Nurturing the Spiritual Center of Our Meetings: Vocal Ministry and the Bible

FGC "Nurturing the Meeting Community" Conference
Rosholt, Wisconsin
September 19-22, 2002

Workshop Facilitator: Susan Jeffers


Click here to get to the information I posted prior to the workshop. Questions or comments? EMail me!


Friendly Bible Study

The Listening Project

Singing and the Bible

Reading Early Friends with Bible in Hand

Short reflections on a couple of Bible passages

Books and articles

Some Bible readings with relevance to the theology and practice of vocal ministry

Some Bible readings with relevance to the theology and practice of eldering

Friendly Bible Study

This is the Bible study method that Marlou mentioned in the workshop and Tammara and Eric previewed the last morning. The little booklet Friendly Bible Study by Joanne and Larry Spears is available from the FGC Bookstore, whose blurb says: "Bible study method for small groups, embodying Friends sense that greater insight comes from a combination of personal reflection and group interaction. Directions include several pages on using this method with children and young people." It's also online for free. If you want to try using it with a group, I recommend just printing out a copy for each participant ahead of time.

The Listening Project

David told us about this method of listening deeply to one another, and its powerful effects. He has written up quite an extensive description -- to read it click here.

I also found a couple of web pages from other groups using this methodology:

Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Conflict Resolution Center International

Singing and the Bible

Sharon told us a little bit about her experiences of using chant and the Bible. The CD she mentioned is: Blessed Are The Peacemakers: Sacred Chant by Beverly Shepard (available from Pendle Hill Bookstore).

The Worship in Song hymnal provides a little information about each song in the back of the book. For example, for number 166, "Open My Eyes, That I May See" it says (p. 372) "The thought here comes from Psalm 119:18, but also seems to echo the prayers of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 6:17; 20." A couple of other Bible passages with intertextual "echoes" in this hymn are Isaiah 42:7 and Acts 26:18. It's good when looking up such short references to also engage what comes before and after, to really give the scriptural context to become one's own.

By the way, there's a very interesting piece online by Joan Broadfield titled "The Making of 'Worship in Song'" and there's a new CD available with mountain dulcimer renditions of many of the Worship in Song tunes.

Please send me more resources to post for this section!

Reading Early Friends with Bible in Hand

Reading the writings of early Friends such as George Fox, Margaret Fell, Isaac Penington, and John Woolman can be quite a challenge. Not only is much of the language different from modern English, but biblical allusions and quotations are so thick it is difficult to understand at all unless one is as steeped in the Bible as the writers themselves.

One approach is to read the early Friend's passage very carefully, and check a concordance of the King James Bible for any words or phrases that seem even possibly biblical. But studying the terms and phrases that come up repeatedly in their biblical context, one can gradually move into the thought-world of the early Friend, and get a glimpse of where we come from.

Here's an example; the passage is from Isaac Penington, and was one of those Margery Abbott posted and read in her plenary at the conference.

"And he that would know the true church, or be of it, and hear the voice of God in his true ministry, must first take up the cross to that part in him which is not of God, and receive from God the eye which sees, and the ear which hears. The Son... breaks down that in him which is contrary to God, having a daily cross ready for that which is to be crucified in him, whereby he shall die daily to himself. And as he dies to himself, Christ will reveal himself more and more in him, and he shall feel the pure seed of life springing more and more up in him, and living in him, and he in it; breaks down that which is contrary to God, having a daily cross ready...."

A short time with a concordance finds these Bible passages, among many others, that seem relevant to Penington's meaning:

Matthew 16:21-17:13, especially 16:24; Luke 9:18-36
Psalm 95, especially 95:7
Psalm 94, especially 94:8-10
Isaiah 64:3-8, especially 64:4
1 Corinthians 2:6-13, especially 2:9
Job 12:13-25, especially 12:14
Romans 14, especially 14:7-8
John 15:1-11, especially 15:5

Short reflections on a couple of Bible passages

Galatians 6:2
I got interested in this passage when I was trying to immerse myself in the biblical context of the "Fruits of the Spirit" -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Paul's list of these fine-sounding qualities occurs just after a number of cautions, and just before some pretty strong words about how believers are supposed to behave when someone messes up: "My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:1-2)

I kept mulling over what this could mean, to "bear one another's burdens." I certainly like the idea of helping someone else out, especially if I have a free hand and enough time -- but what does that have to do with someone who "transgressed"? What I eventually came to, through several weeks of study, prayer, and struggling with the Greek, is that at least one part of "bearing one another's burdens" has something to do with "bearing one another" as in "putting up with one another" -- when the other IS a burden. In other words, when someone messes up, put up with them anyway! This really fits well with verse 6:1 -- how else can the transgressor be "restored" to the community, unless folks put up with him or her!

This passage was buzzing around my head as I prepared for our workshop, and during it as well -- it seems very important for our practice of vocal ministry, that we consider this business of putting up with one another, and speaking truth to one another in a spirit of love!

Matthew 18

This is the number one "conflict resolution in the church" chapter: If your fellow believer offends you, go privately to point it out; if the offender doesn't listen, take one or two others along too; if there's still a problem, take it to the Meeting.

I've been considering that there's a parallel process that we might do well to follow in terms of other sorts of communications, including vocal ministry. If you have a leading, test it with one other person. If it still seems like it's from God, try it with a few others. Then the whole Meeting.

It seems to me that sometimes we want to leap directly from private connection with the divine to a "word for the Lord" meant for the whole body, with no seasoning or testing in between. Somehow I think we need to get our collective "ear" to the Ground more of the time, and perhaps more one-on-one and small group spiritual accountability conversations would be a way to move in that direction. Not to mention providing a way through our corporate disinclination to confront when there's a conflict!

Books and articles

(1) Praying with the Anabaptists: The Secret of Bearing Fruit, by Marlene Kropf & Eddy Hall (Newton KS: Faith and Life Press, 1994). Devotional readings from the gospel of John; there's also a nice audio tape that plays the hymns for each chapters, which are from the hymnal jointly published by the Brethren and Mennonites.

(2) The Word Is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture, by Martin L. Smith (Cambridge MA: Cowley Publications, 1989).

(3) "Waiting Worship" in Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, by Lloyd Lee Wilson (Pendle Hill, 1993)

(4) Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth-Century Quakers, by Richard Baumann. (London: Quaker Home Service, 1998)

(5) "On the Vocal Ministry" by Ruth M. Pitman (Tract Association of Friends); Where Words Come From, by Douglas V. Steere (London: Quaker Home Service, 1985).

(6) Rhythms of the Inner Life: Yearnings for Closenesss with God (Newberg, OR: Barclay Press, 1992). Praying and meditating on the book of Psalms.

(7) "Prayer" by Virginia Schurman (Tract Association of Friends)

(8) "The Gathered Meeting" by Thomas Kelly (Tract Association of Friends)

(9) "Congregational Silence" by Max I Reich (Tract Association of Friends)

(10) Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, by Richard J. Foster (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992). Twenty-one different modes of prayer, for moving "inward, upward, and outward."

(11) Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, by Richard J. Foster (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998). This book is about the classic Christian spiritual practices. The disciplines are organized into three sections: The Inward Disciplines (Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study), The Outward Disciplines (Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service), and The Corporate Disciplines (Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration). In the workshop we mentioned the distinction Foster makes between study of the Bible and devotional reading of the Bible. Having acknowledged the importance of study -- and the time and diligence it requires -- the methodologies we previewed in the workshop were all of a devotional nature. I read the following excerpts aloud, from the "Study" chapter:

"The apostle Paul tells us that we are transformed through the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2). The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it." (p. 62)

"... a vast difference exists between the study of Scripture and the devotional reading of Scripture. In the study of Scripture a high priority is placed upon interpretation: what it means. In the devotional reading of Scripture a high priority is placed upon application: what it means for me. All too often people rush to the application stage and bypass the interpretation stage: they want to know what it means for them before they know what it means! Also, we are not seeking spiritual ecstasy in study; in fact, ecstasy can be a hindrance. When we study a book of the Bible we are seeking to be controlled by the intent of the author. We are determined to hear what he is saying, not what we want him to say." (p. 69)

(12) The Believers Church Bible Commentary Series, published by Herald Press, Scottdale PA. These fine commentaries, jointly published by Brethren and Mennonites, are a wonderful resource for any "peace church" Bible study group.

(13) "Three Levels of Vocal Ministry", by Michael Fondanova. A just-posted article on Quaker and biblical understandings of vocal ministry.

(14) Resistance and Obedience to God: Memoirs of David Ferris (1707-1779), edited by Martha Paxson Grundy. I found a nice short review at a Drexel University website -- scroll down a bit to get to it. Marty herself will be leading a workshop about Ferris at Friends Center in Barnesville, Ohio, February 21-23, 2003.

Some Bible readings with relevance to the theology and practice of vocal ministry:

Acts 1-2 The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost
1 Corinthians 14:26-33Paul writes about unprogrammed worship and vocal ministry
John 6:22-59The bread of life; if we're going to feed our meetings and be fed, best have the bread from heaven!
Isaiah 6Isaiah's call. "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" "Here am I; send me!"
Psalm 1Those who delight in the teaching of the Lord, who meditate on it day and night, are like trees planted by streams of water.
John 14:15-31 Jesus talks about life in the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:26-27The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Philippians 4:4-9Rejoice in the Lord always -- the Lord is near!
Numbers 11:1-30Moses said: "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!"
Proverbs 15:23"A word spoken in due season, how good is it!"
John 15:1-17The vine and the branches
Ephesians 6:18-20Paul says "Pray for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel."
Colossians 3:12-17 "Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other... and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts."
Ecclesiastes 5:1-3"Let your words be few"


Some Bible readings with relevance to the theology and practice of eldering:

1 Timothy Paul writes encouragement and advice to the young pastor Timothy.
1 Samuel 3 Eli the priest helps the young Samuel learn to recognize the sound of the Lord's voice calling him.
Revelation 2-3 John passes along the messages given him to the seven churches in Asia.
Galatians 6:1-2 When someone "transgresses" restore him or her in a "spirit of gentleness;" put up with one another, even when it seems burdensome!
Matthew 18:15-20 What to do when someone in the faith community "transgresses" against another.

I'll add some more to this section as I get time!