Spiritual nurture of the Meeting
Speaking out of the silence is central to Quaker experience. The content, nature and amount of vocal ministry varies greatly. There are ways to encourage vocal ministry when our worship has become too silent. There are ways to deepen vocal ministry. There are ways to discourage abuse of vocal ministry.
While coming to worship prepared in spirit is important, this does not necessarily include the preparation of vocal contributions to an unprogrammed worship service. Vocal ministry of the deepest sort is likely to arise spontaneously after a personal centering process during worship, prompted by the Holy Spirit. Some enter the silence with internal discipline, consciously using prayers of confession, thanksgiving praise, intercession and petition as a process of becoming centered. Others reach toward the Divine Centre by means of a repeated prayer or phrase, or they simply empty their minds and listen.
As the silence grows deeper, letting go of temporal distractions to find encounter with God, vocal ministry may follow as an outward expression of what has developed in the silence. Subsequent ministry can often build on what has been said before as the movement of the Spirit reveals that a meeting has truly been a “gathered” one.
Some meetings may be totally silent with no one feeling moved to break the stillness.Friends of the unprogrammed tradition value the process in the silence because if “allows them for a while to be aware of the inner and deeper meaning of their individual and corporate lives” (Quaker Worship, Quaker Home Service, 1989). Besides being a time of praise and thankfulness, the meeting for worship becomes a time of learning to listen, acceptance of frustrations and cessation of judgements: vital aspects of the self-discipline that helps us on our journey.
Some worship groups include Friends with different first languages, or use a language different from that usual in the area where they meet. It is helpful to make it known that vocal ministry is welcome in whatever language the speaker uses most comfortably. One of those present may be able to interpret once the ministry has ended. If not, Friends who do not understand can accept it trustfully in the Spirit, rejoicing “to feel where the words come from” (Pepunehang quoted in John Woolman's Journal,18/06/1763.
Programmed meetings for worship provide the opportunity for more outward expression of praise and joy in God's greatness and work in our lives. Through song and scripture, vocal prayer and testimonials, the Friends' pastor knows that the Holy Spirit can work through each person present and prays that the sermon prepared in advance will speak to the worshippers with vision and lead their thoughts rightly. On many an occasion, a sensitive pastor has brought a different message to the meeting than had been prepared. “Many people believe Quaker ministry should be spontaneous, ejaculatory and unpremeditated. Such is not the case, provided one has the spiritual discipline to be able to distinguish God's prompting from one's own” (John Punshon, Encounter with Silence, p. 81).