The Gathered Meeting
The first time I read Steven Davison’s pamphlet [on the Gathered Meetging] my heart leapt and I said, “Yes!” The second time I read it, I wept. Why the difference? The first time I united with Davison’s proclamation that the gathered meeting is “one of the great gifts we have to offer the world.” The second time I realized the truth of his acknowledgment that too many Friends have never experienced a gathered meeting and have no idea what they—and we—are missing.
. . . the gift of being gathered, whether in a meeting for worship or for business, is our best outreach tool. It is the essence of who we are. If we experience it, we will be changed; if visitors experience it, they are likely to return to taste it again. Young Friends, having experienced it in their home meetings, will be drawn back by more than sentimentality.
Friends are aware of other important work being done by God in other meetings for worship. But it is natural for those who have felt the gathered condition to hope devoutly for it. People may pray fervently for it for themselves and for the meeting; but, in the same manner that they wait on the promptings of the Spirit, they receive and experience gathering as a gift; as the grace, mercy, the favor, the work of the Holy One.
Those who are sunk in personal meditations rather than corporate worship may miss it altogether. God generally seems to await our invitations to enter, before meeting us more than halfway. Those who discount the intimations of their intuitive nature, or subject their experiences to the reductionist exercises of rationlism, might unwittingly brush aside the overtures of the Spirit that seems to pass from Friend to Friend in a gathered or covered meeting. For many, there is an almost palpable, electric sense of Presence, of Life, of Power, of spiritual movement among them
Patricia Loring, Listening Spirituality, Volume II, pp. 26-27
In the practice of group worship on the basis of silence come special times when the electric hush and solemnity and depth of power steals over the worshipers. A blanket of divine covering comes over the room, a stillness that can be felt is over all, and the worshipers are gathered into a unity and synthesis of life which is amazing indeed. A quickening Presence pervades us, breaking down some part of the special privacy and isolation of our individual lives and blending our spirits within a super individual Life and Power. An objective, dynamic Presence enfolds us all, nourishes our souls, speaks glad, unutterable comfort within us, and quickens us in depths that had before been slumbering. The Burning Bush has been kindled in our midst, and we stand together on holy ground.
Thomas Kelly, from The Gathered Meeting
In this living Presence it becomes safe for the ego to relax, allowing us to realize that the sharp boundaries of the self can become blurred and blended as we feel ourselves more and more united with fellow worshipers and with the Spirit of God. This sense of corporate reality can become so strong that we can almost touch it, and we are reminded that Friends have traditionally referred to the meeting as "the body."
Bill Taber, Four Doors to Meeting for Worship, p. 12
The gathered meeting is one of the great gifts we have to offer the world. If we commit ourselves individually and corporately to nurture the gathered meeting, as well as to nurture the spiritual gifts of those who come to us, if we lovingly enfold them into our fellowship, and if they experience the gathered meeting in worship - the true presence of the Holy Spirit - then those who come to us will know who we really are. They will know what Quakerism is and what it has to offer them. They may then join us, and our meetings will thrive. But more importantly, we will have brought them to God, to the Mystery Reality within true and holy communion.
Steven Davison, The Gathered Meeting, p. 28
In recent years the First Day morning for worship has tended to last about one hour. In earlier generations it often continued for two or three hours or longer. The steadily decreasing length of the period of public worship is a sign of decreasing spiritual vitality.
Howard Brinton, Guide to Quaker Practice, pp. 22-23 (published in 1955)
If reluctance to end worship is a sign that the meeting has been truly gathered, perhaps the converse can also be true: that when Friends gather in worship free from the constraints of the clock, the likelihood of moving to a deeper level of gatheredness is greatly increased. This seems to be exactly the experience of the recent practice of extended worship, formally known as "Meetings for Worship, Ministry, and Eldering", in which worship can continue for three hours or more. In my occasional opportunities to participate, I have felt these meetings to be times of deeply gathered worship, characterized by an abundance of expectant waiting as well as spirit-led vocal ministry.
Tom Gates, Worship: "The Gathered Meeting" Revisited