Silence, Vocal Ministry, and Faithful Listening

These advices were collected by Inland Valley Friends Meeting of Riverside California.  They help us think more deeply about our silent worship and our vocal ministry. Like all Quaker advices, they are not doctrine.  We are to test them against our own experiences as we deepen our spiritual lives.

We have added a new QuakerSpeak video at the end of this page: “Listening to God Online”. This video speaks to our current situation.

What do we do in the Silence?  Why do we worship in silence?

Excerpts from Robert Lawrence Smith’s A Quaker Book of Wisdom – Section on Silence:

  • “Fox’s epiphany: ‘There is that of God in every man.’ If we can achieve stillness of spirit, God will speak to us out of the silence” (6).

  • “…As Psalm 46 directs us: ‘Be Still, and know that I am God’ ” (5).

  • “… Quaker Meeting is not the only religious tradition of silent worship, . . . But Quakers are unique in their appreciation of the spiritual power of group silence. If all forms of worship are attempts to transcend the self and find the divine within, Quaker Meeting uses shared silence as a medium of group discovery, as a way of sharing ourselves with others—and with God” (11).

  • “For Quakers, wisdom begins in silence.  Quakers believe that only when we have silenced our voices and our souls can we hear the ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:11-13) that dwells within each of us—the voice of God that speaks to us and that we express to others through our deeds.  Only by listening in stillness for that voice and letting it guide our actions can we truly let our lives speak” (3).       

How do we get there?

  • Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice 2001: Preparation for and Participation in Worship                                                                                           Friends who thoughtfully prepare to come together with clear minds and open hearts enhance the depth and quality of Meeting for Worship and for Business.  Preparation may include regular prayer and worship, the reading of Scripture and other devotional literature, reflection, and other ways of experience God’s presence.  The quality of each person’s participation affects the entire community.  Regular and punctual attendance is helpful, as are attentive listening to the vocal ministry of others and exercise of careful discernment in offering vocal ministry.  Genuine preparation includes knowing others in the Meeting, being service, and through words, actions and attitudes, honoring covenant relationship with one another and with the Living God. 

Linda Dunn – IVFM

  • “I hold the silence like one would hold a baby… – there is caring, wonder, gratefulness and patience involved.” 

Vocal Ministry and Faithful Listening

Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith & Practice 2001

  • Just as careful preparation enhances the quality of worship, so too does attention to the Light during worship.  Friends come to worship to receive and give, to speak when led, to be silent when that is what obedience requires.
  • Some worshipers called to speak feel an internal or external quaking, deep emotion, tears, an increased heart rate, or other agitation.  Some have felt grabbed by the hand of God and held until after delivering the message.  One person feels a profound stillness accompanied by a clear voice that is not her own.   Another may find himself suddenly standing, and then wait, praying silently for guidance, before beginning to speak.  Still another may test a message by repeatedly pushing it “out of mind” only to find that it returns again and again. 
  • As one is weighing whether to speak, certain questions may be helpful:  Is this message Spirit-led, or merely emotionally compelling?  Is this message intended for this group, or is it only for me?  Is it better saved until another time or place?  When the call to speak is clear, the worshiper should stand if possible.  He or she should speak simply, briefly, audibly, and from personal spiritual experience.  Occasionally, ministry may take the form of singing or standing silently.                                                                             

Exploring the fundamental elements of Quakerism, 1986 – Britain Yearly Meeting

  • All true ministry springs from the reality of experience, and uses our gifts of heart and mind in its expression. But ministry is not the place for intellectual exercise. It comes through us, not from us.  Although we interpret the Spirit it is that Spirit which will lead us to minister.  The Spirit will decide which experiences are relevant and which will speak to the condition of the meeting.  If you have to decide whether it is right to speak, consider that it isn’t. If your words are important the meeting will find them anyway.   

A. Neave Brayshaw – 1921

  • A Friends’ meeting for worship finds no room for debate or for answering (still less for contradicting) one another; if this is desirable, it will be left for another occasion.  And if anything should seem to be spoken amiss, the spiritually minded worshipper will have the wit to get at the heart of the message, overlooking crudity and lack of skill in its presentation, and so far from giving way to irritation at what seems unprofitable, he will be deeply concerned for his own share in creating the right spiritual atmosphere in which the harm fades out and the good grows. Many a meeting has known this power, transforming what might have been hurtful into a means of grace.  

Britain Yearly Meeting Faith & Practice Advices, 1964

  • Remember that to every one is given a share of responsibility for the meeting for worship, whether that service be in silence or through the spoken word.  Do not assume that vocal ministry is never to be your part.  If the call to speak comes, do not let the sense of your own unworthiness, or the fear of being unable to find the right words, prevent you from being obedient to the leading of the Spirit.  Ask wisdom of God that you may be sure of your guidance and be enabled humbly to discern and impart something of his glory and truth.  Pray that your ministry may rise from the place of deep experience, and that you may be restrained from unnecessary and superficial words. Faithfulness and sincerity in speaking, even very briefly, may open the way to fuller ministry from others.  Try to speak audibly and distinctly, with sensitivity to the needs of your fellow worshippers. Wait to be sure of the right moment for giving the message. Beware of making additions towards the end of a meeting when it was well left before.
  • To some are granted deeper spiritual discoveries and revelations than to others, but to all, waiting in expectancy, at moments and in some measure is given a sense of the living touch of God. At such moments there may come the kindling of mind and heart which impels obedience to speak under the immediate promptings of the Holy Spirit. This is the ministry of inspiration, the prophetic ministry in the true sense, when the spoken word pierces to the heart of our relationship with God, unveils the living presence of Christ in the midst of the worshipping group and in its separate members, opens to our sight the way we must tread if we would realise that Spirit in and through our ordinary daily activities and find the creative response to the challenges of our time. In ministry of this character and depth something is given in the utterance which is beyond the intellectual and emotional capacity of the human being speaking, but which uses and enhances and transcends the natural gifts, the acquired knowledge, the hard and honest thoughts or the reaches of the speaker’s imagination
  • There is also the ministry of teaching which combines ‘the potency of prayer and thought’. It recalls the meeting to the discoveries of truth, the perception of the acts of God in the lives of individuals. It includes the effort to understand and to interpret the central fact of Jesus Christ and his place in history, and the searchings and findings of men and women down the ages and in our own day as they have sought to relate new discoveries and insights to their understandings of eternal truth

Douglas Steere, 1972

  • I think that learning to move in the exercise of the meeting, so that one is a part of it, yet taken beyond it and brought to see some new light as a result of it, is most important in creative ministry. The cluster of messages, with a fair interval of silence between each of them to let its message sink in; the cluster that goes on down, with each message deepening and intensifying and helping to light up a further facet of the communication, can be most effective. But for this to happen those sharing in it cannot be in a discussional frame of mind or in a debating stance, or yield to the ruthlessly critical mind, or all is lost and the meeting is pulled into a forum. It can only be done if there is a willingness to be led by each of the ones ministering into a deeper level of what they were not only saying but what they were meaning to say, and perhaps even beyond into what something beneath us all was meaning to have said through what we were saying… When a cluster ministry moves in this way, we all know that we are moving in the life, that we are breaking the cerebral barrier and being released … and we are ourselves ignited by what is taking place


QuakerSpeak Video:

“Listening for God Online”

QuakerSpeak is a Quaker YouTube channel. Sponsored by Friends Journal, the QuakerSpeak coordinator interviews Friends of all different backgrounds and asks them the core questions of our faith.  The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Meeting of San Antonio, Friends Journal, or its collaborators.

You can view any of the QuakerSpeak videos on this site’s QuakerSpeak page.