Quakers typically spend an hour every Sunday morning worshipping together in silence. During this time, individuals sometimes rise to share a message that has come to them out of the silence. Such messages are not planned in advance, nor are there suggested topics.
Occasionally, however, Quakers gather for a more directed form of worship-based conversation that incorporates silence as a foundation. This process, known as worship sharing, is often used to address issues that are unusually contentious or serious, or that call for deeper reflection.
According to Quaker sources, worship sharing grew out of dialogue techniques such as those used by Alcoholic Anonymous that arose in the 1960’s. The worship sharing group sits in silence to contemplate a particular query, everyone taking a turn to say how she or he feels about the issue. Participants are urged to avoid cross-talk and to listen deeply to each speaker. The silence is allowed to return between speakers, giving everyone a chance to root again in the power of the quiet.
Meetings often use worship sharing to heal after a period of conflict, or to articulate how to solve a difficult problem. Some Meetings use worship sharing to get at a deeper understanding of spiritual differences or to consider how to address a public need. Reno Friends has used it to explore how it could help the homeless in Reno. Another time we gathered in worship sharing to heal after a fractious few months that threatened to split the Meeting.
Sometimes I think of worship sharing as our secret weapon: when we begin to spin apart, we gather in silence, and with purpose, to address the forces pulling us apart. Once everyone’s feelings, concerns and hopes are laid on the table, it is much easier to start knitting the Meeting back together.
Worship sharing is conducted with some basic rules that help the gathering stay worshipful instead of devolving into argument or lecture. Baltimore Yearly Meeting has drawn up the following guidelines, which are typical:
- Begin with centering silence. Reach deeply into the sacred center of your life.
- Listen carefully and deeply to what is spoken, not distracted by your own thoughts.
- Do not respond to what anyone else has said, either to praise or to refute.
- Leave a period of silence between speakers to reflect and keep centered.
- Expect to speak only once, until everyone has had a chance to speak.
- Speak from your own experience. Concentrate on feelings and changes rather than on thoughts or theories. Use “I statements.”
- Consider the time so as to not take more that your share. You may have many responses to the queries; pick just one or two to share. You may pass if you like.
- Respect confidentiality; whatever is said in the group, stays within the group.
Reno Friends will gather for another worship sharing on Sunday, March 17, at 11:30 am – an event prompted by the departure last fall of two Friends from our Meeting community. Please join us if you would like to better understand this Quaker process or share wisdom that may bring us back together and help heal our Meeting.
Wendy Swallow, Reno Friends Meeting, firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.