Meeting the Spirit
- 1. Basic Quaker beliefs
- 2. Quaker meetings
- 3. Quaker testimonies
- 4. Quaker structures
- 5. World family of Friends
- 6. Life and development of small worship groups
- 7. Bibliography
6. Life and Development of Small Worship Groups
Many individuals with an interest in Quakers or members of the Religious Society of Friends live in countries or areas where there are no Friends meetings. These isolated Friends often face problems of finding spiritual nourishment and support and of remaining faithful. In consequence, they will sometimes find it quite natural to worship with members of other religious communities.
Many isolated Friends find it helpful to spend private hours with their diary, with the gospel or with the writings of Friends. Through correspondence with other Friends and Quaker organisations they may develop and maintain a sense of belonging to the wider family of Friends. FWCC also makes efforts to keep in touch with these Friends and interested individuals and to bring them into contact with others in the area.
Once two or three individuals or families find each other, it is possible to form a consistent core around which others can gather. Often this will develop into a worship group with Friends from a variety of countries and seekers on their way to becoming Friends. It can also happen that people of different denominations or faiths can be included and feel at home with Friends’ worship and ways.
Many new groups hold their meetings for worship in private homes. Friends usually follow this worship with informal discussion over coffee or a meal. But meeting in private also has disadvantages. Locations may change too frequently and the intimacy of the private home may discourage attendance by local people. If the group meets in a set public place it is easier to advertise and easier to find. However, many small groups cannot afford the costs of these meetings. Some also face legal or cultural restrictions on assembling for worship.
Once a worship group is formed, it is almost certain that others who have never experienced Quaker worship before will join in. When a newcomer is present, it is helpful to give beforehand a brief explanation of the Quaker worship pattern and the root from which it springs. Small cards with printed introductions to worship after the manner of Friends are also available from various Quaker groups. It is also helpful to state clearly that those of other persuasions are welcome to worship with the group without feeling pressure to become members. It is not unusual for people from other denominations or faiths to join Friends regularly in these small worship groups.
Often these small worship groups have developed without any contacts with the wider body of Friends. But even if there are only two or three Friends gathered together, one person can act as a Quaker contact person. The worship group can also be put under the care of FWCC’s International Membership Committee. Visitation can be encouraged and word sent regarding any new Friends known to be moving into the area. The FWCC Section for the area can also help link the group with other Friends in the region. Attending Section events can help intensify these contacts.
It is helpful if one member of the group serves as convenor, to see that the people are notified of the meeting place, to keep advertisements up-to-date, etc. It is good to rotate these responsibilities or for the convenor/correspondent to share out some of them. Especially when a group does not yet hold business meetings and writes no minutes, a group log book or journal may help the group to keep a record of its development. It is also useful to keep account of the costs for rental, postage, advertisements and the like and try to share fairly according to means.
If the group feels it is ready to do so, business meetings can be held on a regular basis, for example every two or three months. One person can serve as clerk, taking care that business is conducted after the manner of Friends. The business meeting can provide a vehicle for discussion of potential problems, growth, children’s programmes, meeting structure, finance, concerns, etc. All regular attenders, whether or not they have formal membership in the Religious Society of Friends, should be encouraged to participate in the business meetings. All can contribute and work towards unity. More experienced Friends can give guidance and suggestions to assure a worshipful consideration of business.
Once the group begins to evolve and develop strength and continuity as a meeting, it can apply to be under the care of FWCC’s International Membership Committee. This will help put the group in touch with the world family of Friends in a tangible way. It will also give the group a place to turn to when there are questions about organisation and spiritual matters, or when there are concerns to be shared with the larger body of Friends.
Eventually, if the group and the International Membership Committee agree that the time has come, the worship group can ask for status as a full-fledged Monthly Meeting. It then becomes responsible for its own membership matters. A strong Monthly Meeting may even be the nucleus of a new Yearly Meeting.
If there is a strong Monthly Meeting or Yearly Meeting within reasonable travelling distance (even though it be in another country) the group may prefer to turn to it for nurture and may later request recognition as one of its meetings. Even if the group chooses to link directly with the FWCC International Membership Committee, it may also want to establish contact with the FWCC Section in the area, and it may sometimes be possible to begin to develop ties with a Yearly Meeting to which the group might eventually affiliate.