What’s the Difference Between “Programmed” and “Unprogrammed” Quaker Worship?


I’ve worshiped with conservative Friends.
I’ve worshipped in Central America. I’ve gone to Pastoral Meetings in the United States.
I’ve gone to an Evangelical Meeting in the United States. They’re all different. What
I would say is that the Meetings go from – you can find a Meeting that’s non-programmed,
non-pastoral to a Meeting that’s totally programmed, totally pastoral, and you have
every possible permutation in the middle. A Programmed Meeting means that we have a
pastor, and we believe in reading the Bible, singing hymns – we have a piano that someone
plays. And we have vocal ministry, really. Programmed means also we do enjoy the silence,
there’s a period of silent meditation there, and we read from the scriptures. There are about 20 of us that gather for an
hour in a period of waiting worship, and I think I would describe that as a group of
people with different understandings of what they’re doing. Different understandings
of Quakerism. Some newcomers, some who have been there for decades. And they’re all
in their own way settling into a period of quiet waiting in communion and connection
with one another. Es un programa que construye mi vida espiritual.
Amo la parte de cantar porque alabo al Señor y agradezco. Amo la parte de escuchar la persona
quien me va a ensenar porque Dios tiene algo preparado para mí. Amo la parte de leer la
Biblia porque también Dios me habla allí. Amo la parte de orar porque recibo bendición
y escucho la voz de Dios. Todo el conjunto me beneficia espiritualmente. Amo el conjunto
de cosas que hacemos en, en nuestra forma de adorar. For some people the silence is uncomfortable.
I know for me, initially it was, with my first unprogrammed Meeting, but then I learned to
love it. Because I was given the opportunity to go deep inside, and to listen to that internal
antennae that I could turn on and hear God’s voice, and search for guidance. The goal is not silence. The goal is creating
the space in our very loud world so that we can hear God’s voice. In my experience, the core of even pastoral
Friends worship is that centering, open worship time which we call the silent, unprogrammed
time of our worship, in which we truly do seek to heed the presence of Christ that is
in our midst. I don’t have to believe a certain thing.
I don’t have to profess a certain creed. I get to sit there and listen and be and experience
and go through all of those things that are necessary for me to be closer to God, and
I find that to be invaluable. I find that to be the only way I know how to become that
person that God has created me to be. Ministry in the Different Traditions We don’t have any paid staff for our Meeting,
we don’t have a paid pastor or any other support staff. We gather together in silence,
so we have nothing programmed in our Meeting. So we come in and we sit down, we sit in expectant
waiting. I pastored for 24 years and found it comfortable
to, if I had a message prepared to deliver but open worship seemed to take on its own
importance and life, it was OK to NOT present that message or sermon, and let the Spirit
speak through the people within the congregation. Many times came away from a service thinking
God was in control and I was not and that was OK. Very humbling, in a lot of ways to
submit yourself to the Spirit’s leading. We expect God to talk to us. We expect God
to be present. Sometimes we are given a message for ourselves. Sometimes we’re given a message
to share with others. In my tradition, after worship as the congregation
is leaving, the pastor stands in the back and shakes peoples’ hands, and sometimes
they comment on the sermon. And someone will say something like, “I really appreciated
it when you said this” and I realize I didn’t say what they thought they heard, but for
me it was the mysterious way in which the Spirit provided them what they needed in that
moment. I have worshiped with Friends in other traditions
as well, and I would say it’s one of my projects to understand better how what I find
in my Quaker worship comes through these other forms into the lives of other Friends, and
how we are both parts of one big tradition, each drawing on some dimension of it. Some
part of this larger piece that none of us has completely. But we bring with it quite a mixed bag of
colors, ethnicities. But still you can find the common denominator is love for one another.
“Love your neighbor as yourself”. That’s a pretty important qualifier.


5 Responses

  1. Johan Maurer

    October 2, 2015 6:57 pm

    Wonderful! It’s like the high points of my ten years’ service with Friends World Committee somehow made to fit into seven minutes. Thank you!

  2. Surrender Radio

    September 7, 2018 9:45 am

    Jesus is the only way, and the Bible was given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the purpose to teaching and correcting, and edifying us. Jesus is the Word, and without him as the core of the belief, any religious practice quickly becomes an apostasy.


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