The Landscape of Ministry, Part 2

Part 2. Delivery of the Message

The previous posting covered topics surrounding discernment of a particular leading to speak during worship.

So now that the Lord has a word for thee to share, the next topic is thy delivery of the message. Historically, this topic was called elocution, and school teachers used to have courses on the topic. Some principles of practical elocution seem fitting for Quaker worship.

The first topic should be considered by all who speak on any regular basis, which is thy choice of seating. In Quaker meetings where gifts of ministry are recognized, acknowledged ministers are expected to sit in the gallery (facing benches). People in most FGC meetings usually don't care who sits there, as the purpose of the facing benches as a location for members who have come forth in their various gifts has ceased. Friends in Ohio care who sits there, so don't be forward in this at our meetings. Sitting in the gallery serves some purposes that should be borne in mind. First, it gives a perspective on those gathered that helps thee to see if someone is rising to speak themselves. It is a little unnerving to rise to speak just to discover that someone else has also risen to speak. Sitting in the middle of the group makes it difficult to survey everyone else and thus spare thyself this little discouragement. Remember if this happens that it does not mean that thy discernment was faulty. Anyway, consider sitting somewhere that allows thee to look at all others gathered before rising thyself.

Sitting in the gallery also has an advantage that all need to bear in mind - it aids in projection. For some unknown reason, too many Friends believe they have a word from Christ Jesus to share, but when they stand, they speak so softly that others cannot hear them. Ministers don't need to speak at the top of their voice like Ann Branson and Jeremiah Allen. God is not deaf. However, some attenders are a little hard of hearing - and if thee is going to interrupt the silent waiting, these people need to be able to understand what thee has been given to share. So project thy voice. Thy words may be given with some softness, which I have found particularly good when visiting a meeting where I didn't know anyone. The catch here is that often the speaker concentrates so heavily on the message that projection is not rightly considered. I once caught myself halfway through a message, thinking that I was speaking with some softness - but since those gathered were seated fairly close together, it was appropriate.

Of course, men Friends remove their hats when speaking during worship, either while standing in ministry or kneeling in prayer. A woman Friend who wears a bonnet sometimes removes it while speaking or praying if she is wearing a head covering - otherwise she does not.

A common technique used by ministers is to stand silently for a few seconds before beginning to speak. This is good for three reasons. First, it conveys to everyone the seriousness of thy desire to correctly discern the leading, rather than standing and starting to speak immediately. Second, it gives an opportunity for thee to yield if someone else stands and starts to speak. A few years ago, I visited a meeting where two Friends stood to speak at the same time, and one of them asked the other to wait. Don't do that. A willingness to yield is appreciated by everyone, and it contributes to something to be discussed in a later part of this series. Third, the introductory pause continues a useful Friends tradition that dates back to the 1670s that ministers make a public statement that they feel a leading to speak but want to take a last moment, publicly but silently asking for final guidance about the anointing.

Most ministers feel that it is best to speak with one's eyes closed. They argue that looking around might distract from the leading and cause thy message to wander aimlessly. Others believe that looking at those gathered provides some valuable feedback to how others receive thy words. Here is a warning that I have. At a particular meeting one time, I had a leading that I thought was somewhat stronger and clearer than usual. Near the end of what I felt called to share, I chose to look at those gathered. Someone who was seated almost directly in front of me was rolling his eyes. Was I speaking too long? Was my message wandering? Did he just not want to hear what I was saying? I don't know - but in fact I truncated the remainder of what was on my heart into one sentence and sat down. Since that time, I have felt it is best for me not to look at the reactions of others (but more on this in a later post, too). Feel free to experiment, bearing in mind that having open or closed eyes is not as important as thee sharing clearly and audibly a word that the Word has given thee to share.

This latter event also brings up the issue of when to sit down. We sometimes hear that we should speak as long as the leading continues. That means that at the end of what thee has in view to share, take a moment to weigh if that is all, before sitting down. My tendency is to sit down too soon, and in one case I felt that an important part of the message had not been shared yet. Try not to do that.

Pauses are good to use throughout a message. Try not to drag out the pauses too much, though. Short pauses serve several purposes: they can act both as paragraph markers and as brief moments to check thy faithfulness in the leading. Historically, Friends ministers used pauses even in mid-sentence, which contributed to the so-called "sing-song" ministry that characterized Quaker ministry in the years 1780 to 1860 and continued in Ohio into the late 20th century.

The last part of the topic of elocution is the use of preambles or conclusions. The Ohio Discipline contains cautions against the unnecessary use of these two elocutionary conventions. For the most part, we don't need to tell people that the Lord has a message for them, because one's choice to stand to speak already conveys that. Something that has weighed on my mind from time to time, however, is what I call the George Keith syndrome. Keith was raised in northern Scotland, and throughout his ministry, people reported that they couldn't always understand what he was saying. This was true both in England and also after he removed to Philadelphia. Once when I was visiting in Maine, I attended a meeting there, and I felt a keen sense that I needed a preamble to ask for their forbearance if they couldn't understand my accent. Be open to using them but only if needed (or don't travel to Maine in ministry).

It is easy to say that these things about elocution are not important, and to a degree that is true. However, reading these things may help thee gain a sense of matters that will become a natural part of thy ministry. They require a separate discernment from that given to weighing a particular leading to speak. This should allow thee to convey the message of the saving Light of Christ in the most effective way possible while focusing thy discernment on the leading.

The upcoming topic considers our verbal interactions with Friends after sitting down and after the rise of meeting.



Micah Bales said...

I appreciate this post. Thank thee for it; and I'm looking forward to the last two.


John Richards said...

Dear Friend Seth, I thank thee sincerely for this series on The Landscape of Ministry. I am looking forward to the other installments and I am sure that Friends will find thy writing on this important topic enlightening and helpful.

Thy Friend in Christ,