This summer, I will be spending some time at Woodbrooke as one of the four Eva Koch scholars. My topic is ‘afterwords’. In this post, I’d like to say what my current thoughts are about this practice and how it’s used – during the project, I hope to keep blogging from time to time to document how my ideas change.
I take ‘afterwords’ to include a range of things Quakers might do between the end of Meeting for Worship (after the handshakes) and before the notices and/or refreshments (if there are any). I don’t know yet whether ‘news of Friends’ counts as afterwords, or a specialist kind of notices, so I’m inclined to include it for now and see if that makes sense when I have more information. There might be other doubtful cases like this – if you can think of one, please let me know.
‘Afterwords’ goes by a variety of names – I have also heard ‘bridging time’ and ‘not quite ministry’, and a brief survey of online mentions suggests that Meetings in the USA are more likely to call it ‘afterthoughts’. Some of these names point towards the things it might be expected to do: ‘not quite ministry’ suggests that some things which have arisen in the silence need to be spoken and shared, but don’t carry the full weight of vocal ministry. (Whatever we understand that weight to be – I think issues about vocal ministry itself will appear repeatedly in this work.) Similarly, ‘bridging time’ suggests that ‘afterwords’ provides a threshold space in which we are neither fully in meeting for worship, nor fully outside it. From this point of view, it might be interesting to compare ‘afterwords’ to ‘worship sharing’ and ‘creative listening’, also practices which are related to worship but with slightly different rules. I’d also like to compare ‘afterwords’ to threshing meetings, which can also be understood as providing a threshold space. (For more about that, see the report on threshing which Rachel Muers and I wrote last year.)
The term ‘afterwords’ is also sometimes used for a planned discussion or study session after Meeting, after notices and maybe in a different room. I’m interested in this use of the word, but I don’t think this practice is what I’m trying to find out about. Discussion sessions have their own rules and don’t usually occupy this boundary location between worship and not worship.
Not very much has been written about afterwords, at least not that I have found so far. Some meetings describe it briefly when they describe their worship – Tottenham, Abingdon, and Oxford are typical examples of this – and it’s mentioned in a couple of places in With a Tender Hand, the recent eldership and oversight resource book. On the other hand, it’s not mentioned at all in Quaker faith & practice, which suggests that it was not in use, or at least not widespread, in 1994.
As I start talking to people about this project, it becomes clear that some people are very much in favour, some against, and many more interested but not really sure. It’s often thought that introducing ‘afterwords’ might affect – probably improve – the quality of the vocal ministry, either by giving people who speak often, perhaps too often, another space in which to share, or by encouraging people who are less likely to speak to start (by giving a less pressured space in which to do so). I’m hoping my research will be able to show whether or not these things really do happen in the experience of meetings who try afterwords. I’m not expecting to form a straightforward opinion that afterwords are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, since I think it’ll probably vary by context and circumstances – but you never know, I might be swayed to one side or the other!
In my plan, the main part of my research will be a survey asking for report of people’s experiences with afterword. If you’re interested in that, do get in touch or watch this space, as I’ll be announcing it here when the survey opens.