Saturday, October 16, 2010

Semi-Programmed II

I got the news a few weeks ago that I will be leading semi-programmed worship at the next School of the Spirit residency.  I am very excited to share the way Friends at Freedom Friends Church worship with the rest of my class. 

It's not that there is a lack of worship at the residencies.  Each morning after breakfast, we spend an hour in worship together.  This is one of my favorite things about the program.  After more than a year of meeting together, our worship is rich and deep.  There are several gifted vocal ministers in our class and many more who ground the space with their presence.

But until now, it has all been unprogrammed worship.

I don't want to give the wrong impression, I love unprogrammed worship.  After spending three years sojourning with University Friends Meeting, I feel nearly as at home in unprogrammed worship as in semi-programmed worship.  And I have cherished the times when I have been able to sit with Friends in extended unprogrammed worship. 

But I really miss singing in worship.  By all accounts, my School of the Spirit class is an unusually sing-y class.  We sing together fairly often, and we sing well.  Most of the singing, however, happens during the free time, or as an afterthought.  I miss singing as a way for all of us to come together and start focusing our attention on God.

So I asked if I could lead semi-programmed worship at the next residency and the teachers said yes!

They also suggested I ask someone to elder for me.  I hadn't thought about having an elder, but it seemed like a good idea, so I asked my classmate, Mark W, to be my elder and he agreed to.  He asked if there was anything he could do before the residency other than holding me in prayer, and I said that sounded perfect.

I also asked another classmate, Kristin O, to lead the music.  As much as I like to sing, leading singing is not my favorite thing.  Kristin is great at leading singing, though, and just asked which songs I would like.  She also asked when we would be having the semi-programmed worship, and whether there would be time to rehearse beforehand.

I am grateful for all this support and preparation, but it also strikes me as kind of funny.  My original idea was to give everyone a taste of how we worship at Freedom Friends, but I can already tell that this is going to be much more polished than worship at Freedom Friends ever is.

All of this reminds me of some conversations I have had recently about how different Freedom Friends looks from the outside than from the inside.  I am surprised by the impact this little church has had on the wider Quaker world, especially the Quaker blogosphere.  As a member of Freedom Friends, I feel honored when it is mentioned by someone from outside the church (as it was on Micah B's blog), but I know that the reality is a lot messier than our image sometimes is.

When I have led worship at Freedom Friends, it has usually been a last-minute thing.  Someone else was not available, and I am there and able to lead, so I do.  We do sing almost every week, but we don't really sing very well.  There are a few people with great voices, but for the most part, it is not something you would want to listen to.  It is all very homespun.

It is a church that struggles.  Many of our members and attenders are living with mental and physical disabilities.  Quite a few are unemployed and no one makes much money.  We consider it a good month when we can make rent.  Sometimes we can't afford to pay the pastor the tiny amount we give her to release her for ministry.

But we truly care for one another.  And that is part of what I hope to express in leading semi-programmed worship at the residency.  The way we worship, by singing together and sharing our gratitudes and petitions, shows how we are involved in each other's lives.  We may not always sound great, but we are happy to pray for each other.  It is a real community, which means that it is sometimes messy, and I am grateful to be a part of it.


  1. I think part of the interest is how Freedom Friends is building a community "against the odds." There's no funding base, no institutional support; it's not funded by endowments or capital campaigns. The buzzword du jour among hip churchy types is "missional" and I think the fact that FF is poor, has members with disabilities and is sometimes "messy" is one of the marks that it's doing the real work of church in the world.

    It reminds me of my wife's Catholic Church, slated for closure. One of the criticisms of it is that it doesn't have a big budget. But one reason it doesn't is because members volunteer to do the work that wealthier churches hire out for. This can be messy sometimes but the music ministry, rosary garden, CCD program and spiritual commitment of the members is far stronger than I see almost anywhere else.

    Many of us dream of more grassroots, "missional," diverse and involved Friends communities. I pray they would all be a certain level of messy and involve a certain amount of struggle.

  2. Thanks Ashley, and Martin. I think FFC is "messional" :)

  3. Blessings on you leading worship.

    Thank you for the account of community at Freedom Friends. I am always grateful wnen we can see that of God within still means a lot can be messy.

    But what's wrong with rehearsing? Okay, I am a choir director's kid so I am biased, but in my experience it is never a terrible thing for people to learn songs or hymns as a community. In faxct, sometimes it's easier for new people to find their way and find their tune if more peole in a group already know the music.

    Okay, I am even the kind of person who, one time after observing unprogrammed worship over three days, all day in parallel with other things on the schedule, decided that there could even be something to be said for liturgy: liturgy CAN give space over time for a whole range of emotion and experiences that muddled out in unprogrammed worship. I expect that is WAY more Quaker heresy than you need just to lead worship, but blessing on you and the music both.

  4. This post made me smile as I remembered the small church (not Quaker) that I grew up in. Bad but heart-felt singing, poor, often wounded church-goers, a minister who had to keep his Monday - Friday job because we couldn't pay him enough to support his family -- it's all very familiar. Lots of convinced Quakers have scars from their upbringing in conservative Christian churches. I got a few bruises but they healed, and the warm memories of simple, loving, genuine people who cared for me and my family remains. I think I'd like Freedom Friends. :o)


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