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December, 2002 - Exploring Worship

Reflections on an FGC Traveling Ministry Program

Exploring our corporate relationship with God, celebrating the Divine in community, requires considerable risk but holds out possibility of repayment in wonder and awe. Its pretty exciting stuff to consider. Last May I was invited through Friends General Conference's Traveling Ministry Program to facilitate Summit Monthly Meeting's exploration of worship. The invitation was supported in turn by Plainfield Meeting who approved a travel minute. Louisa Cameron, a member of the support committee that meets with me, felt led to travel with me as traveling companion/elder. For all those things to fall neatly into place were either a series of major coincidences or a series of small miracles, depending on one's orientation. For myself I don't believe in coincidence.

Summit Meeting, located in Chatham, New Jersey, members travel to Powell House, New York Yearly Meeting's retreat center in Old Chatham New York, every October. Some Friends camp on the grounds, most stay in Powell House. Along with reflecting on the life of the Spirit, there was time for walking and campfires, shopping and socializing. Friday evening I was invited to lead group games. Saturday evening there was a wonderful white elephant gift giving that we in Plainfield may want to try some time. With between forty and fifty adults in attendance and at least as many children there was an overriding sense of community.

Summit's Ministry and Counsel had each read William Taber's Pendle Hill Pamphlet "Four Doors to Meeting for Worship" whose metaphors became the infrastructure of the weekend. As we worked together developing the program our working title was "Deepening Our Worship Together." They eventually named the weekend: "Joyful Intentionality: Welcoming Discipline and Grace into our Worship." Joy, discipline, and grace. It's a paradox that about says it all.

On your feet now -- applaud God!
Bring laughter
sing yourselves into his presence.
Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us, we didn't make him.
We're his people, his well-tended sheep.
Enter with the password: "Thank you!"
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.
God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.
Psalm 100 from Eugene Peterson's paraphrase
The Message

There is a difference between facilitating a group and leading one. Perhaps it is similar to the difference between clerking a meeting and chairing one. My task was not so much to share my experiences but to create a forum where Friends could delve into their experiences both individually and corporately. Through discussion and listening and worship-sharing and worship, Friends opened themselves to explore the Divine's work among them. Much of the consideration to the form of queries: In what ways are prayer and worship alike? In what ways are they different?

Why do we come to worship together? How do I share that vision with my faith community? In what ways do we lead spiritually active lives throughout the week and prepare for worship? We looked at spiritual practices--daily prayer, keeping Sabbath, devotional reading, journaling, fasting, mediation. Friends shared their spiritual lives from crazy Sunday mornings to ways of talking of the Divine to their children to finding the balance between faith and the secular world. Some Friends stretched deeply to listen to each other when experiences were framed differently from their own. Others worked hard to find different ways of sharing their own experience. Some folks were challenged, others nurtured. Some were open to explore, others content where they were. On Sunday morning, before worshiping with Old Chatham Friends, we spent time reflecting on the previous day's activities and framing queries to help frame next steps and priorities of the coming year.

Deepening worship is never, I suppose, a completed task. Because, in part we rely on no intermediaries in our relationship with the Divine we assume responsibility both individually and as a community. Our goal, though, is the same as the very first Friends:

"...A glorious powerful meeting we had and his power went over all; and the minds of people were turned by the spirit of God in them to God, and to Christ and God their teacher, and the powerful word of life was largely declared that day so that in the life of power of God we brake up our meeting."

George Fox's Journal 1654

Carl Williams, November 2002