Vonn New

Before I was a Friend, I was an improvising musician. The experience of playing spontaneous, unprogrammed music brought me in touch with some transcendent power. Improvising in an ensemble, there were moments when we became one body, in union with some infinite realm of music and beauty. I lost my atheism and craved more experiences like that and a language to describe the spiritual awakening I was feeling. Seeking a community that practiced listening spirituality, I found Friends and immediately understood that what I had experienced in musical improvisation was the same thing that Friends call the unprogrammed gathered meeting. This realization evolved into a ministry called “Sounding the Divine” as I was led to share the practice and experience of entering worship through the doorway of inspired creative expression.

In 2008, a minute of travel endorsing my ministry was approved by Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting, Nine Partners Quarterly Meeting, and New York Yearly Meeting. I remember the feeling of humility that washed over me when I realized that the ministry was no longer my ministry but was being held by these bodies that I was a part of. I did not know how to let the wider world of Friends know that I had this ministry to offer, but I felt emboldened by the fact that now it was a ministry of my yearly meeting rather than a personal desire. To give Friends a taste of the experience, I offered interest groups and workshops wherever I could and attended many Friends events to learn, worship, connect with people, and spread the word about Sounding the Divine. It takes a lot of time and money to attend so many Friends events.

Along the way, I have been extraordinarily well supported by Friends. An anchor committee appointed by my meeting has met with me every other month for six years. Many of the meetings I have visited have been very generous with stipends, and many people who have attended one of my workshops have stayed in touch in a way that is very gratifying and encouraging.

I work as a self-employed website developer. I’m free to make my own decisions about how I spend my energy, and because my work is all online, I can take it with me when I travel. When called to serve in the ministry, I set aside my for-pay work and forgo income in order to serve our wider faith community. Both my business and my ministry require a great deal of energy in terms of staying visible and finding new people who want my services.

Even with all these advantages and a very frugal lifestyle, I’ve had a very difficult time making a go of it. In 2011, I was traveling widely in the ministry but could not earn enough to support myself. The financial stress became too much to take anymore. I had to commit the bulk of my energy to promoting my business and earning a livelihood. I’m not turning down opportunities to travel in the ministry, but I’ve had to really slow down on being out there and letting people know about Sounding the Divine. As a result, the invitations to travel have stopped, for now. This summer, I’ll be hosting meeting for worship in the manner of Sounding the Divine at the FGC Gathering.