Group Worship and the Gathered Meeting
Adult Education Reading Group
Santa Monica Quaker Meeting
March 18, 2018 at 8:30 a.m.
Clerked by Kim O’Brien and Stanford J. Searl, Jr.
1. “The gathering of Friends in meetings for communion with God constitutes a group activity of inward prayer and contemplation. Insights gained by such spiritual activity may be spoken or left unsaid. Often they are powerful enough to move the worshipper in new directions more closely related to the Divine plan. While this process may be called group prayer or meditation by some, Friends tend to describe it as “waiting upon the Lord.”
The silent worship of a Quaker meeting is communion insofar as it rises above silence as a symbol and allows the life of God into the souls of the waiting group. The worshipper becomes a part of the divine life, as it flows through, and transforms.
2. Quaker experience supports the view that it is possible and practical to merge the values of individual and group worship. The unique worth of individual worship is in the fact that the worshipper need not adapt to any outward or traditional circumstances. A person aspiring to reach heights unattained need not be dragged down by others. However, care must be taken to avoid extreme individualism which might result in religious anarchy. The special role of group worship is found in the opportunity which it affords for the stronger to help the weaker. Those who know better the ascent can guide those who do not. But in this case an extreme of group control might create a type of uniformity out of which new life could not grow.
The Quaker meeting for worship when it attains its ends avoids the two extremes and combines the power of each. A balance of individual and group values is reached in which the whole does not dominate the parts, nor do the parts go their own way regardless of the whole. As fellowship deepens, and the spirit of worship grows, a new and higher understanding brings the individuals into a united whole. Isaac Pennington says of this, “They are like a heap of fresh and burning coals warming one another . . . as a great strength, freshness and vigor of life flows into all.”
3. A free ministry which grows naturally in a meeting for worship usually points forward to goals; it does not reason nor argue nor preoccupy itself with means and instruments. It suggests a simple insight and appeals to the simple insight of others. A vocal ministry which pulls a religious experience to pieces in order to examine it, destroys it. Long and elaborately reasoned discourses tend too often to clamp delicate life processes into stiff, intellectual molds.
We cannot and we should not separate worship from its consequences. A meeting for worship differs from what is called secular life only in the degree to which the worshipper is able to become sensitive to the Inner Light. It is impossible for anyone to be with God and not partake of the spirit in which He ever seeks to unite His world to Himself. No longer are people seen as selfish individuals, struggling to attain their ends, indifferent to their fellows. The soul now knows that the deepest longing of every individual is the common will of all (Book of Discipline, North Carolina Yearly Meeting” (Conservative).