Spark, November 2012
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
|New York Yearly Meeting News|
|The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)||November 2012|
|Editor, Steven Davison||Guest editor, Amy Willauer-Obermayer|
- Theme Features: Recognizing Gifts in Ministry
- Ministry & Money—A Proposal ~ Vonn New and Viv Hawkins
- A Small Story, A Deeper Insight ~ Alice Houghtaling
- Recording Gifts ~ Jim Atwell
- A Ministry of Support ~ Claire Howard
- The Ministry of Clearness Committees ~ John Sharpless
- Ministry and Clearness Committees ~ Anna Obermayer
- Being An Elder ~ Tracy Kirkman
- Cultivating Ministry ~ Lu Harper
- On Ministry Within Schenectady Meeting ~ Schenectady Meeting
- On Recording Ministers (web only) ~ Steven Davison (web-only article)
- Resources on Ministry
- State of Society Report 2012 ~ Excerpt on Ministry
- Other Features
- Quaker Quest Full-day Workshop ~ Naceo Giles
- Oakwood School—A Profile ~ Deb Wood
- A Concern for the Criminal Justice System—Why Prisons? ~ Judy Meikle
- Yearly Meeting News
- Upcoming Issue Themes
- January 2013: The Gathered Meeting
- March 2013: Volunteering Among Friends
- May 2013: Patriotism
- We invite your contributions on these themes. Contact Steven Davison ([email protected]) for deadlines.
Introduction to the Issue on Recognizing Gifts in Ministry
This past year has seen a significant resurgence of interest and activity in the faith and practice of Quaker ministry in New York Yearly Meeting. In May, the Yearly Meeting’s Advancement Committee hosted a consultation on ministry that 50 people attended. More than a hundred more expressed interest but could not come. The Yearly Meeting’s Ministry Coordinating Committee sponsored a threshing session at Summer Sessions on recording gifts in ministry that about 40 Friends attended. In September, Powell House offered a conference on Cultivating Gifts in Ministry attended by about 20 Friends. For the November issue of Spark, we invited articles on Recognizing Gifts in Ministry and we received a number of valuable contributions, too many to fit into the print edition; so we published one article here on the website only. Our hope is that these articles will further inspire, encourage, and inform Friends about the faith and practice of Quaker ministry and give further momentum to this spiritual enlivening of our members.
~ Theme Features: Recognizing Gifts in Ministry ~
Ministry & Money—A Proposal
~ Vonn New, Bulls Head–Oswego Meeting, & Viv Hawkins, Central Philadelphia Meeting ~
Vital ministry is essential to the spiritual faithfulness of our meetings and to Friends individually. Friends traveling in ministry enliven worship, bring prophetic messages, or spread a particular witness. Inspired ministry helps all of us to live into our faith more boldly. Can we even imagine what our Society would be like today if John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, Rufus Jones, or Bayard Rustin had not followed their leadings?
As meeting for worship draws from the well of the gathered group, leadings can flourish far more powerfully when nurtured by a faith community. In fact, releasing “that of God,” cultivating it in one another, and helping it flow into our thirsty world may be one of the most significant purposes of our Friends’ meetings and churches. In many meetings, great strides have been made in recent time to offer spiritual stewardship of ministry. Might the next step in fully releasing ministry among us be an intentional, Spirit-led, and planned attention to the material needs of the ministry and the minister?
In her course on Early Friends and Ministry, Marty Grundy says, "The Kendal Fund accounts list shoes, books, a horse, and so on given to travelling Friends ministers. By the 18th century, most Friends who travelled in the ministry had a 'competence,' some way of supporting themselves and their families. This could be augmented by private, quiet donations from other Friends, by home hospitality as they travelled, and by Friends at home helping their families. The system was informal and seems to have worked pretty well. With a quite different economy today, we need to discover new ways of helping Friends minister among us." Today, not many full-time jobs leave one available to travel as led. While hospitality along the way is as welcoming and generous as ever, other needs, like housing and healthcare, often are not being met.
Friends who are called to spend a significant amount of time following a leading in ministry today are often self-employed or underemployed in order make themselves available to the demands of Spirit. Unless they have the financial support of a family member or other sources of wealth, many find themselves leading a precarious existence in today’s economy.
In May of 2012, Friends attending a consultation of New York Yearly Meeting’s Advancement Committee were asked, “What is stopping you from fully living into your ministry?” The responses covered everything from spiritual accountability and support to personal confidence. Significantly, more than one-third cited getting enough time away from paid work, finding financial support, or being able to afford health care as primary obstacles.
Jon Watts, a plenary presenter at NYYM’s 2012 Summer Sessions, has been considering laying down his ministry because it is not financially sustainable. In a public process online, his discernment has sparked spirited discussion as Friends grapple with attitudes about money and ministry.
Viv Hawkins (Central Philadelphia Meeting, PhYM) pursues ministry to foster faithfulness. This ministry has been supported by a minute of religious service endorsed by Philadelphia Quarterly and Yearly Meetings and a spiritual accountability group appointed by Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. Because Viv chose to work part-time in order to devote time to ministry, she was without health insurance for seven years. Suffering from the associated stress, Viv has resumed full-time employment and has had to curtail her ministry as a result.
Vonn New (Bulls Head–Oswego Monthly Meeting, NYYM) supports her way in the ministry with a full-time web development business. Vonn travels among Friends throughout the U.S. with a travel minute endorsed by Bulls Head–Oswego Meeting, Nine Partners Quarterly Meeting, and NYYM. To do this, she sets aside her for-pay work and forgoes income in order to serve her wider faith community. Like others without independent means, she exchanges comfort for faithfulness. However, the resulting significant financial stress hampers her ability to attend to the ministry.
In an entry in his Lamb’s War blog titled "Get a job, minister!," Micah Bales asks, “How do we live in solidarity with those who are called into a ministry that demands their primary focus and makes paid employment challenging?” If we allow these ministries to die on the vine for want of financial support, we leave only those with a level of financial security free to engage in ministry.
Having faced these hardships and potentialities, Vonn and Viv propose a viable "wellspring" resource for releasing our ministers similar to Kickstarter.com, an internet-based funding platform that has been used successfully in the not-for-profit world, particularly in funding the arts. In just three years, this grassroots funding platform for the arts now channels more funds to creative projects than the National Endowment for the Arts. What if a similar project could be built that provides a website for highlighting ministries and a tax-deductible channel for accepting donations for their support? It might include:
- descriptions of the leadings, ministries, and/or concerns;
- the current status of the ministries and the needs of the ministers that could include minutes of travel/religious service, descriptions of the spiritual accountability structure serving the ministries, calendars, status reports, and endorsements from those receiving the ministries;
- invitations and opportunities to provide support to the ministries by contributing money and/or such services as prayer, eldering, home hospitality, assistance with transportation, etc.; and
- ways to invite these ministries in service to one’s self or one’s faith community.
A service like this might provide material assistance and complement the spiritual support necessary to cherish a leading and fully embrace a ministry. We see such a service fostering faithfulness in the Religious Society of Friends and beyond. We see such a service creating greater potential for the Beloved Kingdom to bear fruit. What do you see?
Vonn New and Viv Hawkins seek others who are interested in this project, whether that be Friends with ministries under the care of a meeting seeking support, individuals or faith communities seeking the services of a ministry, people seeking to provide support to ministries, Friends with expertise in funding and governance, or funders for this particular project. Please contact us at [email protected] or [email protected].
Micah Bales. “Get a Job, Minister!ˮ lambswar.blogspot.com/2012/10/get-job-minister.html.
Ashley Wilcox. “The Cost of Traveling Ministryˮ questforadequacy.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-cost-of-traveling-ministry.
Jon Watts. “My Community Doesn’t Support Me. What Should I Do?ˮ www.jonwatts.com/2012/my-community-doesnt-support-my-ministry-what-do-i-do/.
Jon Watts. “Support a Minister. Sell your Meetinghouse.” www.jonwatts.com/2012/support-a-minister-sell-your-meetinghouse/.
A Small Story, A Deeper Insight
~ Alice Houghtaling, Schenectady Meeting ~
There are the times when one sees more clearly that "ministry" is best served when it is grounded in the worship and prayer of the meeting. Such an experience happened to me in meeting a few weeks ago when, after worship, I asked the meeting to hold in prayer a concern that I had for a "family meeting" for one of my patients that was to happen the following week. (I am a pediatric palliative care chaplain.) I told the meeting the day and time of that appointment, anticipating that the family meeting had the potential to be extremely difficult for everyone who attended.
The following week, after meeting for worship, I was asked how the family meeting went. Some persons related how they prayed, regularly and often, even to setting an alarm at ten-minute intervals to pray throughout the meeting, surrounding it with loving care and intent. My mind flashed to particular moments during the family meeting that had been truly challenging and in which a way forward had become more clear. I had become more and more aware of how to work with the family and the medical team in ways that were deeply respectful, non-judgmental, and in complete awareness that this family was beloved of God. Words mattered. Attitude mattered.
As I understood and pondered my connection during those moments of heightened awareness in the family meeting with Friends in meeting who had been praying, feelings of awe and deep gratitude swept over me. Even more, I felt grounded in the prayer and worship of the meeting.
I have shared this with my meeting and related that I understand in a clearer way that this gift of ministry in pastoral care is a community experience at its deepest level.
~ Jim Atwell, Butternuts Meeting ~
I’ll bet that a great many Spark readers affectionately remember Hazel Haines, that dear, spunky Friend who almost single-handedly created Mohawk Valley Monthly Meeting. Hazel was a Quaker of deep spiritual substance and an energetic and witty woman, too. Among many treasured quotes, here is Hazel telling me about leadings in her long life: “I know we’re supposed to expect way to open before us. But, more often than not, a leading for me has been a door slamming shut behind me and knocking me forward.”
She was my kind of Quaker, that Hazel, and along with hundreds of other Friends, I miss her greatly. But I raise her dear memory just now to quote Hazel on the concern that shapes this Spark issue. If Hazel heard people speaking about “being recorded in ministry,” she’d always gently correct them.
“Our term is ‘recorded in gifts of the ministry,’” she’d say. And of course, she was right. That’s the very term used in our Faith and Practice.
Hazel knew how important that word gift is to the definition of a special sort of leading to service, and the distinction of that word from another often confused with it: talent. The failure to recognize the difference may well underlie much of the apprehension about recording.
For our purposes, let’s recognize talent as the dictionary does: “an innate ability to do something well.” In other words, talent is an inborn ability and is of the very substance of a person. But the word gift adds a dimension to that definition that is essential to our use of it.
A gift, friends, always has three characteristics: It’s something of real value. It is freely given by a giver. It is unearned (otherwise it would be pay, or perhaps a bribe). Those three qualities are inherent in our phrase, “recorded in gifts of the ministry."
The giver is our Source and Creator, Almighty God, The Spirit, or whatever other inadequate human term we apply to Infinite Love.
The gift is no more deserved than is our life itself. Called forth from nothingness to (perhaps) temporary being, we have loaned to us certain abilities that are surely meant for service—for spreading Infinite Love throughout humanity. I stress that these abilities are on loan, are no more our right to have than is life itself.
Many of the concerns with “recording in ministry” may be based in failure to distinguish gift from talent. The larger world conflates the two terms regularly; witness the programs for “the gifted and talented.” But we cannot afford to follow that lead and blunder into a weakened, neutral meaning that dims both terms.
Our confusion of the terms was evident, I think, during last summer’s threshing session on recording, when some worried about completely inapt synonyms for recording, words like “ordaining, elevating, commissioning,” even “consecrating.” None of those terms, so far from our values and traditions, apply here.
According to Faith and Practice—and, indeed, as is the common practice in our Yearly Meeting—here’s how recording works: A Friend in a monthly meeting experiences a strong leading to a particular ministry, one she or he seems well prepared to undertake by virtue of gifts on temporary loan and meant for service to others. The meeting, having done its own prayerful consideration of the leading and the person, proposes that the Yearly Meeting analyze and evaluate both the leading and the person’s gifts.
This examination, done through a Yearly Meeting-wide clearness committee, is done in a leisurely and thorough manner. My recording, a leading to vocal ministry and specifically to ecumenical work, took about eighteen months.
It involved the committee’s reading of about ten pounds of my writings, including sermons, and ended with a visit to my hamlet of Fly Creek, near Cooperstown. There the committee met with the Butternuts Monthly Meeting Ministry and Counsel committee, interviewed my wife Anne and me separately, and even attended the local Methodist church to see me in a pulpit.
The local Methodists welcomed the visitors warmly through one of their elders, who stood just before the service began, saying “My understanding is that these folks are here to check Jim out.”
And indeed they did, and they followed with a telephone conference a week later, just to tidy up loose ends. The conference began with ten minutes of silence, the phone line humming as we, though spread around the state, gathered ourselves in worship. (Wouldn’t George Fox have been astonished at that—and delighted?)
That committee’s recommendation for recording was forwarded to the Yearly Meeting’s Ministry Coordinating Committee. They added their recommendation, and final approval came at Summer Sessions at Silver Bay. Eighteen months after the process began.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work, friends: an individual is recorded in gifts for a specific ministry. And this with the understanding that, if the ministry is no longer judged to be of value, or the gifts have been gently taken away by the Giver, then the recording can be just as gently withdrawn.
Who would initiate such a move? The monthly meeting’s committee for support and eldering of the one recorded. In my case, it was our Ministry and Counsel committee. I report on my doings every month, and they’ve never hesitated to advise me or even to urge me to cut back if I’m overreaching myself.
It’s all there in Faith and Practice, though the next revisers might add more specificity and examples. All that careful procedure is to protect the individual from the danger that is inherent in being entrusted with gifts: You can forget all about their source and their purpose. You can take up tap-dancing.
That last statement is meant to echo the sharp rhetorical question posed by Paul in I Corinthians:
“What do you have that you have not received—and if you have received, how can you glory as if you have not received?” Which I presume to paraphrase: “How in hell can you waste time preening, tap-dancing in front of a mirror, when you’re supposed to be advancing the kingdom?”
Friends have foreseen that possibility and built protections against it in our Faith and Practice. But we invite unneeded worry when we fail to distinguish between gifts (which we record) and talents (which we do not.)
I think that Hazel Haines is smiling on me when I presume to quote what might be her words to someone “recorded in gifts of the ministry”: “You go to it, daughter! You go to it, son! We’re praying for your work! (But we’re keeping at eye on you, too.)”
A Ministry of Support
~ Claire Howard, Poplar Ridge Meeting ~
I have had a number of experiences in the realm of supportive ministry. For me, writing about them is difficult and not something I am particularly drawn to do, except that there may be others who are not aware of the possibilities of supportive ministry, and perhaps I should share . . .
Somehow I knew intuitively that our meeting's pastor needed my support from day one. That day, my first visit to Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting over 14 years ago, was also the new pastor's first day. She had been raised up by the meeting to fill the void left by their retired pastor. Gentle, friendly, intelligent, and warm, she won my heart immediately.
I began to attend regularly and soon found myself saying yes to committee work and clerkships. On the finance committee I advocated for more realistic remuneration for our pastor. It was satisfying and gratifying to be a part of this transition over a period of about five years.
I share her love for our old meeting house, and soon realized that perhaps some beautification projects (painting, cleaning, mold removal, remodeling) could make our house of worship more attractive to newcomers, something I had heard her mention a few times. Clerking the building committee has been rewarding and fruitful. We do have a beautiful and well-kept meetinghouse, and by golly our attendance is up . . . for various reasons I am sure!
When the time came for her to become a recorded minister, I served on her committee as part of that process. I remember it as a light-filled time, careful, loving, probing, clarifying, revealing. I also serve on her Care Committee. We meet just a few times a year (when she can tear herself away from her busy job) to hear how she is doing spiritually and how we can be of help. We listen with open and loving hearts, and she is free to share concerns, burdens, challenges, and joys.
The first time I attended the pastors and elders retreat as her elder I learned in a big way what I had intuited: pastors need an incredible amount of support for the incredibly big job they do! Those retreats have been bonding experiences for her and me, and I have personally grown spiritually each time I go. As a matter of fact, every time I "do something for her" it ends up changing me and helping me come to some new realization about myself.
These words seem to fit: "I honor the place in you where, if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is but one of us."
Namaste, Ruth Ann Bradley.
The Ministry of Clearness Committees
~ John Sharpless, Binghamton Community Friends Meeting ~
More than three years ago I sensed a call to make major changes in my life. I had the good fortune to spend three weeks in January 2010 at Pendle Hill, the Quaker study and retreat center in Pennsylvania. I participated in an intensive program designed for people in transition. A central activity of the program included clearness committee meetings. Over the years I had participated in clearness committees both as the one seeking clearness and as a committee member trying to facilitate the process for someone else. My Pendle Hill experience, however, revealed to me how a clearness committee process could become so much more powerful and effective than my previous experiences had been. A clearness committee is a potentially powerful tool for a meeting’s ministry to its members.
Most Friends, I think, are familiar with clearness committees for people considering membership in a meeting or for couples contemplating marriage under the care of a meeting. But as Patricia Loring points out1, these traditional uses function mostly as clearance committees. They explore possible obstacles before bringing the matter to a meeting for business. A clearness committee for an individual seeking a way forward with a personal leading or dilemma functions somewhat differently. For such a purpose some important guidelines have evolved in modern times regarding how to best conduct the process2.
Preparation is important. Four or five people should be selected for the committee. These can be appointed by Ministry & Counsel, but the person requesting the committee should have some say in the selection. Because trust is a vital aspect of the whole process, the focus person should be comfortable with the committee’s members. While living and working with my fellow students at Pendle Hill, that was a natural outgrowth of the close community building that went on throughout our time together. For a meeting with diverse membership, the appointment process will require some care.
The focus person should write a description of the issue about which they seek discernment, including relevant background factors and apparent options and obstacles s/he sees. This should go to the members of the committee ahead of time so that time is not spent in the meeting itself explaining the concern. This is valuable preparation for the committee and especially for the focus person.
Usually, the committee should assure at least two uninterrupted hours for the meeting itself. Sometimes less time can be fruitful, but it’s difficult to maintain the necessary attention required for more than two hours. The committee should have a clerk or facilitator who guides the process, assures that the space chosen for the meeting will be free of disturbances, and that the guidelines are followed. A recording clerk will make a record of the questions and responses for the focus person if s/he wants it. When all is ready, the meeting commences with a period of silence and silence may punctuate its course for the remainder of the time in order to facilitate the movement of The Spirit. When ready, the focus person speaks out of the silence by briefly restating the issue on which they seek discernment.
Then the challenging part starts for the committee members. From then on they only ask questions and very specific types of questions at that. Parker Palmer calls them “brief, open, honest questions.”3 The committee isn’t to provide advice or therapy, nor to problem solve. They are not to relate how the focus person’s dilemma is similar to one that they experienced. They must avoid asking questions to just satisfy their own curiosity. The meeting isn’t about them. Rather, they must remember that they are there to facilitate the focus person’s connection with the Inner Teacher. The questions should come at a gentle pace with periods of silence between so that the committee can hold the focus person in the Light. Silent periods don’t signify the lack of things happening. Indeed the most important things may be happening inwardly out of sight and hearing.
The focus person usually will answer the questions out loud. This may give direction for the committee to pursue additional avenues of inquiry. But the focus person may pass on any question and the committee isn’t to ask why. That’s for the focus person to take up with the Inner Teacher.
As the allotted time comes near to its end, the process can change. The clerk should ask the focus person what form the remaining time should take. Questioning could continue, or a period of waiting worship could commence, or the committee might mirror back to the focus person what the committee has observed so far. This latter option is one that I encourage if it can be done carefully. It could simply be repeating the answers given to a series of questions, thus encouraging the focus person to “connect the dots.” It could also involve describing the person’s body language as s/he responded to certain questions. For example, I was once told that as I spoke about one option I was considering, my voice volume dropped, my shoulders sank, and I looked at the floor. But when I spoke about an alternative option, I sat up straight, and I spoke clearly and energetically. Note that the observer didn’t interpret what that body language meant. That would have been imposing the observer’s explanation. It was left to me and the voice of the Spirit to decide what implications that behavior meant to me, not to the observer.
The meeting may close with affirmations of the focus person’s gifts and then a period of worship as the committee members continue to hold the person in the Light. At the close, the importance of maintaining complete confidentiality about all that took place during the session must be emphasized. Establishing the trust needed for the whole process requires it.
My own experience with following these guidelines proves to me how moving and valuable a ministry the clearness committee can be. I encourage its greater use among us.
1 Patricia Loring, Spiritual Discernment: the context and goal of clearness committees, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #305, Wallingford Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill Publications, 1992.
2 Jan Hoffman, Clearness Committees and Their Use in Personal Discernment, Twelfth Month Press, Philadelphia, 1996.
3 Parker J. Palmer, Chapter VIII: Living the Questions, in A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, San Francisco, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
Ministry and Clearness Committees
~ Anna Obermayer, Binghamton Community Friends Meeting ~
While I was attending Earlham College I did a lot of writing on Quaker issues. For about a year or maybe two I wrote a blog in which I worked through issues of Quaker practice, theology, and the inter-workings of community that lay particularly heavily upon my heart. As I continued to write I noticed that more and more of what was coming out was coming from the same deep place as my spoken ministry and often with the same kind of powerful urgency. It felt as if this writing had become ministry in some way but I wasn't really sure how or what to do about it. So when I was home for break I asked my home meeting, Binghamton Community Friends, for a clearness committee to help me discern.
When I graduated from college, I again went through the clearness process to help discern what path my life should take. It became clear I needed to pursue the two Quaker programs I had been invited to apply for. When Young Friends in Residence (YFIR) accepted me I went back to my meeting. I was very clear in my own mind that if I were to say yes to YFIR it would need to be because I felt led to carry out some ministry through the YFIR program, so I requested another clearness committee. Through the process of working and discerning with them I became clear that yes, God was calling me to a life of ministry, and yes, that life for the next couple years would be lived through the Young Friends in Residence program.
I value the clearness process highly. I think it is an extremely helpful and important tool when making any of a number of important spiritual and life decisions. I value it most, however, when one is feeling potentially called to take up a ministry. As much as call to ministry can bring great joy and unimagined spiritual richness, it can also be a burden. Through ministry, God often calls us do things that we are not a hundred percent comfortable with and to set aside time to do what we are being called to do even when worldly responsibilities weigh us down. I believe ministry is always difficult on some level. Often it can be frightening and exhausting.
Because of this, I have come to believe very strongly that no minister can be an island. We are not meant to carry a call alone, to struggle with it and experience both the heartache and the joys of it alone. I truly believe God would never ask that of us. Our community should never ask that of us and we should not ask that of ourselves.
Indeed, the Friends have recognized the need for support of ministers at every state of their journey with their ministry. This is why we have the clearness committee structure, elders, anchor committees, minutes of travel, and other processes for support. Clearness committees are not only tools for the deep discernment that must happen when one is experiencing a call, but also the first stage of the support needed for someone about to take up a ministry. It helps meetings feel connected to the budding ministry and share in the process of bringing that ministry forward and birthing it into the wider world. They are not simply bystanders observing the minister's work. With a sense of ownership, I would hope, comes a sense of responsibility. The meeting becomes responsible for supporting and nurturing this new ministry and the minister who will carry it.
In my experience, going through clearness allowed me to feel that I was not struggling alone. The call I was experiencing mattered. The discernment process I was going through mattered and was taken seriously by other Friends. It was particularly important for me as a young adult struggling to discern a call, that I experienced that feeling of communal support.
Wrestling with something deeply spiritual can, in my experience, be hard in today's world. You can interact with people in the secular community every day and have them never know that God is alive and working in your life. Likewise it is far too easy to come to meeting for worship on Sunday and sit quietly for an hour. You may then exchange polite words with Friends over coffee and banana bread before going home again, and no one may be the wiser about where you are spiritually and how you are being led.
If you find yourself in that position, I urge you to ask for a clearness committee and then an anchor committee and/or an elder. Meetings need to support people who are feeling called and people who are feeling called should never try to discern that calling alone.
This is why we have clearness committees. Ministry, of any sort, is not meant to be carried alone. It is something we do together.
Being An Elder
~ Tracy Kirkman, Perry City Meeting ~
Three falls ago I had the honor of being asked to serve as elder for one of our Young Friends in Residence, Anna Obermayer. Having had experience mentoring in a self help program, I knew enough to know that I would be making a deep spiritual commitment as well as a regular time commitment. Having never been asked to elder before, I knew that I did NOT know what the commitment would look like. I did not even know what the Young Friends in Residence program (YFIR) was for! I thought it was a committee to put together retreats for middle school kids! I discussed eldering with a few Friends (including Anna), spent some time in discernment, asked someone to be my elder (who didn't know how to do it either), and decided to give it a go.
The two years I eldered for Anna were the two most spiritually enriching years of my life so far. I learned that the mission of the YFIR program is to support the ministry of young Friends with the hope that some of them will feel called to lead retreats for middle school kids. Anna was/is called to minister to adults. And minister to adults she did. Anna began and facilitated a First Day program for adults in which we explored everything from vocal ministry to how to minister to our own monthly meeting. She breathed life into the adults of our meeting, including me, such that we have continued this Meeting for Learning after she left. She also helped to start an adult Bible study, which also has continued to meet. Out of these efforts has grown more vocal ministry for our meeting as well as commitment and ideas to strengthen our worship.
Anna and I scheduled to meet weekly and spend time checking in about her work, share silent worship, and brainstorm about any bumps. I learned that meeting with the other YFIR elders was part of the deal, as well, as YFIRs and elders meeting together in what we called an anchor committee. Our anchor committee had no idea what it was supposed to do either, and started off discussing practical things, such as taking out the trash and seeking financial support, really almost duplicating what the Logistics and Support committee was already doing! After six months or so we figured out that our job was to support the YFIRs spiritually not practically (slow and steady wins the race, eh?). Even the journey to figure out our purpose was spiritually enriching to me. Our committee struggled with finding a time to meet together and, I believe, failed in this area.
Anna and I had to be creative to find time to meet in our own busy schedules, which sometimes entailed cooking meals together, walking for coffee (who doesn't have time for coffee?), and dragging her along to Sea Breeze with my eight-year-old son and four or five of his friends! Sometimes my job was to share my own life experiences about mundane things like how to make and keep a schedule, how to show up for difficult discussions, or making that transition from a young adult into a generic adult. Sometimes my job was simply to sit in silent worship with her. Sometimes we were too busy for each other! Often she preferred a visit with her mom/family. We found that just because she had asked me to elder her, this didn't magically create a relationship between us—we needed to build it.
Although it seems to me that she did all the work, I must have been part of what Anna created, since she and her mother have both told me so. I hope I was obedient in service to the Divine. I know that my own life has been enriched by the experience of eldering, by what I received as a member of Perry City Friends Meeting from Anna's adult ministry, and even by the start of a relationship with my own elder. If you are considering serving as an elder in a similar way, consider the time commitment and the flexibility of schedule needed to meet with others on a committee, and if you can do those things for a small amount of time, give it a go and Godspeed, my Friend! In Christ's Light, Tracy Kirkman.
Cultivating Ministry—A Model
~ Lu Harper, Rochester Meeting ~
For a number of years, I’ve been working on language or images to describe the functional relationship between a minister and their elder/companion. I started thinking about the relationship as a continuum. Over time, that image began to seem one-dimensional, and I realized that I needed to include all the spiritual gifts in my image and I needed to be more three-dimensional. So I started to play with the image of a sphere, and when I did, this story was given to me. It begins, as all good stories do, with once upon a time. So I invite you into that once-upon-a-time space, I invite you to test this model by your experience as you move into that space with me.
Once upon a time . . . it could be any time . . . it could be any moment . . . it could even be this moment . . .
Once upon a time there was a Star . . .
. . . filled with Light and an infinite variety of spiritual gifts.
Deep within the star was a core of Love and Unity. At the core, it was hard to differentiate one gift from another, as they all touched one another closely and boundaries were fuzzy. Moving outward from the center, there were variations of degrees of gifts and specializations of gifts, as the solar currents moved and stirred things up. On the outer edges of the star were solar flares, ready to be carried away in the solar winds.
One day . . . it could be any day . . .
The tongues of flame came down from the surface of the star and landed on the earth. They landed on the fields and mountains, the rivers and oceans, on the creatures of land, air, and sea, and on the heads of the people. The gifts were absorbed into the whole of Creation.
To the knowing eye and ear, each gift shaped the Creation, spoke of the Creation. Creatures evolved in myriad ways, developed distinctive patterns, languages, ways of being, that spoke of the Love and Unity at the core. The people, too, shaped the Creation. Each one’s gift was unique. Some carried tastes of several gifts; some held a single gift strongly. Together, the people held all the gifts they needed for living into the core of Love and Unity.
As the people began to integrate these gifts they found new ways of knowing and being. As they learned to act from the core of giftedness, they found that they were able to understand one another deeply, as if each one were speaking the other’s tongue and hearing their own tongue in the other’s voice.
As the people lived into these new ways of being, they came to experience themselves as one body and to dwell in unity with one another. They began to hold everything in common. In this community, as they acted faithfully from the gifts within them, the people touched one another’s hearts, spoke to one another’s condition, and called each other into new life. Together, they helped each other to grow into the measure of their gifts. And over time, the gifts of the people grew and changed.
They told everyone they met of this amazing experience of the Light of the star coming down and living within them and they encouraged and invited all they met to look deep within themselves to see what gifts the Light had given them. Some with the gift of seeing and naming told those they met of the gifts they saw shining through them, and told them of others who could be helpful to them as they grew into this new way of being. Some could see how the gifts were given to all creation, and learned to tell the stories inherent in a seed, a vine, a pearl. Some carried healing in their hands and hearts. Some sang and danced for joy. Some fed body and spirit. Some spoke Truth as it was given to them. Many were nudged by their gifts into actions big or small, arising from the first motion of Love. Many waited to know, waited for the next piece of their work to be revealed.
And because the people were human, some experienced their gift incompletely, or misunderstood what it told them. Not all found others to name and help them grow into their giftedness, and so the gifts grew in the wild. Some were stunted, some grew out of control. Sometimes the community was not ready for the gift and so the gift (and sometimes the person carrying the gift) moved on to another community that needed and could receive the gift. Sometimes the people and the communities carried wounds from their experience of gifts misused or unacknowledged.
There was much work for the people to do, many opportunities to be faithful, to grow in Love and Unity. The Light of the star is still shining, still flaring down onto the people and onto the Creation. Have you experienced it? What gifts do you carry? What gifts are carried in your community? How are they nurtured? What ministries are being brought forth? How are Love and Unity fostered among you?
On Ministry Within Schenectady Meeting
~ Schenectady Meeting ~
We are each of us in Schenectady Friends Meeting engaged in ministry that draws our hearts and minds, as well as resources of time, talent, and treasure, for many purposes. First and foremost among them is to further the work of the Holy on this planet while learning to work together with skill and respect, and always with an ear to the Spirit.
When we share moments of ministry with each other in meeting, or when we hold each other in the light during times of need, we often come away uplifted and encouraged at the marvelous diversity of the Divine-human endeavor. We come away awed by the scope of the ministry in which we are all engaged, enlarged and enlivened, and with our hearts, minds, and spirits nurtured. We come away seeing our part in these endeavors as very small but so very necessary. Ours are but single threads woven into a grand tapestry of which we know not the design, but we know that the intent is to support the presence and action of the source that is Love. A few stories of ministries within Schenectady Meeting:
Several years ago now, a couple from our meeting spent a year in Gaborone, Botswana. They brought back to us an awareness of suffering and hunger through drought and politics in neighboring Zimbabwe. They met the Quakers of Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) Friends Meeting, who have labored faithfully to alleviate the worst ravages of hunger for those they can reach. With the encouragement and leadership of this couple, Schenectady Meeting has received funds from people and groups across North America for this homegrown Quaker food relief effort. The money is sent to Bulawayo Friends to purchase and distribute maize meal to several small villages in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland region. Our hearts have been gladdened at the collaborative witness of the Mennonites, who consistently support this purpose, and by other significant individual contributors. Our hearts have been encouraged by faithfulness in this ministry and the witness of others’ responses to this tremendous and ongoing need.
One member has served on the General Committee of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) for more than 30 years. Her ministry of policy building and grassroots participation makes sure that the whole meeting comes together in worship to prepare its submission to FCNL's biennial process of priority-setting. This engagement with our nation fulfills a Quaker value of being actively ‘in the world.’
Several of our members are engaged in our local communities. Whether helping communities to create ‘pocket parks’ and bike trails along the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway, or creating a relationship with a new Buddhist community in the Berne area of Schenectady county, or maintaining our support of Schenectady Inner City Ministry (a social action collaborative of over 50 Christian churches in the Schenectady area), our connection with these communities reflects our values of shared ministry.
Ministry within the structure of meetings (whether they are monthly, quarterly, regional, or yearly; whether on committees or fulfilling functions for the life of the meeting) happens because of the values we hold. Some in the meeting also are involved in a ministry of advancement through participation in wider Quaker organizations. We sometimes go about that without acknowledging that this, too, is ministry.
We are graced with vocal ministry in our meeting. Messages of love and caring, the experiences of the transformation of the heart, of insight, and of peace, come tenderly and gently. We enjoy “worship sharing” at rise of Meeting, and particularly welcome the participation of attenders—some long-term and some recent—as a way of broadening our concerns. ‘Ministry’ is something that each of us is called to give life to in the context of our lives and times and in the spirit of Love that empowers us to do so. When we share these ministries within our meeting, we find ourselves enjoying the economy of the Divine—more of us benefit from ministry. This greater abundance is life-giving to the meeting and grounding to the work of all.
On Recording Gifts in Ministry
Published on the website only
~ Steven Davison, Yardley Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting ~
Recording ministers is a difficult issue for some Friends. Many Friends do not know very much about the practice, they may not know anyone whose gifts have been recorded (or they may not know that they know), and for some, what they do know makes them uncomfortable. In fact, some Friends feel pretty strongly that having "recorded ministers" is unQuakerly and that we shouldn't be doing it. I have heard a number of reasons for this opinion:
- Some Friends cite the belief that all Friends are ministers (that we "laid down the laity, not the ministry"), so there is no point in singling out individuals for a status that all of us possess.
- Many cite the testimony of equality, fearing that recording ministers somehow confers an exalted status on the person who is recorded.
- In a similar vein, many fear that the practice will lead to a subtle but dangerous form of hierarchy among us.
- Most, I think, do not see what benefits recording brings to the meeting, or even to the minister.
- And they may associate the practice with the programmed and pastoral tradition, which they may feel has abandoned essential Quaker practices (silent meeting for worship) while taking up practices that early Friends denounced (programmed meeting for worship and, especially, paid professional ministers). They may think that the only recorded ministers we have are pastors of what were originally Orthodox meetings and that therefore the practice is irrelevant to an unprogrammed, formerly Hicksite meeting.
Let me say up front that I believe that recording gifts is very valuable part of Quaker practice for a number of reasons. So in this article I want to make a case for recording gifts in ministry by looking at each of the worries listed above in turn. Besides offering some reasons for recording gifts, I also want to clarify the terms we use in talking about recording and review aspects of the practice with which its detractors may not be familiar. But I want to start with my own experience.
My own experience
I helped write the original version of the current guidelines for recording gifts in ministry in New York Yearly Meeting and I served on the committee that first used these guidelines to record someone's gifts; this was for Linda Chidsey. I personally feel that Linda's example should allay all the fears that critics of recording have about its consequences. We did not slide down some slippery slope of personal hubris and collective hierarchy when we recorded Linda's gifts. On the contrary, the experience deepened the spiritual lives of everyone involved.
The practice of recording
Before we look at the reasons Friends often give for feeling that we should not "record ministers", let's clarify what we are talking about. Though we speak of "recording ministers", we are really using this as shorthand for "recording gifts in ministry". There is a subtle but important difference.
We "record" gifts in the same spirit that we record our minutes, as a record of what God is already doing among us. Unlike ordination in other religious communities, recording does not confer authority. It only recognizes outwardly and formally the gifts that have already been conferred inwardly by the Holy Spirit. In practice, it's hard to separate the gifts from the minister, but we need to remind ourselves of this important nuance in our faith and practice.
Because recording is a way of recognizing gifts, the process is normally initiated by the minister's meeting. You cannot ask or lobby to be recorded, unless the circumstances require some form of certification to pursue one's ministry in the world, as chaplains often must, for instance, or those doing prison work. This is one of the reasons why we do not need to fear establishing some kind of Quaker hierarchy when we record someone's gifts: they are not the ones who start the process. In fact, it seems to be fairly common for the prospective minister to resist the idea of being recorded at first.
Finally, the process for recording someone's spiritual gifts is quite rigorous. I invite you to go to the Yearly Meeting website and look at the guidelines, which you can find in the Publications section of the website. I don't want to go into any more detail here, but you can see that recording takes time, effort, prayer, and real discernment, and the process is guided by practices that are designed to invite the Holy Spirit's guidance in the best tradition of Quaker discernment.
So let's take a look at the reasons Friends give for opposing the practice of recording gifts in ministry.
Objections to recording
~ We are all ministers, so why single one person out? It's not true, really, that we are all ministers, at least not in the way that people usually mean. A Quaker minister is one who has answered the call to ministry. Early Friends believed that no outward education or ceremony of ordination could make you a minister, but only the inward calling from God, that that call was all the authority you needed, and that the call could come to anyone—and would come to everyone—because everyone was possessed of the Seed. But—you still have to answer the call. So yes, we are all potential ministers. But we only properly become ministers when we realize that potential—when we answer the call. Or to put it another way, when we faithfully follow our leading into the service of the Spirit.
~ Equality. Yes, we are all equal in our possession of that of God within us. Yet we each are given a unique set of gifts for ministry. And yes, each of these gifts is necessary for the spiritual health of the community. Thus all ministries also are equal. So a radical equality does guide our attitudes regarding ministry.
At the same time, though, the unique giftedness we each possess—the measure of the Light we each have been given, to use the language of our forebears—calls for personal, "customized" recognition and support by the meeting community.
Here is where the true equality lies: the gifts that you and I possess and the ministries we pursue all equally deserve recognition and nurture by the communities we serve.
So—how is your meeting doing? Does your meeting know what your gifts are? Does your meeting recognize your gifts and help you develop them? Does your meeting support the spirit-work you are led to do in the world?
This is the role of the meeting in nurturing Quaker ministry and the spirituality of its members. And this is where recording comes in. Your meeting does not need to record your gifts in ministry to give you the spiritual nurture you need, but they do need to do something. We will return in a moment to the value that recording brings to both meeting and minister.
So we take the equality for granted, yes. But the unique, person-specific nature of spiritual gifts calls for unique, person-specific action on the part of the meeting.
Since the minister is not, according to our practice, supposed to ask to be recorded (rather, the meeting is supposed to recognize God’s work and initiate the process), our meetings should be very busy looking for and recognizing the gifts of all its members, whether by recording or by some other process more agreeable to the meeting. Ideally, virtually all of our members would be recognized in their ministry in some way, if not by recording.
This is the equality that naturally arises from a robust culture of eldership—not a failure to recognize anyone's gifts, but an energetic effort to recognize everyone's gifts. If we are going to reject recording anyone’s gifts out of the testimony of equality—and yet still believe that all are gifted and deserve our support—then we should come up with some alternative for nurturing everyone’s gifts. Faithfulness to the testimony of integrity requires that if we believe the one, then we should do the other.
Unfortunately, many (most?) of our meetings do not think or operate this way. Believing erroneously that we have laid down the practice of recording, or simply ignoring it, or even feeling hostile toward it, many of our meetings have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and do nothing at all to recognize and build up spiritual gifts in our members.
~ Hierarchy. Here we get to the heart of the matter: doesn't recording ministers raise them up above the rest of us? On the contrary, it has exactly the opposite effect. Or rather, it has a constellation of effects, all of which foster true humility in the minister when exercised properly.
First, recording does in fact strengthen the minister in her call in many ways. That is its purpose. But this confidence is not to be confused with arrogance. We want confident ministers. We want a spirituality that gives us strength. We can afford to suffer a little spiritual pride now and then, if the price of doing the opposite—policing our ministers—is to quench the Spirit instead. This is the unrecognized downside of ignoring or resisting recording gifts, or failing to do something else proactively to recognize and nurture them: you quench both the Spirit that would energize our (potential) ministers and the spiritual vitality of our meetings.
~ The benefits of recording. Recording brings a lot of wonderful benefits to both the minister and his meeting. It strengthens a Friend’s spiritual gifts and fosters effective ministry. It brings the minister and her work under the care of the meeting. It strengthens and empowers the meeting. And it brings discipline—gospel order, our forebears would say—to both the meeting and the minister by enriching the culture of eldership.
In positive terms, recording gives the minister access to clearness, discernment, support, oversight—and joy. We inevitably face obstacles in our ministry, confusion or indecision, or times of drought or anguish in the experience of our gifts. In these times, we should be able to turn to our meetings for support. Ideally, they are there already, perhaps even recognizing the difficulty before the minister does. Formally recording ministers helps a great deal to insure that such an infrastructure of spiritual support—the positive side of eldership—is in place.
And having one’s gifts recorded can bring tremendous joy. For those of us for whom our ministry is at the heart of our spirituality, nothing brings greater joy than to exercise one’s gifts on behalf of the community and the God that we love—except maybe the loving and joyful embrace of our work by our community. Everybody feels good when others recognize and support the good things we are trying to do. When your meeting recognizes and supports your ministry, it feels terrific.
Recording also gives the minister oversight. If the meeting knows and practices the traditions of Quaker ministry, it will prevent the hierarchy that the critics of recording fear. And this is not just discipline in the usual, negative sense. Such discipline is positive spiritual nurture.
For it is very scary to feel a call to do God's work. You know that you could "run past your guide"—end up doing things you were not called to do. You know that you could "step through the traces"—get tangled up in the work until you trip, the way a horse can get a leg tangled in the harnesses—the traces—that tie it to the carriage. Usually, the ego is involved. The faithful minister is eager for this discipline, for the meeting to help prevent these things from happening. And the faithful community is there to do that service. This covenant between minister and meeting is the main reason to formally record gifts, in my opinion. So I feel the question really is, not why would you record the gifts of a minister—but why would you not?
- As a meeting, would you not want to recover, pass on, and experiment with the incredible tradition of Quaker ministry, its faith and its practice, rather than let it languish out of fear and ignorance?
- Do you not believe that all your members and attenders possess unique spiritual gifts and that these gifts deserve to be recognized and nurtured?
- Would you not therefore want to proactively seek to recognize your members’ gifts and support the ministries that will certainly arise if you do nurture them?
- So how would you do that? Why not accept the gift that Quaker tradition has given us in our tradition—the practice of recording—and adapt it to your meeting's needs?
So what's the point?
The traditions of Quaker ministry and eldership have been steadily eroding over the century or more since many of our meetings began laying down the practice of recording ministers and elders. But they're not dead yet. Thanks to our rich written tradition, meetings that no longer retain a working knowledge of how to nurture the spirituality of Quaker ministry can still find accounts of these practices in action and a wealth of resources for recovering these traditions from oblivion (see the Resources piece in this issue of Spark).
At the same time, because we laid down some of these practices for good reasons, I hope that we will continue to adapt them and experiment with them in the spirit of continuing revelation. Since we began losing these traditions, the spirit of continuing revelation has already given us the brilliant practice of clearness committees for discernment. And in the past few decades we have opened up our understanding of ministry way beyond its original conception as just vocal ministry in meeting for worship to include a very wide range of service and witness. I have no doubt that we will continue to develop new ways to nurture the spiritual lives of our members in the future.
The main thing, though, is to be much more proactive in recognizing and developing our members' gifts of the Spirit, those ways in which God has endowed them with talents, skills, and character traits that could serve the meeting and God's work in the world. We could do this through
- personal mentoring by elders in the meeting (or if you prefer, "weighty" Friends, Friends who know the tradition and have a gift for spiritual nurture),
- programs of spiritual nurture focused on naming and nurturing spiritual gifts, and
- programs of religious education focused on the faith and practice of Quaker ministry.
As for recording, if we really do proactively nurture spiritual gifts in all our members, then it would in fact be redundant, exhausting, and silly to record everyone in the old way. But I suspect that it will still be useful to record Friends who are called to specific ministries, especially those that take them beyond the meeting or even beyond the wider Quaker community. The two common examples already common among us, as I’ve said, are chaplain work and prison ministries.
Your meeting may decide that recording does not fit well with the culture of your meeting, once you have examined it in a faithful way. Please don't just dismiss it without learning about it, though; our tradition and our ministers deserve better than ignorant and arrogant out-of-hand dismissal of this ancient and valuable practice and its benefits.
Here, again, the most important thing is: do something to actively seek out and nurture the spiritual gifts of your members and to support the ministries that will miraculously arise from those gifts when they are nurtured. It would be a tragedy if you let the Seed within them die for lack of watering. And when your meeting figures out how it wants to support the gifts and spirituality/ministries of its members, please let Ministry Coordinating Committee know so we can share them.
* "God" is of course, a charged word among Liberal Friends nowadays. So let me offer this clarification of what I mean when I use it. My definition of God is experience-based. I use "God" as a placeholder for the Mystery Reality behind our religious experience, whatever that experience is. These experiences are real—we know this because they transform our lives and our meetings and even the world, sometimes, in recognizable ways. But they are also a mystery—they transcend our normal experience, our usual understanding, our everyday consciousness, sometimes even our senses—they are transcendental. We know there is more to them than we can grasp with our normal faculties. They come from somewhere, but often we're not really sure where that is. They mean something, something important, but often their meaning unfolds over time—the experience is a continuing revelation. And these things are true about a very wide variety of religious and spiritual experiences across all traditions and all other boundaries. This Mystery Reality behind our experience—whatever that experience is—is what I mean when I say "God".
Let's try to get a little more concrete: If you have a gift for, say, healing, or teaching, where does that gift come from? What accounts for those transcendental moments when you can feel the power coursing through you when an opening blossoms into vocal ministry that really speaks to someone's needs? You know it really happened: that person really was uplifted or healed. But how did it work? Why you? Why this moment? Whatever lies behind, or inside, or underneath such an experience is what I call "God".
Quaker Resources on Ministry
Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, Martha Paxson Grundy; Pendle Hill Pamphlet #347.
Spirit-Led Eldering: Integral to Our Faith and Practice, Margery Mears Larrabee; Pendle Hill Pamphlet #392.
Spiritual Discernment: the context and goal of clearness committees, Patricia Loring; Pendle Hill Pamphlet #305.
Early Friends & Ministry, Martha Paxson Grundy; Beacon Hill Friends House pamphlet #1011. Leadings, Jim Corbet; The 31st Annual J. Barnard Walton Memorial Lecture, Southeastern Yearly Meeting; pamphlet.
On Being Grafted Into the Root, Debbie Humphries; Beacon Hill Friends House, Listen! Series pamphlet.
Called Into Being, Kody Hersh; Beacon Hill Friends House, New Voices Series pamphlet #1005.
Nudged By The Spirit: Stories of People Responding to the Still, Small Voice of God, Charlotte Fardelmann; Pendle Hill Pamphlet #288.
Being Faithful As Friends Individually and Corporately, Deborah Fisch; Beacon Hill Friends House pamphlet.
Building the Life of the Meeting, Fran and William Taber; Southeastern Yearly Meeting.
The Hidden Center and Outward Scaffolding of Quaker Spiritual Community, Patricia Loring; Southeastern Yearly Meeting.
Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community, Sandra Cronk; Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297.
The Spiritual Care Committee, The School of the Spirit; http://schoolofthespirit.org/programs/the-spiritual-care-committee/.
Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, Lloyd Lee Wilson; Quaker Press of FGC.
A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to A Gospel Minister: Advice to Ministers and Elders Among the People Called Quakers, Samuel Bownas; Pendle Hill/Tract Association.
Images And Silence: The Future Of Quaker Ministry, Swarthmore Lecture 1992, Brenda Clifft Heales and Chris Cook; Britain Yearly Meeting.
On Living with A Concern for Gospel Ministry, Brian Drayton; Quaker Press of FGC.
Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches, Mathilda Navias; Friends Publishing Company.
Listening Spirituality, Vol. I: Personal Spiritual Practices Among Friends, and Vol. II: Corporate Spiritual Practice Among Friends, Patricia Loring.
Experiences of Worship & the Gathered Meeting, transcript of a panel with Micah Bales, Frances Taber, and Kathleen Wooten, at Stillwater Meetinghouse June 27, 2012; www.quakerspring.org/experiences-of-worship.php.
Guidelines for Embracing the Ministry of Friends, Committee for the Nurture and Recognition of Ministry and Ministry and Counsel Committee, Baltimore Yearly Meeting; click on the link "Guidelines for Embracing Friends" on the BYM Publications page to download a pdf.
A Valiant Sixteen: The Spiritual Nurture of Young Friends Traveling in the Ministry, Ashley Wilcox; click on the link in PhYM's Resources section on their website to download a pdf of The Valiant Sixteen.
Traveling in ministry
Nurturing Calls to Ministry in Friends Meetings: How FGC’s Traveling Ministries Program Can Serve Your Meeting; FGC pamphlet.
InterVisitation: Travel Under Religious Concern—Quaker Heritage and Present Need, Van Ernst; Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas pamphlet.
The Cost of Traveling Ministry, Ashley Wilcox; questforadequacy.blogspot.com.
Walk Worthy of Your Calling: Quakers and the Traveling Ministry, Margery Post Abbott and Peggy Senger Parsons, editors; Friends United Press.
Go and the Lord Go With Thee, Sue Glover; Sessions of York.
Quality And Depth Of Worship And Ministry; The Committee on Eldership and Oversight of Britain Yearly Meeting.
On the Vocal Ministry, Ruth Pitman; tract.
Leading Quakers: Discipleship Leadership As A Friends Model, Jennifer Isbell; Earlham School of Religion.
Leadership Among Friends, Ron McDonald; Pendle Hill Pamphlet #320.
State of the Society Report 2012—Excerpt on Ministry
The queries sent to monthly meetings for the preparation of the 2012 State of the Society Report included several on ministry. In keeping with this issue's theme, we are publishing the lengthy section at the beginning of the Report that summarizes the meetings' responses to these queries on ministry. You can find the full State of Society Report on the NYYM website.
Each year, monthly meetings and worship groups are asked to summarize their spiritual experience in State of the Meeting reports. These reports are used by the State of Society Committee to consider the state of the yearly meeting as a whole. This year, the following queries were offered as possible guides:
1. How does ministry thrive in our meetings? How do we identify and support the ministries rising among us? Do we communicate our faith with tenderness and honesty to each other, to our meetings, and to the larger world?
2. Every meeting carries part of the long legacy of Quaker faith and practice. What do we contribute to that legacy? Are we called to participate in non-Quaker movements that express or could use Quaker values?
These two queries—how do we minister, and what do we add to Quaker legacy—called forth a mixture of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the monthly meetings. On one hand, we enjoy the ways we can continue the practices and values of the past. We take care of each other and try to speak constructively to the world. On the other hand, we wonder about our vitality in spoken ministry and our path forward in conflict inside and outside our meetings.
Meetings defined ministry in a variety of ways, drawing distinctions between ministry to the larger community, to the meeting, and to one another. One meeting said they understand the term “ministry” both in the sense of spoken words that carry the Spirit during meeting for worship, and in the sense of activities that carry the Spirit to those in the meeting and beyond it. Some defined ministry as caretaking on a large and small scale, or as identifying and following leadings that arise from meeting for worship. Others focused on the spoken messages and the quality of the silence during meeting for worship.
Friends minister to each other by providing pastoral care, providing rides to Friends who find it difficult to make it to meeting for worship, or visiting and sharing worship at a housebound Friend’s home. There is pastoral ministry in speaking thoughtfully with others during a social hour, and in washing dishes when the social hour is over.
Ministering to the outside world includes making Quakerism, and one’s meeting, more visible, with hopes that this visibility will help people come into deepening relationship with one another and the Divine. Meetings send out press releases to local media about events, participate in open houses, and improve signage at their meetinghouses. Meetings participate in local ecumenical groups, and often join in local protests and actions. Many meetings maintain regular and long-standing peace vigils in their communities. Meetinghouses lend their space to community groups in need, providing a form of ministry to these groups and outreach to their community.
Ministry is part of the blessing of Quaker process within meetings. One meeting states, “The process of discernment with members of a clearness committee is one of the great gifts of the Society of Friends.” A leading that is rising up in an individual can be tested, refined, and supported. A well-functioning Nominating Committee can get to know a meeting’s members and attenders and help identify an individual’s gifts.
Functioning, active committees in a monthly meeting are a sign of a healthy ministry and are the legacy of Quaker practice. Several meetings have struggled to fill committees or complete the necessary business of their meeting and have created new ways of doing business. One meeting has tried having all its committees meet on the same day at their meetinghouse, so that Friends could easily attend any committee meeting they’re led to attend. Meetings have committees in which a clerk could not be found so the clerkship rotates among its members, a situation that works out well. One meeting sends out reports to be read before business meetings, “so that more time is available in Meeting for Business to discern spiritual matters.”
Meetings reported special concern for vocal ministry that is spoken during meeting for worship. A few meetings reported talkative, “popcorn” style meetings—sometimes due to an influx of newcomers—and one has recently recorded two members’ calls to ministry. But many unprogrammed meetings seem to be experiencing mostly or completely silent hours of worship every First Day. The quality of this silent worship is often treasured by its participants, even as some worry about this lack of verbal participation. Many meetings report that there will often be a completely silent hour of worship followed by a lively and vocal period of afterthoughts or worship sharing. Some Friends wonder why this is; are Friends feeling too intimidated to break the silence? Are they having difficulty identifying messages that may come to them? Some Christ-centered Friends feel hesitant to speak because they are afraid their messages will not be welcomed. One meeting reports, “The more we sit in silence, the quieter we get. Hesitancy to speak leaves a void. We are working on ways to invite Friends to test the water and open ourselves to share the messages rising within us so that we can deepen our spiritual connections with each other.”
~ Other Features ~
Quaker Quest Full Day Workshop
~ Naceo Giles, Brooklyn Meeting
As a member of the Friends General Conference (FGC) Quaker Quest Travel Team (QQTT), I participated as a workshop co-leader with Elaine Crauderueff and Helen Garay Toppins in the first full-day workshop designed by FGC to introduce QQ to Yearly Meetings. Held at Poughkeepsie Meeting on October 6, the program was the same as the full-day workshop that is offered to any monthly meeting that decides to hold such an event. Participants came from meetings in western and central New York, New York City, and New Jersey.
There are many opportunities for ministry in the Quaker Meeting. As one participant pointed out, “Quakers abolished the laity, not the ministry. We are all ministers.” Serving on the QQTT is one of the most rewarding ministries I have yet undertaken in New York Yearly Meeting.
Quakerism is described by the originators of Quaker Quest as a spiritual path that is simple, radical, and contemporary. It is both an inreach and outreach process designed to convey, through the experience of the members and attenders, the content and value of the precious gift of Quakerism, the Quaker way as we practice it in the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings, with primary emphasis on the individual monthly meeting. Conducting a full-day workshop will often enrich the life of the meeting organizing it. Sometimes it will lead to other outcomes as well, including numerical growth in membership.
The group that gathered at Poughkeepsie on October 6 was very open to the process of Quaker Quest and participated enthusiastically in the various exercises. Deb Wood and Fred Doneit, acting as presenters, each shared moving accounts of what the Quaker testimony of simplicity means to them and how they live out the testimony in their lives. The assembled group of 28 participants undertook the exercises designed for group and individual participation with energy and enthusiasm.
This was my third co-leadership of a Quaker Quest program and I find it nourishing. I am privileged to view firsthand the extended Quaker fellowship beyond my own monthly meeting. At Poughkeepsie I have had the opportunity to observe how Quakers from all over the state answer questions like:
- What is the precious gift the Quaker way has to offer?
- What does the Quaker testimony of simplicity mean?
- Do Quakers believe in God?
For more information about Quaker Quest, go to www.fgcquaker.org/quaker-quest.
Oakwood School—A Profile
~ Deb Wood, Purchase Meeting ~
Oakwood Friends School, our Yearly Meeting School, has roots that go back to 1796, when a group of Quakers, prompted by the desire to provide “useful and necessary” learning to both sons and daughters, opened Nine Partners Boarding School in Millbrook, New York. After some years, the school began to decline, and it was laid down as a Yearly Meeting school shortly before the Civil War. Soon thereafter, western New York Friends opened a Yearly Meeting boarding school, Oakwood Seminary, at Union Springs on Lake Cayuga. In 1920, faced with waning enrollment and a disastrous fire, its board and the Yearly Meeting decided to move and rebuild the school in Poughkeepsie.
Oakwood Friends School is a coeducational, college preparatory boarding and day school for students grades six through twelve. Friends beliefs and practices shape its purposes and guide the everyday life of the school. The school program includes unprogrammed meeting for worship, meeting for business, and Quaker testimonies in its curriculum and community life.
This year, enrollment is at 123. Before the current recession, enrollment was closer to 180.
About 10 years ago, the Board created the following Mission Statement: “Oakwood Friends School, guided by Quaker principles, educates and strengthens young people for lives of conscience within a diverse community, dedicated to nurturing the spirit, the scholar, the artist and the athlete in each person.”
The Board has 25 members, 13 of whom must be Quakers. The rest of the Board is made up of alumni and at-large members. The at-large members, some of them current or former parents, are those who have a sincere interest in the school, and bring experience and expertise in a variety of areas.
Oakwood is accredited by the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS). Accreditation is done every ten years, and this is the year. Last year, the school conducted a self-evaluation of all aspects of its functioning. The faculty and staff established a steering committee, and a number of committees are working on this process. Some Board members serve on some of the committees, and the Board has conducted its own self-evaluation.
Oakwood needs the support of the Yearly Meeting. Not all of the Quaker Board members are members of New York Yearly Meeting, and we are always seeking local Friends to serve. The Board meets four times a year, the last Saturday in September, the last Saturday in November or the first Saturday in December, the last Saturday in January, and the last Saturday in April. Board committees meet once a month at the school, and some of the members participate by phone or electronically. Although Oakwood receives some funding from the YM operating budget and some designated trust funds administered by YM Trustees, we also need financial support from individuals.
Oakwood welcomes visitors to the campus, and your host might be a student. The food is excellent, so plan to be there at a mealtime! The plays and concerts are open to the public, and would give you an idea of some of the non-academic offerings. Visit their website, oakwoodfriends.org, for views of the campus and a rundown of activities.
Deborah Wood is a member of the Oakwood Board.
A Concern for the Criminal Justice System—Why Prisons?
~ Judy Meikle, Wilton Meeting ~
In September, I joined a crowd of more than two thousand at the historic Riverside Church in Harlem. We gathered to remember the Attica rebellion of 1971 when thirty-nine people lost their lives. A recent survey by the Correctional Association of New York found that inhumane conditions in Attica have hardly changed in the years since the uprising. In an action to focus attention on mass incarceration in this country, anti-prison activists are demanding that Governor Cuomo close the infamous maximum security prison and create a memorial to the people who died.
My own path towards asking the question “Why prisons?” began ten years ago in an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop when I was trained in the craft of non-violence by a man who had honed his skill inside a New York State prison. I began to learn, through the power of individual stories, that men are changed in spite of—not because of—confinement. I learned that lesson every time I went behind prison walls—to do AVP, to join men in Quaker worship, or to spend time in the visit room. I saw that our prison system is intent on punishment, does little to rehabilitate, and always tears apart families and communities, creating cycles of misery.
Given these insights, I struggle to know what God is asking of me. I am pulled in many directions. With a friend on death row, I am called to activism to abolish capital punishment. I want to support people returning home from prison. I feel that AVP should play a role in empowering communities devastated by violence, economic injustice, and the effects of our criminal justice system. I see that in the forty years since AVP began, prison populations have increased from 250,000 to over 2 million and I know that this has little to do with crime and more to do with poverty and racism; we are living in a time of a New Jim Crow.
My process of discernment has been tortuous at times; knowing what direction to take and staying positive has been difficult. I have often felt like a lone voice of dissent challenging injustice. I have been a harsh self-critic when progress has been slow. I am grateful to my Committee of Care at my monthly meeting. Having their support has been vital. I have been granted a travel minute, not sure where that would take me or what I would do when I got there. At times I have questioned my ministry, interpreting my sense of confusion as lack of faith. A Friend advised me that to feel muddled was a sign of being in the midst of a leading and so to be patient.
Recently, at the conclusion of a weekend retreat, I was asked to commit to one action to revitalize my ministry. I realized I had not met with my Committee of Care for some time, having fallen into a funk after the abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut. My reconvened Committee helped to nurture me and uplift my spirit, I was asked to write a report, and the looking back is helping to guide my way forward. I realize that I had been thinking of “accountability” to my Committee as being held accountable to a standard and therefore potentially failing. Now I have reframed the concept and think of my Committee as helping me to stay on track and to recognize where I am, even if I am occasionally at a standstill.
So where am I now? As I sat in the crowd at Riverside church in September, it was clear to me that I am part of something much bigger than myself. It was once too difficult to imagine an America without slavery, without lynching, without Jim Crow. Now there is a growing movement that is holding up a vision of a reality without prisons. However impossible that may seem, we owe it to the six million men and women caught up in cages, parole, and probation to imagine that possibility. Whatever work I am called to do, I will do it as an ally to the anti-prison movement and I will continue to lift up the question: Why prisons?
Judy Meikle travels with a concern for the criminal justice system as an anti-prison activist and death penalty abolitionist. She travels accompanied by formerly incarcerated people. Contact her at 203-981-6889 or [email protected].
Minute on Hydrofracking
In its Fall Sessions 2012, Clerk of Witness Coordinating Committee Mary Eagleson (Scarsdale) reported on the state of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (hydrofracking) in New York State. Albany, Butternuts, Genesee Valley, Ithaca, Rochester, and Scarsdale Monthly Meetings, and Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting have prepared minutes on hydrofracking. The Witness Coordinating Committee welcomes minutes from other meetings as they are prepared. New York Yearly Meeting approved the minute brought forward by Witness Coordinating Committee opposing hydrofracking in New York State and beyond (below). The Yearly Meeting also expressed its unity with several action recommendations; these follow the text of the minute.
Minute on fracking
New York Yearly Meeting has connsidered the potential consequences of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (also known as HVHF, horizontal hydrofracking, or fracking) in New York State. We oppose hydrofracking in New York State and beyond. We urge our political representatives to prohibit the practice of HVHF in New York State. As Quakers, we experience the Divine through loving and truthful relationships with all people and all creation. After extensive efforts to inform ourselves about fracking we have concluded that it is inconsistent with our faith and practices, which include a commitment to integrity, community, equality and care of God’s creation. We observe that the natural gas industry and government agencies have placed financial gain over the health of our communities and the environment. We see no legitimate reason to exempt hydrofracking from existing laws protecting water, air, land, and health, as is currently the case. In other states where horizontal hydrofracking has been performed, it has resulted in the loss of vast amounts of fresh water, the release of toxins into the environment, damage to communities, and cost to the tax payers.
We support legislation and incentives which promote research, development, and use of renewable and sustainable energy; support local farms and farmers; protect the air and water; enforce accountability for industries that risk environmental harm; and create economic policies that promote work for New York State residents that they can do in good conscience. We urge all citizens to thoughtfully consider the long-term effects of hydrofracking on the water, land, local economy, infrastructure, services, and the community as a whole. We are encouraged by the many communities coming together to seek a way forward based on truth and respect. We are called to stand against fracking, and invite others to join us in opposition to this practice.
Approved action recommendations.
- We ask that the NYYM clerk and general secretary disseminate this minute widely through press releases, letters to our elected officials, to other yearly meetings, and other Quaker organizations.
- We charge our representatives to the New York and New Jersey Council of Churches to bring this concern to those bodies, and to advocate for those bodies getting under the weight of this concern.
- We urge Friends to examine our own lives to discern the seeds which might inadvertently support the practice of fracking, and, to the degree possible, do what we can to limit or eliminate those seeds.
- We ask Friends to prayerfully consider adding their names to the list of people, started in part by Friends, who have made a public commitment to join with others to engage in non-violent acts of protest, as their conscience leads them. The link to this list is as follows: http://www.dontfrackny.org/pledge/.
The clerk's opening remarks at Fall Sessions 2012.
We may not live in a broken world, but the world cries out for our attention. Not just us alone. But we do have some answers. We have a wonderful witness. Both a social witness and a spiritual witness. And one might even say we have a procedural witness – our process of discernment – our openness to that of God within ¬ our experience of radically embracing our shared humanity.
We live in the midst of empire where success is falsely defined and measured by how much material goods one can accumulate for oneself. In a world where the cost of a single fighter jet would fund our Yearly Meeting for half a century. If we were to look back at the last 50 years, I think we would find that this Yearly Meeting has had more true success, has brought forth more power, and created more positive change than that fighter jet might ever hope to do.
We don’t practice our faith, we live it. It's not always easy being a Quaker, but personally, I would find it more difficult not to be one.
There is much to do if we are to be faithful. We have occasion over the next day or two to do some of that work and to live our faith together.
Jillian Clausen – Purchase
Barry DeSaw – Conscience Bay
Young DeSaw – Conscience Bay
Karin Morgan – Conscience Bay
Richard Morgan – Conscience Bay
Judy Morse – Chappaqua
Denis Zapson - Chappaqua
Edward Zapson – Chappaqua
Marialinda Zapson – Chappaqua
Sabrina Zapson – Chappaqua
Feza Ekanga, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
Tim Lietzke, to Poughkeepsie from Five Rivers, Palmetto Friends (SC)
Peter Price, to Rockland from New Haven (NEYM)
Celestin Abwl Ramazani, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
Celestine Mauwa Ramazani, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
Emerance Ndanga Ramazani, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
Esperance Ndanga Ramazani, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
Gilbert Ramazani, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
Gloria Mwembe Ramazani, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
Ndanga Joel Ramazani, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
Regine Ramazani, to Buffalo from Abeka (Congo YM)
E. Theodora Briggs DeHoney, member of Easton, on September 10, 2012
Mary Medearis, member of Saratoga, on September 16, 2012
Jane Van Winkle Morgan, member of Poughkeepsie, on September 8, 2012
Lynn M. Pingrey, member of Adirondack, on September 12, 2012
Lauren Elizabeth Pronto, member of Adirondack, on August 26, 2012
Virginia Powell Strong, member of Schenectady, on September 11, 2012
Dean Yingling, member of Ridgewood, on May 30, 2012