Characteristics of Healthy Meetings and Worship Groups
Jan Greene and Marty Walton
One of the responsibilities of field workers is to help meetings grow into healthy communities of faith where individuals and the community can deepen their relationship to God and be more responsive to God’s leadings. As we have been able to work with meetings in all stages of development from tiny worship groups to large city meetings, we have come to recognize some of the signs of healthy, vital meetings.
A healthy meeting has a clear sense of itself and what it is called to do and be. It cares for the spiritual development of all but does not demand that anyone be at any particular place in their development. It recognizes that all are on a journey and are bound to be in different places. It provides a place where it is safe to say, “This is what I truly believe.”
A healthy meeting will include all types of people. It will provide a spiritual home where individuals are supported in making significant changes in their lives, in deepening their relationship with God, and in discerning God’s leadings. It will have people who challenge by their example and who engage others in corporate accountability. It will have people who differ in perception about how the larger society can better express the values the whole meeting cherishes, and who are willing to explore those issues.
A healthy meeting will offer children a spiritual language and a spiritual home. Children are windows of the divine and will teach older Friends in a community that includes them. The meeting will also offer spiritual nurturing to older Friends. Some older Friends and Friends with chronic illnesses may be experiencing years of deprivation and may be in special need of spiritual nurturing.
A healthy meeting has Friends who know a lot about what is going on in each other’s lives. The meeting will include many extended families sharing much more of life than one hour a week. A healthy monthly meeting keeps in close contact with older Friends.
A healthy meeting has active links with the quarterly and yearly meeting, with Friends’ organizations, and with the surrounding community, recognizing that there is no real barrier between the meeting and the rest of the world. When a meeting is strong, its members and attenders will talk to others about how important the meeting is to them. Visitors will be welcome and will sense the spiritual depth that this faith community offers.
A healthy meeting cares for its corporate life-it acknowledges that it is more than just a collection of individual lives. It will discern those times when it has begun to move away from wholeness and will stay with difficult issues and wait for guidance from God. There will be recognition, repentance, healing, forgiveness. A healthy meeting will understand that conflict is inevitable in any meeting that is vital and growing and that, properly addressed, working through the conflict can deepen the meeting spiritually.
The healthy meeting will provide spiritual nurture for the “difficult” Friend, but will understand that protecting the safety of the meeting as a faith community has priority. It will not confuse “being loving” or “being Quakerly” with tolerating the destructive behavior of an individual, but will understand that setting firm limits is loving.