Joys of the Quaker Way—Ministry Unfolds Into Ministry
October 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
Petal by petal, the blossoming
This is how my spiritual life as a Friend had unfolded so far:
- My original opening about creation, the cosmic Christ, and ecological destruction as eco-crucifixion became a leading to write a book of biblical eco-theology.
- This leading led me in turn to understand my more general concern for earthcare in terms of Quaker ministry. My spiritual life had looped back, from general concern for earthcare to specific leading to write about earth stewardship, back to my “concern”, now understood as an earthcare ministry, in the terms of the Quaker tradition of open ministry.
- Furthermore, my leading to write this book matured into a broader ministry of writing, in which this core creative impulse of my life was fused with my core identity as a religious person. God became for me my Muse.
So now I had one opening, one leading, and two ministries.
The birth of a third ministry around Quaker ministry
Because I felt led to write a work of biblical theology, and because I had been hostile to the Bible for so long; and because I now understood this undertaking as a religious calling, I felt I needed religious oversight. Not just support in my ministry, but discipline, accountability to my Guide and to my religious community for my faithfulness in the work.
So I asked my meeting for an oversight committee. They were unable to meet my needs.
I met twice with the Ministry and Counsel committee. The first time, no one seemed to understand what I was doing or what I was asking for. The second time, some members did finally understand, but they did not understand why I would ask for such a thing. “We don’t want to tell you what to think,” one member said. Also: “When you take it to a publisher, you will get the feedback you need from your editor.”
I didn’t want them to tell me what to think. I wanted them to tell me when what I was thinking and saying and writing was out of the Life—that is, born of my ego, or my unconscious hostility to the Christian tradition, or from any source other than the Holy Spirit. And an editor could only give me the world’s advice; God would have nothing to do with it, only the market. And it would have been too late by the time an editor saw my work anyway.
They did not understand how afraid I was. I felt a religious calling. I knew I had stuff inside me that would try to stop or distort or even corrupt the work I felt called to do. To fall into such a state of unfaithfulness would have been the most horrible outcome for me. I have no direct experience of G*d as judge, in the traditional sense of sin, judgment, and salvation; that has always seemed perverse to me. Nevertheless, I did feel under judgment. I did fear failing G*d my Muse. I wanted some protection from myself. And I had a firm commitment to the role of the Quaker community in the discernment and support and yes, oversight, of ministry.
My meeting did not understand what I was doing as ministry. I suspect that they did not understand the faith and practice of Quaker ministry very much at all, but at least they did not know how to apply it to an actual case of a Friend called into ministry.
Thus was born in me a third ministry: to recall, revive, and reform the faith and practice of ministry among Friends. Now, for more than twenty years I have labored to learn the Quaker tradition of ministry; to represent it wherever I worship, especially in meeting for worship with a care for the life of the meeting; to work toward reforming our structures and processes in accordance with this tradition; and, of course, to write about it.
Ministry and earthcare
Moreover, this new ministry has looped back to connect to the original earthcare ministry and the original leading to write about earthcare. I have come to believe that, for earthcare to truly take hold as a leading for the Society of Friends as a communion of worshipping communities, we must relearn and re-embody our tradition of ministry. We must know what it means to be called by G*d, as individuals, and as communities. And we must have eco-ministers, more Friends called to the ministry of earthcare who are mature in the faith and practice of ministry and who are getting the discernment and support they need from their meetings.
For all this to take place, we must relearn the faith and practice of Quaker ministry, so that all our members and attenders are accustomed to think of their work in the world as a calling. So that we all are listening always to hear that call. So that we are living lives that leave us free to answer the call. So that our meetings know how to give our ministers, whatever their call—for not all are called to eco-ministry—the discernment, support, and yes, oversight, that they need to be faithful in their call. And we need meetings that expect that G*d will call them as a community as well, activating us as meetings to protect the gift of creation.
Unfolding summarized—so far
So now, from one opening, I have had one clear leading and now have three ministries:
- The opening: the Logos, the Word, the cosmic Christ in creation, and ecocide as decide; G*d as the Soul of the Earth.
- The leading: to write a book of biblically-based earth stewardship; G*d as Caller.
- The first ministry: to awaken Friends to a concern for earthcare; G*d as Creator/Sustainer.
- The second ministry: writing in general as ministry; G*d as Muse.
- The third ministry: to recover the faith and practice of Quaker ministry among Friends; G*d as Guide and Teacher.
But G*d was not done with me. G*d had more unfolding in store. G*d had more faces to reveal.