29 May 2008

Nineteen Minutes to Five

Okay, so once a month, it is my job to hold the container for worship and close Meeting at the end of the hour. This seemingly simple job has created a number of issues for me, which I have blogged about before.

For a time, I deliberately went to Meeting without a watch and trusted in the promptings of Spirit as to when to close Meeting. At first this worked well, but then I realized that it took too much of my attention. So much energy went into discerning how long worship should go that I didn't feel like I had enough left to monitor the pulse of the Meeting or tend my own worship.

So I started bringing a watch.

The next problem was that I don't ordinarily wear or carry a watch. In the midst of getting the family ready for Meeting, I needed to remember to scoop my watch out of my jewelry box and put it in my purse.

Fortunately, my husband carries a pocket watch, so he could act as my back up.

When I last came to close Meeting, I forgot my watch. As we were pulling into the Meetinghouse, I remembered, and asked to borrow my husband's. I slipped it into my pocket, slid into my chair, and fell into worship.

Some time later, I checked the time. The hands of the watch were frozen at nineteen minutes to five. Meeting for worship runs from 10:30 to 11:30.

I went back into worship and asked God to tell me when it was time to end Meeting.

Worship continued in fullness and beauty, and I imagined myself holding it open all day. Several individuals gave heartfelt ministry, and we sat there in the peace of deep worship.

Finally, I rose. "Friends," I said, "it's my job to close worship today. My watch says that it's nineteen minutes to five, and that seems about right to me. I have no idea when we should close worship."

Friends started shaking one another's hands and wishing one another good morning. Later evidence suggests that I was 10 to 15 minutes late closing worship, but I really have no idea.

As we rose, I thought that perhaps I am not meant to close worship. Perhaps my struggles with the clock, and with speaking at all after worship, mean that I should do different jobs for the Meeting.

A record number of Friends came up to tell me how much they enjoy it when I close worship. "You're so light and funny," they said, "you have such a wonderful spirit about it."

Indeed. On the mornings I close Meetings, there is always laughter and lightness of spirit as I try to find the words to welcome everyone to Meeting. My struggles to rise from worship and speak from a script are a continual source of entertainment to my Friends.

Ah. I have missed my calling. I am meant to be a Quaker stand-up comic, playing at the Meetinghouse on First Day mornings. Don't miss my "I seem to have forgotten my name and what I'm meant to be doing here" act followed by "I'm delighted to be with you all. Let's just beam at one another for a moment while I try to remember how to do this."

And, the truth is that I am delighted to stand there, blinking, and welcome everyone. I'm happy to invite newcomers to our Meeting and tell them how wonderful it is that they shared worship with us. I am filled with joy at the opportunity to facilitate announcements. After worship, I am so happy to be in the heart of the gathered Meeting that it doesn't matter that I stumble over the words I'm meant to speak.

It's even okay with me that God sees fit to tell me that it's nineteen minutes to five, whatever that means.


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Thank you for this post. You have really spoken to my condition this time!

I also try to trust, when I'm holding meeting, that what rises from worship is what is meant: that my meeting will worship and listen deeply enough that they will be led where we need to go (and I will, too).

That's not to say I don't bring a watch (and, like you, I don't normally wear one) or speak from the script as I rise at the end of meeting after we shake hands. But it does mean that I can more gracefully accept that my watch sometimes doesn't have the correct time, or I'm having a hard enough time speaking at the end of meeting that my attempt at following a script is a little cockeyed.

Spirit knows when it needs to be nineteen minutes to five, and when it's somehow important for us to model that "I seem to have forgotten my name and what I'm meant to be doing here" act followed by "I'm delighted to be with you all. Let's just beam at one another for a moment while I try to remember how to do this."

'Cause I think this is part of what it is to really be gathered together in the Spirit. And though it may not win me a gig hosting the Oscars, I'm sure that the very unprofessionalism of some of my First Day morning greetings some days is more faithful, and encourages others in meeting to more faithfulness themselves, than any smoother or more practiced technique might--at least on those Nineteen Minutes to Five mornings.

(I think that phrase has entered my personal spiritual lexicon, btw!)

Rebecca Sullivan said...


I love this post. I had to read it out loud to the rest of the family. We all were laughing and I almost didn't get the end of the post read out loud.

I too feel like sometimes it does not matter what time it is but spirit will tell us when we are supposed to close. In the meeting I am attending in Greensboro (Friendship Meeting NCYM-C) our clerk closes anywhere from five minutes early to five minutes late depending on when spirit tells him we are ready to close. This is nice because you can sense when the meeting is ready to close.

I also appreciate the way different meetings/people decide to close worship. Sometimes it they ask for prayers while others just welcome people. I remember always enjoying how you closed because it brought us out of worship but not to harshly, it was a calm swim up to talk a breath of air as a community aware of who is sitting next to us.

thank you for this post and the lovely silliness of what time really means.

Liz Opp said...

What a delight to read this, Heather. I have appreciated when a Friend or two has thanked me for my variations on how to close worship. I also know that even if I don't do it by the script, I'm doing it as best I can, helping Friends move out of the sweetness of worship and into a period of mindful attention to things like greetings and announcements.

Now, before I forget, let me put my watch with my other things to take to worship: I'm closing tomorrow! smile

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Heather said...

Hello from another Heather!

I've just found your blog via QuakerQuaker, and I've read a selection of your past posts. You really speak my mind on so many things!

I'm looking forward to sharing a few more of your insights. I hope you don't mind, but I have put you on the blogroll of my own blog, heather-still-life.blogspot.com

Your honest and plain speech are refreshing. Blessings from a fellow knitting, non-watch-wearing Heather :)

Mark Wutka said...

I love the description of the joy and lightness you bring to the close of meeting. Anything else I can think of to say about it has already been said more eloquently in the other comments.

I have been considering what you said about putting so much energy into discerning how long worship should go, because it just feels like it shouldn't be that hard. And what it makes it wonder is, are you worried about doing it "wrong"? Is your meeting willing to trust your discernment, and be patient with you as your discernment continues to develop? Are they willing to have worship go "too long" or "too short", and to give you gentle feedback if there is a feeling that the time wasn't right? If not, then the watch is probably the way to go. I just think it is wonderful that you have been willing to try it without the watch, and I am sorry to hear that it has been such a difficulty.

With love,

Robin M. said...

Any chance you'll be closing worship in the next couple of weeks? I could arrange to be there, since we're taking our older son to Quaker camp next Sunday, and picking him up the following week. I may be there anyway, for those reasons.

Honey said...

what a beautiful post! It reminds me of the closing I had to give at an alanon group yesterday, I think the AA was started by quakers it certainly holds a lot of the ways in common, at the end there is a closing prayer, everyone holds hands and the person chairing the meeting spontaneously asks someone in the circle to start the prayer. I'm a new comer so I've never been bounced, until last night. I was so suprised I just managed to call out in a questioning shocked voice "GOD?!!!!' which is luckily exactly how the serenity prayer starts, it souned exactly like I was calling on God and the room burst out laughing as they chortled their way through the rest of the prayer, I got many hugs afterwards too. Sorry my long comment was merely to say, yes there is beauty in what can be percieved as error and the lightness and love in which you describe the closing of your meetings sound wonderful.

Jeanne said...

What a LOVELY post. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the rest of us.

It reminds me of two Friends in particular whose MfW closing was almost always humorous in the way you describe.

For those of us who are overly self-critical, your humor is an act of ministry, showing how our faults can bring Light and love to others.