On recording gifts in ministry

October 18, 2013 § 12 Comments

Many Friends in the Liberal tradition oppose the practice of “recording ministers”. I support it.

Or rather, I feel that it is extremely important that meetings do something to proactively recognize, name, and nurture the spiritual gifts of our members and attenders. This is one of the things we are here for, to nurture each other’s lives in the Spirit. This is one of the key responsibilities of a Quaker meeting. We don’t have to record people as ministers, but we should be doing something.

I got to thinking about this because of a post by Ashley W (I think the W is for Wilcox) about being a recorded Quaker minister student in a Methodist seminary. I clicked on the label “Recorded” for that post and found that she has blogged quite a lot about her experience as a recorded minister—really good stuff. I highly recommend reading her posts on recording, especially if you don’t understand or agree with the practice.

I published a piece myself on this topic in the online edition of the November 2012 issue of Spark, the newsletter of New York Yearly Meeting. You can click here to read my “On Recording Gifts in Ministry.” The issue’s theme of Recognizing Gifts in Ministry was part of an effort of the Yearly Meeting to reconsider the practice in light of resistance from some in the Yearly Meeting to its continuance. The Yearly Meeting was not able to come to unity on laying the practice down, and so the practice stands. Thankfully, to my mind, as you will see if you read my article.

New York Yearly Meeting has a pamphlet offering guidelines for recording in the Yearly Meeting, available here: “Recording Gifts in Ministry”.

What do you think? What has been your experience?

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§ 12 Responses to On recording gifts in ministry

  • barbarakay1 says:

    hmmn: Recording MAY have been laid down in many Meetings because it tended to be only of Vocal Ministry in Meeting for Worship and many of us have other Gifts that were not in that vein going UNRecorded….

  • John March says:

    Thanks for this Steven…

    I have two concerns with recording a minister among Friends. The first is that the gift of the Spirit is a momentary arising. Once can be arising in the Light one moment and lost the next. The second and related to the first is that recording assumes that we are fixed beings with attributes in this case the attribute of a certain kind of gift. Since being convicted in the Light involves the surrender of self-cherishing or, put differently, the end of striving, willing, and the desire to do, be or know (Pennington), living in the regeneration is in a sense incompatible with a privileged view of ministering. We all know who has weight: why name it if naming it is to lay a boundary around it that limits the Light’s ability to know itself?

  • Howard says:

    I would think it beneficial if there was some practice that validated for a Friend his/her gifts of the Spirit (including that of vocal ministry); but in a more organic, natural manner than that of formally recording ministers.

    Why I think many yearly meetings have laid down the practice of recording ministers is because it actually stifles the free-flow of the Spirit to bestow the gift of ministry whenever and upon whoever might receive it. I think that was the conclusion of Baltimore Yearly Meeting before they laid down the practice.

    Perhaps for our time and liberal Quaker theology, we should simply offer Friends a Clearness committee so they can explore their particular gift in the company of other Friends. This would eliminate the need to “certify” and “record” the gift by a body of elders. This would seem to offer the validation that any true minister would want; yet it avoids the formalization of spirituality that so many liberal Quakers abhor.

    On the other topic you raise here, Steven: In order to deepen your meeting’s worship on Sunday, I highly recommend instituting a ‘Circle of Friends’ in your meeting every Sunday; it would meet for just 30 minutes before worship. We have been doing this for a year now at my meeting with benefits beyond our expectations. Each week, the facilitator chooses a very deep spiritual passage from any number of spiritual traditions, and emails it out to the meeting’s email distribution list with an invitation to participate. Sometimes in the mailing there is a brief introduction to the spiritual work if that is needed.

    What we have discovered is that both the mailing itself and the ‘Circle of Friends’ 30 minute gathering, seems to prepare Friends to enter worship with a spiritual grounding and mindset. We have discovered that our silence is deeper in worship and it is more often gathered. And when there is vocal ministry, it too is more often coming from a very deep place. The biggest surprise to us is that these 30 minute sessions are not inadvertently programming the worship that follows. Any vocal ministry during worship rarely has anything to do with what was said during the earlier 30 minute session. In the 50 times we have now held these sessions in the past year, maybe only twice has there been vocal ministry that seems to have been influenced by the session before worship. And for an extra bonus our attendance at worship has actually doubled.

    We ensure there is at least a 10 minute break after the ‘Circle of Friends’ session and before worship begins. This creates a tangible break between the two in order to emphasize that something different is happening in worship. Worship usually has about twice as many Friends attending than the session before it. So this too establishes that worship is not a carry-over from the ‘Circle of Friends’ session.

    Rather than programming the worship that Sunday, I suspect these ‘Circle of Friends’ sessions are simply preparing Friends spiritually for worship. Much as did family Bible reading prepare Quakers of old for worship once the family left their home for the meetinghouse.

    • vombutchClem says:

      Howard, from personal experience, I have not benefited from my Meeting’s Clearness process on this matter. Presently, I am confused why you think recording ministers is limiting when your “Circle of Friends” is not, even though open to whomever would want to participate. Circles within and without other circles is a reality better not ignored or discounted. Peace.

      • Howard says:

        Steven,

        I think experience in BYM showed that recording some Friends stifled the growth of vocal ministry in others. Those who were recorded were viewed as the experts, worthy to offer vocal ministry. Others, perhaps due to their own insecurities, felt not as worthy because they had not been recognized as worthy through formal recording.

        I don’t think an interest group such as ‘Circle of Friends’ rises to the formality of recording ministers. It’s an informal gathering of Friends to share spiritual insights.

        Generally, I prefer less formality when dealing with spiritual things, including gifts of the Spirit. Making known the availability of a Clearness committee to discern gifts of the Spirit without formally recording them, seems like a good solution to me.

        But that’s just me.

      • Howard says:

        OOPS Steven,

        I now see that my comment below was misdirected to you, when you were not the one to ask the question of me. Sorry about that.

  • My comment is off-topic and I’m placing it here in hope that you may some day have an answer. We’re asking ourselves how to get people to give messages during Meeting for Worship, rather than waiting until giving those messages during announcements. If they are giving them, then they must think they are worth sharing, but for some reason they are hesitant to give the during worship. Any ideas? Or are we concerned about the wrong thing?

    Vonn New has raised a valid concern, which is the responsibility of the Meeting. “Recording” someone should not be a one-time action, but an on-going responsibility. I wonder how different meetings handle this?

    • I, too, have wondered about the effect that afterthoughts are having on our vocal ministry. But frankly, I am almost always glad that people have not given us what they share after meeting.

      The problem for me is not why people are not speaking, but why so much of what people speak seems so—what? Somehow not what I recognize as truly Spirit-inspired vocal ministry. Heartfelt, yes. Uplifting, yes, most of the time. But vocal ministry should always draw us deeper, away from the surface thoughts and concerns that bedevil us to that indefinable Center within us and among us.

      As soon as someone says, “This week, I . . . “, or “I was reading in the New York Times . . .”, or “I’ve been thinking lately . . . “, or any introduction that mentions time, our anecdotal experience, media of any kind, I know we are going to get some insight that is very nice, but . . .

      I know many Friends are uncomfortable with this critical attitude. But I hunger for something deeper, myself. I have heard it, so I know it exists. I also know that if this were the real standard in my meeting, they would almost always be silent. I’m not sure what to do about this.

      The only solution I have come up with is not likely to happen: first, for Friends to take vocal ministry as seriously as we once did when we believed that our vocal ministers were actually prophets inspired by the Holy Spirit. And that, accordingly, Friends had personal devotional lives deep enough to in fact prepare them to actually be prophets.

      Not that I meet my own criteria.

    • vombutchClem says:

      Jill, as a former RC, I’m thinking of the ultra-pious teaching(Jansenism) that held that a Catholic had to be worthy to receive Holy Communion. The historical result: Catholics, just as piously, stopped receiving while still going to Mass. Ultimately, the Church had to require that Catholics receive at least once a year(“Easter duty”) in order to be “in communion”. Could stunted vocal ministry within worship be the victim of something similar(worthiness as opposed to neediness)? Let’s go off-topic more often if it means not having to re-learn the religious lessons of history.

  • Vonn New says:

    I agree that it is important that we nurture and support gifts in ministry. I’m not clear on how recording does that. Is it an empty form that might substitute for more tangible forms of support?

    I’m sure the answer will be different for different Friends engaged in ministry. For me, relating to the ministry I carry, the kinds of support I need would not be addressed by recording. I need spiritual support and accountability (eldering), a way to get the word out to those might ministry might serve if they knew of it, and a way to support myself financially while I go about the ministry.

    My concern is that a body might say or think, “We’ve recorded this minister, so now we’ve done our part with supporting him/her/zir.” That has been a bit of how I’ve felt about carrying a travel minute. Once the minute was approved, I have felt that I’ve needed to consistently remind my monthly meeting and the yearly meeting that the ministry I carry is not mine but ours. I wonder if recording would feel the same?

    • I agree, Vonn, that recording does not directly answer your needs as a minister. It comes from a time when we recorded gospel ministers, people who were obviously going to be giving the meeting vocal ministry pretty regularly, and it gave meetings a way to “manage” the vocal ministry. But ministries like yours are more specific and not necessarily “for life”.

      But even then we were really recording gifts, not ministers, though we let the language slip all the time, even today. This is really a different matter. You have gifts.They probably are “for life”, or at least they run deeper and probably longer than any specific ministry you might be called to.

      More to the point, though, is just that meetings should be more attentive and proactive in recognizing gifts and ministries, and more faithful in supporting them.

      I understand your frustration with the inconstancy of the monthly and yearly meetings. At Summer Sessions this year the Yearly Meeting endorsed several travel minutes with a process that was as pro forma as it could be. We didn’t give the clerk any guidance in how to endorse the minute. We did not hear reports on the ministry. I suspect that many Friends, maybe most Friends, did not even quite understand what the ministries were about. I know that in one case, we endorsed the minute BEFORE the minister gave the program that would have represented her work in a way that informed the endorsement. We just did it.

      One of the ministers subsequently had a bit of a Quaker identity crisis precisely because Friends have no idea what she’s doing and don’t seem to care. She feels totally abandoned. And she is.

      Recording would not necessarily solve these problems, though, you’re right there. So it’s not an answer. Fuller knowledge of our traditions, deeper commitment from our meetings, somehow we must work our way toward these goals.

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