An Incident At Meeting for Worship
The Meeting seemed to me a very deep and peaceful one. There were four messages: One was from a young woman who spoke, among other things, about the importance of being open to 'the other', two were about Jesus and the kind of life He calls us to, and one was more generally about peace.
After Meeting, a visiting Friend from England came up to see me. He may have spoken to me because I was one of those to give ministry, or perhaps because I also made the announcements after Meeting on behalf of the Ministry and Worship Committee. He was very polite and civil and even deferential, and he asked me if it was OK if he said something critical. Of course I said that it was. He then suggested, rather gingerly, that he thought it was better not to give messages about Jesus in Meeting for Worship. He said that he thought that Quakerism ought to be "spirit-centered not Christ-centered." I replied that I personally wouldn't want to drive a wedge between "the spirit" and Christ.
He said that it was too bad all of the ministry that day came from middle-aged men (acknowledging himself to also be in that category). I reminded him that one had come from a young woman.
He said he had "heard" (I didnt' ask him where) that ministry in 15th Street had become increasingly Christ-centered and he was sorry to see that it was so. I wish I had mentioned that if he had come on a different week he might have heard a more pantheistic message or a message about divine femininity but I didn't have the presence of mind. I also didn't mention that only two of the four messages concerned Jesus explicitly (I think he had the impression that all of them did, which would have come as quite a surprise to at least one of the speakers).
What is the "shift" I referred to above? Twenty years ago, if someone had come up to me to suggest toning down the Jesus talk I think I might have felt very intimidated. This kind of advice might well have come from some of the elders of the meeting and it probably would not have been at all hesitant in tone, but very confident. The Christian understanding of what Quakerism is was very much on the defensive in liberal unprogrammed meetings.
Even without private feedback after Meeting in those days, any message about Jesus would almost automatically have been followed during the Meeting itself by a "balancing" message emphasizing our creedlessness just so no one would get the "wrong" idea. Today it has seemingly become a normal occurrence to mention Christ in Meeting. I think that's a wonderful development.
At the same time, I am sorry that our visiting Friend felt uncomfortable. I know how lonely it can feel when the Religious Society one loves comes to feel inhospitable for one's preferred way of expressing one's faith. I hope that 15th Street Meeting is not nearly as inhospitable to non-Christian spirituality as he seemed to fear. I think that if he attended regularly he would find Friends willing to listen to any ministry that seems guided by the Holy Spirit, regardless of whether they find it to be theologically impeccable.
I wonder if Friends in other meetings have any comparable experiences?
- - Rich Accetta-Evans