Liz Opp, of The Good Raised Up (one of my favorite Quaker blogs) and Paul L, of Showers of Blessings, both wrote me very thoughtful, and, I thought, heartfelt comments on my recent post on joining Ministry and Worship at my meeting. Both Friends are concerned at the degree of disorientation (OK, panic) I expressed in that post.
It may be that the level of concern arose at least in part because, in an attempt to be humorous about a challenging new experience, I instead managed to be confusing.
But there was more than a hint of seriousness in that entry, and maybe I didn’t do the subject justice. So I’m going to try to think through these concerns as if they were part of a clearness committee. Hm. Blogging for clearness… not sure that one is going to make it into Faith and Practice anytime soon, but maybe it will be helpful to me.
Liz, you raised a concern that I “may be missing some important experiences as a Friend, and those missing elements of course will impact [my] ability to ‘take in’ what occurs at Ministry & Worship Committee meetings.”
You are not wrong.
I’ve been Quaker by convincement for all of five years now—not exactly a lifetime’s worth of experience. And it has not escaped my notice that M&W is a pretty weighty committee. It’s a heck of a place to flounder, and, when it comes to accepting a nomination here, there’s a case to be made that it’s trying to learn to swim at the deep end of the pool.
At the same time, the situation may not be quite as dire as I depicted it. For instance, Paul writes that, “instruction in how the meeting organizes and accomplishes its work…should have been covered during the membership application and clearness process.” It was, in fact. I do know, in a literal, brain-deep way, the definitions of things like a clearness committee for membership. But though I know more than my post may have implied, my lack of experience and what I’ll call bone-deep knowledge of many Quaker practices is very real. I know the theory… but it seems to me that the practice is a good bit more nuanced than the theory, and I’m a total newbie at that.
When Nominating Committee called me, I raised two concerns. My ignorance was one, and my insane teaching schedule, come fall, was another. The clerk of that committee, J, and his wife, M, were both kind enough to come to my house to meet with me for most of one afternoon after the initial contact. J and M are two of the Quakers I both love and admire most, and I have a deep respect for their opinions. We spoke at length and in great seriousness about the limitations I know I have as a relative newcomer to the Quakers (as well as in detail about the work the committee undertakes). It did not remove my fears, but it did leave me with a strong sense that daring to say yes was, in fact, what I wanted to do. As I sat with the nomination, I tried very hard to discern the reasons why I was so pulled to say yes.
I’d be a liar if I said ego played no part in it. I like to feel important as much as the next human—maybe, if I’m honest, here, a little bit more. (We call that High Priestess Disease, among Pagans. It’s an acknowledged epidemic.)
Other, somewhat better, reasons, that I’m aware of, include a real longing to get to know some of the members of that committee—and the meeting as a whole—better. I also want to deepen my own worship within the meeting, and I think that doing my best to nurture it in the meeting as a whole will, inevitably, nurture it in me.
I also believe that I do have real gifts to offer to this work. Some are hard to talk about… I’ll start with those, even at the risk of sounding pretentious or arrogant.
First, and to my mind, most importantly (of my reasons, anyway) is that I’m pretty sure I “get” meeting for worship. I hear the silence; I feel the strong tides of a gathered meeting, and I’m lucky enough to get to a pretty deep place pretty often in meeting. Not saying I should win an award or anything… but I do think it matters, and I’m aware that it is not a given for all members of a meeting to have this to offer.
I honestly don’t know if that was a factor in the committee’s decision at all. Of all the things I could have asked, that would have been the hardest to say out loud. But I do know that it is a factor, to me, in why I said yes.
Somewhat easier to put into words… I also have a sense that my very ignorance may be a gift to Ministry and Worship. It seems to me that the aspects of Quaker process and, more than that, Quaker culture that I don’t understand, five years into my becoming a regular attender, are probably things a lot of other people may not. So when there’s a discussion of how an oversight of ministry committee is put together, and I realize that, really, I’m not at all sure how we’re using words like “ministry” and “oversight,” well, probably a lot of people who might actually have need of this knowledge don’t have it either. Or, in another context, if I am not really conscious of how our meeting resolves conflicts between Friends, are there other members who need to know about it, but don’t? It seems possible. Though I am a new Quaker, I’m a serious one. Knowing what I do not know—or don’t truly understand—may be a good gift to bring to the table.
That’s all at the level of thought, though. Though this, too, is a bit scary to admit, I take seriously the concept that my name rising in Nominating committee was a spirit-driven event, and I think I need to also take seriously the idea that my feeling of wanting (very much) to say yes when they asked me also goes deeper than my own reasons.
This scariness is, in seriousness, a lot like the fear around rising to speak in meeting. I feel the tension tugging at me, and I want to rise with it… but I also hate to risk misinterpreting that tug. I certainly have spoken in meeting when it would have been better to stay silent (or at least, stop speaking sooner). But I’ve also not spoken when, indeed, I should have done. Both are mistakes. Not risking can be the wrong answer, too.
I may have been wrong in the outcome of my discernment process. The Nominating Committee may have been mistaken to have approached me, and I may very well let my meeting down. I am, however, committed to trying to learn this job. I do think I can do it—though carving out the time will be very hard indeed, come fall.
Part of that trying is playing catch-up—reviewing the parts of Faith and Practice I gave less attention to than I should have; being sure to not miss any more Meetings for Business; re-reading Patricia Loring’s _Listening Spirituality_—the volume about corporate spiritual practice. That’s a start, at least.
Happily, my meeting does have, as Paul wishes me, “trusted friends in it [I] can share [my] bewilderment with.” Perhaps, judging by the confusion my previous post generated, I’ve been camouflaging my fear and my feelings of inadequacy in too much silliness, though, and keeping those friends from being as supportive as I may need them to be. Certainly, I can, and probably should, spend time talking seriously and openly with members of M&W, as I did with J and M, about my concerns.
I think I might start by bringing this email, and the last—scary parts and all—to share with the outgoing clerk of the meeting (a fFriend) and perhaps to the outgoing clerk of M&W, another of the Quakers I deeply admire and respect, as well.
Thank you, Liz and Paul, for taking the time and trouble to listen to me seriously even when I was perhaps not courageous enough to write that way on a first take. No guarantees I won’t be a bit of a jester over other serious matters—in fact, sometimes I think that humor can be another kind of plainness—the kind that keeps me from taking myself too seriously. But the seriousness today seems right, and I thank you for it.
As we say in Paganistan, blessed be.