What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Support of Ministry

November 30, 2013 § 2 Comments

The soul of Quaker spirituality is the faith and practice of Quaker ministry:

the faith . . .

  • that all of life is sacramental, a vehicle for grace;
  • that the Inward Teacher is always with us, seeking to guide us throughout our lives and throughout each day, in matters from the significant to the mundane; and
  • that each of us is called on occasion into special service;

the individual practice of . . .

  • always turning toward the Light, seeking its guidance in our affairs; of
  • always listening for the call to special ministry; of
  • living lives that will allow us to answer the call when it comes; and then of
  • answering the call to service faithfully, to the measure we are able;

the corporate practice, as a meeting, of . . .

  • helping members and attenders with discernment regarding their ministry—is the prompting a true one, is it of the Spirit? and
  • with clarity—helping them move past an unformed sense of calling into clarity about the work they are called to do; and
  • providing support and oversight for the ministry and the minister, once the service has begun.

The faith and practice of Quaker ministry is a unique, tested, and powerful Way of approaching one’s life. It is a tremendous gift that we can offer to our members and attenders, and indeed to the world.

So what is the Religious Society of Friends for regarding our distinctive faith and practice of ministry? What is the purpose of a Quaker meeting in respect to Quaker ministry? :

One of the purposes of the Quaker meeting is to present the path of Quaker ministry clearly to our members and to equip them to follow it.

To fulfill its corporate calling, a meeting has to be equipped itself to serve its members in their ministry. A meeting should be ready and able to . . .

  • teach this Way of discipleship, so that all in the meeting know what it is and how it works;
  • provide resources and guidance on Quaker ministry—books, internal programs and access to outside programs and resources, and, especially, eldering—mentoring by Friends who are seasoned in the Way themselves;
  • conduct clearness committees, both clearness committees for discernment, and committees for clearness about life decisions—two different forms that are convened and conducted differently;
  • be ready as a body to provide support to its ministers, in the form of
    • minutes of travel and/or service;
    • support committees;
    • oversight committees, if appropriate; that is, the willingness to take responsibility for accountability;
    • and release of its ministers—a willingness to unburden the minister from those obstacles that might stand in the way of answering the call; these days, this often means financial aid; and
    • readiness to engage gospel order, if appropriate—to take the ministry to your regional and/or yearly meeting, if it is clear that the work will take the minister outside of local Quaker circles and/or requires more resources than the local meeting can provide.

As I said, I think that the faith and practice of Quaker ministry is the very soul of Quaker spirituality. Consequently, I think that few things could me more important to the life of a meeting than being able to support their members and attenders in their ministry.

Therefore, I think meetings (presumably starting with their committees on ministry and worship, whatever they are called) should use something like this outline as a kind of checklist to determine whether they are up to speed.

  • Do you need to develop your capabilities in some of these areas?
  • Do you have Friends who can teach this stuff? Are you providing the religious education this practice requires?
  • Do you know how to conduct clearness committees?
  • Are you paying attention to help members recognize their calls to ministry, since very often we find ourselves moving before we even know consciously what’s happening, especially if we are not familiar with the faith and practice of Quaker ministry?
  • Are you helping members who are already performing some service in the meeting or in the world to recognize this work as Spirit-led ministry? (How often have we discovered that one of our members is visiting a nursing home once a week, or whatever, and we didn’t know, and they had never thought of it as religious service, or as Spirit-led, or thought to tell anyone or to take it to the meeting in this way!)
  • Does your meeting think of vocal ministry as religious service, rather than just the sharing of messages, as a call to ministry (especially for those who speak often) that should be developed, supported, and held accountable?
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