Friday, January 09, 2015

Transparency and Quaker Worship

I was gently eldered (disciplined) earlier in the week for the content of some of my writings, here and in other venues. As I was told, many Friends see Meeting for Worship as a safe, confidential space. From time to time, I've incorporated the goings on and individual vocal ministry of Worship into writing material. Real life material has been invaluable in times past, but from now on, I have agreed to abstain. I am, I must admit, left with several questions, though I am more than willing to abide by stated guidelines.

How many unprogrammed Friends would object if their Meeting for Worship was recorded for a podcast or a YouTube video? Granted, many people unfamiliar with our traditions would find extended periods of silence boring, unless they knew what to expect first. I once attended Worship in a gathering of conservative Friends where the entire hour was streamed live over Skype. This was for the benefit of a member who was infirm and lived in a remote area. She was unable to make the drive from her residence to the Meetinghouse.

In programmed churches, sermons are routinely videotaped for live broadcast or on tape-delay. Sermons, especially, are often converted into free podcasts for anyone to listen. I listen to several on my iPod, often when out and about running errands. I sense it is the peculiar nature of unprogrammed Worship that makes some squeamish. But are our fears justified? Taken this way, unprogrammed Worship is treated somewhat like a session with a psychologist or a support group.

I personally would not object if my words during Worship were broadcast over the internet. Years ago, I made a decision that in an effort to reduce stigma, I would speak up vocally about the identities I hold. I know that's not everyone's cup of tea. But I do wonder what we're seeking to hide or protect.

By implication, these rules governing Worship could be used as cover for someone who wanted to provide ministry that was not Spirt-led, knowing that he or she would never be held accountable for it. If others knew they would never be disciplined beyond the auspices of a Meeting, it provides a lot of cover for someone with an agenda. This may not necessarily be the case, but it leaves a fairly massive loophole for some to exploit if they wish. Sometimes accountability can be external as well as internal.

It has always been my intention to share the particulars of the Religious Society of Friends. Though I am opposed to proselytizing, I do wish to reach those who are Quaker and don't know it yet. I know the importance of community in a society that increasingly isolates us from one another. Having a cause and a sense of purpose is extremely healthy, and you don't need a therapist to tell you that.

When confronted with people who I sense are lonely and in desperate need of social outlets or engagement with others, I often suggest Friends Meeting as an antidote. Most people say thanks, but no thanks, but others not automatically opposed to organized religion or faith in any form have taken me up on it. I would not be opposed to removing the veil of secrecy even further. Friends may not mean to seem mysterious and even a little foreboding, but we can often appear that way towards others who see our ways as eccentric or strange without adequate explanation first.

We have much to offer, and in the internet age, I think we must conform to the standards of our times. In particular, we must continue to reach younger Friends who are often minorities within their own home Meetings. Using technology for the benefit of growth is no sin. Though I respect the concerns of those insist that everything said in Meeting must stay in Meeting, I must say I do not agree.

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