The Gathered Meeting
Reviewed by Marty Grundy
By Steven Davison. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 444), 2017. 34 pages. $7/pamphlet.
The first time I read Steven Davison’s pamphlet my heart leapt and I said, “Yes!” The second time I read it, I wept. Why the difference? The first time I united with Davison’s proclamation that the gathered meeting is “one of the great gifts we have to offer the world.” The second time I realized the truth of his acknowledgment that too many Friends have never experienced a gathered meeting and have no idea what they—and we—are missing.
Drawing on Thomas Kelly, William Taber, Patricia Loring, and his own deep experience, Davison brings us along from a description of a gathered meeting, through his own transforming experience of such a meeting, to the essential elements of a gathered meeting and its necessity to our faith as a religious society, and finally to a discussion of what we can do to encourage its more frequent occurrence.
Just what is a gathered meeting? A meeting in which “we experience what we seek as a religious community: inward confirmation in our personal faith, collective unity of purpose in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a profound sense of the Presence.” Davison describes these attributes present in a gathered meeting: energy, presence, knowledge, unity, joy, and holy communion.
Davison’s own most memorable gathered meeting occurred in 1991 at the Quaker consultation in Richmond, Ind., on “Quaker Treasure: What Do We Hold in Trust Together?” Not only did members of the diverse group find themselves in agreement on four essentials of Quaker faith and practice, but were “swept along” to a much fuller agreement. He remembers a “great surge of joy” and a “profound gratitude.” What held it all together was love.
It is encouraging that there are things we can do, individually and as a meeting, to prepare ourselves for the possibility of being gathered. Encourage Friends to sit closer together, perhaps by roping off the back benches. Have “reasonably comfortable seating and climate control.” Recognize that it takes about 20 minutes for a group to center, and this time is extended by latecomers trickling in. It helps to have all latecomers enter at once to shorten the time of disturbance. There is a great deal that individuals can do to prepare for being present in worship. An important practice Sunday morning before meeting is keeping the mind focused on the Spirit by devotional reading and centering at home. Listening to the news or reading the paper distracts from deeply centering, as does being rushed. If those with a concern for the depth of worship are able to come early and begin the worship, that helps. Once in worship, an impulse to speak should be checked by inwardly asking if this message deepens worship or brings folks up toward the surface. Pray for the meeting, that Friends be gathered, that love be experienced by all who are present. Ultimately, of course, a meeting is gathered by a power higher than ourselves, called the Spirit of Christ by earlier Friends. Don’t let the name of the gatherer be a stumbling block. Be open to experience the Love in which and by which the meeting can be gathered.
Davison rightly concludes that the gift of being gathered, whether in a meeting for worship or for business, is our best outreach tool. It is the essence of who we are. If we experience it, we will be changed; if visitors experience it, they are likely to return to taste it again. Young Friends, having experienced it in their home meetings, will be drawn back by more than sentimentality.
Davison concludes with a short bibliography and five discussion questions. It would be good if every Friend read and pondered this pamphlet, and if every Ministry and Counsel Committee studied it carefully and considered implementing its suggestions.