Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Full Day at the Meetinghouse

Yesterday at Fifteenth Street Meetinghouse was an unusually full one for me. I arrived at 9:30 a.m. and decided to attend the Manhattan Meeting's programmed worship service, rather than Fifteenth Street's own unprogrammed service held at that time. (Both worship services are in the same building in different rooms. "Manhattan Meeting" and "Fifteenth Street Meeting" are actually both in Manhattan and both on Fifteenth Street, but they are separate congregations with different but related traditions of worship).

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.


Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:45 PM, December 21, 2004  
Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...


Hey, I came to your blog from Amanda's. Thank you for sharing your Christmasish day of worship with us. It sounds beautiful. I usually end up at Brooklyn MM on my New York trips, perhaps I should trying 15th or Manhattan next time!

Over here at Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Boston's closest equivalent to 15th Street), it was a bit more trying of a day. During Meeting for Worship, the tension of our paradoxical Christian/non-christian nature erupted in ways that were rather painful for me. A proposed preface to our yearly meeting's revised faith in practice that I am quite in unity with was described as hurtful, too exclusive and too Christian.

Another speaker expressed his gratefulness that our meeting was "thankfully not Christ-centered" (not true for many people in the meeting). As a result, the rift in our community appears much wider than it seemed before, and I worry that the seeds of disunity have been driven deeper in to our soil.

After the rise of worship, we had our Christmas pagaent. As the entire meeting broke out in "Joy to the World" after Jesus' birth was announced, I found myself on the verge of weeping.

[Edited by Jeff for clarity]

8:57 PM, December 21, 2004  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Many thanks to Jeff for his comment. I look forward to meeting you, Jeff, if you should come to New York.

I'm sorry to hear about the unsettling meeting at Cambridge last Sunday.

It helps me, when I encounter these kinds of reactions to Christ's name among Friends, to remember that they usually arise from some kind of fear based on past experiences. Often it isn't really Christ that these Friends are hostile to, but some distorted image of Him presented to them by some person or institution at an early stage of life.

I remember times when there was a lot more of this kind of thing at Fifteenth Street as well. By the grace of God there seems to be a growing openness here, but it has been slow in coming. And I would not in any way want to give the impression that most Friends here are now card-carrying (or cross-bearing?) Christians.

It helps me to remember that it is not my job to "convert" anyone to my theological beliefs, or to disabuse anyone of his or her beliefs, however wrong or unQuakerly or historically ignorant I may privately think they are. I think it's a good thing to listen carefully to people and to empathize as far as possible with their experience, while also claiming the freedom to speak of my experience. Sometimes people who don't want to listen are people who don't feel heard. Christian Friends, too, can sometimes act like this. Or we can cling to our sense of being misunderstood and persecuted, rather than focussing on how to bear a positive witness. (I do not, however, detect that tone in what you have written).

Peace of Christ,

9:49 AM, December 22, 2004  
Blogger Christine Japely said...

I stayed a bit longer than you did, Rich, at the Manhattan Meeting Christmas celebration/potluck. Dear weighty Friend Arthur was there --- and he said somewhat sotto voce "-- I haven't been late to Meeting for Worship ever, ever. But today I will be . . ." He was attracted to the love and divine food that Manhattan Meeting offered.
And then a bit late, Arthur walked quietly and happily into 15th St Meeting for Worship.
It was a wonderful moment.

2:18 PM, December 23, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


David Myers (Westbury MM, Long Island) here... Noel Palmer is a member of
Westbury and a frequent face there. He is indeed gifted, and enlightens
us whenever he is present there on off weeks from the programmed
NYC meeting.

I feel for the situation Jeff described. I know our meetings here on LI have
faced similar disunities in the past. Those Friends who use
Christ's name joyfully and those who most certainly do not have
definitely had a long hard time distilling things out amongst themselves
in meetings where both types of individuals are significant pluralities.
I hope Jeff's meeting can sort it out.


9:25 PM, January 04, 2005  

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