It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, as anyone might verify who’s returned to the bliss of the Divine Presence through a violent death; but my heart tells me that it’s a more fearful thing not to know that we’re in the hands of the living God already. By faith I know that those hands are holding me, lovingly, at all times; but my senses tell me that I’m in exile from them, or have fallen asleep and am caught in a bad dream where we’re all absent from God and separated from Jesus Christ our Savior, wandering in a world of separation, cruelty, want, fear, and mortality. The horrible thing about this dream is that it’s attractive, and as we yield to its attraction, we find ourselves forgetting that it’s a nightmare, no longer caring that we, once the darlings of an Omniscient Teacher, are now mired in a pit of ignorance. Perhaps there never was a God, we think. Soon the enticing smell of coffee, or the jolting sound of screeching brakes, makes the question of God’s existence recede back to unimportance.
A public Friend is to visit our meeting soon, to facilitate a workshop on vocal ministry. I’m looking forward to it. He’s published an article in which he writes, speaking my own mind on the matter, “I believe that we… are losing the ability to discern the Divine impetus to speak at unprogrammed meetings for worship…. This disconnect spells doom for our society, for it is only by ensuring that what is spoken in meeting rises to the level of ministry… that we will attract others to stay in those meetings, and perhaps become Friends.” (Benjamin Lloyd, “The Divine Source of Vocal Ministry,” Friends Journal, December 2004, p. 6.)
I’d be quite sad if unprogrammed Quakerism died out for want of good ministry, but then I’d trust God to provide some other way for the faithful to gather and worship together. More important than the survival of Quakerism, I seem to hear the Spirit say, is that you remain faithful. I suppose faithfulness would include resisting any temptation to counterfeit good ministry when I sensed a lack of it; it would also include staying with my meeting, in sickness and in health, until removed from it by relocation, death, dissolution of the meeting, or divine command.
But I’m wondering whether one can restore good ministry by encouraging it directly. Do we perk up flowers by watering their blossoms, or their roots? Barclay’s Apology speaks of “words and ministry [arising] from the inward power and virtue of the Spirit of God. By the same power they reach the hearts of his hearers and persuade them to approve of him and to be subject to him.” (Dean Freiday, Barclay’s Apology in Modern English, p. 179.) Douglas Gwyn writes, “The function of vocal ministry within the Quaker meeting for worship is to gather the worshipping fellowship into a common understanding of the gospel and of Christ’s will for that group…. Ministry is not a human office, but an event of God’s grace working through his chosen vessels. All are to wait on him in readiness for service. Hence, as we have noted earlier, the goal of Quaker worship is that Christ should be the only one to speak in the Church.” (Gwyn, Apocalypse of the Word, p. 168-169.)
But why would Christ be silent in His Church, letting the hour of worship either pass in dead silence or be hijacked by outpourings of junk messages? I leave that question for the reader to ponder.