What is OPEN WORSHIP?

“Open worship” or “waiting worship” in the manner of Friends is a group exercise rather than an individual experience. The quality of worship depends on the faithfulness of those gathered to share in their openness to God’s Spirit, and to obey as God speaks. Since such worship is a learned faculty, Friends approach worship with a sense of sharing in a mutual quest for an authentic and powerful experience of God. For Friends, communing with God does not require the presence of symbols like bread or wine. We believe that the experience of God, as well as the ability to hear His voice, is available  to all who take the time to be still and listen.

At the center of Friends worship is the core belief in Jesus Christ as “present teacher.” This means we believe Christ is present with his worshipers to teach, lead and reveal truth. Terms such as “the Inward Light,” (Pro 20:27) and the “Light of Christ,” (Eph 5:8) refer to this presence of Christ as Teacher.

The task of Friends worship is to “mind the light,” or focus on Christ, being careful to distinguish between the insights that come from Christ and those generated from one’s own thinking and feeling. Since this task is not an easy one, Friends strive to enter worship with a sense of humility and tolerance of one another. Worship after the manner of Friends flows through four stages: centering, gathering, ministry, and exercise. These stages are not divided equally in time nor are they acknowledged outwardly in the meeting, but over time one can learn to be aware of each stage.

Centering

Most of us come to worship with a lot on our minds. During periods of silence it is natural for our minds to turn to our personal concerns, creating “clutter” or distractions that tend to hinder worship. Friends use the act of “centering” as a tool to get past these distractions. To “center” means to focus one’s awareness, allowing all distractions to slip into the background and replace them with thoughts and impressions of Jesus Christ. Some helpful methods of focusing on Christ may be silent prayer, scripture reading, and meditation on the text of a hymn.

gathering

In Friend’s terminology, a “gathered” meeting for worship refers to a group of people who gather together with the intention of centering on the person of Jesus Christ. Being “gathered” speaks of an awareness of spiritual unity among those in worship and a mutual participation in the life and teaching of Christ. Some find it helpful to enhance this corporate awareness by looking around and acknowledging those worshiping with them. It is sometimes easiest to recognize when a meeting is not gathered; such a meeting carries a sense of separation. When a meeting is gathered, however, there is a prevailing sense of direction and/or order.

Ministry

The silence of open worship is not empty silence. During the silence heroic things happen; the Spirit of Christ gently nudges each person in worship toward a central truth. “Ministry” is the way this truth breaks the silence and is acknowledged. Occasionally one will feel nudged by Christ’s Spirit to stand and speak out of the silence. Ideally, such vocal ministry explains or enlarges upon the truth God’s Spirit has revealed within the hearts of the gathered meeting. Such ministry is powerful and helpful. Occasionally, however, vocal ministry will seem to “clash” or be in disharmony with the sense of direction one feels in worship. When this happens, Friends learn to put such ministry aside and refocus on the inward presence of Christ.

Exercise

The sense of being engaged by ministry, either vocal or inward, discovered in open worship is called the “exercise” of God’s Spirit. It is in this exercise that lives are transformed, Friends are called to acts of ministry, evil or self-destructive behavior is exposed and condemned, and the life of obedience and spiritual maturity moves a step forward. This is the “work” of worship and the fruit of corporate attention to the voice of Christ. Such leadings are sometimes experienced individually and sometimes by the whole assembly.

Even those Friends who are most experienced in worship often question their leadings to speak out of the silence of worship. The following chart is meant to offer guidance in discerning whether to speak in worship or remain silent. In the end, however, each worshiper is encouraged to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit as he or she experiences it.