“What I love about being a Quaker is you can go to any Quaker meeting in the world and you don’t know what you’re gonna get,” says J.E. McNeil. “Not only are the places all different but the people are all different and the messages are all different.”
“It’s fabulous, it’s absolutely fabulous. I think it’s one of the greatest gifts Quakerism has ever given the world.”
“Anybody who knows me would know… I am a frequent speaker in meeting,” McNeil continues. “Sometimes I sit down after my message and I’m like, what the heck was I talking about? But then people will come up to me after meeting and say, ‘Your message really spoke to me,’ and I’m like, okay, I don’t have to understand it. It’s not my job. It’s my job to stand up to speak when I’m compelled to speak and leave it to God to find the ears to listen.” J.E. McNeil shares more of her experiences at Quaker meetings in “God’s Voice in the Chaos,” from the June/July issue of Friends Journal.
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What I love about being a Quaker is you can go to any Quaker meeting in the world and you don’t know what you’re gonna get, and I like that! I mean, I went to meeting in a closet in New Delhi and I went to meeting in a forest in the Midwest. I went to meeting in the living room on the floor, and then not only are the places all different but the people are all different and the messages are all different. This meeting is quiet, this meeting is not. This meeting has somebody who regularly speaks and you can hear the whole meeting go, “Oh, he’s talking.” It’s fabulous, it’s absolutely fabulous. I think it’s one of the greatest gifts Quakerism has ever given the world.
Vocal Ministry and Quaker Meeting
I’m J.E. McNeil. Washington, DC, and I’m a member of Friends Meeting of Washington, DC.
Anybody who knows me would know, even if they’ve never been to meeting, they would know I am a frequent speaker in meeting. I’m a storyteller, I’ve been a storyteller since I was a teenager. It just comes completely naturally to me, and people often say, “Well you talk because you’re a lawyer,” and I say, “No, I’m a lawyer because I talk.” I talk in meeting, and it’s a little bit of a burden in some ways because I really want to speak out of the Spirit, and it’s so easy for me to speak that I really have to push down and try not to speak too soon; to wait until I’m absolutely compelled to stand up and speak, and that isn’t as easy as it sounds. I know there are lots of people who are fighting in the other direction– “No, I don’t want to speak. I don’t want to speak, don’t make me!” and I’m going, “I want to speak, I want to speak! Stop it!” so it’s got its own burden to it.
But I like to think about the probably apocryphal story about Woolman, who was an early Quaker who opposed slavery, and he traveled among Friends to different meetinghouses, and the story was that he was in a meetinghouse and there was an Indian attack on the village and so everybody left to go protect their houses, but Woolman was there. It wasn’t his meeting, it wasn’t his fight. He stood up at the appointed hour and started giving his impassioned message about the evils of enslavement, and one of the largest indigo farm owners– he comes in and he hears Woolman speaking and he gets furious and he runs up to Woolman and he starts yelling at him, “How dare you speak to me that way!” And I’ve alway envisioned Woolman raising one eyebrow — I don’t know why but it just seems appropriate — raising one eyebrow and saying, “God gives me the words to speak. I leave it to God to find the ears to listen.”
And so when I would travel among Friends and sometimes give workshops and sometimes only one person would show up at my workshop and the organizers would be embarrassed and I would give that quote because I honestly believed that it’s not mine to worry about who’s here. And this meeting for worship, yeah I’m a frequent speaker and sometimes I sit down after my message and I’m like what the heck was I talking about? But then people will come up to me after meeting and say, “Your message really spoke to me,” and I’m like okay, I don’t have to understand it. It’s not my job. It’s my job to stand up to speak when I’m compelled to speak and leave it to God to find the ears to listen.
- Do you find comfort in the variety of Quaker meeting for worship?
- How does vocal ministry find you? Is it hard to speak or easy to speak? When do you know it’s time for you to share?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.