Tag Archives: afterwords

‘Afterwords’ – two years on

(Welsh word of the post: ymchwilio, to research or investigate)

In the summer of 2016, I was at Woodbrooke as an Eva Koch scholar to research afterwords. This year’s scholars are coming to the end of their projects – or at least their time at Woodbrooke! – and I’ve just been corresponding with one of last year’s scholars. It seems like a good time to let you know what’s happened with my project since 2016: especially how I’ve shared my results and some new insights which have developed.



As well as presenting short sessions about afterwords and answering emails and telephone calls, I’ve run two formal events on this theme.

  • One was a course at Swarthmoor Hall, called ‘Worship, Ministry, and Afterwords’. A weekend course with a small group is a chance to dig into a topic in some depth, and we talked about the uses of silence, the many structures of ‘afterwords’, different understandings of spoken ministry, and many other things.
  • One was a Woodbrooke on the Road, requested by a local meeting to help them review their own use of afterwords. The Sunday afternoon session generated lots of interest and discussion – and could still be booked by other meetings who want to explore this topic.

New insights

In looking for ways to present my ideas to new audiences, one of the things I did was to try and turn my key points into diagrams. This doesn’t come very naturally to me, but when I make the effort it’s often very helpful to me as well as whoever I’m explaining to!

In this case, I made two sets of diagrams. One is a linear diagram which shows meeting for worship (the straight line), notices (a zig-zag line), afterwords (a wiggling line), and refreshments (a dotted line), all heading down the page as time passes. Here’s a version I drew for a course group.

Five lines - blue, green, orange, red, and black - go horizontally down the page, straight at first and starting to wiggle at different points.

Worship and afterwords – start at the top, and more time passes as you go down the page.

Each of the five coloured lines represents a different pattern for worship and afterwords. The blue one is what I grew up thinking of as ‘normal’: meeting for worship lasts an hour, it ends (with handshakes), there are notices, then refreshments. The green one shows afterwords as ‘bridging time’ – between meeting for worship and notices there is an in-between time, when we can adjust to the rules changing. The lines make it very clear why this model is not favoured by people who are ready for their coffee after an hour of worship!

The third line, the orange one, shows afterword happening towards the end of, but during, meeting for worship – as happens in meetings where it is more like ‘respectful listening’. Here, the rules of worship are adjusted into those of afterword but without formally ending meeting for worship – and, typically, sooner than meeting for worship would usually finish. The fourth line, in red, then shows other ways to order these elements. For example, some meetings have third items after the handshake and before refreshments: afterwords, joys and concerns, and notices. Depending on how they are each understood, these can be ordered differently and the guidelines for speaking in them may be more or less strict.

Finally, the black line shows afterwords moved to after the notices. This gives it a different feel – and, as the diagram suggests, usually gives people a way to opt out, to stay having refreshments and chatting rather than going into afterwords. (Options can be introduced in the other patterns in some cases: meetings with a separate room for refreshments can let people slip out even when afterwords is held directly after meeting for worship.)

Another set of diagrams tried to think through the ways in which ordinary speech, spoken ministry, and contributions to afterwords are related to one another. Here are all three drawn up on a flipchart – below this picture, I’ve re-drawn them digitally to make them easier to see, and I’ll talk about them one at a time.


Diagrams on a flipchart.

The first diagram is set of three columns, each filled with two colours.

afterwords ego insp columns

Comparing spoken ministry, ordinary speech, and afterwords

The three columns each represent a different kind of speech – spoken ministry, ordinary speech, and contributions to afterwords. The idea of this diagram is to try and get at the ways that different sources are understood to inform different kinds of speech. In traditional Quaker language, spoken ministry comes ‘through us, not from us’, because it is seen as a message from God. I didn’t want to make assumptions here about the internal or external reality of the Divine, but I did want to get at the idea that ministry is not just us saying whatever we like. I chose the terms ‘ego’ and ‘inspiration’ to try and make that distinction – ‘ego’ is from me, maybe not just from my ego in the Freudian sense, but what I choose to say and from my perspective. ‘Inspiration’ is from beyond or other than me, wherever you understand that to be located.

The rending of each column into quarters is a rough estimate – just enough to make a comparison, since I wouldn’t want to claim that these things are measurable! The ‘ministry’ column is three-quarters inspiration and one-quarter ego: this tries to represent my own experience of giving spoken ministry, that I have a role to play it in and my knowledge and experiences feed it, but it is not mostly my own. The ‘ordinary speech’ column is three-quarters ego and one-quarter inspiration: sometimes in the most mundane conversations someone says something which is so insightful or revealing that it seems to contain that of God, but this isn’t the majority of the time. The last column, for afterwords, is half ego and half inspiration. That tries to reflect the shifting balance respondents in my survey reported, that contributions to afterwords can contain more of the speaker’s personal stuff than is acceptable in ministry, but also that afterwords are more likely to be channels for the Light than things said in ordinary conversation.

The second diagram is a Venn diagram which again tries to show how afterwords might relate to other forms of speech. To be honest, I think this is the least successful of the three.

afterwords speech comm venn

Venn diagram of communication, speech, ministry, and afterwords

There are four ovals in this diagram. The black one represents ‘all communication’ and is largest. The red one represents ‘all speech’ – the majority of it is inside the black oval, although I left a little outside to represent speech which fails to communicate (perhaps by accident, like when I try to say something in a language I’m learning and my pronunciation or grammar is so atrocious nothing gets across, or on purpose, as when I say something out loud to an empty room in the hope that I will then not say something regrettable on Twitter).

The next largest oval is a green one for ‘spoken ministry’. I have put this entirely inside both ‘speech’ and ‘communication’. Spoken ministry is speech by definition, although of course things other than speech can certainly be ministry. I think it is also communication every time, even though it might sometimes fail ordinary tests of communication – if I am inspired to stand in meeting for worship and say something in such garbled Welsh that it’s incomprehensible, something about that is still God’s message even if it isn’t what I think I’m trying to say!

I’ve then drawn a small blue circle for afterwords, half in the ‘spoken ministry’ oval and half outside. Actually, I think some contributions to afterwords could fail to communicate in some of the ways speech can – although perhaps the act of trying to speak during afterwords succeeds in communicating something, even if it isn’t the message as intended.

The final diagram shows a testing net, with ministry, ordinary speech, and afterwords as stones or balls of various sizes.

afterwords testing net

A ‘testing net’ image for speech, afterwords, and ministry.

In this version of the diagram, I’ve made the three sizes of circle three different shades of blue to suggest why we need a testing net – they have lots of similarities, and can be difficult to tell apart. The testing net is made up from whatever tests you use when deciding whether or not to speak during meeting for worship: typically, questions like “is this message just for me, or for the whole meeting?” and “am I so strongly led to speak that I can’t NOT speak?” form part of this process. Ordinary speech, represented here by the dark blue circle, is too large to go through the grid – it gets stopped by the testing net. Spoken ministry, here some small, light blue circles, can go through easily. Some circles are just about the same size as the holes, and they might or might not get through… so they form the is-it-or-isn’t-it category of ‘afterwords’.

When I’ve tried these diagrams out in workshops, so far this last one seems to be the most successful in creating useful discussion. It can be a diagram, but could easily be made into a 3D, tactile model – I could imagine using ordinary household items (colander, sugar, peas?) to start a discussion about this with an all-age group.

Afterwords and Ministry: a developing puzzle in our practice

This article appeared in Friends Quarterly in February 2017.

The author spent the summer of 2016 as an Eva Koch scholar at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. This article reflects her work during that time.

Afterwords are a collection of practices which can include a period of worship sharing between the end of Meeting and notices, time to share ‘nearly ministry’ before the end of Meeting for Worship, and arrangements in which people are invited either to stay in the Meeting room or to gather in a different room to share thoughts and feelings after worship. Broadly defined, it might include practices such as ‘joys and sorrows’ which allow people to give personal news or reflections, but in this article I am going to focus on formats which encourage the sharing of ‘not quite ministry’, because these present a particular puzzle to our understanding of worship and ministry.

The concept of afterwords is a practice which is not mentioned in our current Book of Discipline, Quaker Faith & Practice. It seems to have arisen during the last twenty to thirty years, so that now something like afterwords is being used in roughly half the meetings in Britain Yearly Meeting. It is spread by contact – people see it somewhere else, like it, and give it a try in their own Meeting – and because there are several forms with no discernible older or common root, it seems likely that similar ideas arose in different places at roughly the same time.

I researched afterwords by running an online survey, which was advertised through Quaker email lists and Facebook groups. Most people who responded were from Britain Yearly Meeting, although I also got some answers about meetings around the world. In this article, I want to explore one of the dominant themes from these responses: the relationship between afterwords and spoken ministry. There were other important themes in the responses, including the use of afterwords for community building and issues about whether afterwords provides a smooth transition from Meeting for Worship into other activities, but the idea that afterwords improves ministry has implications which are particularly complex and, because of the importance of spoken ministry to our whole practice of worship, vital to our understanding of the role of afterwords.


From and through, in and out

One way to explore the relationships between ministry and afterwords is to consider them in relation to four directions of movement for contributions, which can be understood as two pairs: from/through and in/out. Spoken contributions which are given as ministry are often said to come through us, while things appropriate for afterwords may come wholly from us; adding afterwords to a Meeting’s practice might move some contributions into ministry and others out of it. I now want to explore these four directions in more detail.

True ministry, things which are correctly offered as spoken contributions during Meeting for Worship , are usually considered to come through us, not from us.[1] Water may taste of the pipes and in the same way ministry is affected by our personality and experiences, but the origin of it lies beyond us: it is from the Spirit and not the self. In traditional Quaker understanding, there is that of God in everyone, so this Source may be reached through our own hearts, minds and lives – and through the hearts, minds and lives of others around us. We distinguish, though, between things which arise from God within us and things which are from our own thoughts and emotions. That the voice of our Inward Teacher can be heard through silent, waiting worship with others is a central tenet of the Quaker way, and the ability to share what we hear on some occasions is an important aspect of this practice.

Both ‘through us’ and ‘from us’ suggest a destination outside ourselves, and indeed both ministry and afterwords are meant to be heard by others. In Meeting, we can sometimes hear the voice of God speaking only to us, and these messages are not for sharing, while a test of true ministry is that it speaks to the condition of others. Like many Friends, I have had the experience of hearing in ministry just what I needed to hear, or something which illuminates a situation in my life – even if others present knew nothing about this. True ministry, then, comes through us and can reach others.

Contributions suitable for afterwords, in contrast, come from us. They are described as ‘not quite ministry’, but the element which holds them back from being true ministry is their closeness to the self or ego of the speaker. They may be enriched by the living water which we taste in Meeting for Worship , but the origin of the contribution is within ourselves. They may be understood as our thoughts – perhaps prompted by the Spirit, by other ministry, or by events in our lives or on the world stage. Because God may speak through us at any time, these offerings may be understood by others as ministry if something happens to speak deeply to them. On the other hand, contributions for afterwords do not have to be tested by this measure. It will often be enough to have said something which the speaker, as an individual, needed to say or have heard.

Meetings which introduce afterwords often want to move contributions either into or out of worship. If the Meeting has very little spoken ministry during worship, they may feel that some people who could give ministry – who are in touch with that of God within themselves or the Meeting and hence are able to act as a channel in this way – are not speaking. Perhaps they are not sure enough of the call to speak, or are held back by shyness or a sense of their own unworthiness. By giving them a chance to speak to the whole group close to but slightly outside the context of worship itself –  i.e. by introducing afterwords – Meetings hope to build the confidence of these Friends and encourage them to heed any call to ministry which they might feel. If a Friend is being called to minister but refusing to do so, afterwords become the whale which takes the prophet to the right place: a way of moving them in the right direction. If other Friends hear something which could have been ministry during afterwords, they are in the position of a Ninevite eavesdropping on Jonah’s wailings during his sea passage, getting an advance preview of the real message.

A side effect of this is that Friends who are not sure of their call, or who choose not to thoroughly test their leading to speak, might choose to contribute during afterwords rather than wrestling with the need to give ministry. Especially in formats of afterwords where not everyone in the Meeting hears them, this is like giving the message to a sailor from Nineveh rather than going there yourself. Even if everyone does hear it, the message does not carry the same weight if given in afterwords rather than during Meeting for Worship, specifically because the barrier to speaking has been lowered and the expectation of testing the leading has been removed. This is comparable with the way we trust a report from a close friend but would be doubtful about the same story from a stranger: by testing the call before speaking, a minister helps us to trust that the message is truly from the Spirit and not the speaker’s self.[2] To save something which could be given as ministry and give it during afterword might be like publishing an important scientific finding in a tabloid newspaper instead of a peer-reviewed journal. Some people who need the message might be able to hear you, but equally they may have difficulty taking it as seriously as the message deserves.

Sometimes, however, Meetings introduce afterwords in the hope of getting exactly this outward movement – to get rid of inappropriate ministry, while being able to reassure the Friend who gives it that they are heard. Inappropriate ministry can include any number of things which are felt to have come from the self and not the Spirit: typically Friends might include ‘daffodil ministry’ (reflections on the loveliness of the natural world), ‘Radio 4’ or ‘Guardian’ ministry (comments on material from news reports and other media), and ‘a funny thing happened to me on the way to meeting’ (stories of recent personal experiences which lack depth or spiritual insight). All of these themes can properly be included in ministry at times, but used repeatedly or merely in order to have something to say, they become dry. At other times, a particular issue becomes the ‘hobby-horse’ of an individual, and Friends find that ministry about it no longer speaks to them.

These four directions of movement give clues about the theology of the Quaker groups who talk in these terms. There are varied but harmonious understandings of the true source of ministry –  language of ‘beyond’ and ‘outside’ the worshippers is common, and even where the ‘supernatural’ is rejected, something deep is accepted. Michael Wright, clerk of the Nontheist Friends Network, writes that while he is

simply mystified and incredulous at the possibility of some divine Spirit using me as a channel of communication” he is nevertheless “quite sure that when I engage with still silence, I engage with some source I find indefinable, wonderful, deep, from which I can draw strength, tranquility, and perception that I find nowhere else.[3]

He rejects the metaphor of God for this experience, but continues to speak about a ‘source’ which is not the same as himself (although it might be located entirely in the human realm) and which has many of the properties – such as ineffability, depth, and supportiveness – which Quakers ascribe to God.

The idea that afterwords can encourage the movement of ‘true ministry’ into worship and ‘not quite ministry’ out of worship, both supports the idea that there is a real and intelligible difference between the two, arising from their distinct sources, and also highlights the fact that it is often difficult to tell. When reaching out for that deep Source, and finding some wisdom there, it is also possible to become confused and find oneself speaking from the self instead. Comments made to me during my research on afterwords often included mentions of discipline and control, usually along one of the following four lines:

  • afterwords improve the discipline of worship, by encouraging people to distinguish more clearly between true ministry and that which is not true ministry;
  • afterwords make the discipline of ministry too strict, encouraging people to expect the Spirit to come as a hurricane where it may only arrive as a soft exhalation;
  • afterwords should be kept disciplined, so only that which comes close to ministry is shared and not items which are merely factual; or
  • the notion of afterwords is too rigid and formalised, so that it lacks any feeling of relaxation and spaciousness after the discipline of worship.

The actual disciplines of worship and afterwords can be vary considerably between different Meetings, but the overall need to maintain a distinction which is, in practice, a very difficult one to make emerges as a clear theme. Where Friends are struggling with the distinction between true ministry and that which is not ministry, an open discussion of this issue, either as a group or with individuals, may be more helpful than the introduction of afterwords. Unless the concept of afterwords is understood clearly by those present, it is highly likely to have an unintended effect.


Hearing to speech

Another way to understand the struggle is to think about our process of listening worship as a way of ‘hearing God to speech’. This image draws on Nelle Morton’s classic description of members of a feminist group hearing one another to speech.[4] The core idea is that by listening very carefully to what has not yet been said and what needs to be said, a group of people can support one another into articulating their experiences in ways which would not otherwise be possible.[5] Quaker Meetings are sometimes compared with therapy or encounter groups which might be expected to work in this way; but Quakers who make this comparison usually do so disparagingly, saying things like “it was a ‘popcorn meeting’ with Friends rising frequently to use the silence as a kind of group therapy instead of worship”.[6] Here, the worship is contrasted with therapy – although they are similar in form, it is a mistake to confuse them. This survey respondent continued to explain that in order to restore appropriate contributions during the worship itself, the Meeting introduced afterwords, noting that adding this space takes the pressure off the worship: “afterwords can provide a sort of steam vent for non-messages”.

These contributions, which are not true ministry in the sense that they are not understood to come mainly from the divine source which lies beyond individuals, are nevertheless often valued by those who are able to hear them during afterwords. Survey respondents commented on the community-building value of afterwords, saying that the practice increased the inclusiveness of the group by allowing people who did not speak during worship to say something to the whole Meeting, or saying that afterwords “help members understand each other better”.[7] This is to be expected when afterwords genuinely creates a space in which people who would otherwise do not speak are able to share something of their personal experience and perspective. (I will return later to cases in which people who speak anyway use afterwords as a time to speak again.)

However, it is also part of the distinction which Quakers continue to draw between true ministry and nearly ministry. True ministry may use personal experience and knowledge, and might incidentally help members of a Meeting to get to know one another better, but that is not its purpose, and if something was offered during Meeting for Worship for that reason alone it would not be true ministry. Instead, spoken ministry in Meeting for Worship is intended to be speech on behalf of the Spirit, inspired and guided by the God who is understood to be present in each individual but especially present to the settled and gathered meeting. This God, I should note, need not be personal nor impersonal, nor possessed of an outward reality, in order to be heard into speech by communal efforts. Rather, it is the experience of communion, including communication, which is fundamental to the Quaker way.

During the process of hearing God into speech, Friends necessarily also think of things which are relevant to themselves specifically. Some of these are categorised as true messages from the divine but intended only for one recipient, and therefore not to be given as spoken ministry. These can, nonetheless, be very powerful, even life-changing, messages. Others arise much more obviously from the self or ego, and are equally unsuited to both ministry and afterwords – the majority of Friends have at some point contemplated their shopping list or plans for the afternoon during the worship (I certainly have), but these are not items suitable for afterwords. Instead, afterwords usually seems to consist of items which are neither fully one thing or the other. They may be partially Spirit-led messages which are too strongly coloured by the Friend’s personal opinions, or insights arising from the Friend’s personal experience and illuminated by the Inward Light. Either way, to be suitable as afterwords they typically have both a strong element of the self and some small element of the Spirit. This can even be true of items further from being true ministry, such as news of Friends and notices; if they arise from the spiritual life of the Meeting, such a commitment to a particular project or love for an absent friend, inspiration often comes through them.

Hearing God to speech is not easy. It requires patience and discipline, focus and a setting aside of the worries of every day. This is perhaps why Quaker literature provides many examples of people who made mistakes – who spoke from their own minds and not as they were led by the Spirit, a mistake traditionally known as ‘outrunning your Guide’; or conversely who did not speak when they were led to do so, not heeding their Guide.[8] Afterwords can provide a welcome respite from this struggle, a space in which the bar to participation is lowered and Friends are able to speak without needing an unmistakeable prompt. However, this works both ways: Friends, able to speak in afterwords without fully testing whether they are led to offer this contribution as ministry, may say things which are not helpful at all. This can include direct criticism of things said during Meeting for Worship, usually a significant taboo, or simply speaking too much or too often.[9]

My online survey respondents often mentioned the latter, including people who “rant about their hobby horses”, the “one Friend who was hijacking the discussion”, and those “who have a tendency to talk a lot and repeat themselves”.[10] Friends who were more sympathetic also described this situation in terms to being able to provide a space for speech. One wrote:

We have a member who always needs to contribute verbally and I found it unhelpful and rather disruptive in mfw but he now uses afterword which works much better for the mfw and for him as we are able to respond in afterword to his needs in a way which is not appropriate in mfw.[11]

I did not get first-hand reports of being ‘the Friend who always speaks’, perhaps because these Friends do not see themselves as such and/or because they are less likely to be the kind of experienced and connected Friends who were reached by my survey distribution methods. Speech, in the form of spoken ministry, is an important part of the worship process, but it must be used sparingly and, preferably, be unpredictable: to speak too often, or to repeat material, or to return to the same topic repeatedly, leads others in the Meeting to suspect that this comes not from the Spirit but from the speaker. Sometimes a long-term focus can be accommodated if it is understood as a ‘concern’, a call to work on a large or complex issue, but it is also in danger of being rejected as a ‘hobby-horse’, especially if others in the Meeting do not share the call to work on the topic at hand.


Learning to give ministry

Finally, I want to consider whether afterwords can work as a teaching space, within which some of the conventions around ministry described above can be learned. In describing the relationship between afterwords and ministry, some survey respondents talk about afterwords as a space in which people who would not otherwise give ministry can gain the skills and confidence necessary to do so. If the skills involved are practical ones – speaking to a group the size of the whole meeting or feeling able to stand and speak publicly at all – this may well work. However, there are also reports of Meetings where it does not work, and I want to suggest that this is because there are skills involved in giving ministry which are specifically not taught by afterwords. In fact, if a Meeting had little or no spoken ministry to begin with, adding afterwords may worsen rather than improve the situation.

To show this, I want to begin by looking at spoken ministry, drawing on a study of spoken ministry conducted by Alan Davis in the 1980s.[12] He concludes that giving ministry is a learned activity – there are a set of social conventions about acceptable ministry which can be learned so that ministry retains a certain style, tends to work around a particular theme during a meeting, and excludes inappropriate content. Davis is able to describe some of these elements; for example, he describes some “more highly valued performance styles” for ministry, including those which are “more laconic, distanced, even gnomic, that at the same time fit directly into the discourse, into the developed meditation”. However, even with the aid of the complete examples he cites, it would be difficult to turn this description into a living practice.[13] Ministry seems to be mainly learned by observation, although there may also be explicit teaching about it. Afterwords, we might therefore think, is also a learned activity. Indeed, since we have lowered the expectation of the presence of the Spirit in afterwords, it is even easier to see it as a learned activity.

How does this bear on the question of whether introducing afterwords will improve the ministry in Meeting for Worship? First, it is clear that afterwords and ministry are different enough that learning to speak in afterwords – even to give ‘not quite ministry’ – will not, on its own, be enough to teach people to give good spoken ministry during Meeting for Worship. The introduction of afterwords together with some specific guidance to an individual might help in some cases; the Friend who speaks every week, told that her or his contribution would be better placed in afterwords, might go along with this and thereby improve the ministry by removing a source of inappropriate ministry. However, even in this case we would want to be sure that the Friend understood why the ministry was inappropriate, in particular so that they are not blocked from sharing true ministry which might be given to them in future. It may also be necessary to consider the impact on other members of the Meeting who might move their contributions out of ministry and into afterwords from a misplaced fear of speaking inappropriately.

We can return to Davis’s thoughts to shed some more light on this. In comparing spoken ministry to other forms of speech – such as conversations, giving announcements, and the ‘incipient talk’ characteristic of people working side by side and speaking occasionally – he provides us with some examples to consider in thinking about how people learn to give ministry. Many people learn by watching and mimicking others, and when the rules change there is often an adjustment period. For example, if you change from working in one office to another office, with different people and a different layout of desks, the rules for incipient talk will change, perhaps dramatically. Getting used to the new pattern and working out which comments require answers and which can be left without a response often takes some time – any particular example might not be very important, but the overall effect is a significant part of your working relationships. The pattern you end up with will take account of your needs for quiet and social contact, the needs of your colleagues, and the demands of the work. In the same way, to give good and appropriate ministry is a learned skill, and a meeting often evolves a pattern which takes account of the demands of the Spirit and the needs of the people.

If you had tried to learn to have a conversation in a new language by reading a phrase book, however, when you had the chance to listen to a native speaker, you might be able to fake it for a short while. But you would soon realise that you lacked the breadth of vocabulary, and the feel for what is naturally grammatical, required to discuss a range of topics, or anything in depth. In the same way, learning to give ministry without hearing enough examples of good ministry is likely to be difficult. A traditional Quaker answer might ask us to trust it all to the Spirit, and it is certainly possible that someone in a might be given this gift without hearing other people give ministry. On the other hand, it is also for us to support the development of such gifts. If someone is close to giving ministry, but worries about their reception or needs to practice the physical actions of speaking to the whole group, an opportunity to speak in a space such as afterwords might be helpful in that development. If there are other problems, such as lack of clarity about what would constitute true ministry and how to test whether something should be said during worship, the practice of afterwords alone is unlikely to help.

The only way afterwords might support this development is where it is used as a space to reflect on the experience of worship and any ministry which was given. This needs to be done compassionately, to support those who gave ministry and not to embarrass them, but does not need to refrain from the subject of ministry entirely. It might help to think of this within the language teaching analogy: by commenting on the grammar of a particular sentence, we can show someone the underlying structure and the rules on which it is constructed. This need not pass judgement on different possibilities: for example, I say that “I’ve got a new book” and a friend of mine that he has “gotten a new book”. We are both generally understood, but someone learning to speak English might be confused by the alternatives, which are deemed ‘correct’ in different contexts. Similarly, sometimes it is appropriate for a Friend to, for example, speak near the end of the Meeting for Worship (it needs rounding off; they have had a long struggle with it; they are new and not familiar with the guidance), but it may be helpful for someone to explain why it was appropriate in this situation when it is not considered appropriate every week.

There are, as I mentioned in my opening, other good reasons to introduce afterwords, which may have nothing to do with the quality of ministry. However, introducing afterwords does not have any straightforward or automatic effect on ministry, and if it does have an effect, the use of afterwords is as likely to be to the detriment of spoken ministry as a whole as to improve it.

[1] Quaker faith & practice (Britain Yearly Meeting, 1994) 2.60

[2] Although not every message is for us as individuals, and we use our own process of testing as we listen to spoken ministry.

[3] Michael Wright, ‘Where does Vocal Ministry come from?’, in Ambler, Davison, Scott and Wright, Through Us, Not From Us: vocal ministry and Quaker Worship (The Kindlers, 2015) p. 35

[4] Nelle Morton, The Journey is Home (Beacon Press Books, 1985).

[5] I have explored this idea before. My conference paper about it, ‘Speaking from Silence: a Quaker feminist understanding of relevation’ can be read at https://orwhateveryoucallit.wordpress.com/speaking-from-silence/

[6] Anonymous contributor describing an unprogrammed Quaker meeting in the USA, as part of an online survey on afterwords conducted June-July 2016.

[7] Anonymous contributor describing an unprogrammed Quaker meeting in the UK.

[8] For classic examples of these, see Quaker faith & practice 2.56 and 2.57.

[9] For criticism of ministry, see for example Simon Western writing in the Friend, 2nd January 2014.

[10] Three anonymous contributors describing unprogrammed Quaker meetings in the UK.

[11] Anonymous contributor describing an unprogrammed Quaker meeting in the UK.

[12] Alan Davis, ‘Talking in Silence’, p105-137 in Nikolas Coupland, ed., Styles of Discourse (Croom Helm, 1988).

[13] Ibid., p132

Learning about Afterwords

This was originally published in ‘Quaker Voices’ in 2016.

As soon as I started to tell people that I was going to do a research project about ‘afterwords’, supported by the Eva Koch scholarship at Woodbrooke, I began to hear strong opinions about afterwords. Quakers had almost all heard of ‘afterwords’, and they said, “Ah, we have that in our meeting,” or “I went to a meeting once where they did that.” Then they either told me how good it was, or leaned in conspiratorially and explained that they don’t like it at all. Afterwords, I rapidly learned, is not something which Quakers in Britain agree about.

This placed me in a difficult position. I wanted to hear from people with a range of perspectives on afterwords, and people obviously wanted to tell me. My personal experience of meetings which use afterwords is limited, though, and while I have family who have opinions just as strong as everyone else’s, I’m actually in a smaller third category of people who are genuinely ambivalent about it. In a way, this was the prompt for my project. In particular, I wanted to understand better how afterwords changes the experience of attending Meeting for Worship. Does it really improve the community in a meeting, or affect the quality of spoken ministry? In order to learn more about this, I decided to use an online survey to ask people to tell me about their experiences.

In reading the survey responses, I found many people describing things I could recognise and relate to. For example, I’m familiar with the worry about time and wanting to get away from the meeting house promptly, so I can see how an afterwords which feels like a “drag of undefined time” is unwelcome. Actually, in the course of the wider research, I learned that tea-and-biscuits time is also a relatively newfangled invention – social time seems to have appeared in the mid-20th century, while afterwords has become much more common since 2000. I often find social time awkward and emotionally difficult, so I found it easy to relate to those Friends who like afterwords because it provides a smoother transition from the depths of worship into notices and chatter which can feel shallow. Good notices arise from the life of the meeting, our spiritual perspectives moving into action, and don’t have to have this effect – but I have certainly had times when I felt that the busy-ness of the community ran beyond what was guided by the Spirit, or when someone made notices sound boring by delivering them in a bored tone of voice.

As I read and re-read the responses, a handful of central themes began to emerge. Some were practical, like the issue about time I mentioned already, and issues around where afterwords is held. A meeting which holds afterwords in a separate room, or allows people to leave before afterwords, can feel fragmented by this. Those who stay might feel an increased fellowship with one another, but this doesn’t have the same effect if it doesn’t include the whole meeting. Another theme, though, was community, and specifically the idea that afterwords is helpful in forming the meeting into a community in which people know one another in “the things which are eternal”. Afterwords can be part of ‘making ourselves known’, a space to share recent experience which might be neither spiritual enough for ministry nor significant enough for notices. This is the main role in which Zélie Gross suggests it in With a Tender Hand (p338).

Besides giving more space to speak, afterwords may change who speaks: it is often meant to make the meeting more inclusive by helping everyone to feel able to speak to the whole group, even if they don’t have a leading to give ministry or a need to offer a notice. Some people in the survey report that this works, saying for example that afterwords “provides a way of binding us together in our spiritual concerns”. Other people are clearly so busy worrying about the time afterwords takes, or the negative effect they feel it has on ministry, that they don’t experience this positive community-building effect.

For many meetings, afterwords is clearly polarising. Some people take up positions for and others against it, leading to a division which may or may not be visible. Even if afterwords itself is helpful to some in the meeting, this polarisation is obviously unhelpful for the meeting community as a whole. People who filled in the survey – who were mostly experienced Friends, and disproportionately likely to be in membership compared to Quakers as a whole – often didn’t know why their meeting had begun using afterwords, even though few meetings reported using it before 2000. When respondents did know why they started, it was frequently described as something which someone, perhaps an elder, had seen or heard about elsewhere and liked. Only two reports, out of over 180 responses to the detailed survey, said that a local Meeting for Worship for Business had been consulted. Where the meeting has been using it for some time, this might simply be because the process has been forgotten, but it nevertheless raises questions about what the appropriate mechanism is for making changes to a meeting’s practice.

Another key theme was a complex set of relationships between afterwords and ministry. Often, people introduce afterwords to encourage good spoken ministry in meeting for worship. The survey responses included some first-hand accounts from people for whom this had worked: they spoke in afterwords first and, as they gained confidence and became clearer in their faith, they began to give ministry in worship as well. One person said that afterwords “provided a way of ‘testing’ whether the contribution that I could make was really ministry”. For meetings where there is little vocal ministry, or where several people who might contribute are held back by shyness, this obviously has the potential to be a positive effect.

However, there is also the danger that introducing afterwords encourages people to save something they might have offered in ministry and say it during afterwords, taking good ministry out of meeting. This was also commonly reported in the survey – some meetings even find that having introduced afterwords, their worship becomes completely silent, with no spoken ministry at all. Although a few people, especially those who have recent experience of inappropriate ministry, feel that this is an improvement, it is usually reported as a loss or a misunderstanding about the nature of Quaker worship. One respondent said that afterwords “makes silence into an end in itself” rather than helping us to use silence as a way to be in communion, while another said directly that “When something is bubbling you are let off the hook of testing whether it is ministry as you think you’ll just drop it into Afterwords.” For those who are relatively new to the Quaker way and trying to learn how to give ministry, attending a meeting where there is no spoken ministry, only afterwords, must be like trying to learn how to knit from someone who can only crochet. You might get the general idea of making fabric from loops of yarn, but the actual technique will be elusive.

The positive side of the movement of contributions out of ministry and into afterwords is that it can help to prevent or manage inappropriate ministry. There’s still a need to let the Friend whose ministry is inappropriate know that afterwords would be a better place for it, but a large number of survey respondents told me that this was one of the key roles of afterwords in their meeting: it helps them cope with “a member who always needs to contribute verbally”, it “managed those who ministered on a hairtrigger”, or that it was brought in because “we had a couple of friends who would regularly minister on the same political subject”. These are relatively sympathetic portrayals of the Friend who speaks too often, and other survey responses described meetings where afterwords had been discontinued because it was “’hijacked’ by one or two members of the meeting who very often rode their hobbyhorses”, or the problems which arise when “people who have a tendency to talk a lot and repeat themselves make a sort of field day of it”. I certainly recognise the picture, having known Friends like this (and being prone to be one myself).

The overall impression I got from the survey was that it may be better to have these Friends speak during afterwords than during meeting, but at the same time it might be better if they could be taught not to speak in problematic ways at all. “Waffle”, “rambling” and “judgemental even arrogant” contributions all came in for negative comment, and afterwords is as likely to be stopped because of these contributions as started to contain them. A similar problem was reported in cases where afterwords became a discussion, with people responding directly to one another – although in some meetings where afterwords was held alongside the social time, often in a different room, discussion could be welcome or even encouraged.

The problem of Friends who contribute inappropriately, even with the lower bar set on afterwords, relates to the need which some respondents felt for afterwords to be properly controlled. “Elders,” said one person, “keep careful watch to ensure that afterwords don’t become indisciplined.” It was also felt in the emphasis people placed on introducing afterwords correctly – a lot of respondents gave me, with at least an impression of exactness, the words used to introduce afterwords in their meeting. A typical example has an elder introduce the time by saying, after the handshake, “we now continue in the spirit of worship with afterwords, which is a time when we can share any insights which occurred to us either in Meeting or in the week before. When we have finished afterwords we will have notices, then coffee”. Others use phrases such as ‘not quite ministry’ or ‘nearly ministry’, referring back to the issue of the relationship between ministry and afterwords. Alongside many respondents who feel that discipline is important for a good afterwords, there are also a few who feel that it has gone too far the other way, and call their local meeting’s afterwords “rather too programmed” or say that they “find the rigid structure rather restrictive”. Since the relative informality of afterwords – that people can contribute without the strict testing they would give to ministry – is a central feature of it for many purposes, this is something which elders and others using afterwords need to watch for carefully.

As I take the results of this research out into the community of Friends, the biggest thing I am taking away from it is the ongoing need for us to learn about our practices and understand why we do things the way we do them. Afterwords might be a practice pool for those who are uncertain about swimming in the open sea of worship – happy to float, perhaps, but not sure if they will be getting somewhere if they offer ministry. It won’t replace swimming lessons, though, because the conditions are very different. What can we offer by way of clearer opportunities for people to explicitly explore the guidelines on our practice, understanding why some contributions are not true ministry rather than guessing from their observations? Books can be helpful, but a book on swimming cannot replace the feeling of the water upholding you and the tides of the Spirit pulling you. A well-held teaching space, in which people who have the skills involved both demonstrate and discuss their techniques and experience, is more likely to be useful.

Afterwords: coming towards the end

I’m now in my last week as an Eva Koch scholar. Over the weekend, the four Eva Koch scholars gave presentations to some local Friends and those who happened to be at Woodbrooke, outlining our findings and sharing some of our experience. Here are some of the headlines from mine – things which haven’t yet been covered in blog posts (see my afterwords tag to find them all). I’ve also included a few of the pictures I used in my presentation, all taken in Woodbrooke’s garden during my time here.DSCF7947

Afterwords has three main purposes: community building, improving ministry, and smoothing transitions. Unfortunately, these all have a flip side. Afterwords can help a meeting to flourish as a community by helping people to get to know one another better – especially in ‘the things which are eternal’. It can move a community beyond chatting about daily life and into a deeper sharing about experiences of worship and spiritual insight. However, it can also split the community: either physically, if the afterwords is held in such a way that not everyone participates or feels able to participate, or emotionally, especially if people in the meeting have very strong and opposed views about afterwords. Because people tend to really like or really dislike afterwords, with the middle ground sparsely populated,  the whole idea can be polarising.

Afterwords can improve ministry. This can be by encouraging people who are perhaps newer or shyer to speak in a space where there is less pressure tDSCF7853.JPGo give ‘true ministry’. It can also be by moving contributions from those who need to speak often, or who need a more direct response than is acceptable during worship, into a space where that’s acceptable. (Whether this actually is seen as acceptable depends a lot on how the Friend concerned is characterised: there’s sympathy for cases where a mental health or emotional need is hinted at, but very little for cases where something is thought to be a hobby-horse or campaigning point.) On the other hand, afterwords can also confuse newcomers (how do you know what’s nearly ministry if you don’t have any idea what ministry is?) or encourage people to hold back from ministry, thinking that if they are at all unsure of their leading to speak they should wait until afterwords. Some people in the survey reported that having introduced afterwords, their meeting now has very little or no ministry during worship.

For some people, afterwords smooths over a transition from worship into the ordinary world. If notices seem like a jolt after the silence, afterwords – held in a spirit of worship, but with more relaxed rules on speaking – can feel like a gentle introduction.
Unfortunately, there are also (sometimes in the same meeting!) people wDSCF7880ho feel that moving into too many words is a rough road, and would find well-given notices and a cup of coffee provide a smoother transition. In a way, this finding is even less of a finding than the others – you can look to see whether community building is needed in your meeting and whether afterwords might help, and you can put in other ways of explaining and improving ministry, but you can’t do much else about the transition. However, I also think that this finding is more interesting than the others, because so little attention is usually paid to the spiritual experience of the ending of a meeting for worship. The advice on centring down is not paired with advice on ‘rising up’ – except in the activist sense – and yet the movement out of waiting worship is clearly important to people and deserves further attention.

How do we take what we have learned during meeting for worship out into the world? Can we find ways to clarify and consolidate what our Inward Teacher gives us while we are listening, and apply it to our whole lives? To answer these questions, I think we need to consider and review all our practices around the end of worship, including afterwords, but also how we give notices, how we use social time, and our mixed bag of current taboos about discussing and building on spoken ministry.


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?

Afterwords: a labyrinth of ideas

I’m now at the stage in my research where I’ve read the survey data, everything else about afterwords I can find, and begun to look at related things – other patterns of change in the way Meeting for Worship is held, for example, and writing about worship and vocal ministry generally. It’s difficult to summarise where I’m at because I feel like I’m walking around in a maze: I decide to turn left, only to walk for ten minutes and find myself back at a point I passed half an hour ago. That being so, I thought I’d offer you, not a coherent account of anything, but sketches of some of the places where I’ve tied some string. If you recognise any of these spots, do let me know.

Afterwords isn’t the only thing about Meeting for Worship which has changed over the past century. Two examples of other changes which have interested me are the shift from just a pair of Elders shaking hands to everyone shaking hands, and the introduction of social time after meeting. Both of these changes must have come in slowly – there are reports of Friends who held out against them, and there remains some variety in the practices – but both could be related to one of the key purposes given for afterwords, namely community building. Shaking hands with each other gives a point of formal greeting between the end of worship – the Elders shaking hands – and the notices. For some meetings, afterword appears in this slot and is reported to help people get to know one another. Adding refreshments and thereby encouraging people to stay for social time, the classic tea and coffee, also gives people more time in the meeting house to get to know one another and encourages informal conversation. Again, for some meetings, afterwords can extend this process, giving an extra space for more or less formal sharing before or alongside the social time.

The way we talk about afterwords can reveal our ideas about other things, especially our views of Meeting for Worship. For example, lots of people told me in the survey that they thought that spoken contributions sometimes got misplaced one way or the other: either that things which weren’t really ‘true ministry’ got said during Meeting for Worship, where they didn’t belong, or that things which were ‘true ministry’ got said during afterwords, when they would have been better said in worship. At the very simple level, this reveals that the people answering my survey have a picture of the differences between ‘true ministry’ and ‘nearly ministry’ and ‘not ministry’ which goes beyond whether something is said in worship, afterwords, or elsewhere. At a more complex level, as people begin to describe these differences, they are revealing their ideas about true ministry and where it comes from – in others words, their theology.

Afterwords is part of a wider picture of the end of Meeting for Worship, and what people want is a smooth transition into the next thing. What that smooth transition actually looks like is another matter, but descriptions of problematic processes – the introduction of an unwanted afterword, or a lack of afterword before a disliked notices – tend to stress suddenness or a bump or jolt in ‘coming up from the depths’ of worship. On the other hand, when people like a process, they describe it in terms of an easy, smooth, unjolted transition – whether that’s from worship into social time without being bumped into a too-heady wordy space by afterwords, or from worship into afterwords with space to reflect on the experience of Meeting without being forced to make social chit-chat too soon. This doesn’t solve the problem of whether you should have afterwords, but it points towards some of the right questions to ask about why people like it or don’t.

Afterwords: Diving into the data

I’m now at Woodbrooke, set up in a study bedroom with a laptop and a mountain of data. The survey is now over (sorry, I know some people missed answering it – too late; you’ll see in this post that I’ve enough to be going on with!). I had a splendid response to my request for information about ‘afterwords’. I got 95 responses to the first part and 183 responses to the second part (mainly because some people did the second part twice).

Thank you all very much – every survey response is valuable to this kind of work.

Taken all together, I now have at least some information about approximately 334 Quaker meetings. Most of them are in Britain Yearly Meeting, but I also had responses covering at least eighteen other yearly meetings around the world. There are a few I couldn’t track down or for which I can’t identify a yearly meeting or other affiliation- if you happen to know about the meetings in East Harbor, Hong Kong, Kumasi, or San Louis Obispo, please get in touch.

There’s a lot of sorting answers to be done before I can begin to give detailed results. However, here are some early answers.

Around half the meetings are reported to have ‘afterwords’ or something like it. The form of this varies a lot, but it’s a recognisable pattern while being nowhere near universal. Some reports are from people who visited a meeting a while ago, so if afterwords is getting more common this might be an underestimate. However, people are probably more likely to fill in a survey about afterwords if their meeting has afterwords, so this might be an overestimate. Hopefully these factors balance each other out a bit!

Afterwords varies a lot. I knew this, but I didn’t know quite how much. Afterwords, or something like it, might appear in programmed or unprogrammed worship – or as a semi-programmed element at the end of either. In unprogrammed worship (which includes the vast majority of my responses), it can take place before the handshake (i.e. before the end of worship), after the handshake and before notices, or after notices and refreshments. It can last anywhere from a minute to an hour, although a first glance through the answers suggests that it averages between 5 and 15 minutes.

The aims of having afterwords vary. I sort of knew this, too, but the responses are making it clear that I’m going to have to think about it much more carefully. Possible purposes of afterwords I’ve thought of or heard about so far include: smoothing the transition from ‘Meeting for Worship’ to ‘not Meeting for Worship’, encouraging timid people in the meeting to speak up and perhaps move towards giving vocal ministry, allowing outspoken Friends a space in which to share their thoughts without forcing them into vocal ministry, helping people in the meeting to get to know one another better, and reinforcing the distinction between ordinary speech and vocal ministry by clarifying what is in the nearly-but-not-quite space.

Hopefully when I’ve coded the survey responses in more detail and done some follow-up work, I’ll be able to tell you whether the variation matters, which purposes are most important, and whether it actually works to achieve any of them.

Afterwords – an update

The response to my survey about ‘afterwords’ has already been incredible. The survey is still open (part 1 asks about all the Quaker meetings you have attended including ones which don’t use afterwords, and part 2 asks for details about a meeting who use afterword or something similar), and will stay open until I go to Woodbrooke in mid-July. I will then be analysing the results and exploring some examples in detail – many thanks to everyone who has offered their telephone number for this purpose!

At the moment, I’ve got at least some indication about the use or non-use of afterwords in more than 200 meetings worldwide. Some, of course, have more than one report, and these sometimes conflict – usually I think this is because people were there at different times and the practice has changed. Some people might have misremembered, though! A few interesting things have already emerged.

One is that some people are very puzzled about ‘afterwords’ or have very strong feelings for or against. Although this is skewed at the moment because people who seek me out to give their opinions are more likely to have strong feelings, I do get a clear picture that for some people this is a make-or-break issue, one which they would leave a meeting, or even Quakers entirely, over. Is afterwords like Marmite – love it or hate it? I’ll be actively looking for people who could go either way or feel neutral about it to see whether this is true, or just a first impression. If that describes you, I’d be very glad to have your survey response.

Some different names have been suggested. I already had ‘afterwords’, ‘afterthoughts’, ‘bridging time’ and ‘not quite ministry’, but it can also be called ‘reflections’, ‘the bridge’, ‘sharing time’, ‘joys and concerns’, or not given a name at all. A number of people report meetings where it’s simply introduced with a stock phrase and not named as such at all. This diversity in naming may reflect a diversity in practice – that’s something I’m hoping to check as I dig deeper into my results – and also makes it more difficult to talk about the practice. That could also be one reason why it isn’t much discussed in Quaker publications. Again, if your meeting uses a different name, please do add this to my survey responses!

Finally, although people are often not sure when ‘afterwords’ or something similar began in a meeting, most of the confident reports I have suggest it appeared in Britain Yearly Meeting in the 1990s or early 2000s. Reports from before that, from the mid-1980s, are all clustered in the USA at the moment, although I’ve also seen a suggestion that it was brought from South Africa. If you remember it being used in the UK before 1990, your survey response would be even more valuable!

Afterwords – survey open

Do you go to a Quaker Meeting? If you do, whether or not your meeting uses ‘afterwords’ or anything similar, I’d like to hear from you in my research survey. This is to provide material for the project described in my previous post about ‘afterwords’.

There are actually two surveys. The first one just asks a few questions about all the Quaker Meetings you’ve ever attended, and should be very quick to complete. The second one asks for more details about a specific Quaker Meeting and might take a bit longer – perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, depending how much you write. If you want to, you can fill it in more than once to describe different meetings you’ve attended.

‘Afterwords’ – my Eva Koch Scholarship project

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.