Disrupting the Quaker meeting

Lack of trust disrupts Quaker worship.

Meetings are not agreeable events, when we hide from the world into a nice period of quietness. They are meetings with something…encounters….times of vulnerabilities…events of the soul….times when we discover our common humanity, wrote Harvey Gillman on facebook.

It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. You should not attend the Quaker meeting unless you are willing to be profoundly changed by it. We become relaxed, alert, aware together. We wait for God. We may receive a message from the Spirit for ourself or the Meeting, and may be moved to speak it in words which seem unlike our usual ways of speaking.

Surroundings help. We can meet anywhere. My meeting is close to the war memorial, and so every November we hear bugles, drums, and even amplified speech. We anticipate this. I have worshipped outside, with the beauty of trees and plants, with personnel from the US military base (called by a legal fiction an “RAF” base) calling derisively “Praise the LORD!” We know we will face this challenge, so may enter the silence. But in a meeting house, it is better that the place is clean and beautiful, without too much noise from outside.

Some people find knitting helps them still their minds for contemplation. Others find someone knitting distracts them. How you describe this affects how you react: she should be sitting still, in contemplation, not spending time knitting; or, with her mental health issues she finds knitting calming, so that she is less distracted. When I practised the piano a lot, I could read a book while playing scales. You might think you know the rules- No knitting! Approaching with openness and willingness to listen makes resolution easier.

When I was on the cusp between enquirer and attender, I went to another meeting where a man read out, Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or its laws. Just transitioning, that was me. I burst into tears. I was obviously moved by the Ministry, which spoke to me, and people welcome that. Yet I have cried quietly in meeting, and this was experienced as disruptive. At that time, there were tensions in the Meeting which we were not dealing with, and anything I had done might be disruptive. They felt I had let them down by my needy behaviour, and I felt they had let me down by not recognising my Friend’s need.

I like to go to other meetings, and in one I found a woman with a broad smile handing out pieces of plasticene. I had not known that day was their All-age worship. She explained what to do with the plasticene, and I can see that moulding it might help the unconscious to communicate to the conscious, non-verbally, and so be a way in to understanding Quaker worship; but it was not what I wanted, and people showing off their models was not the ministry I desired. I had felt Quaker worship would enfold me, and was disappointed.

I expected cosy reassurance. That is not on offer. Reality is on offer. We are not separated from the “Real world”. Cosy expectations might be disrupted by the spirit, disrupted in a good way, and sometimes the disruption is too great for the worshipper to process it; rather than nudging me forward, it pushes me back. I need to be outside my comfort zone, but being too far out makes me rush back to the core of comfort.

I have expressed anger in the Meeting, and that was experienced as disruptive. I would like space for anger. Anger is sad’s bodyguard. Sadness is more acceptable if it may be comforted: bottomless, unquenchable sadness is frightening. And when I had attended for a time, a man came in to our Meeting and preached at us from his conservative Evangelical understanding of the Bible. I interrupted him, expressed distress and dashed out. Two Friends followed me, sat close to me and held my hands as I ranted my distress, and I was calmed.

It is better to be able to calm myself, not to ask from a meeting more than it can give. Everyone can be needy. Meeting is not perfect. Getting to know each other, building our community, our trust and acceptance of each other, helps us to meet each other’s needs.

8 thoughts on “Disrupting the Quaker meeting

  1. Interesting post – yes I am profoundly changed by Quaker Meeting, and have wept there, often. But no-one told me that was disruptive – how judgemental! – and no-one tried to stop me. ((XXX))

    Liked by 2 people

      • I am wondering if you know anything about the Collegiants. Gwyn gives them some attention in his history of Quaker atonement.

        Coornhert is most accurately referred to as a ‘Collegiant’ – indeed, very probably as the ‘founder’ of the Collegiant movement. He was originally a self-educated engraver from Amsterdam. His views were moulded by his first-hand experiences of religious persecution and the influence which Sebastian Franck’s work had had upon him. He was critical of the Anabaptist ‘ban’ and supported an interim Church which he referred to as the stilstandskerk. The Dutch Reformed Church was then hit by the Arminian theological crisis. During the purge that followed some congregations were left without ministers and a new structure was established based around the ‘Collegium’ or gathering.

        It is likely that some of these became infiltrated by those with Anabaptist leanings. Tears were viewed as a sign of true prayer – which may have had some influence on the later London Familist cells as this seems to have been a characteristic common to the Valley – at least as pictured by Stephen Dennison. It is extraordinary that one of teh few things we know about the Familists of the Valley is that they routinely cried during meetings.

        See Gwyn – ‘Seekers found: atonement in early Quaker experience’ (2001) for further discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Welcome, Simon, and thank you for commenting. I am afraid I have not read that book by Douglas Gwyn- I have not read systematically in Quaker theology or history. I remember from the Philokalia that an abbot considered that the Eucharist was such a profound gift from God that it should always elicit tears, but I fear that if tears were required they could be a false basis for judgment, or even a Pavlovian response. I don’t like the word “Anabaptist”. I understand it was used by others to condemn Baptists, who call themselves “Baptists”. I do not condemn Baptists: “Whoever is not against you is for you”.

          Thank you for your instances of crying in worship. I feel tears may be an authentic response to God in worship.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Except anger – we show a lot of that, at times. Driven last weekend to elder when someone said, ‘Fuck!’ repeatedly. A person who expects to be listened to, who ministers repeatedly, yet takes offence when others minister about spiritualists, of all people. Person apologised to the assembly, but I remain stunned. Some of my best friends have been spiritualists. Je suis spiritualiste!!!. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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