Nurturing the Spiritual Center of Our Meetings: Vocal Ministry and the Bible

FGC "Nurturing the Meeting Community" Conference
Rosholt, Wisconsin
September 19-22, 2002

Workshop Facilitator: Susan Jeffers


This is the web page I posted prior to the workshop named above. I'm hoping it will be useful for those who attend the workshop and possibly for others as well. I'm working on posting additional information and resources by the end of September, so if you're interested, be sure to check back. Questions or comments? EMail me!

Workshop description from the conference brochure:

"We will explore ways to continue in a spirit of inclusiveness, making diversity welcome in our meeting communities while maintaining our spiritual identity as Quakers. We'll examine how to nurture vocal ministry, as well as examine the use of Bible study, prayer groups, and religious education for spiritual centering."

Workshop format:

The workshop meets three mornings; we will use this time to engage the topic from three directions: theology (beliefs, "faith", or "worldview"), practice (what we do), and experience (what happens; how does it look and feel, sound, taste, smell?). Each session will include a presentation by the facilitator, discussion and sharing, and worship.

FRIDAY. What do we believe about vocal ministry? A Quaker theology of speaking and silence.

A statement by Friends General Conference says:

"It is our experience that: faith is based on direct experience of God; our lives witness this experience individually and corporately; by answering that of God in everyone, we build and sustain inclusive community."

How do these beliefs connect with our practices of vocal ministry and unprogrammed worship?

Early Friends had very specific ideas about the purpose of silence and speaking in Meeting for Worship. Today many people who come to Quaker Meeting for Worship are just thankful for some "quiet time" in the midst of their busy lives, and may not look beyond. What can we say about our own theology of speaking and silence in Quaker worship? What are the practical implications of our theology for nurturing vocal ministry? for nurturing a welcoming, inclusive Meeting community?

In this session we will reflect theologically on our Quaker practices of "silent worship" and "vocal ministry." That is, we will consider our Quaker practices around unprogrammed "silent" worship and vocal ministry and what they mean in terms of our sense of:
(1) the nature of God?
(2) the nature of humanity (or the world)?
(3) the nature of the relationship between God and humanity (or God and the world)?

Bible readings: Acts 1-2; 1 Corinthians 14:26-33; John 6:22-59, Isaiah 6.

"The more reverent the waiting, the more man is silent before the Lord, the more perfect is the preparation to hear the Shepherd's voice, and to exercise the gifts of his bestowing, "for the perfecting of the Saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Gathered to this living principle,--Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith,--we shall be able to comprehend, more and more, what is the breadth and the length, and the depth, and the height, and to know the love of God, which passeth knowledge."
--Joel Bean, 19th century Friend; there's a nice couple of paragraphs, with photos, about 2/3 of the way down this page.

References: "Waiting Worship" in Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, by Lloyd Lee Wilson (Pendle Hill, 1993); Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth-Century Quakers, by Richard Baumann. (London: Quaker Home Service, 1998); "On the Vocal Ministry" by Ruth M. Pitman (Tract Association of Friends); Where Words Come From, by Douglas V. Steere (London: Quaker Home Service, 1985).

SATURDAY. What can we do to nurture vocal ministry? Bible study, prayer groups, and religious education.

Vocal ministry nurtures -- feeds -- the spiritual life of the Meeting. But vocal ministry also arises from and is nurtured by the Meeting, gathered in response to our corporate sense of God's presence and leading.

We're all in this together; God touches us corporately as well as individually, and we need help from one another. Bible study, individually or in small groups, can help us open ourselves to God through scripture. Prayer groups encourage us to be intentional about meeting together for prayer, support, encouragement, and accountability. Religious education provide lots of kinds of opportunities for teaching, learning and practicing our Quaker faith.

Bible readings: Psalm 1; John 14:15-31; Romans 8:26-27; Philippians 4:4-9

References: Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, by Richard J. Foster (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998); Rhythms of the Inner Life: Yearnings for Closenesss with God (Newberg, OR: Barclay Press, 1992); Friendly Bible Study, by Joanne and Larry Spears (FGC); "Prayer" by Virginia Schurman (Tract Association of Friends).

SUNDAY. What happens? How does it look and feel? Vocal ministry and our life together as Friends.

How do Friends describe our experiences of vocal ministry and its role in the Meeting? What does vocal ministry have to do with other aspects of the life of the Meeting, such as finances, peace activism, caring for our children, personal spirituality, interpersonal conflicts, and the whole range of human complexities among us? How do we feel God moving among us, particularly in connection with the special sort of communication we call vocal ministry?

Bible readings: Numbers 11:1-30; Proverbs 15:23; John 15:1-17; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 3:12-17

References: "The Gathered Meeting" by Thomas Kelly (Tract Association of Friends); "Congregational Silence" by Max I Reich (Tract Association of Friends).

About the facilitator:

Susan Jeffers is a student of the Bible and Quakerism; adjunct faculty for the Earlham School of Religion (Quaker) and Bethany Theological Seminary; an aspiring web author; a disciple (student, follower, servant, and friend) of Jesus Christ; a member of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, FGC). She completed an M.A. in Biblical Studies at ESR in May 1999; her thesis was titled "Paul and Fox on the Road to Damascus: Sent to Turn People to the Light," based on Acts 26:12-20 and its echoes in the life and writings of George Fox. You can EMail Susan at

Personal note

In the course of preparing this material I've become aware of workshop facilitation as a form of vocal ministry, perhaps more like the message brought by a minister in the pastoral branch of Friends, but vocal ministry nonetheless. As I begin to prepare, I spend some time thinking, analyzing, looking for suitable books or articles, racking my brains, eventually getting pretty tense about it all. At some point I remember Who's supposed to be in charge, and settle into a time (sometimes lasting weeks) of opening myself to God's leading as to what I'm to do. It's like being in Meeting for Worship, and I'm certain I'm to speak, so I stand up, but the words haven't quite come yet so I don't yet say anything: having accepted the invitation to facilitate, I'm confident I'm supposed to be preparing, but I haven't yet gotten the specifics. In the meantime, even before having the exact content of the message I'm to bring, there's a lot I can be doing. I pray for guidance as to which Bible passages I should be reflecting on; pray and reflect with a spiritual friend; think about what I know about the context of the workshop, the planners, the likely participants, and pray for all concerned; ask God, what would you have me say to this group, how do you want to use me here? Eventually all this reflection and openness leads me back to action, and I start preparing handouts or writing a web page; sometimes the cycle repeats many times, but eventually the time comes for the actual event and ... whatever happens, happens! Again, it reminds me of how it feels to speak in Meeting for Worship.

Another personal note -- on "inclusiveness"

I believe when I was asked to lead this workshop and the word 'inclusiveness" was used, it was meant in primarily theological terms: FGC Friends want to welcome people of varying theological outlooks, while remaining centered in Quakerism. Over the intervening months I've been participating in various activities that keep reminding me of other types of inclusiveness that are at least as important, if not more so, particularly inclusiveness with respect to race and class. I'm hoping that in the workshop we can help one another to grow in our understanding of how to nurture vocal ministry that is aware of and welcoming to people of all races and all social and economic strata of society.