Afterwords: digging deeper

I didn’t feel ready to write this on Wednesday, when I was expecting to post, partly because the news about my new job dominated my attention for a few days. However, I would like to share some of the ideas I’m playing around with at the moment and ask you whether they ring true.

I’m looking at the relationship between afterwords and spoken ministry – in my survey, lots of people said that their form of afterwords was either meant to improve, or had a negative effect on, the spoken ministry in their meeting, and I’ve been trying to think about why this is.

Some of obviously depends on how you think about ministry in the first place. I might think about ministry as a particular way of speaking, with special rules, in which case afterwords has similar-but-slightly-different rules. I might think about ministry as a gift from God or something we channel from the depths we contact during worship, in which case afterwords might seem like a space for sharing small but potentially precious gifts, or a mockery which doesn’t acknowledge the specialness of this contact. I might think about ministry as something we learn to do, whatever else we think it is, and in that case I might ask: what does the use of afterwords teach about ministry?

Sometimes people talk about afterwords moving unwanted contributions out of ministry, by making another space in which they can be shared. Sometimes people talk about afterwords taking wanted contributions out of ministry, because having another space means that people have to be very sure about their leading before they speak during worship. These are obviously two sides of the same coin, and can both be happening at once in the same meeting! Other people talk about afterwords as a space in which people might gain confidence in speaking, and thus feel more about to give ministry during worship in the future. My impression is that this works for some people – where what is lacking is confidence about speaking to the whole group, or feeling that their contribution will be welcomed – but that it just muddies the water for other people, if they aren’t sure what will count as ministry.

A situation which is mentioned sometimes in the survey responses – and which I probably won’t have time to explore fully in this project, but would like to consider in the future – is how people can learn to give spoken ministry in situations where they don’t have experience of hearing it. In a 1988 book chapter on spoken ministry, Alan Davis says that although “like other forms of discourse, it [spoken ministry] must be learned” this is an open process: “anyone may speak, all may learn” (p134, ‘Talking in Silence’, in N. Coupland (ed.) Styles of Discourse). That’s certainly true in the Meetings for Worship he examine, where every meeting had at least four pieces of ministry during their hour of worship, and some had as many as seven. But I know meetings who go for weeks or months without hearing any spoken ministry at all, and several survey respondents told me that their meetings are often entirely silent. In that case, adding an afterword for ‘not quite ministry’ might be tempting, but it might not make sense, especially if many of those attending the meeting have no idea at all of what afterwords isn’t quite.

Have you got experience of any of the situations described here? Has afterwords supported you in giving spoken ministry, or does it encourage you to hold back from speaking during worship?


8 responses to “Afterwords: digging deeper

  1. How can I pass your thinking and first reflections on to our Elders, none of whom are on Facebook, but who will be very interested, and who need to read thus? When and how will you publish your conclusions?

    • Good question, Beth. If they are online but not on Facebook, you could email them a direct link to this blog post or my blog in general (or to the tag about afterwords, ). If they are not online at all, you’re welcome to print out my blog posts to share. Longer term, I also hope to publish more formally in several different venues, but this depends on the editorial decisions of Quaker Studies, Friends Quarterly, Quaker Voices, and Quaker Life, so I can’t give exact details yet.

  2. Congratulations on the new job.

  3. I think afterwords work especially well where there are Friends who come to meeting just bursting with delight in something they’ve read, or burning with some injustice they feel just must be shared. These things are not (normally) ministry, in the sense of “a gift from God or something we channel from the depths we contact during worship”, but they are good and often useful to hear, and their bearers might be tempted to force them unhelpfully into the silence of meeting otherwise, frothing over with them as they are.

  4. I had never heard the term “Afterwords”. Halifax Friends Meeting has what we call “Worship Sharing”. “Worship” runs from 10:30 to 11:20, followed by Worship Sharing from 11:20 to 11:30, followed by Introductions and social time from 11:30 to 12 noon. We print this on an Order of Worship card for new visitors, and describe expectations: “Quaker Worship: Friends sit in silence listening for the voice of the spirit – the Light Within – the inner depth of being.
    When led by the spirit, Friends will give vocal ministry, sharing with the congregation the message so inspired.” The card goes on to explain that ministry is not a conversation or discussion, and that ordinarily a Friend will speak only once, allowing time for others to speak. Occasionally the spirit may move a worshipper to speak more than once and we have a duty to speak if strongly moved by the spirit.
    When no vocal ministry is given, silence can be creative. A silent hour can be as productive as one filled with ministry.

    Worship Sharing is described as a time for Friends to speak of things they have been thinking of, but have not been led to minister with. This also is not a time for discussion or conversation.

    We developed these guidelines because we found some attending would mistakenly use the time for discussion, rather than being guided by the spirit.
    But we also found that while long-time Friends felt comfortable about giving vocal ministry newer persons attending often never felt confident to speak. They are given more confidence during Worship Sharing, and often contribute valuable insights. Also Friends generally often need to follow up on what has been said in worship with additional often more down to earth thoughts which help carry out the spirit-led ideas produced in regular Worship.
    Friends have differing ideas on “the Spirit” or the “Light Within” – for some this is personified as “the Christ within” while for others the spirit is not personified but is an attribute inherent in all persons and indeed in the natural world – including having been present in Jesus and the Prophets, in many religious leaders, and non-religious philosophers. But being Quakers we can respect the Light, however we describe it!

  5. But Mike, if you are bursting with delight or burning with injustice, that may well be a gift from God. Tempered by the silence, it may lead to good ministry, which is not necessarily smooth or polished, for God may even want to stir the meeting up a bit. If the words are not given, there is always the coffee break, or some good friend who will listen patiently. If you are meant to minister, that will become clear; and how wrong it would be to give it a lesser place as an “afterword.”

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