We talked a bunch about waiting worship in the last episode, so this time we’re looking at a quote from John Punshon about corporate aspects of worship. There’s a difference between personal and corporate. And corporate in this situation doesn’t mean businesses. It’s about community.
A lot of American Christians talk about “Jesus as your personal Lord and savior,” but personal disconnects us. You do your thing; I’ll do mine. In contrast, the Church’s primary unit is community.
We went on kind of a long tangent about community and openness. The willingness to ask for and receive help is a big part of building community. It isn’t always there as you go up the economic ladder. In the US, Quakers skew toward “comfortable middle class.” And with that comes more difficulty being open together. So, we might not rely on each other as much. Micah wonders if that’s what Jesus meant about the rich and the kingdom of Heaven.
Back on topic, individualism shows up in terms of belief. Liberal Quakers make belief a much more personal pursuit. We may each believe our own individual thing. At least, if you think of belief in terms of intellectual propositions. Also, we probably don’t talk about it much. But maybe we should. Talking about theology is fun, and if you can’t do it in your faith community, where can you do it? Hey, we have a podcast.
Corporate aspects of belief end up in things like mission statements. So, does your meeting have one? If we agree on the corporate aspects of our lives together, that can give us a sense of where we’re going. What are we doing? What are we called to do? How should we do this together?
Finally, in his Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, Lloyd Lee Wilson writes about covenant community. (He’s from North Carolina Yearly Meeting.) The individual is accountable to the Meeting. Likewise, the Meeting is accountable to the individual. This reflects the covenant between God and the people. If you’re interested in that book, by the way, there’s a group doing a read-through on Facebook.
- Matt 19:24
- Sam Barnett-Cormack’s Openings blog
- Church Communications
- Quaker Communications & Outreach
Welcome back to Quaker Faith and Podcast, and at this point, we are looking back into the book again. This is very much related to our previous episode, where we were talking about liturgy, but the next chapter is the book is on waiting worship.
So, there are a few aspects … You know, we covered a lot of this in the discussion of liturgy, but there are some aspects that we wanted to pull out of this chapter as well. One of those is the corporate aspect of meaningful worship, and in this-Speaker 2: Pepsi has done amazing things for Quakerism and our worship, and other corporations are really great. So, we’re gonna talk about the corporate aspect of our worship, right?Mackenzie: That’s not the meaning of corporate [crosstalk 00:00:49]
Speaker 2: Oh, wait. Wait. I’m confused. Monsanto, that’s a … No, no. Mackenzie’s giving me this look.
Mackenzie: Maybe we need to look up the ethology of corporate.
So, I mean, a corporation is a group of people working together [crosstalk 00:01:08]
Speaker 2: And Quakers, historically, started a lot of corporations. Right?
Mackenzie: Geez. Okay, so, when we are incorporated together, we should just say, “Working together in worship.” Better?
Okay, so, corporate aspect meaning the groups aspects, as opposed to individual.
Speaker 2: Okay.
Mackenzie: So, this chapter has a big section that’s quoted from the Quaker faith and practice of Britain [inaudible 00:01:34] meeting, which is to say, Quakers in Britain. That’s just got a whole bunch of quotes from a whole bunch of Quakers across the last 350 years, and the particular one that I’m gonna highlight right now is from John Punshon , and he says, “Friends have never regarded worship as an individual activity. People who regard friends’ meetings as opportunities for meditation have failed to appreciate this corporate aspect. The waiting and listening are activities in which everybody is engaged, and produce spoken ministry, which helps to articulate the common guidance which the Holy Spirit is believed to give the group as a whole. So, the waiting and listening is corporate, also. This is why friends emphasize the ministry of silence, and the importance coming to meeting regularly, and with heart and mind prepared.”
Speaker 2: So, I think in, like, general American church culture, and by that, I mean, the predominant group in American church culture is Protestant Evangelicals. That’s the biggest single group. And I think that group, and general American culture, is very focused on the individual.
American church culture has followed the lead of American culture as being very individual-focused. A lot of people, both Christian and non-Christians, are familiar with the phrase, “Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” That phrase doesn’t show up anywhere in the Bible. And the key part that it an innovation, as far as I know … I’m actually historically [inaudible 00:03:09]. This could have come from somewhere overseas, but I think this was an American innovation, of the personal part. Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.
I’m sympathetic with the origins of the personal Lord and Savior language, in the sense that I think the original intent of talking about your personal Lord and Savior was the idea that you needed – and I think this is very in line with Quaker thought – is that you needed to have a personal experience with Jesus. It’s not enough to just, sort of, have heard about Jesus, or subscribed to particular teachings about Jesus, but you need to have a personal relationship with him. I think that’s valuable and critical.
I think the effect, in American culture and American church culture, of this personal Lord and Savior language has been to emphasize almost a one-serving Christianity. The idea of, like, you can get your Jesus, and I can get my Jesus, and she can get her Jesus, and we’ll all be good individually.
Mackenzie: Are we back to the communion episode?
Speaker 2: I don’t know.
Mackenzie: Single-serving Jesus?
Speaker 2: Oh, did I talk about that [inaudible 00:04:20]
Mackenzie: No, no, no, just because I’m thinking of pieces of bread.
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Speaker 2: Yeah. So, I mean-
Mackenzie: It was a bad joke.
Speaker 2: I mean, you know, to talk about communion, it’s significant for the vast majority of Christians that celebrate communion with bread and wine. We all drink from one cup. Like, it all comes from one … Even if you drink it in little plastic cups, it all came from one bottle. All the bread came from one loaf, and, like, we’re partaking in a shared reality. It’s all one body and one blood. It’s all from Jesus, right?
But the risk in a lot of American Christianity, and just American culture in general. But in American Christianity, there’s a risk of getting into a mentality that our spirituality is profoundly personal, and therefore, not really relevant … First of all, not really relevant to our relationships and to our society. And, finally, becomes so otherworldly that it can’t impact anything.
I think what John Punshon was expressing here in this quote that Mackenzie read is this idea that when we gather together at our meetings for worship, we are not simply coming … Like, it is not … And I’m not dogging on yoga; I think yoga is great, but it is not a yoga studio where we are primarily coming for our own personal enrichment, and that-
Mackenzie: The benches would be really in the way.
Speaker 2: Yeah. We’re not just coming for our personal enrichment. This is not about us as individuals, primarily. It is primarily about the growth and health and faithfulness of the corporate body, so to speak. The gathered assembly, the group of people gathered together as the church.
The primary unit of the church is the community, and individuals make it up. Rather than, in American culture, the primary unit being the individual, and institutions being built out of the actions of these individuals.
Mackenzie, have you, in your experience, in your meetings or in other meetings, seen individualism in conflict with the corporate sense that Quakers strive to?
Mackenzie: Yes. I would say that there’s definitely individualism found in Quakerism, at least today. I feel like … You know, we talk a lot about community, but there’s … Community is sort of that two-edged sword kind of thing, right? So, when you’re in a community, you’ve got to trust each other, right? There’s a fear, I think, for a lot of people, of the vulnerability and the openness required in order to have that trust.
People want privacy, and privacy, I feel, is very much tied up with individualism because if you can’t be vulnerable with the other people in your community, then they can’t really properly care for you. If they don’t know what’s wrong in your life, they can’t help you out. They can’t pray for you, they can’t just hand you fifty bucks and say, “Here, go get that fixed.” If they don’t know that something’s wrong, they can’t just show up with a [inaudible 00:07:49] for you.
So, sometimes, you’ll see something come across your Facebook feed about, like, some Amish thing, right? And I’m talking about how something happened to this person, and the entire church community rallies around and takes care of them. Like, I remember one where a woman has been widowed, and she’s got a bunch of kids, and, well, of course the rest of the community is going to pitch in and help with the farm, until her sons are old enough.
Whereas, I feel like, for a lot of us Quakers, we’ve gone along with the mainstream society of you keep your problems to yourself. So, if you’re having difficulties, often, nobody else in your community is gonna know it, and therefore, won’t be able to give you the help that they would like to otherwise.
Speaker 2: I think a part of this, particularly in the East Coast Liberal Quaker context, is the fact that the overwhelming character of these meetings is middle and upper-middle class. So, it’s easier to get away with this. The fact is is that most people in the meetings do not typically have, like, crazy economic needs that came out.
Now, that’s not universally true. It does absolutely happen, but it is easier to get away with this when most people are of needs in the meeting. You can say, “Well, my problems are my problems, your problems are your problems. We’ll figure this out without needing it involved in the meeting.” Whereas, when we are living together in a community, as people who have very tangible and unavoidable need, like making rent, like making the car payment, like getting your childcare, somehow – you don’t know how – it becomes a lot harder [inaudible 00:09:46] a community, and say, “No, my problems are my problems, and your problems are your problems.”
Mackenzie: That’s fair. I hope that makes sense.
Speaker 2: I think that finding the corporate … I think Jesus might have said something about it being very hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Maybe that wasn’t so much a fiery judgment, as just an observation of reality.
I think that those of us … I think that both Mackenzie and I fall into this category; those of us who are economically stable, middle class people; people who have a fair amount of privilege in our lives. We have to work extra hard on community, because we are able to get away with not engaging in community.
It’s not that there aren’t consequences for us, for not engaging in community. America’s a very wealthy society, and we’re one of the most unhappy societies in may ways, in many measures. Those of us who have means, who have enough … You don’t have to be rich, but you have enough where you’re not worried about making the car bill. You’re not worried about being able to have your children taken care of.
Mackenzie is making hand signals at me, so I’m not quite sure, but-
Mackenzie: This is kind of a tangent.
Speaker 2: Well, that’s okay. [crosstalk 00:11:13] I did lose my train of thought, so I wish she hadn’t done that.
What was I talking about, Mackenzie? Oh. So, we, as middle class people, have to work harder on community, and we … Oh, here’s where I was going. We can get away with it on an economic level, but we still don’t get away with it on an emotional or spiritual level. No matter what your wealth level, we all have emotional and spiritual needs that cannot be met by ourselves, as individuals, nor even by the nuclear family. There are millions of people who are suffocating in their own personal bubbles, or even suffocating in the nuclear family, and not able to get that community experience where we can be supported and held accountable.
So, regardless of our wealth level, we’re all desperately in need of this kind of community. Something that I really value about the Friends of Jesus fellowship, which is a community that I’m a part of, is that we really value, for better or for worse … I tend to think it’s for worse. We are, still, at this point, a mostly middle class community. But I think that we are really committed to doing the work that middle class people have to do, of building community, which is making ourselves vulnerable to one another, and being much more transparent than normal American society would expect, about our families and our struggles, and various aspects of our lives, so we can know how we need to help one another.
We do financially support one another. We do, logistically, support one another. We extend help to one another when we need it, and we try not to hide that from one another. This conversation started out about corporate worship, but I think you can’t separate worship out from just the day to day life of the community. For us to be united as a community, we have to be vulnerable to one another, and to be willing not only to help other people in the community, but to be the recipient of help.
Mackenzie: On that note, the individualism also shows up in the way we think about what we do or don’t believe, and there’s also the whole, whether believe means, “Intellectually, I agree with this concept,” versus trusting in someone or something.
For liberal Quakerism, at least, that I’m involved in, there isn’t really so much in the way of shared belief. There’s also not really a whole lot of talking about what we believe, and I feel that not talking about it is to a detriment, because it’s sort of, “Well, I believe my thing, you believe your thing, we don’t need to discuss it,” and that seems really odd for a faith community. I think it would be healthy for us talk more about it. More in, “Hello, we have a podcast for that now.”
Speaker 2: We’re doing our part, how about you?
Mackenzie: I’ll give a shout-out to Sam Barnett-Cormack who, I know, is [inaudible 00:14:37] friend, who has been blogging because he believes that we really do need to talk about theology more with each other, even if we’re not … The fact that we don’t necessarily agree about everything theologically is not a reason for us to keep our mouth shut. It’s much more healthy if we are discussing. That’s how you keep the community aspect.
Speaker 2: I think, sort of on the flip side of that, I think in a liberal Quaker context, there’s a lot of onus put on the individual to speak their minds and to express their conception of theology and of reality. But I think, on the flip side of that, to look at it from a corporate perspective, there is a responsibility of a community to articulate what it is we are able, and what it is we believe.
I mean, think about any other organization – a corporation, a non-profit, whatever it might be – that had no mission statement, that had no-
Mackenzie: Or vision statement.
Speaker 2: No vision statement, no particular purpose that they showed up for, but they showed up because, “Well, we really like this group of people, and we like coming to the office every day, and it’s really neat to, like,” … We have coffee together when we’re on break. From whatever it is that we happen to be doing, that is not going to be a successful organization.
Mackenzie: So, I’m the one that does the social media for my meeting, and build our website, so I, now, on Facebook, spent a [inaudible 00:16:02] of time in this group that’s called Church Communications. It’s other people who do that kind of thing for their meetings in churches … Oh, and there’s a Quaker counterpart that’s Quaker Communications and Outreach, just in case that’s relevant to you.
Speaker 2: We might include a link in the show notes.
Mackenzie: Yeah, I can do that.
It’s really interesting seeing people from these other churches talking about, like, “Well,” … Or, like, you know, trying to figure out, how can we announce this? Or how do we decided what we should or shouldn’t announce at the end of worship, or should or shouldn’t include in the bulletin or on the website, excreta. The question that always comes back is, “How does it tie to your mission?”
As I keep seeing this over and over, I’m like, “You know, it occurs to me that I don’t think my meeting has a mission statement.” I know my yearly meeting does; it’s about three pages long.
Speaker 2: That’s also not very helpful.
Mackenzie: No, it’s not, and, so … Like, I read this book called Simple Church, which was very interesting. It was talking about how having a spiritual formation process for your meeting or church, and tying that into your mission [inaudible 00:17:13], “Okay, I see how there’s a value in that,” and that acting corporately really matters and is important, not just for figuring … I mean, it’s important for figuring out what we’re going to do, and it’s important for telling others who we are and what we value.
Speaker 2: Yeah, and I really like what you said about building in structure. It’s something that Friends of Jesus is working on right now, where we’re establishing gifts-based teams that focus on gifts and callings of the different people, and join us together in teams, where we can actually support one another and work on that.
So, there’s, like, an intrinsic mission statement to each of these small groups that Friends of Jesus is forming right now.
Mackenzie: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Speaker 2: So, I think looking for ways to structurally build in that corporate sense, and as much as we, as Americans, love to be able to do our own thing, really releasing that to some extent, within the church, and saying, “You know what? I want to do our thing, and I want to figure out what our thing is, and what we are doing together, and how God is leading us as a community, not just how God is leading me as an individual.”
To bring that back to, sort of, traditional Quakerism, that has been a really major theme is traditional Quakerism for a very long time; this sense of corporate accountability and discernment. This sort of thing happened all sorts of times, but I remember reading about a case of a minister, pretty early on in the Quaker movement, who was feeling like God was leading him to go and preach doom and gloom to this city, and basically preach God’s judgment on this city in England.
He discussed it with some of the wise and seasoned members of his meeting, who were, I think, [inaudible 00:19:12] his elders. When they heard what he was planning on doing, or thought he felt called to do, their response was not altogether approving. They counseled with him and asked him, or, more likely, commanded him to wait on the thing that he planned to do, and to give it more time; to be sure that God’s will was actually in it. His response to them was, “I’m willing to wait, if you’re willing to bear the burden.”
When he said, “bear the burden,” he was making a scriptural reference to Moses, who … Moses, when he was feeling really stressed out, was made, sort of, the only spiritual God and intermediary between God and the Hebrew people. God put the Holy Spirit on a group of elders who would help Moses bear the burden of leadership, and bear the burden of the responsibility for leading Israel.
So, when this minister said, “If you’ll bear the burden, I can wait,” he was saying, “If you will accept the responsibility along with me, for discerning this, I can wait until we’re all into our own agreement.”
Now, the way that story ends, as I understand it, is that, eventually, maybe a few weeks later, they got back together, and the minister agreed with the elders that, in fact, this probably was not a good idea, and God probably was not calling them to do that.
It certainly could have gone the other way, too, and it could have been with the right leading. This has happened many times in church and Quaker history, that it turned out that the individual is correct, or the individual has rightly discerned God’s learning, and it’s the community that’s called to change.
One sort of very famous place we saw with Quaker history was John Woolman, who went around for decades, laboring with people in Philadelphia yearly meeting. Eventually, that yearly meeting came to the conclusion that slavery was incompatible with Christian faith.
But in both contexts, whether it’s the individual eventually realizing the community’s right, or the community realizing the individual’s witness is from God, there’s a sense of … One word you could use for it is solidarity, in the sense that we all move forward together, or we don’t. Some people don’t move forward or move backwards or move sideways without the whole community.
Mackenzie: I would say that another term, which is also a biblical one, would be mutual submission.
Speaker 2: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Mackenzie: That the willingness to say, “You know what? No, you’re right.” That you’re submitting to their correctness or their authority, and that it does go both directions.
Speaker 2: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so, I think that that sense of mutual submission … Yeah, which is so uncomfortable for us, as individualist Americans, is at the heart of the traditional Quaker understanding of worship, and as our life as a church, as being primarily corporate, rather than primarily individual.
Mackenzie: This is making me think of … There’s a book called Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order by Roy Lee Wilson, who is a Quaker in North Carolina. This is making me think of some of the things that are in there. He talks about covenant community, and that really ties into what you were just saying.
Speaker 2: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, again, it’s not something that comes naturally to any of us, especially in our culture, but throughout the bible, there’s an emphasis over and over again on God’s relationship with … First, with Israel, and then with the church, as being a relationship with a community, and with a nation, so to speak. With a large community of people, rather than, primarily, with individuals.
Mackenzie: You can find us on the web at QuakerPodcast.org, as QuakerPodcast on Twitter, Facebook or Patreon and on iTunes.