Monday, 30 March 2015

Maybe a kind of quiet church. Hmm.

Friends, a thought has come to me.

In the last year or so I have gone less and less to church, and that grieves me. I never thought it would happen. But two things have changed – one is me and the other is the church.

As I grow older, through middle age and onwards toward old age, I find myself (whether I welcome it or not) following the same trajectory as my father did, needing solitude and quietness, avoiding groups and gatherings. I love my family and my friends, and I delight in the theology group that meets at our house. I find parties difficult, and anything multi-stranded where there are several personalities to concentrate on at once, and the space is full of stimuli. I feel so intensely the power (I don’t mean they are dominating or strident, I just mean their soul vibration) of each person I meet that it makes going to church difficult – many people want to greet me, often with special voices on communicating something about my not having been for so long. They are kind and loving but it feels unbearable and I can’t face it. I love the prayers and hymns, the communion; and in Quaker meeting I love the silence and the Light. But the web of interactions is too strongly felt, so that most of the time I cannot muster the force to encounter it.

So I have changed, but so has church. It used to be not a very social occasion, focusing on prayer and singing and quiet homilies, then going home. It has changed – and for the better, I’m sure – to feature more variety, electronic media, opportunities to interact, and a greatly increased focus on community and friendship. And inclusiveness (for which I worked so hard in my own time as a minister of religion) has brought a change in ambience, with children playing in a loud and lively manner, Church is, among other things, community. I don’t regret or object to these changes, but the end result is something I can’t relate to.

Quaker meeting is lovely, but it is not particularly Christian. If you see what I mean, I’m fine with people not being Christian but I would choose for the worship to be Christian. As it is in our Theology Group; you don’t have to be a Christian to come, but it is Christian theology we study and discuss. I love Buddhism and Taoism; I am so grateful for them, they have taught me as much as I have learned in church about how to live as a Christian. But I don’t want to become an actual Buddhist or Taoist, because for me Jesus is the centre.

I miss the quiet gathering for worship of God in Jesus. I miss it a lot.

And the thought came to me today of Quiet Church. I googled to see if anyone else had thought of it and is doing it, and it seems that within the context of regular church communities there is a phenomenon of Quiet Church – basically a bit like Quaker Meeting or a Julian meeting. Just sitting together in silence. But that’s not really what I mean.

If we could ever have a musical accompanist – pianist or guitarist, I’d be happy to sing a hymn or song or chorus. I’d like sometimes if we could break bread in an agape. I’d be happy to use a minimalist liturgical form sometimes. I’d be happy to include an exposition of a scripture.

What I have in mind is just a gathering you could come to, similar to a prayer meeting I suppose, an hour long and no longer, with no refreshments or socializing, only for the worship of God. No money involved – no plant to maintain or preacher/musician fees. Just the people, just in our home.

And, to be clear, this would be inclusive church. Anyone could come who loves Jesus and can sit quietly for an hour. I know babies can wake up and fuss a bit in worship, but the occasional squawk from a baby would be okay, and it would be fine for a mother to breastfeed. Just so long as it was all held within the peace. No chatting, no commotion. And LGBTQ friends would of course be most welcome.

Low-key, peaceful. One hour. Quiet. Holy. On a Sunday morning. Perhaps not every week. Maybe once a month.

What do you think?


gail said...

Well Pen, what a shame I live ocean away, because that to me would be lovely. To not have to chat or stay for morning tea. Oh, I could go on and on.
To just sit in our Lord's peace. I wouldn't mind if someone was to quietly read from the scriptures either. Just for a few minutes and then His peace again. Just a smile to each other would be enough. and a nod good bye when its over. I think Jesus would enjoy being at that little gathering. Lovely idea Pen.
Blessings Gail.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Jen said...

It sounds so wonderful Pen even tho for me Jesus is not the centre of all. But I keep feeling that he should be, I am just not ready yet for that to be the case.

I still am struggling with where I am

Pen Wilcock said...

I think maybe there's a difference between what the centre of the worship is and where the people individually are, if you see what I mean.
As we do in our Theology Group, it's possible to keep the occasion Christ-centred without insisting that all who attend it are. So that the outlook and particularity of each one who comes, who speaks, who participates, can be honoured and respected; and still in a quiet way Christ stays at the centre. You can have a hearth in the room and a fire burning on it, without having to talk about it all the time.
In saying about Jesus being at the centre, I wasn't thinking of vocabulary so much - the words one uses and the attitudes expressed can be very open and wondering. More something implicit and quietly understood (in the sense of accepted rather than comprehended).

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh - it occurs to me, Jen, maybe if the kind of Quiet Church I described in the post sounds attractive to you, but yet you cannot feel ready to affirm a sense of Jesus at the centre, maybe Quaker Meeting might suit you? It's very strong and beautiful; very open.

Leslie said...

While I realize the our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, I find myself yearning for that "Quiet Place" that you so aptly described. A place of quiet reverence and worship, with no fluorescent lights or piped-in music. A place where we would remove our shoes (actually or metaphorically) to step into the Lord's presence.
Our family actually left our congregation before the end of the preaching yesterday, in part due to the emphatic shouts of a visiting minister. It upset my special needs son so much that I had to remove him from the auditorium. And, our four year old grandson asked the question, "Why is he angry, Grandpa?"

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh dear! How upsetting! I think it can happen sometimes that a preacher who is less confident deep inside may adopt a preaching style seen in others, that seems impressive and effective. And it can all go so horribly wrong . . .

Jen said...

yes I have tried Quaker before, but they are all so friendly and enthusiastic at the end that it scares me off a little.

I know, I am somewhat strange, although I think you would be able to emphathise

Pen Wilcock said...

Well, I can - though it feels embarrassing to be so unforthcoming, when people are only friendly and kind. xx

Jen said...

yes! that's what makes it so awkward, I hate wanting to shuffle out the door when everyone is so nice, but that's what I want to do!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Deborah said...

I wish I could find that quiet place. God keeps saying 'Be Still and know that I an God' but I find it hard and I know I'm fighting it even though I want it.

San said...

Sounds good! I too struggle with the unnecessary noise and chit chat, this is why we attend a quiet mass on a Saturday morning instead of a Sunday. This need for quiet has arisen due to the constant demands made upon my physical and mental state at home. Even getting to church can be a nightmare with diabetes and MS management and the youngest struggling with the health needs of everyone else. Sometimes in that half hour I am still badgered but at least it is only for a short space of time :-)

Good luck with your quiet church project I will keep you in prayers xx

Pen Wilcock said...

God bless your journey, Deborah, San - may you find the oases of peace you need. xx

daisyanon said...

The closest I have come to this is The Julian Meetings (forgive the shameless plug!)

I think equally as important as the content of the gathering are the principles by which it is organised.

The institutional churches have I think been suffocated by the constraints of their institutional rules.

I am a big fan of the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous for this sort of thing. A coincidence but The Julian Meetings are organised along the same sort of principles.

Not quite the same, but on a similar theme, I found myself watching some Jewish acapello videos the other day. Six13 if you want to search on youtube. Watch the ones on Passover, Chanaka and Shabbos.

Fascinating stuff, made me almost wish I was a Jew! So much of their prayer and worship is conducted in the home with and by family members. I love the idea of Shabbat.

Sadly I am the only Christian in my family so I can't inflict it on them!

I think there are lots of people searching for something along the lines you describe Pen, but how to get us in touch with other and organised enough to meet, that is very difficult.

Sometimes I toy with the idea of inviting people for a home based service. But I share my home and it is still quite an undertaking to advertise if it doesn't happen organically.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks for this good thoughts, Daisy, and for the links. I share a home too, but not with anyone who would object, provided I didn't try to annex them to my projects.
I think the key is to plugging into the kairos, the wu-wei - doing the right thing at the right moment. Then you get the fulcrum effect of achieving a lot with surprisingly small input.
It happened like that with our Theology Group. I just said 'This is what I'm doing' and all these people came along to do it with me, and it works jolly well; an occasion of great nourishment, moving, interesting, inspiring.
I may do the same with the Quiet Church - just send word by the jungle drums and see who turns up.
I cannot do organisation. It is not my natural medium. I'm happy to let ideas sink and fail, or swim on their own. I spent a lot of years with that awful church meeting phenomenon in which the leader is running it for the members and the members are only attending to encourage the leader. And because that's what they did last year. I don't want to get mixed up with that syndrome again.
I'll go back and look again at your blog that says about the AA principles.

daisyanon said...

Hi Pen, have a look on The Julian Meetings website as well if you are interested. The pages about how they are organised.

I agree about the 'wu-wei', that has been my experience as well.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Yes - for sure - I'll take a look. We used to have a Julian meeting here, before the convent closed. I went to it fairly regularly. It was good.

Anonymous said...

Pen, what would you think of the idea of a mindful church? I am unsure of voicing the idea but I feel that this would allow stillness so that the holy spirit may be felt and move us to daily practice of christian life and allow the growth of compassion towards the community of the church; real, felt compassion towards one another. I feel I need stillness and more of a true sense of community. Is this what you mean? Blessings xxxxx

Pen Wilcock said...

Hiya - well, I think our whole way of life should be mindful. By that I mean paying attention, and being where we are rather than scattered into distractions as can so easily happen. But a word of caution: I think sometimes when people get the idea of being mindful or prayerful or reverent, that can morph into being precious and affected. I think the way we do church should be simple and peaceful, relaxed, natural. xx

Bethany said...

Oh, add me to the list of those yearning for more of this! I attend a semi-programmed Christ-centered Quaker meeting here in Oregon, but my family recently spent a year away living and traveling aboard our tiny sailboat. I think the silence of ocean night watches seeped into me like nothing else and now, even my beloved community often feels like too much noise for my soul.
I do love Sabbath by the Sea, a program offered by our local Quakers...a week of guided personal retreat taken with a small group. Simple, non-formal morning and evening prayers, options for spiritual direction, lovely Oregon coast location. But it's only offered in January. I'd love it once a month or so and I think there should be more of this kind of thing...but just what you said, organically! So many new programs sprout up just for the sake of something new and no one seems to have any sense about letting things go when their time has passed.
I've recently discovered a rogue Catholic Church (inclusive, with a woman priest) where no one knows me, with no expectations that I will jump into leadership (as a musical pastor's kid, that's not the norm) and sometimes I slip away to sit with them.
I wonder if, as our vision of church shifts, there will be more places for this kind of community. I'd love to read about more people's experiments with simple church. Thanks so much for opening the conversation with such vulnerability and grace.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Bethany - thank you - I love your blog! xx

gretchen said...

oh, pen, i literally had goosebumps and tears in my eyes after reading your thoughts. as one who struggles with similar sensory processing issues, i long for quiet, plain, simple worship. sitting in silence for adoration seems to work best for me. there is a small adoration chapel nearby that is a place of refuge. the mass i attend is conventual. it used to be quite contemplative but there is a new worship leader who has brought in a lot more music (which we sing badly!) bring on the Quiet Church.

Pen Wilcock said...

This is so interesting. It seems to be a thought from the dimension of reality. I think it is going to happen. To set it up, I do believe I would want four other people besides me. Fewer than that and it would feel too intense and personal - and that of itself would become a distraction. So I'm waiting for four. xx

Peter said...

How close is what you describe,Pen, to the 8.00 Communion service in our church and others ?

Could services like that evolve into something like Quiet Church as they seek to address a new generation of attendees ?

Just an idea ...

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello, friend. The early service - yes, I go to an early, spoken Mass sometimes. It is peaceful and beautiful.
But here is my difficulty with that.
Last week, my husband brought home from church the pew notices sheet, which I read. I noticed that the PCC secretary had resigned after only a year, thought 'Uh-oh - I wonder what went wrong there?' and immediately began to feel guilty I hadn't had the psychological strength and spiritual persistence - faithfulness, maybe - to continue in that role. I felt so upset by the fighting and arguing, by the willingness to seek self-advancement at the cost of another, by the passive aggressive - and sometimes blatantly aggressive - attempts to manipulate me when I stood in that role of awful influence.
Then as I continued through the notices, I read . . . stopped . . . boggled . . . read again, incredulous, that in February (the shortest month of the year) the running costs of that church were well in excess of *nine thousand* pounds. Nine thousand!!! Congregational giving had covered over five thousand of it, so just over fifty per cent.
I like beautiful buildings. I like tradition. But not to the tune of ten thousand quid a month in a town where many are desperately poor and in a world where people are starving.
Lovely though early Mass is, and I do go sometimes, for one reason and another, I hang back.

Peter said...

I can't answer that, Pen. Point completely taken ! But can we ever completely escape the institution even if we wanted to ?

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah! That question deserves a blog post entirely of its own! I'll be back . . .


daisyanon said...

Blogger Peter said...

How close is what you describe,Pen, to the 8.00 Communion service in our church and others ?

Could services like that evolve into something like Quiet Church as they seek to address a new generation of attendees ?

Perhaps they could but I honestly don't think this can happen within the current institution that requires an ordained clergy person to conduct the service, and these people, understandably, don't feel turning out for a small number of people to conduct a service they themselves may not find very inspiring.

The Church with a capital C is not interested in Quiet Church. They may pay lip service to the notion but that is all.

But, to be fair, the congregations are not willing or able to simply go and create their own services without clergy. There is nothing to stop them (although they wouldn't be able to use the church if it was for anything resembling a Eucharist), but they don't. They just fade away.

'Quiet Church' sounds like a nice name.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes. There are (rightly) committee decisions to be made in church, and credal positions to which one must adhere.
Thinking about it today, it occurred to me that the organisational imperatives of the institution are, for me, part of the noise.

Susan said...

Hello, I've been reading your blog since last year and really appreciate your posts. I just wanted to say that I used to attend a church that has meetings very similar to what you described. The church is non-denominational but has its roots in the Plymouth Brethren movement. There are two meetings each Sunday: a meeting of quiet worship and communion, which is a "closed" meeting, meaning that you must be a professing Christian to participate. The second meeting is an "open" meeting of praise, worship and teaching. (Whole families attend both meetings.) Teaching and pastoral duties are shared among the elders. There is no pastor, although occasionally the church employs what they call a full-time worker. No collection is taken at either meeting; rather, a box is in the vestibule for those who wish to give money (Matthew 6:3).

A typical quiet worship meeting is mostly silent, but as the Spirit moves through the gathering, a person might be prompted to stand and suggest a hymn or psalm or share a passage of scripture or even an anecdote from her week or a reflection. Towards the end of the meeting, bread is broken and tiny cups of grape juice are passed and shared Everything is done in an attitude of reverence and quiet. I do miss those meetings, but the Spirit has led me elsewhere.

Peace keep you.♥

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Susan - thank you for writing in. The worship you describe sounds very peaceful and simple. xx