I find that the best I can do for my meeting is to be regular and punctual in attendance, get myself as centered I can when I'm there, and trust God to work. I cannot control the ministry of others, and cannot improve worship by trying to. That's not to say that I can't (especially as a member of Ministry and Worship) try to foster an understanding of what ministry is meant to be, or that I can't help nurture and encourage ministry.

A final point I'd make is that - -while a good Meeting can be very helpful to the individuals in it, and we hope that it will be - - nevertheless "we are all ministers" also means "we are all servants". I have come to the point in my relationship to my Meeting that I no longer look at its virtues or its strengths as "theirs", or even "the Meeting's", but as "ours".
- - Rich Accetta-Evans
Brooklyn Quaker, and Pondering The Gospels

Anonymous said...

With respect, I would think that most people who attend worship, regularly or no, young or old, are seeking a more centered experience. You rightly state that it is all of our responsibility to care for the state of the vocal ministry in our meetings. How does one do that as an infrequent attender?

I have sat through my fair share of meetings for worship that were uncentered and left me less than filled. Our committee of Ministry and Counsel has struggled with how to deal with the ever-popular "movie review" message that is often given by someone who is not familar with the process. Our meeting is bigger than some, and we have the opportunity to provide more resources that can help people become more attentive to "when is a message a message?" (We offer occasional worship sharing sessions, Quakerism 101 about every other year or so, and other programs). I know not every meeting has this, and also that often, one or two powerful personalities can hold sway over a smaller meeting. But to me, it all comes back to staying faithful to the community, warts and all, and laboring in love with individuals who share a different truth.

Peace be with you.


Liz Opp said...

Hi there...

There's something that isn't sitting well with me as I read this... and of course, you and I have no relationship beyond the words on our computer screens, so I'm reluctant to say anything.

At the same time, I'm reluctant to NOT say anything.

Perhaps I can ask a few questions and hope that you "hear" my tentative approach in doing so.

...Can you say something about your testing of "that nudge"--How did you know it was a message for the meeting and not just for you?

What was it like for you to sit in MfW prior to offering the message?

What was it like for you after you had offered it--did you feel faithful?

Well, enough with the questions. I of course don't know the particulars, either of your meeting or of your own spiritual practice. Maybe your responses--if you do in fact respond--will help me understand what is niggling at me.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Elizabeth Bathurst said...

That nudge was simply the very stong urge to go to meeting. As I find worshipping with these friends to be an exercise in patience, and as I find it very easy to distinguish between myself and the Spirit, I didn't have to do much testing. I remebered having this feeling before, and I know what happens when I ignore it or put it off. It's not pretty.

All the way to worship (it's a 30 minute walk), I was thinking silly girl thoughts that weren't particularly worshipful. I chided myself a few times and tried to center down, but it didn't really happen.

When I sat down to worship, I was immidiately able to center and the silly girl thoughts dissappeared. They were replaced with thoughts about the current Guilford Mess and the importance of Quaker process in solving it. Then I started to feel this pulling on my spine, and I adjusted my bag so I wouldn't kick it over if I had to stand. Several moments later, I was standing and I began to speak. I only really remember starting with identifying my relationship to the college and ending with the lesson for myself in remembering to include the Lord in even the pleasant little decisions I need to make in my life.

I felt faithful and I was reassured when someone told me afterwards that it was a message the meeting needed to hear about sticking to Quaker process.

I should clarify that I was cranky that I had plans for the day which were replaced with His plans. I'm pretty good walking the path I'm given. I suck at being cheerful about it. [yes, mama, I know you hate that word.] I remain cranky that a horrible thing happened at my alma mater/former employer and that the first person I wanted to talk about it with killed herself last spring. I'm cranky that I don't have a local meeting that I can count on to be centered and supportive as I struggle with my strong dislike for giving ministry. But for once, I'm not angry. Just cranky. That's a step in the right direction, I think.


MartinK said...

Hi Elizabeth,
For what it's worth, I think crankiness can be an important spiritual nudge in itself. I may not be the best example of anything in the world, but I've certainly had periods when I needed to be irregular in attendance at a non-centered meeting. Sometimes we're called to try to fix a meeting but we're also sometimes called just to watch it from a distance. I've come to think that a certain crankiness is almost part of the path...

I loved Robin's description of being in such a daze that her partner thought she was angry at him. I've been there too. I've learned I have to say "sorry Julie, I just read or saw or thought XYX" as explanation!

Johan Maurer said...

I just wrote about extra-ordinary spiritual experiences in my blog last night, but didn't touch on the famed pattern of Friends in earlier generations--those who were apparently divinely directed to speak at a particular time and place, or to visit particular homes. Your experience reminds me of those stories.

Whether or not you have a prophetic gift is a somewhat separate issue from whether or not you follow the norms of being a good (regular, punctual) attender. But it is important for prophets to have spiritual friendships with discerning people, or they can truly become cranks, and the fruits of their prophecy may not be available to the community.

Elizabeth Bathurst said...

It's odd to hear you desribe this as an "extraordinary spiritual exprience" as it's well within the realm of normal for me. I get a "go here" or a "say this" with some regularity. It's out of the ordinary for me to be shown something that's just for me, like "be careful with her" or "speak to them." [I hate the way He uses pronouns.] It's particularly special if I get some sort of visual.

While that last message was with regard to this huge unruly uncentered meeting, I just don't feel I'm being asked to be a "good" attender of this meeting right now. My membership is elsewhere and isn't likely to change without some serious prodding from above. I go when I'm told and sometimes when I'm not and that's good enough for me. This meeting is a sometimes food.

-Elizabeth [channeling her Inner-Cookie Monster]

RichardM said...

Cranky Daughter,

Glad to hear you are stirring the pot. I know you have issues with that meeting but I do hope you will continue to listen and minister to them as led. Perhaps you will be led to meet with them regularly but don't force it either way. Take it as it comes.

You could have told Johan it runs in the family. The story of your mother and the Ethiopean restaurant is a good one.

And, while I know I don't have to tell you this I think it's good to repeat for others who don't know the ways of conservative Friends. One of the ways we test the authenticity of vocal ministry is the reaction of other Friends. Ideally those recognized as elders but if none are available any weighty Friend will do. If a Friend comes and can honestly say "You spoke to my condition" then there is communal confirmation of the leading to speak. While I have no gift of vocal ministry myself I do from time to time tell others when they have spoken to my condition. A recent example is on my last trip to visit the Beaufort worship group. As you know I felt led to visit them monthly about 18 months ago. Several times I have been accompanied on my trip by Friends from Virginia Beach. This time they had to get up at 6 AM to drive down to Greenville and worship with us in the morning then after breakfast we drove almost two hours down to Beaufort to visit Friends there. Well, it turned out that Joe had a leading to speak and the message was for me. Why he had to drive down from Virginia and then drive all the way out to the coast in order to deliver a message meant for me is hard to explain. The best I can figure out is that I was mulling over this problem in the first meeting for worship and then went back to it in the second when Joe spoke. Apparantly I needed extra time to become appropriately receptive to this message. Anyway, on the ride back I told Joe he had spoken to my condition. I didn't go into the particulars as there isn't any need for that but it was right for me to confirm him in his leading to minister.

Edward Pearce said...

Dear Cranky Elizabeth,
This reminds me of a story I read about this guy named Jonah. He didn't want to deliver God's message to the Ninevehites. When he did deliver it and the people listened he really got cranky. I am sure your situation is not like Jonah's, and maybe the people of Nineveh were more deserving of God's love and mercy than are the people of Boston. Still it doesn't do any good to be angry-- It just burns up too much energy.
If one cannot escape God by running of to Tarshish, what is one to do? I know some people have learned to dismiss God by saying he has a weird sense of humor, but what if there is more to it than that? What if God really loves the people of Nineveh and Boston? What if God really loves Jonah and you??