The Understanding and Practice of Unprogrammed Worship
West Newton Monthly Meeting of Friends includes both programmed and unprogrammed worship in our Meeting for Worship. The programmed portion includes hymns, Scripture reading, special music, and a message. The unprogrammed worship is a time of openness to God's presence and leading.
The following statements are an attempt to help both new attenders and long-time Friends use the unprogrammed worship more effectively.
As the silence begins, it is more fitting to settle into a time of reverence than to try to address God with thoughts and cares swirling through our minds and hearts. The Scriptures advise us to "...let all the earth be silent before him." (Habakkuk 2:20)
Guiding thought on Unprogrammed Worship
Center down in silence. "Centering down" means clearing the mind and heart from distracting thoughts, worries or cares, seeking with God's help to set aside anything that would prevent you from hearing God's voice.
Wait upon the Lord. Listen for God's voice within your heart. Seek to be quiet and attentive, focusing on God rather than yourself. Then open yourself to a thought, a passage of Scripture, a prayer, a hymn, a specific concern, or to whatever else God's Spirit directs.
Be aware of others around you--their yearning, and needs. Be aware that they are seeking to communicate with God, too. Follow a leading to pray, either for the entire worshipping community or for some particular concern.
Knowing When to Speak
One of the hardest things to determine in a Quaker Meeting for Worship is when you ought to speak, and when you ought to keep silent. To indulge in one's own opinions, to rise quickly to utter words without reflecting on whether these come truly from God is to fall short in obedience to God. Friends believe discipline is necessary to arrive at clearness about a call from God to speak. On the other hand, it is equally inappropriate to remain silent when you sense that God is leading you to speak, whether you fully understand the leading or not. Above all else, seek to be obedient to God's presence, not determining ahead of time whether you will speak or refrain from speaking.
Listening to Ministry
Keep on listening when someone breaks the silence with vocal ministry. Someone else's voice may first appear to be a jarring interruption, but listen intently to what God might want to say to you through that which is spoken. Be sensitive to how God wants you to respond, either vocally or in silent prayer and thought. Take time to reflect more deeply on what the speaker says, rather can rising quickly to answer.
- · It is important to allow a few moments of silence after each speaker for the message to be heard, and assimilated by the worshipping group.
- · Speak audibly and distinctly. Some persons may have difficulty hearing others. Be sensitive to their need.
- · Let God's Spirit discipline your mind. Let your words be few and full, speak directly to the point without wandering.
- · If you feel led to speak, surrender again your impulse to the Lord, saying "Not my will, but thine be done." If it is only your will that prompts you, God's grace will enable you to remain seated, with benefit to yourself and to others.
- · However, if after an attitude of surrender, you still feel the prompting of the Spirit, that inner necessity to speak (sometimes with emotional "butterflies"), by all means be obedient. Rise and share at once the message that you are led to share.
Vocal Ministries That Are Helpful
There are varieties of gifts and varieties of ministries, but all are intended for mutual help, instruction, encouragement, and challenge.
A few types of vocal witnesses which have proved helpful are:
- · Spontaneous words of joy, praise, thanksgiving, and adoration.
- · Simple words of witness or testimony--sharing the workings of God's Spirit in your own life, perhaps even acknowledging a need, a trial, a dry spell or a persistent doubt.
- · Honest confession of sin. This can have a humbling and healing effect on the gathered Meeting.
- · Words of exhortation and encouragement, speaking from some Scriptural passage or personal concern, or prophetically declaring God's specific message for those gathered.
- · Prayer that arises out of the needs of the worshipping community.
- · A portion of Scripture, selected on an inspiration from the Spirit, and read clearly and effectively. Or perhaps a hymn or song singularly appropriate for the moment, which can be sung by an individual, or by the entire meeting.