Quaker-pocalypse—Advancement & Ministry
June 17, 2015 § 3 Comments
When a meeting recognizes the gifts of its members and helps its members mature into their spiritual lives, the meeting matures in its collective religious life. This manifests in deep meetings for worship, spirit-led discernment in meetings for business in worship, effective pastoral care, a loving and resilient fellowship, grounded and focused social witness, and well-managed property and finances.
Newcomers can sense this vitality, even though the sources of it may not be very visible. Even less visible, oftentimes, are the ministries that flourish in a meeting. But they, too, give a meeting a vitality that true seekers after the divine will recognize: here, they will say to themselves, God truly is at work.
Gifts of the spirit and gifts in ministry—almost the same thing. Ministries often arise from one’s gifts—but not always. Both are given by the Holy Spirit. Both are given to the community and to the world but entrusted to individuals.
Because the gifts of ministry are given to the community, the community has a responsibility for them. If meetings do not recognize emerging ministries, they throw the gift away. If meetings do not give ministers help with discerning their leadings, they may lose the gift. And if meetings do not give ministers the support and oversight they need to be faithful to their call, meetings trample on the gifts. These are sins against the spirit.
Because the gifts of ministry are entrusted to individual Friends, the ministers also have responsibilities. If Friends do not bring their gifts in ministry and their leadings to their meeting, they deny their meeting the grace of the spirit. If Friends do not seek help with discernment, they may misunderstand their call. And if Friends do not seek support for their ministry if they need it, the gift may be squandered, or lost, or tangled in the obstacles that arise.
Do our meetings welcome the gifts of ministry that are given to us in the Spirit? And do our meetings and members live the faith and practice of Quaker ministry as an essential aspect of our corporate and individual religious lives?
Queries for our meetings
Recognizing ministry. Does your meeting know the faith and practice of Quaker ministry? Do you teach it often enough so that all members and attenders, and especially newcomers, have a chance to learn it, as well? Does your meeting encourage members to share their leadings and ministries with the meeting, providing both opportunities to share, and an open and visible structure for welcoming leadings? Are your members thinking about the gifts they have as spirit-led? Would a member of your meeting who has a leading recognize it as such? Are they in the habit of thinking about the interests they have in witness or service activities or whatever, within the meeting or in their everyday lives, as possible leadings from the Spirit into Quaker ministry?
Discerning leadings. Does your meeting know how to conduct a clearness committee for discernment of leadings? Does your meeting understand the difference between a clearness committee for discernment and clearness committees for membership, marriage, and making personal decisions, in terms of how the people are chosen and how the committees are conducted? Or does your meeting have some other process for helping ministers with the discernment of their leadings?
Supporting ministry. Does your meeting have a structure and processes in place for supporting the leadings of your members? Would a Friend with a leading know where to go with their leading? Does your meeting know how to form a care committee for its ministers? Is your meeting prepared to provide oversight as well as support, ready, for instance, to help a Friend discover when they have run past their guide, or have stepped through the traces * , or when they have been released from their call? Does your meeting know how to write a minute for travel or service in ministry?
Releasing ministry. In the elder days, when a Friend traveled in the ministry, members of their meeting helped run their farm or their store in their absence. This was called releasing ministry. When your meeting writes a minute for travel or service, do you also inquire into what obstacles may hinder the minister’s ability answer the call and then see what you can do to remove these obstacles? Are you familiar with ReleasingMinistry.org, a new independent Quaker initiative to support Quaker ministry?
* “Step through the traces.” This is a phrase from the elder days of Quaker ministry and refers to a draught horse getting its legs tangled in the tackle—the traces—by which it pulls a wagon. Thus it means to get tangled up in the pursuit of your ministry, making mistakes, failing to walk in the paths of Christ’s leading.