09 June 2022

A query on queries

Yesterday, I attended a meeting where the subject of "queries" came up. One Friend said, "I don't like it when our waiting worship [that is, Quaker worship in silence, waiting upon the Holy Spirit] is introduced by queries."

She was referring to a practice that that I've found in many programmed Quaker meetings, where the sermon may be given ahead of the silent portion of the worship, and that sermon may conclude with queries that Friends are free (but not required) to consider in the silence.

From a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:15-19.
From a sermon on Ephesians 1:13-19.
From a sermon on Mark 12:13-17.
From a sermon on being shrewd and innocent.
Luke 16:1-13; Matthew 10:16Matthew 5:48;
Matthew 19:21; Romans 12:2; Luke 10:25-29.
Some speakers' sermon queries are shorter than mine.

I often use queries this way myself.

Queries were introduced as a practice early in Quaker history, as a set of standing questions that would be directed, perhaps annually, to constituent congregations by the quarterly and yearly meeting. As Jan Hoffman writes in The Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers)

The earliest queries were sent to monthly meetings in the 17th century: "What ministering Friends have died in the past year?" and "How does Truth prosper among you?" New queries have been added, both to collect further information and to sharpen reflection on particular topics. Currently, queries are seen by both individual Friends and meetings or churches as a means of engaging their hearts, minds, and spirits in an examination of their spiritual condition. Only rarely today are written responses to the yearly meeting expected.

(At least three yearly meetings I've visited continue to ask local meetings to respond to queries annually; many others at least expect annual reports from local meetings and churches.)

So ... this practice of ending a sermon with queries for Friends to consider during the silence is a new variation of an old tradition. One important deviation: instead of drawing on a standing list of queries, perhaps seeking the query that most closely relates to the theme of the sermon, this form of query is written particularly for the occasion. As you can see from my examples, they ostensibly serve to encourage reflection on the sermon, but they may also be a way of making the sermon's central points more memorable. As with traditional queries, this new type sometimes includes rhetorical questions that imply a right answer. This may seem manipulative, and maybe that's so, but traditional queries also had a teaching function.

My friend explained why she opposed the use of queries as a transition from sermon to the open worship period: her ideal of waiting worship was that it was entirely a matter of surrendering to the Holy Spirit, not cluttering the matter with anyone's agenda, however fine that agenda might be.

I take this objection seriously, but I wonder whether there is still room for the practice if it seems helpful to some. Therefore, I am asking whether you have experience with this use of queries, and whether you feel it is helpful on balance. Do you think it might depend on temperament, that for some on the Myers-Briggs chart (for example) it might be more helpful than for others? Is there a way of making clear that such post-sermon or pre-open worship queries are entirely optional, or does their very presence inhibit the freedom with which we ought to enter that period of worship?

Also: do you know of other uses to which queries have been put?

(I'm serious about wanting to know how you feel about this. Please respond in this post's comment section or on Facebook or Twitter—whatever is most convenient for you.)

Part two.

These changes in how Friends adapt or reinterpret the old Quaker practice of queries remind me of a couple of other terms that contemporary Friends have reinterpreted for present-day needs.

Threshing meetings, as I noted a couple of years ago, are now a way of seasoning a matter of church business before it is presented for decision at a meeting for business. Originally, the term referred to an evangelistic meeting directed at a "promiscuous" (mixed) audience, including people not (yet) convinced by the Quaker message.

Clearness committees, or meetings for clearness, are another practice whose roots go far back in Quaker history, but were originally intended as part of the congregation's process for approving a new membership or a marriage. As Patricia Loring explains in that same dictionary I mentioned above, "... a primary purpose was to ensure that individuals were clear of other entanglements and able to live up to their commitments." Now meetings for clearness are often used to help a meeting/church or group or individual come to a well-grounded decision about almost any major step in life, from planting a new church to taking a new job or moving to another part of the world.

In my own yearly meeting, meetings for clearness are part of the process for recognizing and recording public ministers among us.

When I became a Friend, my first membership was in Ottawa Monthly Meeting, Canadian Yearly Meeting. Their book of discipline puts their "Advices and Queries" into one unified list. Ohio Yearly Meeting is one of those that expects written responses to their queries from local meetings.

Adria Gulizia on antiracism and the Lamb's War[Link below is Adria's.]

This call to the Lamb’s War, which spoke to me so profoundly, demands the highest discipline and the most absolute humility as we follow the Living God. Internally, we stand in the Light, allowing God’s secret power to weaken the evil within us and raise up the good, to paraphrase Friend Robert Barclay. Externally, we work tirelessly for the good of our communities, while loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, and praying for those who abuse us.

Which brings me to antiracism.

Right Sharing of World Resources and Friends World Committee for Consultation are collaborating to study the possibility of adding Guatemala as a location for Right Sharing partnerships.

The current home page of Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) includes links to videos of their recent annual meeting, including the bloggers' workshop and other workshops and plenary sessions.

The Quaker Religious Education Collaborative has announced its June Conversation Circles: Experiments in Meeting for Worship: Plain, Virtual and Blended. Choose between June 21 at noon Eastern time or June 23 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

When the temper of the times turns against "thoughts and prayers," what do we gain? What do we lose?

Champion Jack Dupree plays his first composition, "Alberta."


champion jack dupree from ray on Vimeo


kfsaylor said...

The spirit of Christ is (note 1) drawn me out of habitation in the reflective nature and into worshipful habitation in the intuitive nature or direct, unmediated awareness of the Spirit's presence in my conscience. Queries are of the reflective nature, as you affirm in paragraphs 5 and 7 of your post.

This turning of awareness toward the agency of the reflective nature and the elemental political, religious, educational, and economic conceptual agents of the reflective nature, is the very nature Christ's inshining presence has drawn me out of and is discovered to me a different habitation or nature established in direct or intuited awareness of Christ's immanent being itself in itself as my teacher and guide in matters of human relations and worship.

This testimony to the witness of being drawn out of the agency of the reflective nature and influence of its conceptual agents to guide and inform human relations and worship, should not suggest judgement of or reflection upon the validity of a conscience and consciousness established in the reflective nature and guided and informed by its conceptual agents in the form of queries.

In the presence of Christ, it goes against my conscience to reflect upon or oppose a conscience guided and informed through conceptual entities in the form of queries. The formality of queries is secondary or a distraction. Opposing conceptual agents in forms like queries only serves to turn opposing specific formalities into a formality itself which, in turn, diminishes awareness of Christ's presence through engagement in the agency of reflective nature; which is the primary concern. If I were to say something along the lines of "I do not engage with or attend to queries." I would be testifying to the witness of the larger experience of being drawn out of the agency of the reflective nature and all its conceptual agents (like queries) to guide and inform human relations and worship. The primary concern is not merely being drawn out of the guidance of queries (or other formalities) through the revelation of the living presence of Christ in my conscience; the primary concern is being drawn out of the reflective nature itself to guide and inform human relations and worship. This represents a significant shift in the nature of human relations and worship.

(Note 1): I use the present tense here in place of the past tense "has" to indicate the Holy Spirit's presence is active and living in the present moment. Awareness of Christ's presence is not something that has happened but is happening in all moments. This is not an ideal, it is a present, living and ongoing experience.

Lori Jean Sherlock said...

I love that we have queries between the sermon and open worship. When I first attended Camas Friends and saw queries, my heart leapt for joy. It had been many years since I had seen them at my old meeting. For those who are unsure of what to do during open worship it gives them something to think about and in some ways makes it easier to reply. For the more seasoned, it inspires us to dig deeper and let the spirit illuminate where we need growth and also allows us to encourage others. We aren't limited by them, they are simply a helpful guide post.