A Full Day at the Meetinghouse
I do not attend Manhattan Meeting's worship very often, but when I do I am usually glad I did. The pastor of this meeting is Noel Palmer, a Jamaican-born recorded minister who I feel has a very real gift. Although the sermon has been prepared (prayerfully) in advance, and there is a program of hymns and prayers and readings also pre-selected, the meeting nevertheless seems very Quaker to me. It incorporates silence and is conducted in a simple and unpretentious manner.
Yesterday was the last Sunday before Christmas, and the sermon had a Christmas theme, but the text was from the gospel of John rather than from the familiar nativity story in Matthew or Luke. Noel spoke about the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria in John 4 and made it come alive as a story about "telling", what Jesus told the woman, and what the woman told her townspeople.
Following the hour of worship, Manhattan Meeting Friends held a Christmas gathering to which they had invited us "silent-meeting" 15th Street Quakers. A lot of kids and adults from both meetings came, and there was some enthusiastic intergenerational singing. My participation in this gathering had to be brief, because I also wanted to attend the hour of unprogrammed worship starting at 11 in the other room. (I'm sure this story is getting confusing: there are so many opportunities to worship in that one building every Sunday!)
The unprogrammed worship at Fifteenth Street had an unusual number of messages, but seemed to me very deep and wonderful. One Friend spoke about the need for us to be "holy fools". Near the close of the Meeting another Friend offered prayer, addressing God as "Emmanuel" and asking him to truly be with us and guide us. She prayed explicitly in "the name of Jesus" which is a relatively rare phenomenon in our Meeting. We have apparently progressed to the point where this can happen and not become the cause for division or distress. At the end of the hour of worship, the children of our First Day School sang a number of Christmas-themed songs for us, ending with "Silent Night" which most adult Friends also joined in singing. I'm not sure I can explain why this would be so, but I felt deeply happy and very moved by the singing. My eyes were tearing up, which is something that seems to happen to me more in meetings for worship than in any other part of my life.
Even this was not the end of our "full day" at the meetinghouse. Several Friends who wished to do so came down to the central benches after worship was over and we read together from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke - starting with Caesar's decree that all the world should be taxed, proceeding through the birth and circumcision and dedication of Jesus, and ending with the story of his journey to Jerusalem at the age of 12. Finally, at 1 p.m. we also had a study group on "Listening Spirituality" based on a book by Patricia Loring. The group was ably led by our Friend Carol Holmes.
I have not forgotten my intention to write more about Plainness and Simplicity. Ironically, I seem to be so busy that it's difficult to find the time to attack such large themes in my daily postings. Still, I think I'll get to it soon.