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.