More on Vocal Ministry

Imported from iWeb blog:

Here is an excerpt of an email dialogue with Friend in Florida. I have written about vocal ministry before, both in my blog and in a much read piece in the Dec. 2004 issue of Friends Journal. May this be a useful continuation of the discussion:

There is considerable interest in our Meeting in having one of your workshops, and I hear that there is interest in St. Petersburg Meeting as well. I found both your 2004 article on vocal ministry in Friends Journal and your Pendle Hill Pamphlet Turnaround to be helpful and provocative, and I have read the description of the Workshop on Vocal Ministry on your website. I am a little puzzled that the content of ministry is not included in the workshop and unclear on the connection between acting and discerning the impetus of a message in Meeting. Could you elucidate a bit?

Hi [Friend],

Thanks for the enquiry.

The workshop is meant to assist Friends learn about the physical, visceral sensations which may lead them to vocal ministry (the “quaking”). My premise is that when the divine touches us, we feel it, and we can choose to respond. So my workshop is about the “feeling it” part: how do we know when we are being led to vocal ministry? What’s the difference between that sensation and stage-fright, or jitters from too much caffeine? How can we intentionally create a state in our bodies which invites the exploration of these sensations? How can we physically prepare for ministry?

I leave the issue of subject matter alone for a variety of reasons:

a) The process of eldering ministry which troubles the congregation is a complex one. It is one I am happy to discuss in terms of strategy, theory and practice, but it is not something I can “train”. I have devoted some time to discussing this topic in the workshop, but there are no exercises around it. It is a vital and necessary discussion to have; one bound to challenge the Quaker community in question.

b) The subject matter of ministry is intensely personal. Many times, a person is struggling to give themselves permission to utter anything at all. I want to create an inviting atmosphere in the workshop, not a judgmental one. But I do lead discussions about what our own judgments about ministry are, and how they may limit us. I examine the difference between divinely led ministry and an academic lecture, for instance. I focus on Friends’ tradition of ministry coming directly from life experience, and use this as a foundational idea to guide us.

c) Basically, I believe that God is in charge of the subject matter. Even when we get it “wrong”, God is still present, still teaching us. My experience is that when we begin to make “rules” around ministry, our human imperfections get the better of us and we fall prey to our grandiosity and fear. So the workshop isn’t focused on subject matter . . .

d) . . . . except for this one part of it: the Core Statement. Each participant is asked to create a “Core Statement” to use in exercises meant to identify the impulse to speak. The Core Statement is a short, original phrase or sentence which represents an essential belief of yours (perhaps “All children are born essentially good.” or “God is never evil.” or “A good laugh can cure almost anything.”). These statements function as “snippets of potential ministry”, since they represent something personal to us. They also function as stimulators of vulnerability, a trait I have found at the center of powerful ministry.

This entire process began for me when, as an actor, I began to become suspicious of my own impulse to speak at meeting. Then I began to understand that I had been trained to follow the impulse to speak quickly and assertively, so it was right in a Quaker context for me to “raise the bar” on that impulse. Then I began to wonder what the impulse really was, what was its Source? Gradually, I came to see that the human creative act of speaking passionately, whether on stage or in a meeting for worship, always contains divine energy and implication. And, supported by Friends in my meeting, I came to see that I had something useful to offer Friends as a way to examine this impulse in a new way.
More On Vocal Ministry Friday, March 7, 2008