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Ministry and Worship Committee

Well, that was bracing.

Last night was the first meeting of Ministry and Worship to which the two new members, Geoff and I, were invited. Geoff clearly knew what was expected of him and followed everything that was going on. (Though we became members of our meeting at about the same time, it turns out he'd been an attender for years and years when he applied.) I just as clearly was lost, lost, lost! At one point I commented that I had expected to be a little out of my depth, but I felt as if I were walking on the ocean floor. Nancy reminded me that I was completely welcome to ask questions--but I am the kind of lost that makes framing questions very, very difficult.

It's not so much that I have questions--though I do! Thousands, it feels like. In this committee, do we just talk, or do we carefully observe silence after each member speaks? (Quakers can be so bloody quiet anyway, it's hard to tell a silently waiting Quaker from a just plain silent one.) Do we avoid responding to one another's words, as in MFW or a worship sharing? Surely not--how on earth can you hold a discussion that way? Hmmm... or do we discuss things. I know that we don't "decide", we "discern"--and I even think I have a clue what the difference is, but which questions are for discernment and which get decided? (Our next meeting date, for instance--?)

What's an oversight committee? What's the difference between a minister and an elder? What the heck _is_ a minister, and why do some of the names I'd expect to find on a list of ministers (in the context of having oversight committees) appear, while others do not? Is this blog of ours "ministry", or the meetings for worship we hold at Pagan gatherings, and are we supposed to discuss them with someone before just standing up and doing them? I know what "eldering" is--are there rules/ettiquette about who does it and when?

How on earth do you conduct a clearness committee for membership, and when should (is "should" a word Quakers even use with one another?) a member seek a clearness committee for something other than membership? How much corporate discernment do Quakers expect from one another and over what, exactly? Oh, yeah--and what committees do you have to be a member to serve on, and what exactly to all these damn committees do, and has anyone else in the history of Quakerdom ever felt this out at sea? Is it out of line for me to speak up here? Am I contributing here or distracting? Is that a pained silence around me, or a listening one? And why do I feel like I've just farted in church every time I open my mouth?

I was already feeling more than a little panicked, and as I was sitting there, trying to JUST BREATHE and follow the agenda and directions of our clerk, AND take inward notes on what the unspoken rules/practices of this committee seem to be, I kept


getting jarred, not so much by the sound of Peter cruising under the window on the meeting's ride-on mower as he


mowed the lawn, as by the subtle signs of irritation on a couple of the committee members' faces each time he passed


by that window.

Peter had called and gotten the clerk's OK to mow during the meeting, so we traveled over together. Which, it turned out, meant that he wasn't disturbing _one_ member of the committee... *sigh* I felt myself blushing with each pass. First meeting, and already I'm messing stuff up. (And, yeah, I get it that it's ridiculous to take responsibility for Peter's actions as if they were my own. When I get that codependant these days, it's usually a sign that I'm feeling pretty off balance. Ya _think_? *laughing*)

The whole thing reminds me of life as a newbie Witch, when I could imagine so many important observations that I might be screwing up. Does everyone always move clockwise in a cast circle _all_ the time? Does it mess things up if you move counterclockwise? Should I be able to sense where the boundaries of the circle are without seeing the ritual gear marking it? I know I shouldn't touch another Pagan's pentacle or drum without their invitation--are there other pieces of equipment that are also off limits? How do I talk to the HPs after she's drawn down,and will I know when she's drawn down and when she's not? Are the people here who seem to be faking it really faking it, or is it just me? And am I really "raising energy" when I'm trying to? (Depends on the group, depends on who you ask, depends, depends but usually not, be truthful and direct, you'll know, they are but watch out for hubris on your own part, and no you aren't but it will come in time.)

I don't even have to think about these things anymore, and I know without effort what cues to watch for that will fill in the blanks in what's expected in an unfamiliar Pagan group. It all seems simple now. Odd to remember how difficult the first few circles felt. So many unknowns.

The only parts of the meeting that were familiar were the worship at the start and end, and the moments when we would sit in silence to let names rise or to seek clarity on some question. Ah, worship. Ah, spirit. Yes, I remember _this_ part!

In fact, the whole evening was like a bizarre quilt, stitched together with an infinite number of delicate little stitches. Parts of it were slick, stiff vinal, parts of it were delicate silk and lace, and parts of it were plush, rich velvet. The vinal was covered with tiny writing everywhere on Quaker committee structures, minutes to past meetings, rules that aren't really "rules" and rules that are... all written in dry erase marker that I was afraid would wipe off if I touched it. The delicate silk and lace were the interrelationships within the committee and the meeting, and the chance to get to know people much more fully and three dimensionally than in the past... IF I could avoid putting my thick-nailed thumbs right through the fabric... and the velvet, of course, was the silence, the stuff that brought me here...

Someone once told Peter that the members of our family "aren't afraid to reinvent themselves," and I've stood under that expression like a flag ever since. I like to think of myself as someone who likes to learn new things. Last night, I realized that that is not entirely true. I like to _have learned_ new things. The actual learning... well, that part is hard for me. *laughing*

I do want to take my turn at the oars. And I do want to know what I need to learn here. And I will trust the members of my committee to tell me when I'm making a mess of it (apparently one of the key roles of the committee is telling those of us who make messes when we have). But it's a good thing I have so much practice in being ignorant.

Time to review the "Practice" section of _Faith and Practice_.


Liz Opp said…
Cat, dear Friend.

What you write in this post weighs heavy on my heart.

You and I hardly have a relationship, other than we take a look at each other's blogs. Yet the fact that you bring this experience into the face of the Quaker blogosphere pulls at my own desire to be of help...

You raise questions that indicate to me that you may be missing some important experiences as a Friend, and those missing elements of course will impact your ability to "take in" what occurs at Ministry & Worship Committee meetings (e.g. "How do you conduct a clearness committee for membership?" or "What do all these committees do?").

It is unusual for someone like myself, who has no face-to-face relationship with you and who has no direct experience of your monthly meeting, to respond to questions like these.

So I won't.

But what I will do is I will ask that, if you haven't already done so, to consider asking for a face-to-face meeting with both the clerks of Nominating Committee and Ministry & Worship, to share with them what you have encountered, perhaps even to share with them this post that so clearly illustrates the thousand questions you have.

Maybe you have already thought of this or something like it.

There is wisdom in saying to these Friends, "I may be out of my depth here."

It is not unusual for a Friend's tender gift to be lifted up prematurely--like trying to help a tulip grow faster by pulling at its stem as soon as it pokes out of the ground.

Often, for the sake of the tulip, the tulip is better left growing at its own pace, while the gardener is left to anticipate what sort of splendor will be produced when the tulip blooms.

I am open to communicating more with you on this very sensitive and complex concern, Cat. I can be reached at lizopp AT gmail DOT com.

I hope that my sense of care and support comes through these electronic words. And I want to affirm that your experience is not unique... and it is also one that needs attention.

Liz, The Good Raised Up
Paul L said…
It seems very strange, and I hope unusual, for your meeting to ask you to serve on an important committee like Ministry & Oversight without preparing you better; that seems like an oversight, at least. Or, perhaps your meeting believes in the jump-into-the-deep-end school of learning.

It seems to that questions about, and instruction in, how the meeting organizes and a ccomplishes its work -- through committees, largely -- should have been covered during the membership application and clearness process; if not, then you at least have one item to suggest for the next ones, don't you?

I do hope that your meeting, and your relationship with it, is such that you have trusted friends in it you can share your bewilderment with. In my experience, even weak and dysfunctional meetings are full of Friends of goodwill who are willing ao be approached and asked questions; I hope yours fits this pattern.

It also sounds like you experience with similar issues with your newbie Witch experience should provide some guidance.

A lot of us follow blogs because we see ourselves in others' stories and learn from them, and I hope you'll keep us up to date as to how your work on this committee progresses.
Cat, my friend.

So glad to see you back in communication!

Your Witch friend Macha

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