Welcome everyone to a discussion about vocal ministry, sometimes called spoken ministry.
I am thankful that we can have a discussion about one of the most important facets of Quaker worship. After we’ve shared our wisdom with each other I hope everyone will feel supported in your own vocal ministry. I want to begin with a few minutes of my reflections then we’ll turn to the numbered queries that I will hand out. Please add your comments and questions as we go along. Special thanks to Weez and Cathy for helping me shape these ideas.
A few personal reflections on vocal ministry
Recall the Bible quote where Jesus talks about Friends.
John 15:15: “I do not call you servants any longer, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from the Father."
Early Quakers were sometimes called “Friends of Truth” or “Friends of Jesus.” Those labels morphed into the “Religious Society of Friends.” I think our prophetic tradition can reasonably be traced to this passage. We are encouraged to share our Truths. Friends did not do away with the laity, they did away with the priesthood. So we all assume the challenge of vocal ministry is just one form for ministry. We have our Food Ministry for Cornerstones. We have a care committee ministry. We have a ministry that attempts to affect legislation. We can see some of our ministries. They are tangible. Some ministries cannot be seen, like holding someone in the Light.
Another ministry that cannot be seen is the ministry of presence. Our meetings for worship are successful to the extent that together we have a collective sense of a ministry of presence. We come as individuals but we can experience a ministry of presence for the entire group.
Vocal ministry arises out of that ministry of presence. The ministry of presence is a form of expectant waiting … expecting to be comforted, inspired, educated or nudged into action. If we don’t come with a sense of expectation then there is no reason to have a meeting for worship.
So, there are conditions where vocal ministry can flourish. There are many formats for messages but many begin with a reflection on an experience then move on to a larger Truth. Friends believe in progressive revelation so that the Truth we have today may be surpassed later by a deeper understanding. Early Friends probably used traditional Bible-based language. Today we use less of that style.
There are times when we craft messages in the first fifteen minutes so that children can have access to them. And that’s fine. We can be lead to make our messages simpler.
Messages are different from what we might say in an adult discussion. Messages are more than a rich idea that the mind has created. Vocal ministry is not meant to be a personal therapeutic moment although profound emotions can be expressed. But vocal ministry is much broader. When we hear vocal ministry we do not exercise our critical minds like we might outside of meeting for worship. But we do look for words or ideas that might inspire us in some way…. Realizing that the speaker may be using different words from what we might use. We may need to overcome the desire to edit what we are listening.
Not every message is for everyone. Perhaps a message will never be for you, but perhaps it is something you will grow into understanding. So, rejoice if it rings true, but if it does not speak to your condition, there is no need to internally dissect it, simply return to worship.
One benchmark to consider when giving a message is: Is it worth talking about or praying about?
My checkered history with vocal ministry
Issues before the message: The main question I have as a message is taking shape is whether the message is only for me. I am quite persistent in asking that question. I try to convince myself that it is only for me. A second question is: “Am I adding anything to the worship? If not, then perhaps I just have an intellectual creation. I know I have to guard against that. If I can stifle the urge to speak then I often discover that some threads of my inspiration appear in the messages that others give. (In short, I’ve been let off the hook.)
Most of my messages gradually take shape, word by word, sort of emerging out of a mist. Then when I stand I try to read the words that have appeared. I hope that I reflect the Light not out run the Light.
Often times I enter meeting for worship as a blank slate, minding my own business, and something nudges its way in. At other times I arrive with a germ of an idea that I have wanted to have time to explore… and it may or may not build into a message. And, of course, there are times when the vocal ministry that is given can prompt my giving a message.
Struggles after the message: Sometimes I’m annoyed that I missed saying something that was clear in my mind before I stood up. Sometimes I feel that I didn’t pull it all together or that I was unusually obtuse in connecting the flow of ideas. Sometimes I regret the feeling that the message didn’t appear to add anything to the worship. Sometimes I regret that I’ve given too many messages.
Overall, I have fewer struggles now, compared to fifty years ago when I gave my first messages in Lewisburg Friends Meeting. A few years back I thought that if God wants me to give a message then God should appreciate that I gave it my best effort.
Of course there are times when I have no regrets. I sit down in peace. I’m relieved. And sometimes I’m especially surprised to discover what I have said.
I hope that this discussion today will not suppress the number of messages that are given but will assist you in how you experience that nudge that all of a sudden means that you are standing. "Faithfulness takes courage” as the Quaker Speak video mentioned.