Answering God – 40 Days with the Religious Society of Friends
Day 13 – Wednesday after 2nd Sunday of Lent
Are your meetings for church affairs held in a spirit of worship and in dependence on the guidance of God?
Remember that we do not seek a majority decision nor even consensus.
As we wait patiently for divine guidance our experience is that the right way will open and we shall be led into unity.
(Advices & Queries #14)
From the Scriptures:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
I cannot begin to count how many ‘meetings for church affairs’ I attend in any given year. Add to this community meetings such as my Rotary Club, School Governing Body and the occasional Town Council meeting it would not surprise me if it did not amount to several hundred.
Are they all conducted ‘held in a spirit of worship and in dependence on the guidance of God?’ If only they were! In fact if they were I strongly suspect there would be fewer in number, shorter in length, and more godly in outcome.
Yes, meetings are for business and some may say that prayer is best kept for formal times of worship but if we do not hold our discussions in a spirit of prayer we will not be able to discern the voice of God because it is drowned out by the cacophony of our own desires.
A passage of Scripture is read at the beginning of all meetings, and then for a few minutes you talk to a person near to you as to what struck you on hearing it, roles are reversed and then each pair (without comment) tell the whole group what their partner heard from the Scripture reading. In a year I will read and reflect on the same passage 25 or more times and I have always found something new, urgent and comforting in the Word I have read and the words of those I have listened to.
Does this make our meetings any easier or our decisions any smoother? Sometimes but not always. What it does do is remind me that the person with whom I may disagree with over a point of Church Order, Liturgy, or how and when the church buildings are to be unlocked and locked is a fellow pilgrim who listens to the Word as intently and as deeply as I try to.
This realisation makes it very difficult to argue over petty issues, encourages me to recognise that we are people of good heart all have godly intentions, and (wonder of wonders) even enables me to agree to courses of action that I would rather not follow.
The Religious Society of Friends recommends that our meetings do not make an idol of a majority vote, which can leave some marginalised and feel neglected. Neither is there a quest for a ‘peace at any price’ approach which refuses to hold votes on key issues and so paralyse the mission of the People of God. Rather they ‘do not seek a majority decision nor even consensus’ but instead a patient waiting for divine guidance that will lead to the ‘right way’. A way that is marked by unity of Spirit rather than dissensions, factions and party spirit.
Yes, this may take more time.
Yes, this may mean we have to close our mouths and open our ears more often.
Yes, this may mean we will not always get our own way.
And Yes, this will mean that we will have taken steps towards ’maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’.
And this would look rather special if recorded under the Actions heading of the minutes of any meeting I have ever attended.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender or skin colour.
Let the warmth and brightness of the sun melt our selﬁshness.
So that we can share the joys and feel the sorrows of our neighbours.
And let the light of the sun be so strong that we will see all people as our neighbours.
Let the earth, nourished by rain, bring forth ﬂowers to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward to heaven.
(Rabbi Harold Kushner)
1) Read slowly the note from ‘Advices & Queries’ above again
2) Investigate ‘Dwelling in the Word’ and consider introducing it to your church fellowship.
P.S. if you are a meeting junkie and need a few humorous tips on how to conduct them well, have a look at the series of management training videos called Meetings, Bloody Meetings by the British Comedian John Cleese.
Quotes from ‘Advices & Queries’ are copyright © The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, 1995, 1997 and 2008
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Prayers from ‘Prayers for Hard Times’ are copyright © Becca Anderson 2017
These Reflections, ‘Answering God’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 – and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged