Calling on all Friends’ meetings to become “praying churches”

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This morning, after praying hard that I not be allowed to speak unless I had my message right, and that I be clearly shown where to stop and sit down, I gave vocal ministry at my meeting in these words – more or less:

The one God we all worship now calls Fifteenth Street Meeting to learn to pray for itself, so that it might learn to speak with one voice and one heart.

Just a week ago I’d come back from the Friends United Meeting Triennial, whose theme was taken from Romans 12:1-2 (which I here quote in the King James Version): I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed [metamorphoũsthe in the original Greek] by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

I’d come back home praying that Friends United Meeting be granted a metamorphosis, that I myself be granted one, and that my meeting, and the Religious Society of Friends generally, be granted a metamorphosis also — as thorough as a worm’s transformation into a butterfly, as thorough as the Lord thinks the transformation needs to be.  And then, once home, I picked up a copy of Mary Glenn Hadley’s Come Pray (Friends United Press, 2001)In it I found these words (pp. 76-77):

Our society strongly encourages individual rights.  This thought pattern has subtly found its way into the church making it very difficult to experience fully the power of corporate leading for the body of Christ.

As I visit churches, I find that prayer is considered something very private.  Many people say they pray alone.  Yet when opportunity is given to pray together, people fall silent, seemingly unable to talk with God when in the presence of others.  The forces of evil are very afraid of prayer.  Are our churches weak because we are not claiming the power of prayer?

As I read this, it struck me how far my meeting is from being a “praying church,”  to its great detriment!  I could easily imagine the Friends that make it up finding consensus on sending a plea, in the meeting’s name, to an elected official, to give aid to a distressed nation or protection to an endangered species.  But it was hard to imagine the meeting, gathered as one organism, feeling its unity and praying, in the Holy Spirit, to the almighty and loving Creator of that nation or endangered species!  And my meeting is not the only Friends’ meeting in such a weakened condition!

It quickly became clear to me that my meeting must first learn to pray for itself  before it could be expected to develop its ability to pray for a nation, an endangered species, or anything else outside itself.  It must want to be empowered to pray effectively as a body.  It must become willing to be transformed from the umbrella group of mixed interests and world-views that it so often resembles into a holy, loving, trusting community, for that transformation cannot happen without willingness, and I cannot imagine it becoming an effective praying community without first becoming a holy, loving, trusting community, where grudges are dropped and all communication becomes tender and truthful.

And from the fact that I was given a brief message to express this thought in, I conclude that it’s not just I, John, who think it, but also the Holy Spirit.

Now Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, often say some things hard to believe, like “Go, and sin no more” (is that possible!? that I might be able to sin no more?) or “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” but if the Holy Spirit opened my mouth to tell a large, urban, liberal Friends’ meeting that it was time it learned to pray for itself, then I have to believe that it can learn to pray for itself and will learn to pray for itself.  And if Fifteenth Street Meeting, then why not every meeting?

Some of the messages that followed mine hinted at the felt need within the meeting for guidance, education and increased faith in intercessory prayer.  I’m hopeful.

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5 Responses to “Calling on all Friends’ meetings to become “praying churches””

  1. William F Rushby Says:

    This message is on target! Friends need to learn anew how to pray. On their knees, if possible.

  2. John Edminster Says:

    Thank thee, Bill! I’m grateful for thy encouragement.

    How it would delight me to see half a dozen Friends, or ten or twenty or sixty Friends at Fifteenth Street, fall to their knees with me to pray together! Even for something simple, like enough money to make the year’s budget, or more love and forgiveness within the meeting. But one step at a time. I feel a little as though scales had just fallen from my eyes — so many sad consequences flow from our being too guarded to pray together; so many consequences of the opposite sort would follow from our inviting love to cast out fear.

  3. Bill Samuel Says:

    The Holy Spirit yearns for bodies of believers sincerely praying. It may seem a stretch for many meetings, who are not accustomed to corporate prayer. A way it may start is for a few Friends who feel the leading to pray corporately to gather together regularly for that purpose. The prayers should include the hope that the meeting would do it as a body, but do not try to rush that happening but rather sink into the Presence so that you might be used in the transformation of the meeting in God’s time.

    When I was in the charismatic world, I learned that the story of great revivals usually started with small groups praying for years, and then, looking to be sudden to those from the outside, the Spirit would burst forth in a powerful way involving many. Key was the willingness of those who felt the call to just keep at praying, not dependent upon what was happening outside the group of praying people.

  4. Steven Davison Says:

    I experience the almost total lack of vocal prayer in our meetings as a great loss—but I myself am never led to pray. So I often pray for the gift of prayer when in meeting for worship. It has yet to come. And I often think about why.

    Like many liberal Friends, I have no experience of a supreme being style of God who would be listening for and answering prayer; nor even of Jesus Christ, a much more approachable God with whom one could imagine having a personal relationship that encouraged prayer. I do have experience of what I guess I would call an ‘angel’; certainly this particular face of god has a presence, a personality, and I do conduct my spiritual life as a relationship with ‘it’. So we talk; I pray.

    But this relationship is extremely personal and peculiar to me. I could not pray to this face of God in meeting vocally, on behalf of the meeting, as it were.

    Vocal prayer in meeting for worship requires a shared, corporate sense of who the recipient of prayer is—a God we can all agree on. Precisely what most liberal meetings lack.

    For centuries, some Friends believed in an “angel of the meeting,” based on the letters in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. I have encountered angels of the meeting three times myself, so I know there’s something there. Could one vocally pray to the angel of one’s meeting and not feel weird, not feel as though one were downgrading God?

  5. Bill Samuel Says:

    “Vocal prayer in meeting for worship requires a shared, corporate sense of who the recipient of prayer is” Generally speaking, that is true. I say generally speaking, because I have known times when Friends have transcended their spiritual understanding and been able to unite on a course which would have seemed unthinkable if you knew the disparate spiritual understandings of the participants. I can’t recall having seen this in corporate prayer per se, but I wouldn’t exclude that possibility.

    I do think the lack of any unity on this key spiritual understanding has been a key reason why so many meetings rarely experience corporate prayer. To pray on behalf of the meeting seems terribly presumptuous when many Friends may not even believe in prayer. I think that’s why “holding in the light” has become so popular among liberal Friends. It is sufficiently vague and ambiguous that it doesn’t seem threatening to many Friends who have a block about praying. (However, it does bother some who believe strongly in prayer, more because of what it seems not to be than for what it is.)

    I do believe in the idea of an angel of the meeting, or at least that there is a spirit of a meeting that is not dependent on where the persons who make up the meeting are at spiritually or otherwise. I think this often has a great effect – often negative – on decision making. But I’m not sure what to think of the idea of praying to the angel of the meeting. And again, it would be problematical for corporate prayer if there wasn’t unity on the concept.

    Since joining an unaffiliated church, it has been such a relief to be in a body where corporate prayer seems natural, and doesn’t result in the raising of a lot of hackles.

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