When Quakers say that their worship service is “programmed” or “unprogrammed”, what do they mean?
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- Is your Meeting programmed or unprogrammed? Have you ever been to a Meeting that was on the other end of the spectrum?
- Jim Anderson says, “Quaker worship comes through these other forms into the lives of other Friends, and how we are both parts of one big tradition, each drawing on some dimension of it. Some part of this larger piece that none of us has completely.” Do you agree? What piece of the “one big tradition” do you feel like other Friends hold? What do we have to learn from each other?
I’ve worshiped with conservative Friends. I’ve worshipped in Central America. I’ve gone to Pastoral Meetings in the United States. I’ve gone to an Evangelical Meeting in the United States. They’re all different. What I would say is that the Meetings go from – you can find a Meeting that’s non-programmed, non-pastoral to a Meeting that’s totally programmed, totally pastoral, and you have every possible permutation in the middle.
What’s the Difference Between “Programmed” and “Unprogrammed” Quaker Worship?
A Programmed Meeting means that we have a pastor, and we believe in reading the Bible, singing hymns – we have a piano that someone plays. And we have vocal ministry, really. Programmed means also we do enjoy the silence, there’s a period of silent meditation there, and we read from the scriptures.
There are about 20 of us that gather for an hour in a period of waiting worship, and I think I would describe that as a group of people with different understandings of what they’re doing. Different understandings of Quakerism. Some newcomers, some who have been there for decades. And they’re all in their own way settling into a period of quiet waiting in communion and connection with one another.
Karen Gregario de Calderon
Es un programa que construye mi vida espiritual. Amo la parte de cantar porque alabo al Señor y agradezco. Amo la parte de escuchar la persona quien me va a ensenar porque Dios tiene algo preparado para mí. Amo la parte de leer la Biblia porque también Dios me habla allí. Amo la parte de orar porque recibo bendición y escucho la voz de Dios. Todo el conjunto me beneficia espiritualmente. Amo el conjunto de cosas que hacemos en, en nuestra forma de adorar.
For some people the silence is uncomfortable. I know for me, initially it was, with my first unprogrammed Meeting, but then I learned to love it. Because I was given the opportunity to go deep inside, and to listen to that internal antennae that I could turn on and hear God’s voice, and search for guidance.
The goal is not silence. The goal is creating the space in our very loud world so that we can hear God’s voice.
In my experience, the core of even pastoral Friends worship is that centering, open worship time which we call the silent, unprogrammed time of our worship, in which we truly do seek to heed the presence of Christ that is in our midst.
I don’t have to believe a certain thing. I don’t have to profess a certain creed. I get to sit there and listen and be and experience and go through all of those things that are necessary for me to be closer to God, and I find that to be invaluable. I find that to be the only way I know how to become that person that God has created me to be.
Ministry in the Different Traditions
We don’t have any paid staff for our Meeting, we don’t have a paid pastor or any other support staff. We gather together in silence, so we have nothing programmed in our Meeting. So we come in and we sit down, we sit in expectant waiting.
I pastored for 24 years and found it comfortable to, if I had a message prepared to deliver but open worship seemed to take on its own importance and life, it was OK to NOT present that message or sermon, and let the Spirit speak through the people within the congregation. Many times came away from a service thinking God was in control and I was not and that was OK. Very humbling, in a lot of ways to submit yourself to the Spirit’s leading.
We expect God to talk to us. We expect God to be present. Sometimes we are given a message for ourselves. Sometimes we’re given a message to share with others.
In my tradition, after worship as the congregation is leaving, the pastor stands in the back and shakes peoples’ hands, and sometimes they comment on the sermon. And someone will say something like, “I really appreciated it when you said this” and I realize I didn’t say what they thought they heard, but for me it was the mysterious way in which the Spirit provided them what they needed in that moment.
Learning from One Another
I have worshiped with Friends in other traditions as well, and I would say it’s one of my projects to understand better how what I find in my Quaker worship comes through these other forms into the lives of other Friends, and how we are both parts of one big tradition, each drawing on some dimension of it. Some part of this larger piece that none of us has completely.
But we bring with it quite a mixed bag of colors, ethnicities. But still you can find the common denominator is love for one another. “Love your neighbor as yourself”. That’s a pretty important qualifier.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
5 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between “Programmed” and “Unprogrammed” Quaker Worship?”
I found this really good and useful. I am a New Zealand Friend; we are all unprogrammed here, but my dealings with (mainly) American Friends has showed me more of the ways we seek the spirit.
Wonderful! It’s like the high points of my ten years’ service with Friends World Committee made somehow to fit into seven minutes. Thank you!
Thank you so much for posting this video. I’m grateful to hear from across the spectrum of Quaker practice.
I grew up in a Midwestern Programmed meeting, have had experiences in many “semi-programmed” meetings & now worship in a Philadelphia meeting … I understand the “big Tent” of Quakerism, from the heart, and from my life. I wish more FGC members could see this video and explore its meaning. Too many brand-new Friends in the unprogrammed tradition do not understand how Quakerism can diffuse many different forms of worship in different meetings. Oddly, they seem doctrinaire in their ideas of what is “Quakerly.” In 300+ years, my own family has developed a broader perspective. thank you for this; you are doing God’s work.
Kirstin speaks my mind about being in Meeting.
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