Category Archives: Blogs

Speaking in Silent Worship

Quakers are known for gathering to worship in silence, and yet they also gather to hear the many voices of God. Instead of a prepared sermon or liturgy, Quakers worship through “vocal ministry,” messages offered out of the silence by those who feel moved to speak.

Many Quaker Meetings have just a few messages during Silent Worship, and some Meetings go week after week without any vocal ministry. When I first started attending Quaker Meeting, I mostly listened as others shared messages that were usually thoughtful and eloquent. Sometimes they started with personal anecdotes, sometimes with musings on a theme. Occasionally they included a quote from the Bible or some other spiritual text. Many messages, whether brief or extended, bloomed into something universal and important. I wasn’t sure how they did it, but I loved the moving narratives that bubbled up in the Meeting.

During those early years, I sometimes felt a message stirring in my heart, but I wasn’t sure if I should share it. There were guidelines: only speak if you can’t stay seated; only speak if the message is intended for someone other than yourself; refrain from political or non-spiritual comments; don’t lecture or use worship for a personal announcement. It could be bewildering.

And yet, at the same time, I sensed that there was value in sharing if I had something genuine and deeply felt. Deciding whether to share a message can be difficult, but if everyone is too circumspect, then the Meeting goes quiet and loses the wonderful mystery of vocal ministry.

In a recent spiritual discussion on Speaking in Worship, Reno Friends offered advice:

  • Share more about how we are human rather than how we are perfect;
  • Think of messages from others as gifts – even if we don’t recognize the source or the language used, there may be something in it that speaks to us;
  • Experienced Quakers can set an example by sharing their ministry;
  • Aim for the universal rather than the personal.

Our guidebook Faith & Practice tells us this: “Do not assume that vocal ministry is never to be your part. Faithfulness and sincerity in speaking, even very briefly, may open the way to fuller ministry from others. When prompted to speak, wait patiently to know that the leading and the time are right, but do not let a sense of your own unworthiness hold you back. Pray that your ministry may arise from deep experience, and trust that words will be given to you. Try to speak audibly and distinctly, and with sensitivity to the needs of others. Beware of speaking predictably or too often, and of making additions towards the end of a meeting when it was well left before.”

We all have wisdom and questions and soul to share with the Meeting. The power of vocal ministry lies in its variety and heartfulness. May we all continue to speak out of the silence, and to one another.

By Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

The Simple Meeting

Reno Friends recently gathered on Zoom in the sacred space of a Worship Sharing to tell each other what we all believed was most important about our Meeting. The pandemic spun us away from one another, and yet – through the efforts of many – we kept our community alive and busy by holding meetings, spiritual discussions, brown bag lunches, and even a Christmas party, all online. We learned to use Zoom, and figured out (through herculean efforts by our tech team) how to hold hybrid worship: in-person and online at the same time. We met outside for a holiday cookie-exchange, and even worshipped from the relative quiet of our shady garden on summer days.

Continue reading The Simple Meeting

Leadership in Quaker Meetings

It is Nominating season again, the time of year when our Quaker community tries to identify those who will serve as clerks and leaders of the Meeting in the coming year. Which raises an interesting question: What does it mean to be a leader in a Quaker Meeting?     Technically, there are no leaders in unprogrammed Quaker Meetings, such as Reno Friends. Everyone is equal, and no one is in charge. But if there are no leaders, how does a Meeting organize to get its work done? How do Quakers determine how to worship, how to manage their programming and finances, or how to grow?

Continue reading Leadership in Quaker Meetings

The Genesis of Embodying the Light

I teach a Qigong/Tai Chi/Yoga class for Reno Friends three times a month and was recently asked how I came to this practice and what it means to me. I thought a blog post would be the perfect way to answer that question.

I have been practicing yoga since 2008 and Qigong/Tai Chi since 2014. I came to these practices after injuries and during rehabilitation. You might say I discovered them after breaking myself repeatedly. In Western culture, we are programmed to push ourselves to attain physical goals and fitness. Like many people, I was able to do this in my youth, but as I aged, this strategy was no longer working!

Continue reading The Genesis of Embodying the Light

The Meaning of Life

Last year I took a class at UNR on Qualitative Research which taught methods for conducting in-depth interviews. I was tasked with conducting two interviews about a sociological concept that interested me. Apart from my academics and in my personal life, I had been thinking a lot about my own life:  what made me feel passionate, and what I might be here to do. I decided to take the project as an opportunity to interview two people that I thought would speak beautifully on the topic of “the meaning of life,” Rhonda Ashurst of the Reno Friends Meeting and one of the Buddhist priests from the Reno Buddhist Center, Rev. Shelley Fisher. At the root of this question was a desire to feel my soul a little and share an exceptionally profound idea with two incredible people.

Continue reading The Meaning of Life

Quakers and Prayer

Reno Friends gathered online earlier this year for a spiritual discussion about Quakers and Prayer. Newcomers to Silent Worship, puzzled by the unprogrammed quiet, often ask me if Friends are praying. I can understand their confusion, because it’s not clear during Silent Worship what, exactly, we’re doing. Some of us would say we’re sitting in silence waiting to hear what God might have to say to us. Others say they are meditating, and some might say they are praying.  

Continue reading Quakers and Prayer

Preparing for Re-Entry

Near the end of my two years of teaching in China, Volunteers in Asia (the organization that had hosted me) sent me materials about reverse culture shock. I was so excited about going home that I hadn’t thought about problems I might experience upon re-entry. In some ways, returning to “normal” life as pandemic restrictions ease will be a bit like returning home from a foreign land, and we might smooth the transition by taking time to consider the impact of the last year and anticipate what might come.

Continue reading Preparing for Re-Entry

What is God?

When I proposed the topic “What is God” for the February Reno Friends spiritual discussion, I was both excited and anxious. Would anyone come, and more importantly, would we have the courage to share from our hearts and souls about this big question? Fourteen of us met on Zoom last month, and almost immediately we opened into a gathered space of deep sharing. It was truly magical!

Continue reading What is God?