Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Spiritual Journey, Epilogue

This post covers the gap between when I presented my spiritual journey in 2008 up to the present day. You can also read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

It feels like a lot has happened to me since I presented my spiritual journey to Atlanta Friends Meeting. There was one thing that was very significant to me that I left out of my spiritual journey, which happened in sixth month of 2008. When I attended the fourth month Representative Body meeting of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, I happened to talk with Lloyd Lee Wilson and I indicated some interest in traveling in the ministry - I can't remember exactly what I said, though. Lloyd Lee said that he thought I should come to this gathering of ministers that Charlie Ansell (then of Virginia Beach meeting) was organizing, that would be held in Woodland, NC in sixth month. Way opened for us to go, and it was a blessed time. The folks there were Lloyd Lee Wilson, Charlie Ansell, Deborah Fisch, Connie McPeak Green, Marty Grundy, David Eley, and me. Susan Wilson and Janice Ansell were also with us for a little while, but they were also taking care of the hospitality. We didn't have an agenda, we just sat in worship and waited for the Lord to lead us.

When I first saw who would be there, I felt quite intimidated, and it kinda felt like getting a chance to be the bat boy for the '27 Yankees. These Friends were all very kind to me and made me feel like I belonged there. It meant a tremendous amount to me. Towards the end of the meeting, we were reflecting on our experience there, and someone said that it was great that they weren't trying to "one-up" each other, and someone else said it was also great that they weren't trying to out-humble each other. I am very grateful to Lloyd Lee for arranging for me to be there, and to Charlie for following his leading.

Probably the biggest thing that has happened to me since I presented my journey is that I am now in the School of the Spirit "On Being a Spiritual Nurturer" program. It has been an incredible experience so far. In our first residency, Lloyd Lee Wilson came and spoke to us, as did his traveling companion Charlie Ansell. Charlie spoke about his role as an elder, and he had a lot of great things to say even though I don't think he knew ahead of time that he would be speaking. As Lloyd Lee spoke about his plain dress, it awakened something in me. It started with the beard, which he gave a name to - a tauferbard (believer's beard). There was something about naming it that was important to me. As a result, I decided to try growing one. Lloyd Lee, in talking about discernment, said "Don't stand there on the dock waiting to see if you're led to get on the boat to America. Get on the boat and see if you're led to get off." I took that to heart with my beard, first growing the beard out, then seeing if I still felt led to shave off the mustache (Ceal was skeptical but she actually likes the beard, as long as I let her trim it occasionally).

There were three reasons why this change in my appearance appealed to me. First, a tauferbard is a symbol of Christian pacifism. Second, I thought it would make me stand out a little more. It's not that I want to stand out in order to say to the world "hey, look at me", but rather to say to myself "hey, the world's looking at you, watch what you do." I thought it would help me be more aware of what I was doing and how it appeared to people. Third, I wanted to invite conversation.

Since then, I have been moving more in the direction of plain dress. In a way, it is like I have come full circle from my first day at meeting when I wore a white oxford shirt and black dockers. I am back to that, although I also have some gray oxford shirts. I have also started wearing suspenders. I think the look has helped me feel more separate than just the beard by itself. I can't bring myself to take the collars off the shirts, although if I could easily but the collarless ones I probably would. At first I was just dressing that way for work, but would still wear t-shirts and such on the weekends, but now I wear the same thing every day, and I feel really comfortable with it.

I did have some difficulties at School of the Spirit, that I think I attribute to not being comfortable with myself and expecting myself to change in certain ways. Certainly I have changed since I started, but I thought maybe I would become a more chatty person, that during breaks I would be standing around talking about various things with my classmates. But, that's just not me. I'm happy to talk with people, but unless there is something specific I want to talk about with someone, I don't generally go seeking conversation. I think there are probably times at meals when I don't say a thing, I just listen to what everyone else is saying. That bothered me for a while, but I have come to embrace it as part of who I am. I have also had a tendency to hold my call to ministry at arm's length, even though I get lots of encouragement from various sources. That is something I have been willing to embrace more firmly, and I feel it deepening.

At some point I plan to post my School of the Spirit research paper here. It has one of those old style long titles "The Message of the Eminent and Faithful Friend and Minister of Christ Jesus, George Fox, As Revealed by the Quotations of Scripture in his Epistles Unto Friends." I am in the middle of teaching the material during the Adult Ed classes at Atlanta Friends meeting, and also gave it as a workshop at SAYMA. I thought I'd have a chance to incorporate feedback before posting it here.

As I was typing this, I thought about the number of times the name Lloyd Lee Wilson has occurred in my spiritual journey, and how many of those encounters have resulted in significant events for me - my first visit to NCYM-C, the gathering of ministers in Woodland, my move towards plain dress. There are other things that I didn't mention in my spiritual journey, like his asking me to share some of my work with the meeting of Ministers, Elders and Overseers at NCYM-C, or asking me to find a good bible verse to kick off the discussion at the morning communion. When I sent him the PDF of the Joseph John Dymond letters, he responded with some words of encouragement. I don't think he reads blogs too often, so I'm going to have to mention this to him next month and thank him.

My Spiritual Journey, Part 3

This is the final part of my spiritual journey as presented to Atlanta Friends Meeting in 2008. You can also read part 1 and part 2.

So, the next year blogging started to get real popular and I started reading various Quaker blogs. This was around 2005, and I actually started my own blog, that I've slowed down on a bit, but it's called "The Ear of the Soul", that phrase comes from a quote from Meister Eckhart, a famous Christian mystic.. No! John of the Cross, another famous Christian mystic, or Juan de la Cruz he would be in Spanish. And it was very interesting. I can look at some of the things I said when I started and how I changed, and a lot of the people in the blogosphere had an effect on that. Having discussions with people, one of the nice things about blogging is actually people getting out and talking about their faith that we probably don't do here as much, and actually the blogging is a good way to do it, because everybody's on their own schedule. If you're busy this week, you come back to it next week. And plus, you've got a record of it, you can go back and read what somebody was saying two years ago.

And sometime, it was in 2006, I don't remember when the Gwinnett Worship Group started, but early on when it started, they only had a couple people going, didn't have any women attending, which can I guess be uncomfortable if a woman comes in and it's all guys. So, we started visiting occasionally, and the meeting started to grow. It was going pretty well, and Lloyd Lee Wilson, my plain Friend, came to visit, basically a traveling in the ministry kind of thing. He just came and sat in worship, and then would occasionally talk about things. And he talked about the yearly meeting, and the purpose of the yearly meeting, and he talked about how the worship at the end of the yearly meeting was sort of his liturgical.. the liturgical highpoint of his year, and he spoke very glowingly of his yearly meeting. So Ceal and I said "we really need to go there".

So, we went. They meet in July.. the second fourth day of seventh month is when they start. They're very big on numbering the days, the months. And I really felt at home there in a way that was different from our meeting, because.. let me explain one thing. For those of you who aren't familiar with conservative Friends, the word conservative doesn't have to do with political affiliation, and in fact North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative passed a torture minute the year before SAYMA did. It has to do with them feeling they are conserving the old Quaker traditions, so they are also unprogrammed like we are. They are more explicitly Christian than we are, they're very open in talking about that, but I think a lot more of their strength is not that, it's that they are much more.. they talk much more about how the Spirit works in us, and in the meeting, and maybe have a little more, they're a little more openly dedicated to that. One of the things I like, I'm the recording clerk for the Retreat Committee, and I'm starting to put "If consistent with Divine will" at the end, whenever they say "We purpose to meet on such-and-such a day.. if consistent with Divine will", you know, it's that acknowledgement that "yeah, this is where I want to go, but at some point I may be led to do something different." It's something they keep in mind a lot. But it's also that I felt that I could speak the language that I was most comfortable with and not have to worry so much about upsetting people. And, you know, I.. there's different ways to have a yearly meeting. The thing that I learned from the yearly meeting conservative is that it can be quite a benefit to have a shared faith tradition that people can speak to each other with. People can quote the bible and it means something to a lot of people and you understand where they're going, where when you have more of a mix that's a lot more difficult. But, don't necessarily get.. some people feel less comfortable with that. Having a meeting like this, and a yearly meeting like ours, is just a different way of approaching it, it has different strengths and weaknesses.

Also, while I was there, the Saturday night program was reading the book of Mark as sort of a dramatic presentation. There were 12 or 13 people, several people had different parts to read, and I volunteered. I said "Hey, I'll participate." And I think I had Peter, but the thing that I always laughed about was that there are several places in the book of Mark where evil spirits speak. They gave the guy from the liberal meeting all the evil spirits. Also, we had a little discussion about where the person reading God would sit. They wanted God way up at the top, and I said "I can understand that, God sitting up high, but on the other hand, if God can't get front row center, who can?" Lloyd Lee laughed and said "Thee has a future as a theologian."

So, Ceal and I like to visit meetings when we travel. If you're not familiar with it, quakerfinder.org is really great. If you're going somewhere just type it in. We've been to meetings in Dallas. Dover, New Hampshire was one of my favorites. The day we went there there was an old guy named Silas who.. he's written a book on meeting houses of New England. He's since died, but he had been very ill and been away from meeting for months and this was his first day back, and they were all just lined up to say "Hi" to him. It was wonderful, and he sat with us and talked a lot to us. But, as we visited, I noticed I was speaking a lot in meetings, but not here. And that always bothered me, and I wondered "why am I not speaking here?" Cause I never felt like I had a message, you know, it's not like I was "Oh, I can't say anything here." And I had a lot of discussions with Ceal about that.

While were visiting the North Carolina Yearly Meeting in 2007, there was an announcement about this consultation on Gospel Ministry that FGC Traveling Ministries was having, and I felt like I needed to be there. But to go, your meeting had to recommend you. And I thought "Why is my meeting going to recommend me? I never speak there." And I can't. I can't make myself speak. That's not the way ministry works. I can't fake it. I mean, I could fake it, I don't want to fake it. And so I remember sitting in meeting one day wrestling with this, and I'm pretty sure it was July 29, 2007. I went back and looked it up, because that was the day of the women's retreat and Ceal was there. And I was just wrestling with that and it seemed like a lot of things were falling away, and I don't even precisely know what. But then a message came to me, and I felt "I am going to stand and speak, and I'm not going to worry about what anybody may think." Like most of the things I say in meeting, I can't tell you what I said. I don't remember. But, it just felt like something.. you know, a block was removed, because since then I haven't had any problem. And the other difficulty I had with that was, I feel like it is important for a meeting to be able to look and identify gifts and call gifts out, and I didn't feel so comfortable with saying "hey! I want to go to this Traveling Ministries thing. Could somebody consider that?" But, I exchanged several e-mails with Mary Ann and said "Look, this is my situation. I hate to even say anything but if anybody is considering, could you consider me?" She ended up talking to SAYMA Ministry & Nurture and between SAYMA Ministry & Nurture and Atlanta, Atlanta set up a clearness committee for me which was really great, and they ended up recommending me to go. And it was great. The thing I mentioned about people having a shared tradition, there was a point during that consultation where somebody was talking about how difficult it was dealing with his own meeting, that his own meeting didn't give him any support. He felt really bad about this. Somebody else stood up and said "I feel led to read a verse from the bible." And it started out "Jesus went back to his hometown…" and all of a sudden you could feel everybody "Oh! I know where this is going!" and then we could all feel that we all felt that, and we laughed. It's like you don't even have to continue, cause it was the thing about "a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown." And I got to meet some.. one of the people I really wanted to meet was Brian Drayton, who wrote "On Living With a Concern for Gospel Ministry", and I ended up in his small group. And I had a really good time. I met a lot of people, but the thing.. I'm not sure that the conference itself was the most important thing as far as where I am today. I think the process I went through sitting in meeting and actually just being changed like that was part of it. The clearness committee helped me a lot, and as a result I have an anchor committee or care committee that Bill is.. Bill [Holland, Atlanta Friends] and Daphne [Clement, AFM] and Hannah MacDermott are all on. And that's the kind of committee you want, with those people on it. But they help me a lot, help me stay grounded and a lot of the meeting is like a clearness committee, and they're really good at helping me see things. So that was one of the best benefits.

And since then I've been spending a lot of time in early Quaker writings. I've done a lot with Fox's epistles. I was in the process of trying to make a version of Fox's epistles where all the bible references were in bold and all the actual scripture references were out on the right. Fox, when he used the bible, he didn't say "as it says in blah blah blah", he just used words and phrases from all over the bible, so it's very interesting to actually go and look up the context. And I ended up doing a workshop on that at SAYMA this year, which was very well attended. There were 46 people and SAYMA has about 200 adults attending. There were 5 young Friends, too, so it went really well. And I'm involved in a lot of things. I'm very involved with SAYF, we do prison visitation once a month, I'm on the retreat committee, I'm involved with SAYMA, I'm on the SAYMA nominating committee.. be careful.. but, it feels like there's something more I'm supposed to do and I don't know what it is yet, but I feel an urge to prepare myself. I spend a lot of time reading the bible. I'm kind of a geek. I got into Nascar in the mid-90's and to give you an example of what a geek I am, Ceal caught me reading a book on thermodynamics cause I was reading about engines, and she said "You know, a typical Nascar fan does not read books on thermodynamics." I've never heard any announcers on a Nascar race.. So.. being a geek, I started learning Greek, and part of my thought behind that was "I want to see what the bible really says", and you know over time, I've come to see that it mostly says what it says in English. Part of the thing with, you know, if you really want to understand it in Greek, you have to understand the culture, the thought, you have to put your whole mind back to two thousand years ago, because we've had a lot go on. In things I've read, the Enlightenment really affects our thought process. The idea that religion and politics are separate, that's not something that was in Jesus' time. So, I actually trust English translations more, and I'm more willing to wrestle with "they say what they say."

Also, early on I would just read the synoptic gospels, that's what I was comfortable with, occasionally ventured into John, and other than the love chapter, wouldn't touch Paul. What I've found over time is that if I am willing to let go of fear, or my desire to have it say what I want it to say, and just accept it for what it is, I learn a lot more. And, I can now.. I love reading Paul, especially because I feel a lot.. there's a lot of reading Paul..I can.. you know, from a Quaker standpoint I can see where he is. My favorite verse in the bible is Galatians 5:22-23, "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control." If I.. those to me are a touchstone, that if we are not feeling those things, we're not in touch with the Spirit.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was my understanding of Quakerism, and I want to do it in terms of the phrase "that of God in every person", and the reason is because from my standpoint, there are some contrasts with how we often use that phrase. And I think it will illustrate where I am. First of all, just saying "we believe there is that of God in every person", that's definitely original Quaker theology, you know, that was.. George Fox was all about that. But, to just say that doesn't, to me, go far enough. Because we're an experiential faith, and saying "we believe X" doesn't really speak to the experience itself. And, along the same lines, we say "we try to see that of God" in other people, and to me that is a noble idea, and a lot of times it's a good fallback. If I can't do anything else I'll try to do that, but I think what we miss when we say that as describing what Quakerism is, is that it doesn't talk about "that of God" in our own hearts. Because that is ultimately what transforms us. And it transforms us in a way that we love all of creation like God does. And it's really not just other people, that's all of creation. And I don't think everybody gets that with the looking. And then, also, "that of God" in every person means that everybody has the potential for that same transformation. And that, when Fox talked about answering that of God in other people, it was the idea that by what we say and what we do, we can awaken people to that of God in themselves, so that they also can be transformed. And looking back on my life, that's the one thing I know I can speak to, is that I have been, and I am still being transformed.

This ends the presentation I gave to Atlanta Friends Meeting, but there's a follow-up.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Spiritual Journey, Part 2

This is a continuation of my spiritual journey as told to the Atlanta Friends Meeting in November of 2008. Part 1 was here.

So, now the fun starts. In February of 2001, I got a call from my grandfather. We had been there for Christmas, I spent every Christmas with my grandparents except one, in 1975 when we went to visit my uncle, and I had gotten a Christmas present, it was like a CD of Scrabble stuff, I was a competitive Scrabble player at the time. And it had gotten lost and it didn't make it back with us, and he had found it and he said "I can mail it to you, unless you want to come down here and get it." And I said something to Ceal about that, and we both had this feeling like we needed to go. Ceal said my grandfather wasn't usually the one to ask, it was usually my grandmother "when are you coming? when are you coming?" In fact, she still does that, and I tried to head it off recently. I was on the phone, and I had just gotten back from visiting her the day before, so I said "Grandma, it was great seeing you yesterday" and so she goes "when am I gonna see you again?". You know, she's right on top of it. But, Ceal and I, we had this strong feeling that we needed to go, and at the time I was a contractor. My entire career, I really don't have a lot to say about it, I've been a computer programmer, that's all.. from the age of 16, that's all the jobs I've ever had. But, I was a contractor, I had a little more leeway to take off, so we went down to Florida, and we spent several wonderful days there, and my grandfather told us stories I had never heard before, about his father getting stuck on Rockaway beach in New York, and everybody recognized him and it was like "Hey! It's Billy Brown! Let's go help him!" and they all.. people just gathered together and helped get his car out of a ditch. And he dug out his grandfather's birth certificate from Scotland, just stuff I hadn't seen before. So, we got back on a Sunday, and he died on Monday. And, I would have had difficulty acknowledging it, but I felt that God was behind us visiting.

And so, while we were still recovering from that, Ceal's dad died April 1st. So, we were in.. we were having a tough time in 2001. So, when September rolled around, we had already been struggling quite a bit, and when 9/11 happened, I felt that, you know, a military response was what we needed. I was still, I actually didn't vote for George W. Bush, but I voted Libertarian that year. And we had a group of friends that we'd know since Ceal and I knew each other, and we used to be on a bulletin board system, if you remember those - you dialed into a PC and you chat.. you don't chat live, you know, somebody leaves a message, so we'd get on, we'd read everybody's messages and we'd write one, you know, "to so-and so.. to so-and-so.." and it was a neat group. Well, by that time it had migrated onto the Internet into a mailing list, and we had a lot of discussion about 9/11 and the United States response, and a friend of mine posted this letter from the Dalai Lama, about being peaceful and all, and I had a very strong negative reaction to it, almost ridiculing it. And I remember thinking "what's.. how has this helped him? China's still in his country, he can't even live in his own country". But, the funny thing about it is that the letter stuck with me, and within a couple of weeks, I started kinda thinking maybe that's not that far off.

And so I started reading about Buddhism, and one of the early books I read was a book called "The Heart of Buddhism" by Thich Nhat Hanh, and I remember at one point reading it, saying "you know, this is how I always thought Christians were supposed to behave". And from Buddhism I also ended up reading a lot about Hinduism, and you know I liked a lot of the ideas in there, and I remember reading this thing about all these mystical experiences of yogis, like glowing, and just kind of fantastic stuff, and this voice in my heart said "if you can believe all this, how come you can't believe in God?" And so, there was sort of a release, you know. I wasn't as resistant to that idea. And around this time I also started reading, I read a lot, okay.. if I just listed all the books I read that would chew up the whole hour, but I read "The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living" by Eknath Easwaran, it's a big.. it's a three volume set, it's not just reading the Bhagavad Gita, it's a little piece of it and then a lot of how you apply it to your life. But, a lot of that was meditation. He has this program of "these are the things you should do" and meditation is one of them. And, part of his meditation to start with is actually memorizing a passage and slowly reciting it. So I memorized a couple of passages from the Bhagavad Gita, and I also.. I would meditate to the love chapter in 1 Corinthians, and the prayer of St. Francis. You know, I didn't notice.. Ceal was actually the one that pointed it out, that I had changed after a while. After several months of doing this, I didn't.. I was calmer.. when I was programming, I didn't bang the desk as often if something didn't work, even though I was using Windows.

Although I had an appreciation for Hinduism and Buddhism, I didn't really feel that they were for me. I never went to visit a Buddhist meditation center, a Hindu temple, and I also found my way to a book called "Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time" -- Marcus Borg. I like Marcus Borg. And, you heard me mention that I started in a pentecostal church, when Marcus Borg talks about the varieties of worship styles, he often uses pentecostals as one end, and Quakers as the other end, so I kind of feel like I've covered the whole spectrum. And so that started me actually trying to re-embrace Christianity from a point which I was comfortable with it, which of course changes over time.

So, in fall of 2002, I took this test online called the Belief-o-matic, and it asks you all these questions about what you believe, and for some of those it asks you to rank how important is this, cause for some people the bodily resurrection of Jesus - you have to believe that, and for other people.. there's just different varieties. And so, when I took the test it popped up "Liberal Quaker", number one. And I'm thinking "Quaker?!" I didn't know anything about Quakers.. nothing. So I started reading about it, and I said "Wow! This sounds exactly like me!" So, I screwed up my courage, and in November of 2002 - six years ago, I came to meeting. I don't remember the exact date, but I can tell you it was a date that you had an FGC book sale, so I did not get out of here empty-handed. The other thing, you know, I had read enough about Quakers to know that plain dress was part of the Quaker history, but I didn't know how much of the Quaker history it was now, so I decided to play it safe and I wore black pants and a white button down shirt, which to me is modern plain. I actually joked with Ceal about maybe I should wear that today, but to me that's dressing up, and this is what I'm comfortable in.

And, I am fairly introverted. I don't seek out conversation all that well, so I would come to meeting and then I would leave. And, finally I got Ceal to come to meeting. We were.. at the time we were gymnastics judges, and Ceal especially during that winter she was working a lot more than me, so she really wanted her Sundays to rest when she had them off, so it took a couple of months for her to come. And I finally got her to come to meeting, and to be honest I was lucky to get her to come back. It was right before the Iraq war, and it was like a political rally. It was a popcorn meeting, and the funny thing was, I sent a message on the Quaker-L mailing list saying "Hey, I just took my wife to this meeting and it was a popcorn meeting.." I described the whole thing and I said "Is this normal?" And someone else wrote back and said "You know, the same kind of thing just happened at my meeting. It's not always that way, but people are.. this is a tough time." That was Julia.. Julia Ewen [of Atlanta Friend Meeting].

So, I got Ceal to come back, and the funny thing was, you know, I had been coming a few more months than her. She went to the Gathered Meeting Retreat. I had to miss it because I was judging a state gymnastics meet, which was kind of a big thing, although it doesn't mean anything to me now. But, anyway, she got to meet all these people, and the next thing you know she's introducing me to all these other people in the meeting, which I wouldn't have done on my own. So this was 2003. We went to SAYMA that year. My first SAYMA. And, we got there at the time registration was supposed to start - imagine that - people are supposed to be on time? The registrar wasn't even there, it wasn't set up. There was.. there were two people there, however. Lloyd Lee Wilson and his traveling companion. Lloyd Lee is from North Carolina Yearly Meeting - Conservative and he was the keynote speaker that year. And Lloyd Lee and his traveling compassion were both plain Friends, you know, the straw hat, the suspenders and everything. So these are the first two people I saw at SAYMA, and I thought "Wow! This is going to be way different than I expected!"

So, in 2004, we went to our first FGC Gathering, and that was in Amherst, Massachusetts. And we took Richard Lee's workshop on "Meeting for Healing and Laughter". It was not our first choice. And you know, I really wasn't all that excited about it. The laughter part, yes, I like to laugh. So, the first couple days are a lot of lecture, talked about Quaker history, especially the healing.. there are a lot of incidents of healing, especially with George Fox in the early Quaker writings, that we probably don't talk about much. There's actually a book called "George Fox's Book of Miracles" that was never reprinted, and all we have now is.. Henry Cadbury found an index of what all the incidents in there were, and for the ones he could find in other places he put them together, so if it was something that was mentioned in the journal he could say "this is what this would have talked about", so it's not a book you can really read very easily, but it is quite interesting. And, I was sort of "ehh.. okay", I was somewhat skeptical. So that Wednesday we had our first meeting for healing, and if you haven't ever been to one, you know how we hold people in Light at the end of meeting, it's like an intense version of that. We would have somebody sit in the middle, and we would all hold that person in the Light for a pretty good period of time, five or ten minutes. And, Ceal was the last person that day. She was in the middle, and I just.. I felt myself going very deep, and my hands started to tingle. I didn't know what to do, I just sat there. And, I also kinda remember that it felt like there was a ring of .. I felt I could almost touch it with my hands. And at the end of the meeting, somebody had this little chime, and they rang it, and instead of snapping out, it felt like I was going over the top of a rollercoaster and plunging down, and I just went deeper. So everybody, they had gotten up and they were all shaking hands and talking, and I was just sitting there, because I was actually kinda freaked out by it. I had come in very skeptical and I was confronted with stuff I really didn't understand. And I went to every meeting for healing they had at FGC after that, because they would have them in the afternoon, and I experienced the same kind of thing, although later on in reading, it's important if you have physical sensations not to rely on them, because you don't always have them. But the one thing I have to say is that was the biggest turning point in my life, because I felt like at that point I could feel God. Not necessarily the tingling hands, I just could feel God. And since then, there are lots of times when I don't feel that, but now instead of saying "Well, maybe God's not really there", it's "I'm not listening hard enough, or maybe I'm doing things that are getting in between that". So I felt like it gave me a gift of faith.

Part 3 continues here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Spiritual Journey, Part 1

Martin Fowler mentioned the BeliefNet Belief-O-Matic today on Facebook and he was surprised to learn that I found Quakers via the Belief-O-Matic. This made me think back again about my spiritual journey. The Atlanta Friends Meeting has been inviting members to share their spiritual journeys on the first first-day of the month during the Adult Ed class before meeting for worship. I shared mine in November of 2008. I recorded it at the time, and decided to make it available. At the time, I didn't know how to switch off the voice activation feature, when means it cuts off the beginning of some syllables, which makes some of them sound a little odd.

I have also transcribed it, and will post it in multiple parts since it is a little long. I hope it might inspire others to do the same. We have found it to be an enriching experience at Atlanta Friends Meeting.

Mark Wutka's Spiritual Journey

So, I'm Mark Wutka, and I'll just start from the beginning. I was born in 1965, May 11th, in Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and within a year of that my parents divorced, and since then I have not seen my father. We moved to live with my grandparents around the time I was a year old, and my uncle (my mom's younger brother) was still at home. This was in Jackson Heights, New York. And although in what I have to say I don't mention my family a lot, my family provided the foundation that underlies my spiritual journey. You know, you might think that not seeing my father that I might be lacking for something, but living with my grandparents for several years, and with my uncle there, I have probably more of a family than a lot of people have, and my mom.. I have a better parent in my mom than a lot of people have with two. Though a lot of what I have is because of them, and it's not necessarily any one thing I can point my finger to, it's just the way they always have been.

So, when we lived in New York, I left there when I was six, we attended Free Gospel Assembly of God church, which is pentecostal, so there were people speaking in tongues. I remember one particular, I'm sure this couldn't have been the first time, but there's this one where I can just see her and hear her in my head. I have no idea what she said, but I just remember it exactly. Of course, I learned a lot about the bible. I could recite about 2/3 of the books of the… list them.. of the Old Testament, by the time I was five. One of the sunday school teachers had made this set of books of the bible out of these little cereal boxes, and so I learned them. It's also kind of funny that the pastor of the church was this older guy, haircut like mine [I had a flat top when I recorded this], gray hair. I remember that that was always what I thought God looked like. And also, I didn't find this out until after I had become a Quaker, my mom remembered that around that time a lot of her friends were concerned because I played with their children and I would never hit back when they hit me. They kept telling my mom "he's got to learn to hit back!"

We moved to Raleigh in 1971 and we attended a Methodist church there, St. Mark's United Methodist, and the only thing I can really remember from there is learning a lot of bible stories. And the funny thing is when you're a kid you form mental images, and it's kind of fun to go back and especially read maybe 1 & 2 Samuel, some of those Old Testament bible stories, and suddenly those images will still come to me. Like the letting the guys down on the rope and that sort of thing.

And around 1973 my grandparents moved to Pinellas Park, Florida, and I would go spend the summers there for several years, and they still stayed in a pentecostal church. They were at Glad Tidings Assembly of God, and we went to church.. now, when it was open, we were there, so sunday morning, sunday evening, wednesday evening, and it was kind of interesting. I can't remember a lot of people speaking in tongues, but I can tell you one of the things we did in sunday school, I think Mary Ann [Downey, a Friend from Atlanta Friends meeting] has mentioned this before, is they used to do a thing called "sword drills". A lot of churches.. there's a thing in Ephesians that talks about the armor of God and it talks about the "sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God", and as Quakers, for us the "Word of God" is Christ, or speaking what the Spirit is leading us to say, and not the book, but for the pentecostal church, the sword was the book. So the sword drills would be that they would call out a bible verse and you had to go find it as fast as you could. It was always a competition between me and the preacher's kid. And they also.. they had something called being "slain in the Spirit", which is sort of, you put your hand on somebody and they just fall backwards. And I was never really comfortable with that, it happened to somebody right in front of me, and she was just laid out on the ground in front of me, and I just kept looking at her. It felt kinda weird. But, the people there were kind and sweet people that lived their faith, and even though there may have been things I might have been uncomfortable with, the people were good people and I can't really say I have bad memories of that.

Now, the other thing is, they were very big into the rapture. During the 70's that was a big thing, "The Late Great Planet Earth" came out, so it was always "oh, the Earth's gonna.. Jesus is coming back tomorrow, you better be ready." I saw movies about this, and it was just drilled into me. And a funny thing is that even into my teens.. one of the passages that the idea of the rapture came from talks about the blast of trumpets.. I would hear a train horn and wonder "Hey! Is it the rapture?"

Also, right around the time we moved to Atlanta in '74 we visited an Episcopal church, and the funny thing about that is, growing up in a protestant church, when you have communion, you get this little, little bitty cup of grape juice. We went to the Episcopal church, they were doing communion and they were passing this huge cup around, and I thought "Oh boy!" I took a huge gulp, and it was wine. And I think that may have contributed to the fact that I have really never liked alcohol.

So, when we moved to Atlanta, we attended Wieuca Road Baptist Church, a very large church, it's kind of a rich section of town, it's across the street from Phipps Plaza [fancy mall, has Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor, etc.]. I was baptized and joined the church in '75. Basically that was the earliest you could join. At the age of 10 you were qualified to make this life decision and be baptized. Looking back, I obviously.. I was not. And, in '77 I joined the youth choir, and it was a good community of teens. However, it was nothing like the open and loving place that the SAYF [Southern Appalachian Young Friends] program is. I certainly wish I had had something like that. And, the thing that sticks with me most about the choir was actually a lot of the songs we sang. There was one called "Peace Like a River" that's not the "Peace Like a River" you're familiar with. But, I just remember singing that one Sunday night and feeling this overwhelming sensation of peace, that was very rare. And, of course, it wasn't something we often talked about in the church. And some of the other favorites of mine, "Come to Me All Who Labor", and it's that whole verse, "I can do all things through Christ" another favorite verse, and incidentally if anybody watched the Georgia-Florida game yesterday, the Florida quarterback [Tim Tebow], on those little black things he had under his eyes had Philippians 4:13, which was that verse. And another one I liked, "And this is love, that a man lay down his life for his friend".

Another thing about me, I was always a big "Star Trek" fan, and the reason I bring this up, is 'cause as I was talking to Ceal [my wife] last night about.. trying to help me fill in any holes here, I remember that this one episode called "The Empath", that was about this woman, who, if somebody was hurt, she could touch them, and whatever was wrong with them would transfer from them to her, and then she would heal. So you'd see this person with like this scar, and she'd touch them and the scar would disappear from them, and then it would appear on her, and then you'd see it fade away. And I always wanted to be able to do that.

So, late into my teens, I started to doubt my faith. This was, this would have been early 80's, Reagan was in office, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were on TV, and I'm not sure.. it's kinda hard to read back into.. look at the events around and read that into what I was going through, but I'm reasonably sure that a lot of my problem was that the image of Christianity that was portrayed in the media was not something that I could accept. I had a lot of difficulty that I had to believe everything in the bible as it was there, and the funny thing is, I didn't talk to my mom about this, and I could talk to my mom about almost anything, and she probably could have helped me out, although in some sense I think I had to go through this. One of the things last weekend, some folks I was talking with, they talked about going away and coming back to have an adult relationship with God, with Jesus, that it is a different relationship than what you grown up with as a child. And I had tried talking to my youth minister, and he was really no help. He just said some generic things like "well, this happens sometimes", or "you just gotta believe", and it just didn't help me. George Fox would probably have phrases for that, "empty husk" or whatever.

So by the time I was 20, I stopped going to church. I picked up Bertrand Russel's book "Why I am not a Christian" and read it, and I found that it did not really speak to my condition. It really didn't speak to why I wasn't a Christian, why I didn't consider myself that. And I spent the next 15 years with basically no spiritual life. I was always interest in Taoism, I read Lao Tzu and Chang Tzu, and even on our honeymoon in Hawaii we visited this old Taoist temple on Maui, but I never really embraced it as a faith tradition. I liked the images, the ideas, but it just wasn't for me. And I was also somewhat influenced in the mid-90's by the revival of conservative politics. I listened to Rush Limbaugh and that sort of thing. I actually continued.. I have mostly had a losing streak in presidential elections. I voted for one winner, and that was Clinton in '92. But, part of that was, I eventually got to the point where I didn't like who I was. I didn't understand why, I just.. I felt like my attitude towards people was harsh, at least.. I wasn't always that way outwardly, but my internal attitude, and I guess a lot of the times at work it would be that way. I didn't like who I was, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Also during this period, in '92, Ceal and I were married. And, it was funny, we were talking about this, I considered myself agnostic, and I guess Ceal did too, but we both felt it was important to be married by a minister. This came to Ceal when we watched our wedding video over the weekend of our anniversary, and I'm not sure what to make of that, other than, you know, there was still something there that I just wouldn't admit to.

Part 2 continues here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Some Thought on Joseph John Dymond's Thoughts on Gospel Ministry

I wasn't sure whether to comment on the individual letters I posted, or save them up for a single post. Since there hasn't really been any discussion on the individual letters, I decided to condense my comments into a single post. When I first started transcribing these letters I was also in the process of reading Ashley Wilcox's paper A Valiant Sixteen, in which she interviewed young Friends traveling in the ministry. I noticed some common themes, such as the need for financial support, and the desire for meetings where experienced ministers and those young in the ministry (whether young or old in age) can meet together. I hope Ashley's work will help us identify ways in which we can better support those in the ministry.

I am writing this from the annual gathering of SAYMA (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association), and in our evening sessions, we have talked much about discernment, but more so about community and our interaction with each other. There is often a reticence among liberal Friends to be more involved in each other's lives. I can understand the fear of living under a microscope, but when that fear is taken to an extreme, instead of living under a microscope, it feels like living in a cave. A Friend spoke of how no one in her meeting ever approached her about joining the meeting. Another spoke of some of his religious struggles and how no one in the meeting really knew about them because no one asked. These things all came to mind as I was looking over JJD's letter on elders. How can we encourage any form of elder, whether it is a recorded position or not, if we are afraid to talk deeply to one another? In your monthly meeting, if someone is spoken to about their ministry, how often is it a complaint? Is it rare to have one's gifts named, or to be encouraged to develop them?

In my time with Friends from North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, I have experienced eldering in a variety of ways, some so subtle that I didn't even notice until someone else pointed them out to me. They have encouraged me, invited me to participate in various ways, even sent me books. This year I was invited to lead the bible study. There are some in my monthly meeting that have also done things like this. What I think is important in JJD's writing on elders is not the issue of a lifetime appointment vs. a three-year one, but the importance that real Spirit-led eldering has in the naming and nurturing of spiritual gifts. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who lacks self-confidence and occasionally needs someone to affirm that I am doing the right thing.

There are times when I find JJD talking about things that have occurred to me, but which I wrestle with. The idea of a Quaker bible commentary is one of these. Since we have traditionally interpreted certain verses a little differently than mainstream Christianity, it would be nice to have a commentary that pointed these differences out. On the other hand, I worry that by codifying it in such a way, it would become the letter that kills the spirit, perhaps allowing us to just go look up the "right interpretation" without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

There was one particular section of letter 10 that I found particular jarring:

But where are our eminent preachers? To say nothing of the Spurgeons and the Moodys, where are the ministers amongst us so well-known and esteemed that their names placarded on the walls would draw together a public audience of a thousand persons?

When I read this, I immediately thought of Joseph Hoag's journal in which he sensed that the people in the meeting had come to hear him, rather than coming to hear what God might have to say, and he was given nothing to say. JJD also talks about people thinking that a minister can just preach or pray at will, rather than having to wait for Divine inspiration. I'm not sure this fits well with the idea of having a preacher's name posted outside that would draw a thousand people.
Here are all 14 of Joseph John Dymond's Letters on Gospel Ministry, plus the letter from the editor of "The Friend" in response to them.

Letter 1
Letter 2
Letter 3
Letter 4
Letter 5
Letter 6
Letter 7
Letter 8
Letter 9
Letter 10
Letter 11
Letter 12
Letter 13
Letter from the Editor of The Friend

There is a PDF version of all of these letters here.

Thoughts on Gospel Ministry, Part 14

This letter from the editor is the final part of Joseph John Dymond's letters to "The Friend" of London in 1892. Part 13 was here.

Thoughts on Gospel Ministry

Joseph John Dymond has done good service in giving a series of letters on the ministry of the Gospel as exercised in the Society of Friends, and now that the thirteenth and last letter is published, we may be allowed to express the assurance that they will have stimulated thought in many minds on important matters that undoubtedly claim attention. It would be too much to expect that all that has been said will be everywhere approved. To some, perhaps, one of the most instructive and interesting portions has been the simple and touching narrative of his own call to the ministry. Very many will welcome such a faithful and heartfelt expression of a minister’s own experience; and while it would be very unwise to expect our own experience or that of other men to run on exactly similar lines, it is often by the interchange of experience that we arrive at a clear perception of the ways of the Spirit of the Lord. It would doubtless be helpful to hundreds of Gospel ministers of other denominations thus to compare notes respecting the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as well as a great encouragement to many in younger life who are realising Divine calls.

Some conviction of our own failure must have come home to many of us as we read that one of the chief requisites for fruitful Gospel ministry is clearness of thought. In listening to ministry we may often have been painfully conscious that the speaker himself did not thoroughly grasp the truth he was seeking to impart to others, and that the result was a want of clear expression. Sometimes the latter part of a sermon seems to undo the good which the opening remarks effected. It is well that the conviction should come right home to ourselves that we may have left our hearers in a fog. If we have a message it certainly implies that we have something definite to say. J. J. Dymond has said but little as to what a man is to preach. This reticence may have been very wise, yet he has plainly told us that “The simple preaching of the Cross of Christ, even from homely lips, continues to bring food to the hungry soul, healing to the wounded, liberty to the captive, joy to the mourner, and rest to the weary and heavy laden.”

But though the theological view of the subject has to a large extent remained undiscussed, we have had very suggestive thoughts on the practical side of preaching. Two or three of these it may be well more fully to consider, such as, that government is essential to liberty, that an impossible mutuality collapses, and that worship is a real act, and not merely passive. A considerable portion of the argument in the first three letters brings us to the summing up that “wholesome government is essential to real liberty.” A very limited amount of consideration will convince us that this conclusion is impregnable. The causes that make it necessary to reassert this primary truth are, however, serious, and we know very well by the experience of many meetings in our own Society, especially those occurring at the times of our Quarterly and Yearly Meetings, that the superabundant exercise of liberty to preach often leaves little space for the exercise of other important elements in healthy congregational worship. It is thus quite possible for the liberty of a whole congregation to be sacrificed at the shrine of supposed individual duty. J. J. Dymond shows that in the honest endeavour to avoid one error we may have been falling headlong into an opposite extreme. “Under the plea of avoiding the creation of a clerical caste, the democratic proclivities of the present age are thus manifesting themselves in our Church affairs.” We trust that this urgent plea for the maintenance of wholesome government will be heard. The Society of Friends, that has been the pioneer in many other great movements, is face to face with problems of Church government that have scarcely begun to stir the leaves in the topmost branches of some other Churches. The liberty for every member to take part in the ministry of the Gospel in meetings for worship is an advance step towards “the Church of the future,” but it involves the necessity for a corresponding and effectual defence of the liberty of a congregation from unhallowed or mistaken zeal.

This leads to a second thought brought forward in these letters – that an impossible mutuality collapses, although it is quite right to aim at mutuality. The graphic picture given of what is described as an “experiment” is so well told that it covers more ground that a didactic argument, and reaches to a problem that must be faced if our Church is to make much progress. The experiment referred to appears to have consisted of a meeting for Biblical instruction, and not a regular meeting for worship. One of the noblest thoughts of our day is this same doctrine of mutuality and co-operation rightly understood. But one of the foundation principles of the co-operative system is not that all members have the same office, but that each member has his own special function to fulfil for the welfare and edification of the whole body. We must again learn to maintain the balance of truth. One extreme begets another, and in the honest and right endeavour to escape from the “One Man System,” we may, by carrying one line of truth too far, land ourselves in an “impossible mutuality.” As J. J. Dymond concludes, “We wrong our labourers and we rob ourselves as a Church, if we lay them under unscriptural restrictions which mar their influence, crush out their zeal, and close their lines of service.”

A third point emphasised is that worship is not merely passive. This difficulty is no peculiarity of Quakerism, although among us it may assume a peculiarly mystic quietism. There is a tendency to lassitude and slothfulness of spirit in mankind everywhere, and if we can get a theological plea for doing nothing, we are apt to clothe our indolence with a self-pleasing excuse. It is quite true that God can work without me – it is true that I am to wait till I am moved of the Spirit, – it is true that others can do the work better than I can, but these truths are not to make my religious life effeminate or to make my worship merely passive. I receive that I may give. I learn that I may teach. I am blessed that I may praise and glorify God. I am saved to serve, or as J. J. Dymond puts it, “We serve God in serving men in His name.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thoughts on Gospel Ministry, Part 13

This is a continuation of Joseph John Dymond's letters to "The Friend" of London in 1892. Part 12 was here.

Letter XIII.

“Set not self to work” (Book of Discipline, chap. iv. sec. 8, 1742.)

“We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. iv. 5).

Before bringing this series of letters to a conclusion, there are a few points still untouched to which I feel it will be right for me to direct attention, if my brethren are still further willing to “suffer the word of exhortation.”

The importance of right guidance before commencing a public ministerial address has already been dwelt upon. It is of scarcely less importance to be watchful for Divine direction as to the point at which it should be brought to a conclusion. Many an excellent sermon has been spoiled by additions to it after the real message it contained had been delivered. The zeal of the preacher, and that state of spiritual and mental stimulation which is inseparable from a sustained extemporaneous discourse, carry him onward. He is anxious to emphasise some particular point. It may be that he fears lest the burden of his “concern” may not have been clearly apprehended. And so he begins to recapitulate. The course is a perilous one; and is very likely to obscure rather than to elucidate; to lead into discursive additions without the “life” which marked the original utterance. The late Richard Cobden, after one of his great speeches in the House of Commons, said, “I never perorate. When I have finished what I have to say, I sit down.” The example is an excellent one for us Friend preachers. If the Holy Spirit be directing us, our words, once spoken, are sufficient for His purpose, and we may leave the application to Him.

Apologies for speaking are mostly out of place. The Gospel of Jesus Christ needs no apology, for it is “the power of God unto salvation.” And no one need apologise for speaking it if the Lord Himself condescends to call for the service. If He does not do so, it is better to be silent. The worst apology one can make is to say that one speaks for the relief of one’s own mind. No one has a right to “relieve his mind” in a meeting for worship at the expense of the rest of the congregation. If a man believes it to be his duty to speak, let him be faithful. And if he is under the impression that his action needs explanation, he will probably do no harm by saying that he speaks from a sense of duty; but on the whole it is better simply to deliver one’s message, and let it carry its own evidence of origin.

Too often we hear from those who speak in our meetings protestations of their own unfitness, lamentations concerning their own weakness or shortcomings. This is one way of “setting self to work.” The preacher’s duty is to direct his hearers to the Mighty One, from whom alone spiritual strength is derived, and not to his own infirmities. If poverty of spirit is the preacher’s own portion, as it often is even when he is seeking to make others rich, he will honour his Master best by wearing the sackcloth underneath, out of sight. It will help us to bear our weakness and poverty with serenity if we learn to regard their presence as an established fact, an axiom of our inner being, to be taken for granted without special allusion. “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me,” is the soul’s true attitude in this matter.

Personal confessions or allusions have a right place in religious discourses, but should be used with discretion. Here again the terse, pungent, practical, counsel which stands at the head of this letter has its application. “Set not self to work.” A personal experience of the Lord’s goodness, and of the converting power of His grace is a most important part of the qualification for witness-bearing. “We are witnesses of these things.” “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.” These are examples of apostolic authority for the ministers of Christ; and I doubt not that there are experiences appointed, or at least permitted, to the servants of Christ, for the very purpose of instructing and qualifying them in their service of administering counsel and comfort to others. The watchful mind, ever waiting upon God for direction, will know how to use these in their proper places, without unduly bringing merely personal affairs into notice. One has sometimes heard in meetings for worship public professions of conversion, uttered under very humble and solemn feeling, as testimonies to the mercy and lovingkindness of our God and Saviour. These are doubtless acts of obedience and consecration, and are helpful both to those who make them and to those who hear. But there is danger in too often repeating such confessions. They are apt to lose their freshness and virtue by frequent repetition in meeting after meeting.

One thing to be greatly desired in our meetings is that those who address us should speak so as to be generally audible. The primary object of speaking is that we may be heard; and it is a grave question whether it can be right for a person to attempt to address a congregation in which it is physically impossible for the speaker to be heard. I have known of at least one Friend who, when called to the ministry, very laudably took lessons in elocution, and thereby greatly added to his usefulness. This would not be the place to discuss questions of oratory; but I may venture to remark that it is not necessary to raise the voice to an unnatural pitch in order to be well heard; distinct pronunciation of every syllable is the chief point. The speaker should address himself to the most distant person in the room, and speak to him in as natural a tone as possible. Raising the voice to a loud pitch at the beginning of a sentence, and dropping it so as to be almost inaudible at the end, is a very common, but a very unwise, and to the listeners very disappointing, practice. We have most of us known dear friends who could be audible enough and lively enough in common life; but who, when speaking in public on the highest of all themes, would drop into what was little better than an inarticulate murmur. Surely we ought to devote to the service of God the very best of the facilities with which He has endowed us!

In very many of our meetings there are Friends who occasionally speak to us quite briefly, and whose communications in testimony or in prayer are very generally acceptable and helpful, though perhaps they may not be classed as Gospel Ministry in its more technical sense. We shall all desire that faithfulness in these smaller gifts may lead on to larger trusts. Those amongst us who have become largely gifted have had their small beginnings; but whether the talents committed to us be few or many, watchfulness and self-consecration in the employment of them are equally the duty of all. It may seem to some perhaps that in this and foregoing letters the writer has had in view somewhat exclusively the larger callings, but his hope is that in what has been said some useful hints may be found applicable to all. It is in the desire for the full development of the power and influence of the Society of Friends in evangelical work that they have been written, and that they are now committed to the disposal of Him from whom all truth proceeds.

Throughout the letters the writer has spoken of ministers in the masculine gender, for the sake of perspicuity, and for the avoidance of the awkward double use of pronouns; but he has never failed in his own thoughts to include ministers of the other sex. Some of the most highly valued and warmly cherished religious lessons of his life are associated with the ministrations of sisters in Christ. He does not forget that the first human herald of the risen Saviour was a woman; and he will not cease to believe that one of the honours conferred upon the Society of Friends has been the place they have held, centuries in advance of most other religious bodies, in asserting and maintaining woman’s position as man’s equal helpmeet in Christian standing and labour. It has often been a subject of much regret with him to note that whilst this truth is coming into fuller recognition outside the Society, and whilst the number of men giving themselves up for Gospel labour within our own body has increased, the list of our women ministers has been a diminishing one. The sterner work of the reprover for sin, and the “speaking with the enemy in the gate,” in the arena of doctrinal controversy, may more properly belong to man, but there are instruments in the hands of woman which none but she can wield.

Finally, dear brethren, let us all continually remember that Christian ministry is the service of Christ; that Christian testimony is witnessing for Christ, and of Christ; that our constant aim must be to bring men to Christ, and to seek to build up the believer upon Christ, Wherever upon the broad circumference of religious truth a discourse may begin; through whatever labyrinth of human error, sin or sorrow, it may have to pass, there should ever run through it a golden thread leading into the centre, which is Christ. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

The witness anointed by the Holy Ghost will proclaim, not men, not theological opinions, not ritual, not sacraments, not churches, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified; “for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.” This is the ministry for which the world is waiting. This is the ministry which the Lord is waiting to bless.
Joseph John Dymond
Ilkley, August, 1892.

Part 14 of this series is here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thoughts on Gospel Ministry, Part 12

This is a continuation of Joseph John Dymond's letters to "The Friend" of London in 1892. Part 11 was here.

Letter XII.

“Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it” (Col. iv. 17).

“Take thy part in suffering hardship, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. ii. 3).

Next to the needful spiritual qualification, one of the chief requisites for fruitful Gospel ministry is clearness of thought. The man who does not himself clearly understand his subject is not very likely to convey a definite impression concerning it to others. With some, distinctness of perception is a natural endowment; with others this faculty is deficient; but it is capable of being cultivated by all. Searching the Scriptures, in dependence on the help of the Holy Spirit, with such secondary aids as may be available is the principal means of promoting it in connection with the preacher’s work. If any thought is presented in the course of a religious address , which we do not clearly understand ourselves, let it be sought out in the Bible, and carefully studied there afterwards; or, still better, if before we go to meeting a Scripture passage arises in the mind, the place and application of which we do not fully recollect, let it be examined beforehand. It does not follow that it will be used on that particular occasion; but the study itself will be helpful to us; and, if not now, probably at some other time, the knowledge we have gathered may be turned to account. Incorrect quotations and applications of Scripture ought to be strenuously guarded against.

That leads me to speak of the subject of the preparation of sermons beforehand. I am not prepared to say that this could under no circumstances be right, though I am heartily in sympathy with those who feel that it would be wrong for them to resort to the practice. A suggestive text, or a particular theme may often present itself to the mind before a meeting begins, and may be examined in the light of Holy Scripture as already suggested; but I have always felt it right, when that has been the case with me, to enter upon the usual silent waiting upon God when the meeting begins, with a thoroughly open mind; and have often found that the prior impression has disappeared, and another subject has taken its place. There is more freshness and life in that which is thoroughly spontaneous than in what has occupied our thoughts for a long time in advance. How often I have wished, when listening to sermons in other places of worship than our own, that the preacher would throw away his notes, and commit himself to the fresh and vivid impulses of the Divine Spirit!

Surely the true preparation of the evangelist is like that of the keen and polished tool, lying on the workbench close to the Master’s hand, ready for Him to take up and use according to His wisdom. The difference between the prepared and unprepared is just that between the sharp well-kept tool, always in its place, and broken-edged rusty one, away in some corner, which has first of all to be sought for, to the loss of valuable time, and with which when found even the Master’s hand can do but indifferent work because of its imperfection.

It is not unusual I believe for ministers to feel very anxious before going to a meeting, in which they are likely to be responsible for vocal service; and especially is this apt to be the case if the meeting be one appointed at the minister’s request. This anxiety is not unnatural; and it is often aggravated by an oppressive sense of poverty of soul, and of our own unfitness. It may have a useful place in our preparation for service, if its chief effect is to drive us to a still closer dependence upon God. But how often we find, in the result, that our anxious thoughts have been needless. The blessed Master has not failed to remember the hour for which the meeting was summoned, and the very moment when it was proper for us to take part in it; and He has been with us in time! When we praise Him afterwards, we feel ashamed for all our anxious futile forethoughts.

Should we not learn from such experiences the habit of lying close to Him, and trusting Him for the fulfilment of all the good pleasures of His will? The joy of the Lord is His people’s strength; but joy and anxiety are not companionable. If therefore we would be strong, we must ourselves practise that which we so often recommend to others, namely,–“In nothing to be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, to let our requests be made known unto God” (Phil. iv. 6).

Just as there are unnecessary anxieties before a meeting, so there are apt to be needless questionings and discouragements afterwards. Satan is ever on the watch; and if he cannot succeed in leading us into self-congratulation – getting us to “deck ourselves with the Lord’s jewels” – he will try the other expedient of casting us down. Our performance has not satisfied ourselves. We have omitted something that would have rendered our argument clearer or more effective. Some Scripture quotation has been misplaced. Our sentences have been badly put together. Our manner has been faulty. We have made ourselves a spectacle, but have failed to do justice to our theme. Such are amongst the tempter’s suggestions. Some of them may be true; and it is wise to take note of such, for our future help in doing better. “The work of the Lord is ever a humbling work,” is a sentence once addressed to ministers in one of our Yearly Meeting’s Epistles. It furnishes an excellent practical test for personal use in the retrospect of service. But there is a wide difference between humbling and discouragement. God never discourages, though He may see meet, for our own good, to keep us lowly.

The exaltation of the instrument is one of the gravest dangers of the popular preacher, and if indulged in must sooner or later be fatal to his work. If kind friends praise our performances, as they sometimes do, let us not accept it for ourselves, but in out gracious Leader, to whom alone praise is due.

I remember reading years ago of a Friend minister, who made it a practice, after preaching, to go home and pass his sermon through a searching critical review. I cannot agree with him. The safest and happiest method is simply to lay our offering at the dear Master’s feet, asking Him to bless that which was from Himself, and to forgive and overrule for good that which came from the infirmity of the human instrument, and there to leave the matter.

So also with regard to outside criticism. An address publicly uttered becomes public property, and is fairly open to public comment. A man who speaks from a pulpit, or from a minister’s gallery, cannot be replied to on the spot as he could be in an ordinary public assembly. He has therefore the less right to complain if his statements or opinions are commented on in other ways. Within certain limits criticisms are useful; but in the case of a free disinterested service like our, they should be made considerately, gently, lovingly. On our part they should be treated in a similar spirit – prayed over, and referred to the judgment of there Great Teacher, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” – whilst we sit humbly at His feet that we may learn of Him.
Joseph John Dymond
Ilkley, August, 1892.

Part 13 of this series is here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thoughts on Gospel Ministry, Part 11

This is a continuation of Joseph John Dymond's letters to "The Friend" of London in 1892. Part 10 was here.

Letter XI.

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John iii. 8).

This notable saying of the Great Teacher is, I think, nowhere more strikingly fulfilled that in the experience of the minister of the Word who habitually seeks for direct Divine guidance in his work. The question that is continually pressing for solution, not only at the commencement but throughout our service is, whether the voice we hear is indeed the voice of the Spirit or one of the “many other voices that are in the world.” And it is this that makes our ministry so emphatically a “work of faith” from beginning to end.

It must, I think, be a matter of great interest to some to learn in what way the first call to service usually presents itself. Such things are amongst the heart’s most sacred memories: deep experiences hidden from all but ourselves and our gracious God. It is only in the hope that the recital may find a welcome, perhaps, in the heart of some dear younger brother, and be helpful to him, that I am willing to tell the simple story of my own first call.

It is not to be supposed that all are dealt with alike. Differences of disposition and of surroundings will have led to diversities of treatment, though it is the “same Spirit” that is at work. Some may have had early impressions that in after years they would be led into the service of the Gospel, and the time of waiting may have been long. To others the Master’s intimation has come suddenly, and the preparation for it almost simultaneously.

In my own case there had been much preparatory work – and indeed, there was great need of it – but I knew not at the time what it meant, or whither it was tending. So that when one First-day morning, in a pretty large meeting, there was presented vividly to my thoughts a passage of Scripture, with a great pressure on me to rise and repeat it, there came with it a shock of almost overwhelming surprise. I pleaded excuses – my unfitness, my slowness of speech, the offence I should give to some to whom I believed the words would sound like a personal warning. The meeting held long, but at last broke up; and then I came out agitated with grief and remorse. I had refused to render this little service to Him who had died for me! I had been unfaithful, both to Him and to those to whom the message might have been timely!

The secret story of succeeding months can be only briefly told. It was a time at first of lonely sorrow; then of seeking forgiveness; after that of slow growth into a willingness to submit if the call should be repeated. As weeks passed on, this was changed into an earnest desire, an eager prayer, that another opportunity might be given.

There was a long time of waiting in poverty of soul; and when at last another visitation, similar in manner to the first, came to me at a morning meeting, courage and faith again failed, and I kept silence! The interval between the morning and evening meetings was spent in prayer; and when the evening congregation gathered, the Lord helped me to rise and deliver my short message. A subsequent brief address from a minister present confirmed it, and I went home glad of heart, praising the blessed Master with the words, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me.” I had learnt a lesson in those days of hunger and sorrow, never to be forgotten. The call was repeated week after week, and has never since been willingly turned away from; though sometimes circumstances beyond my control have kept me silent, when a message has been given me to deliver.

As obedience was rendered, the gift increased. Instead of merely repeating word for word as from memory what had been given me, I was entrusted with a simple text or a single thought, and had to rise with it, not knowing what was to follow. Sentence by sentence opened as I stood; words came as they were wanted; my natural slowness of speech gave place to a fair amount of readiness of utterance; and I learned the indescribable joy of standing up at the dear Master’s bidding, close beside Him, taking the words as He gave them, and speaking them in His name.

As the willing servant of a human master, grown accustomed to his work and to his master’s ways, needs not from day to day to be urged and minutely directed to his duties, but learns to obey a simple word or a look, so the servant of Christ, in whatever department of labour he may be engaged for Him, learns to be quick in perceiving the Master’s will, and to go forward with ready alacrity under His direction.

With the preacher, in whose department there is especial need for renewed anointing for every act of service, in addition to the general commission, the question already alluded to will arise again and again. The voice that speaks to us may be for our own instruction merely, and not for the congregation; the thought that presents itself may spring from the workings of our own minds, or be the mere reflection of some passage in our recent reading; or it may be prompted by some occurrence that has come to our knowledge. How are we to distinguish the Master’s voice amidst these? Prayer must be the faithful servant’s resource – prayer for present, momentary guidance – absolute self-surrender to the doing of God’s will. The test may sometimes be applied: “Is this word that stirs my heart a word that honours Christ?” “Does it point to Him?” If it does, let it be spoken. If it does not, if it points away from Him, it never can be right to utter it in His name.

There are special dangers besetting those who love the work, and are gifted with a ready utterance: the desire that something should be said; a feeling of restlessness if periods of silence are prolonged; a zealous desire that some particular truth should be enlarged upon, or some error combated. A passage in our “Book of Discipline,” chapter iv., comes into view in this connection:– “A clear apprehension of Scripture doctrine, or a heart enlarged in love to others, are not of themselves sufficient or this work; ... and except there be a sense of the renewed putting forth and quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, we believe it to be utterly unsafe to move in this office.”

For many years the writer has found it to be a safe rule never to attempt to address a meeting for worship unless able to answer in the affirmative two questions, viz.: (1) Am I willing to speak on this subject if it be the Lord’s will? and (2) Am I equally willing to remain silent if His will be so? If the attitude of mind is clearly reached that can answer “Yes” to both these questions, then with the prayer “Lord, help me,” the servant commits himself to the guidance that may be given. The feeling of his own incompetency to work out the theme is almost invariably present, but is not only not allowed to stand in the way of obedience, but has come to be regarded in the light of an encouragement to proceed.

The writer has always regarded public prayer as a particularly solemn act, not to be entered upon without a clear sense of Divine influence. When it is remembered that the speaker in such an exercise is addressing the Almighty Searcher of Hearts in the name of others as well as himself, and that it is impossible for him to know what is passing in the minds of others, the need of Divine guidance is manifest.

At the same time, it must not be forgotten that vocal prayer is an important part of worship, and that silent prayer does not honour God in the same way and to the same degree that spoken prayer does. We serve God in serving men in His name; and we have the highest encouragement to vocal utterance in prayer in the example of our blessed Lord Himself when He said in prayer (John xii. 42), “Because of the multitude which standeth around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me.”
Joseph John Dymond
Ilkley, August, 1892.

Part 12 of this series is here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thoughts on Gospel Ministry, Part 10

This is a continuation of Joseph John Dymond's letters to "The Friend" of London in 1892. Part 9 was here.

Letter X.

“Seek, that ye may abound unto the edifying of the Church” (1 Cor. xiv. 12).

“Desire earnestly the greater gifts” (1 Cor. xii. 31).

“Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. ii. 15).

In entering upon subjects which have been reserved for my second category – namely, those measures for the improvement of our ministerial service which are capable of being employed by ministers themselves – I must again disclaim any thought of addressing my fellow-labourers, as one who has himself attained, or who has any title to speak as one having authority.

Receiving only the plain education which was available at ordinary Friends’ school sixty years ago; leaving school at the age of fifteen, and entering immediately upon a business career in a country banking house, called to the ministry at thirty-five years of age, when I had become responsible for the official management of a growing life assurance institution; I have had little leisure for study, and much engrossment with the cares of a business life, which made large demands on the mental and intellectual faculties. My history may, therefore, probably be looked upon as affording a fair average example of the life of a middle-class Friend, whose best thoughts and aims, apart from business and family responsibilities, have been turned, under a sense of religious duty, away from political and municipal engagements, to the service of the Church in the ministry of the Gospel. In the course of such a life, much must have been learned from the hindrances to higher service, arising from causes both within and without; much also of the daily needs of such a position; and it would be deeply ungrateful not to add, much of the joy and privilege of serving so loving, so condescending, and so wise a Divine Master.

These considerations, and an earnest desire to see the Society of Friends occupying more fully that place amongst the Evangelical Churches to which I believe it is called, constitute my only justification for the course I am now taking.

It will not be denied that Friends have been to a very large extent successful in the enterprizes they have undertaken. They have admittedly borne a foremost part in efforts for the relief of suffering, and the moral elevation of mankind. In the field of commerce and manufacture, members of the Society have made for themselves world-wide reputations for the supply of genuine articles for domestic use. In the management of municipal affairs they have taken prominent places, to the advantage of their fellow-citizens. The number of Friends occupying seats in Parliament is much greater in proportion to the size of their denomination than in the case of any other Nonconformist body. In the legal and medical professions Friends have attained considerable eminence. They have given to the present generation some prominent statesmen; and one of the greatest orators of the nineteenth century was a Friend. Would it not be natural to expect that the same qualities that have produced these results would, if employed in the direct advocacy of Christian truth, have borne corresponding fruit? But where are our eminent preachers? To say nothing of the Spurgeons and the Moodys, where are the ministers amongst us so well-known and esteemed that their names placarded on the walls would draw together a public audience of a thousand persons? And why not? Is not the simple spiritual faith which we hold the very essence of the Gospel message which C. H. Spurgeon and D. L. Moody, and others like them, have delivered? Have we not held for centuries the very substance and marrow of that truth which is now the staple teaching of the apostles of the “higher Christian life,” and of “Scriptural holiness”? And yet what account can we render of this great stewardship?

Is it possible that our Heavenly Father who has bestowed upon us so many good natural gifts, has omitted to call for the dedication of some of them to His service? Or has the call been heard and not obeyed? Is it our Church system that has made us good tradesmen, good citizens, clever professional men, earnest philanthropists, but indifferent gospellers?

No doubt our system has laid some restraints upon us, as preceding letters have shown; but even the most perfect system without willing and competent labourers would be worthless. God is above all systems; and earnest men put forth and qualified by Him will cause even straightened systems to expand.

Fox and Penn, Burrough and their fellow-labourers, in spite of existing systems, and of cruel persecutions to boot, gathered in the course of a few years out of a population not more than one sixth of the number now occupying the British Isles, a body of adherents four times as numerous as the members of the Society of Friends in the present day. We have the same message to deliver as they had. The demand for it now is at least as great as it was then. It comes from the followers of other Churches, hungering after something more satisfying than a religion of ritual and ordinance; from multitudes weary and heavy laden for want of being directed to Him who alone gives rest to souls; from thousands, stumbled at the inconsistencies of empty profession, or entangled in the snares of a shallow scepticism. It is the cry of souls in the agony of spiritual famine, the tortures of the bond of iniquity, the rage and despair of ruined hopes. Were every adult member of our little body a diligent preacher of the word, we could hardly overtake the work that is lying undone – waiting for our attention.

Whatever shortcomings may be chargeable to the Church collectively in this matter, we may be sure that the chief responsibility lies with individual members. It is only personal devotion that will do the work now, as it did in the early days. Whatever improved arrangements may be provided in the shape of educational privileges, for instance, would be useless unless we had men and women willing to avail themselves of them. And that portion of a minister’s training which consists of improving his general knowledge of men and things, of the choice of his ordinary reading, and the regulation of his pursuits, with a view to the promotion of his efficiency in ministerial work, must obviously rest with himself.

If we have been content to regulate service for God to the place of something merely casual and incidental, to make it subordinate to the pursuit of our worldly interests or personal enjoyments, is it any wonder if our ministry is dwarfed, and its fruit scanty and imperfect?

May these thoughts lead us into searching of heart, with sincere and humble prayer to be taught what is the will of God for us as individuals.

And if it should be that any dear brother or sister reads these lines conscious of a neglected call to Gospel labour, or of a gentle intimation of duty in that direction, which has been turned aside by the substitution of some subsidiary work, even in the cause of philanthropy or national morality, may I entreat them to ponder anew the inspired words which stand at the head of this letter; to yield themselves faithfully to Him who gave Himself for them; and to follow simply where He leads. Though such a course may involve humiliation and self-denial, or even the sacrifice of some cherished plans, there are joys and privileges attending it far beyond what the natural mind can perceive, or words describe – pleasures that shall endure at God’s right hand for evermore.

And if there be amongst us brethren in the service who have not heretofore taken such a view of their calling as is indicated by those stirring Apostolic exhortations, may they be stimulated to press onward, to give the Lord their very best, to place themselves at His feet for a renewed anointing, to labour for souls, in the light of a coming eternity.
Ilkley, August 1892
Joseph John Dymond

Note.– Lest I should be at all misunderstood, I wish to say that, whilst keeping closely to my theme, which is that of Gospel ministry, I am by no means forgetful of the invaluable work of so many dear Friends in First-day Schools, and in the mission meetings connected with them. I regard that work as of very great importance, and as having in fact been the means of saving the Society from impending disintegration. Whilst touching one stratum of the population, however, it leaves other portions, to whom we have a special message, pretty much untouched. Is it not possible too that it may have even absorbed some of that energy and skill which might properly have been devoted to the other branch of the Lord’s great work?
J. J. D.

Part 11 of this series is here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Thoughts on Gospel Ministry, Part 9

This is a continuation of Joseph John Dymond's letters to "The Friend" of London in 1892. Part 8 was here.

Letter IX.

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

The general survey of which has been taken in the present series of letters of the conditions affecting the exercise of Gospel Ministry amongst us will have made it evident that there is much earnest and important work awaiting the attention of such a body as has been already proposed. And the character of that work is such as to confirm the belief that it will be best accomplished by persons who are themselves ministers of experience, assisted probably by a few Friends selected for the purpose from amongst the appointed elders.

A precedent for such an appointment, with the functions of taking counsel respecting the needs of different meetings as to ministry, watching over and fostering the coming forth and growth of newly-called ministers, and assisting one another in acquiring the knowledge so valuable in the preacher’s work in these days, is found in the original constitution of the “Morning Meeting” in London. Though the duties of that body now chiefly consist of the exercise of care over ministers coming from abroad to visit the Metropolis and its vicinity, and of judging of the “concerns” of our own ministers to travel in the service of the Gospel in foreign parts, it formerly filled a wider sphere, taking a close and practical oversight of the entire service of the ministry in and around London, and forming a council of reference to which were submitted all books and other documents written by Friends before publication.

As regards the mode in which the proposed Preachers’ Meetings should be originated, I may say that it appears to me to be desirable that in the first instance they should arise out of the action of Monthly and Quarterly Meetings on Ministry and Oversight, in districts where it is felt that there is an open field for them.

“Any subjects which belong to the teaching and shepherding of the flock” are committed to those meetings by their constitution (Church Government, chap. 1 sec. 8) and where appointed, the members of the Preachers’ Meetings would in effect be committees of the meetings appointing them.

It seems almost needful to remark at this point that any useful action in the direction indicated necessarily presuppose the continuance in some form or other of the Society’s long-established practice of “recording” ministers – that is of placing on record its approval of their ministry. Without this all attempts to place the service of the Gospel on a better footing will be vain.

I regret very much to know of cases in which dear friends with an undoubted call to the work, and who “have given proof of their ministry,” have refused to submit themselves to the judgment of their Monthly Meetings in this matter, and have thus not only suffered disadvantage themselves, but have hindered the action of the Church as affecting others. It is not for me to impugn their motives, though I deeply deplore their action as being inconsistent with the Gospel order and with the true interests of the cause they have at heart. I cannot but think that in some cases the objection arises from some misapprehension as to the meaning and effect of the process.

In a former letter satisfaction was expressed with the change made in 1876 with regard to the appointment of elders, when the selection, instead of being a lifelong one, was in future to be made for three years only. I am, and have long been of the judgment that it would be a desirable change if the act of recording approval of a minister were also open to revision periodically – say once in seven years. The same Divine Will that selects the instrument for service can lay it aside again. “Once a minister, always a minister,” is a principle nowhere taught in the New Testament that I am aware of. Under our present system a Friend may be conscious that his period of service is over – that the anointing no longer descends upon him – and it would be a relief to him to be discharged from the implied responsibility of bearing the title.

I am afraid it must also be added that there have been cases in which a Friend, who may formerly have preached with power and unction, has from some cause lost the heavenly afflatus, but continues to preach from long-formed habit only, and consequently not to edification.

It is true that it is in the power of the Church to take action in such cases; but this is very rarely done – perhaps never except in connection with some moral delinquency. How much more easy would it be to deal with such matters if a periodical revision of the list of ministers were the rule. These times of revision would also have the effect of bringing definitely before the Monthly Meetings the question whether there were any not yet on the approved list whose names might properly be added to it.

If I may here be allowed a personal allusion, I would say that more than once in my own history I have been on the point of resigning my position as recorded minister; not from any doubt as to my original call, nor on account of any apprehended disunity with my service but because I felt it to be so desirable that the Friends of my Monthly Meeting should have a definite opportunity of reconsidering their judgment after a few years’ observation.

If their approval had been re-affirmed, it would have afforded me encouragement (at times greatly needed) to persevere in the work. If otherwise, it would have enabled me to lay down with a clear conscience a responsibility which often seemed too great to bear. In any case it would have furnished an occasion for the bestowal of counsel, or the offering of useful suggestions which, in the absence of such an arrangement, have never reached me.

No allusion has hitherto been made in these letters to one subject of very grave importance, which is also a painful one, but must not on that account pass unnoticed. I suppose that hardly any Christian Society has ever existed for a long time without some experience of the trials attending the divergence on the part of some of the ministers from its recognized doctrines. The Society of Friends, throughout its entire history, seems to have been rather specially liable to troubles of this kind. The practice of our little Church has been to exercise great forbearance in such cases, and not to take action until compelled to do so. Even when disciplinary action is felt by a considerable number of the Friends composing a Monthly Meeting to be necessary, it may be found that some others are averse to it; and so, for the same of preserving a superficial, though unsubstantial, unity, nothing is done, and the holy cause of truth is allowed to suffer.

In order to probe this matter to the bottom, it would be needful to go into such questions as the existence and desirability of creeds, and to dive into other dark and troubled waters.

This would be foreign to my present purpose; and I must therefore confine myself to saying that I am unable to understand the attitude of mind which would deem it honourable or upright to retain the title and position of a minister in any religious denomination, whist teaching in its name opinions which are known to be out of harmony upon fundamental points with the professed doctrines of that denomination.

This periodical revision of ministers would, I think, be of some service to us in this connection. I would suggest that in all cases Monthly Meetings should have the assistance of committees of their Quarterly Meetings in making the revision.

Before concluding my remarks on that branch of the subject which has reference to remedial measures capable of being applied by the Society in the form of regulations, I must allude again to the mode of conducting the meetings for worship at Devonshire House, London, during the sittings of the Yearly Meeting. One of the rules of the Society is that the elders present shall meet at the close of each such meeting, for conference on the subject of the meeting just held, and in order to prepare a brief report upon it. In some recent years it has been the practice for two or three elders to occupy seats near the head of these meetings for worship, with the view of taking such action as they may think needful during the proceedings for the preservation of order. As this very mild display of authority has failed, after sufficiently prolonged trial, to attain what was aimed at, it seems needful that the arrangement should be revised, and, if possible, strengthened.

The principle upon which action is taken is the very correct one, that the Church is responsible, through its officers, for the maintenance of decorum in its public services. It will be the general desire that in doing what is found needful, the smallest amount of restraint consistent with efficiency should be laid upon the free exercise of spiritual gifts.

The proposition I have to make is, first, that the elders, together with the recorded ministers who intend to be present at the meetings for worship, shall meet before the hour for worship, that they shall together see to the suitable allocation of minister to two meeting-houses (with due regard, of course, to any indications of duty that may be felt), and shall nominate two or three of their number to be responsible for the orderly holding of each of the meetings; and second, that it shall be a strict regulation applicable to those particular meetings, that every person desiring to address the congregation or to offer vocal prayer, shall come to one of the raised benches at the head of the room in order to do so. It can hardly be doubted that great facility for the rapid and impulsive utterances which are often so trying is given by the practice of simply rising in one’s seat, unobserved except by the few immediately around; and I believe that the necessity of walking to the head of the room before beginning to speak would not only insure at least a few moments’ pause between one communication and another, but would afford a desirable test of the reality and urgency of the call to take part. It would also service as notice, sometimes useful, to those responsible for the meeting, that the Friend was desiring to speak.

Similar regulations, with any needful modifications, should be adopted in the larger gatherings at Westminster, and in the suburbs, during the Yearly Meeting weeks.

I must add that it appears to me to be only reasonable and consistent with simple courtesy, that when one or more Friends in the ministry, under religious concern, have obtained the appointment of special meetings for the public, or for particular classes of persons (such as young Friends,&c.), they should not be hindered in their service, even in the otherwise silent portions of the meeting, but other (unauthorised) individuals taking part; but should be allowed to conduct the meeting from beginning to end, both as to vocal engagements and as to silent intervals in the manner which they may feel directed to as being the right one.
Joseph John Dymond
Ilkley, August, 1892

Part 10 of this series is here.