Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Gathered Meeting Retreat
I. Lesson Plan
This is a lesson plan for Atlanta Friends Meeting’s Gathered Meeting Retreat, which will take place on March 27-29, 2015. My goal for the retreat is to introduce people in the meeting to some of the different ways that Friends worship. I hope that by talking about different forms of worship and spiritual practices, Friends in the meeting will expand their understanding of worship, have a larger vocabulary for talking about worship and spiritual experiences, and deepen our communal experience of the unprogrammed worship that we practice at Atlanta Friends Meeting.
Friday evening: Introductions (7:00-9:00pm)
· Introduction: theme, take care of yourself, what we will be doing
· Opening circle questions (ask people to say their name and stand while speaking):
· What is one thing that you love about Friends?
· What is one thing that you brought with you? One thing you left behind?
· Why are you here?
· Names for the divine exercise
· Introduction to worship sharing (handout)
· Small groups
· Query: How is the Spirit with you?
Saturday morning: Prayer (9:00am-12:00pm)
· Introduction to prayer – expansive, holding in the Light, go where they haven’t gone
· Anne Lamott’s prayer: help, thanks, wow
· “Thanks,” by W. S. Merwin
· Psalm 16
· Embodied prayer
· breathing prayer
· body prayer
· doodle prayer (show on a flip chart)
· prayer postures (holding in the Light) – to your ability
· Stations of the Lord’s Prayer – a Christ-centered activity (useful, educational, optional!)
· alternative: mandalas
· close with singing prayer: Simple Gifts
· Worships sharing
· pray together
· Query: When you pray, how do you pray?
· Small groups: pray for each other (be clear about boundaries, participate to your comfort level)
Saturday afternoon: Experiences in Worship (3:00-5:30pm)
· Small groups
· Query: Was there a time when you felt the Spirit moving in worship?
· People who often speak in meeting: What does it feel like when you give vocal ministry?
· People who speak less often: How do you experience worship?
· Conversation for the group
· What is the strangest thing you or another person has felt led to do during worship?
· What is vocal ministry? Where does it come from?
Sunday morning: Worship (9:30am-12:00pm)
· Semi-programmed worship: singing, gratitudes, petitions
· Bible reading in the manner of Ohio YM Conservative Friends – introduce, can use other sacred texts
In this retreat, a lot of the activities are focused around queries. This is a typical Friends practice, but it also reflects my understanding of religious education as not coming primarily from the teacher. By responding to the queries, the people at the retreat are drawing on their own inner wisdom and bringing responses that are more diverse and profound than I could by lecturing. Particularly in the section on prayer, I offer many different practices, but I trust that people will choose the practices that are best for them.
The activities in this retreat also reflect my emphasis on the body. Wherever I can, I have people participate in ways that get them moving and reflecting on their own bodies in worship. In addition, the majority of the sessions are experiential. I do not just want people to hear about worship, I want them to experience it themselves. I hope that in all of this, we will have the experience of God teaching us, directly and through everyone in the room.
A joy for me in leading this retreat was how well integrated the children’s program was. Sometimes in retreats like this, the children’s program can feel like childcare or an afterthought. I was not responsible for the children’s program, but the woman who was leading the children called me to discuss what I was planning to cover and we talked about how that could be adapted for the children. For example, both adults and children considered prayer practices on Saturday morning, and the children made a mural entitled “How Do We Pray?” that we later put up in the main room. The program on Friday night and Sunday morning had intergenerational aspects, and everyone came together for the Variety Show on Saturday night.
The first frustration that I experienced was with the schedule. I did not have much control over the schedule; the planning committee just told me which blocks of time I had to provide content. Unfortunately, meals only lasted an hour and the committee scheduled the program to begin exactly when the meals ended (i.e., breakfast was from 8:00 to 9:00 and the morning program was scheduled to begin at 9:00). This meant that I was rushed trying to get to the room where we were meeting and that everyone else was late. I spoke with a member of the committee about this and suggested that next year, they schedule at least 15 minutes between the end of meals and program.
Another thing that was hard for me was that we had different people in nearly every session. A few came to everything, but many were unable to arrive until late on Friday, some left early because they were sick, and some were taking this as a real retreat rather than coming to the program. I expected some of this, and made it explicit that the program elements were optional. Combined with people arriving late to sessions, however, this made it challenging to know when to start or how many people to expect, and it led to some lack of cohesion in the group.
My response to both of these issues was to begin with 15 minutes of silent worship. This worked pretty well. Our practice in unprogrammed meetings is that the meeting begins when the first person sits in worship, and others enter into that silence. By being on time myself and sitting in silence, I was able to invite others into worship and signal that we had started the program.
I got some good feedback over the weekend. One person said that I had done a good job redirecting back to the topic at hand when others tried to change the subject. There were a few times when people brought up areas that could have derailed the conversation and the program, but I was able to step in and remind Friends to come back to the theme. Another person commented that she had never seen a retreat leader leave the room the way I did during small group discussions (and other times). This was intentional: I find that when I am in the room, a lot of the focus is on me, and it is helpful for me to leave when I want participants to talk to each other.
Even though it was a lot of work, I really had a good time leading this retreat. It was fun for me to share worship practices with my faith community, and it was a different experience to do a retreat for people that I already know. We got to know each other better, and I know that we will continue to be in relationship with each other. This also provided an opportunity for me to reflect on how I have grown in ministry and leadership. I had led almost all of the activities before, but I felt more relaxed and confident than I have in the past, and I think that made it a better experience for everyone.