Recording Gifts in Ministry

January 18, 2016 § 3 Comments

Our faith regarding vocal ministry has changed dramatically since the elder days, from believing that we were inspired by the spirit of Christ and were therefore speaking God’s word to being vague and uncertain now about the source of our ministry, seeking only to be “spirit-led” in some mostly undefined way.

This relaxing of the faith—the “theology” if you will—of vocal ministry has opened up the scope of its content. We no longer expect our vocal ministry to be “gospel ministry” in the old sense, that is, aimed at bringing the listeners to Christ or at keeping them in his embrace. Just as we now include as “ministry” a wide range of spirit-led service beyond just vocal ministry, so we also now feel free to speak about just about anything in meeting for worship.

Furthermore, this relaxed faith about vocal ministry has utterly transformed our corporate practice, as well. In most of our meetings, we no longer have elders. Modern meetinghouses don’t have facing benches. We no longer consider vocal ministry to be a calling that needs or requires engagement by the meeting, at least not until some Friend’s ministry becomes very disturbing to the meeting. We have almost unanimously abandoned the practice of recording gifts in ministry, or “recording ministers”, as many Friends perceive it.

In a subsequent post, I want to look more closely at how our relaxed faith regarding vocal ministry affects the content, but here I want to look at the practice of recording gifts in ministry with fresh eyes. What follows was first published in New York Yearly Meeting’s print newsletter Spark in November 2012.

Recording gifts in ministry

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 a very valuable part of Quaker practice for a number of reasons. So 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. We did not slide down some slippery slope of personal hubris and collective hierarchy when we recorded this Friend’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 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.

On the other hand, in practice it’s hard to separate the gifts from the minister. And in fact, recording does confer something in the same way that a marriage ceremony does. Some of us go into marriage thinking that being married will change our legal status, but otherwise, we expect inwardly to feel the same about ourselves and about our partner. But we never do feel the same. Getting married is sacramental, in the sense that some alchemy takes place in us that transforms us as individuals and transforms us as a couple.

Just so with recording gifts in ministry. But more about this later.

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 your circumstances require some form of certification to pursue one’s ministry in the world, as chaplains often must, for instance, or those working in prisons. 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: the minister is not the one who starts 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 New York Yearly Meeting’s website and look at the yearly meeting’s guidelines. 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 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, eager 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?

Let’s do it

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.

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 share your journey. For this is one of the essential callings of the Quaker meeting, to recognize and nurture the gifts the Spirit has bestowed upon its members and attenders in order to foster Spirit-led work in the meeting and in the world.

A final word

Recording gifts in ministry once applied only to vocal ministry. The practice worked in the context of a share community understanding that God called people into service as vocal ministers. One of the biggest changes in our faith and practice regarding vocal ministry is that we no longer think of our members as having a call to vocal ministry.

Oh, we know some Friends are likely to speak more often than others. Often, we wish that they wouldn’t. We actually tend to be somewhat critical of the Friend who speaks “too often”, especially if they tend to do so at some length.

All the more reason to have some spiritual infrastructure in place for the nurture and eldering of vocal ministry beyond a cautious and uncertain committee for worship and ministry that has no clear charge from the meeting for their eldering work. In subsequent posts, I want to look at both the need to support those who are called to vocal ministry and how we bring “gospel order” to our worship.

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§ 3 Responses to Recording Gifts in Ministry

  • Greg Robie says:

    Hi Steven,

    First I thought that a glitch and my not being subscribed resulted in my comment on Sunday not being posted. This entry provided a second chance for me to share a comment and ask my question about the prize idea. Since it failed to raster, I’m assuming the blog is moderated by you and, depending on how your led, what I’ve shared may or may not get posted. If the former, here is an edited version that fixes a few omissions and a unhelpful auto correct.

    =)
    Greg

    I am sad to hear that even Conservative Friends are now seeing the institution of the Meeting for Ministers and Elders wain into ineffectiveness. dxlloyd also talked about bygone Meetings for Ministers and Elders and wondered about the history of their demise (https://throughtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/where-does-our-vocal-ministry-come-from/#comment-2878). Since, systemically, they are integral to recorded ministers and edifying ministry, I’d like to share what I know.

    Steven taught me the phrase “that without oversight, the ministers run wild.” Intuitively I knew this to be true. Having learned about this oversight role as a convinced Friend, I served on NYYM’s Ad Hoc Renewal Committee in the early ’90s due to a leading, and with my monthly meeting providing an oversight committee for that work.

    Let me start with the bottom line of what I have to share: to record gifts, as NYYM did close to a quarter of a century ago, without understanding the systemic function of the Meeting for Ministers and Elders, which NYYM both did not, and could not (in part for some of the reasons dxlloyd lists), was it predestined to consequence the apparent subsequent dropping of the effort to renew the practice? Is Steven beating a dead horse?

    Perhaps the best place to start is with the Progressive Yearly Meeting. Friends from many yearly meetings, uncomfortable with a spirit stifling control of ministers and elders, in conjunction with the expanding ease of travel and communication, and experiencing pressing social injustices, created an annual gathering of likeminded Friends–at least in terms of the spirit they felt stifled. This meeting started its decline after the Civil War and seemed to peter out over the balance of that century. I don’t think that is the whole story.

    Funding an annual gathering requires a significant amount of work and resources. When passions are high, like with abolition, raising these funds are relatively easy. When passions cool, new strategies are called for. I would suggest two significant forces were in play as the physical Progressive Meeting’s declined: progressivism mainstreaming in the wider society, and money.

    The spirit of progressivism that animated the Progressive Yearly Meeting increasingly mainstreamed in the East Coast Hicksite Yearly Meetings. This decreased the need for a separate Yearly Meeting. This increase in progressivism within Quakerism was the logical outgrowth of those who traveled to the annual gathering returned to their monthly meetings and the telling of their experiences. This was much the same as what earlier released traveling ministers did when reporting on their experiences when returning their minutes of travel. The Society was predilected to give weight to such reports.

    The anti-slaver movement and women’s rights, as key Progressive Yearly Meeting causes, animated not just Friends. These had a wider social relevance as well. Reports on progressive causes were matters of interest to a generally sedentary populace, both within the Society and the society in general. The structural dynamism of Quakerism and human psychology and sociology meant that the Society could not but change [again].

    The schisming of the East Coast yearly meetings consequenced, during the latter half of the 19th century, pretty entrenched iterations of our current blue/red divide and it’s motivated reasoning enabled projection. The systemically constraining forces of the Meetings for Ministers and Elders grew ineffectual in both branches of Friends. As a result, where at one time the constraint was a social good relative to the need to mitigate the wildness of ministers, relative wildness was wanted. The young Friends who had experienced their parents go nuts in the late 1820’s had helped rebirth progressivism within the Society. Quaker discipline and social activism provided a center that animated. This contrasted with the previous center of the Quietest period, which had animated Friends in contrast to the evangelism that animated and was the centering force of the Society at its outset. The Meetings for Ministers and Elders have gone from systemically centering wild ministers to becoming, as a highly polished ‘living’ Word, a deadening force to wildness/spirit, to becoming ineffectual, to irrelevance by attrition. This story unfolded as CapitalismFail wound society up wildly (and as Quakers who “came to do good did well”).

    Fast forwarding for brevity. Progressive lights, following in the footsteps of, by now, their progressive elders rose to positions of responsible service in their respective yearly meetings. FGC was birthed to recreate the function of the Progressive Yearly Meeting, and staffed by progressives. The gathering, now funded by others, was stronger and more vital than ever (& very much outside of Gospel Order). Concurrently Rufus Jones, as editor of “The Friend”, convinced Friends that they are, at their core a mystical bunch who do good and helps found the AFSC. By the early 1920’s a uniform book of discipline is drafted. Philadelphia adopts it in 1927. NYYM resists doing so until the mid-50s and amid the spiritual chaos of ‘reunification’ (necessitated by declining membership and monetary resources). By this time the Meetings for Ministers and Elders is all but a vestigial organ.

    And the world turns. Again the youth of this period delve into intentional communities/communes to elder and oversee one another in an effort to edifyingly marry activism and holiness within a Society that’s starting to spin into privileged pragmatic individualism…well, wildly. An influx of convinced Friends during the unconstitutional Vietnam War bring with them a flood of sensibilities that embrace both the mysticism and the lack of elders. This creates what now exists: a pragmatic do-as-little-as-possible-to-maintain-privileged-piety mystical quietist period…which exists on life support from DeadQuakerMoney (an update of a Chuck Fager phrase).

    A superior Yearly Meeting and an overseeing Yearly Meeting for Ministers and Elders is so hard to even imagine now that Josh Brown’s mid-80’s essay “You Can’t Get There From Here” title comes to mind.

    Steven, while the bulk of this entry may be from a 2012 SPARK, I’m pretty sure I read an iteration of this back in the early ’90s. The writer in you never rests. Given what my ministry experimentally taught me about the Society, it is no surprise to me that you are still asking for consideration of the practice of recording gifts in the ministry. However, as you’ve described in the post on vocal ministry, the consequences of the current iteration of unprogrammed non-Conservative Friends (how’s that label, Don?), can you be heard?

    “…being a post-traditional, mostly substanceless community means that individualism reigns. We have become a community without clear boundaries or definition, in which anything goes.” (“Where does our vocal ministry come from?”, 1/5/16)

    Traditionally, the existence of recorded ministers (and elders) also meant there was a Meeting for Ministers and Elders. Today such would need to arise organically within the monthly meeting where “anything goes”. As long as there is DeadQuakerMoney and CapitalismFail to placate a spirit of pragmatism, how likely is that to happen?

    —————

    With the intent of being helpful, the below thoughts were stream of consciousness ones relative to the “Where does our vocal ministry come from?” post and its comments. I’ve arranged them into this order.

    “Without the weight of our tradition [boeying] us [up], giving us boundaries and context and actual text—content with which we could [edify] each other [in a shared journey up and into Truth] with[in] a common vocabulary—we tend to [drift down] and away. By contrast, [waiting to be] inspired by the actual spirit of Christ [(once perfected)] instills a certain [stillness], a very powerful sense of responsibility. Which we no longer feel.”

    When do’n nutt’n
    The dance of words dominates
    Talk’n ’bout nutt’n

    Except for wished kind
    Life cannot lack for substance
    For goodness sake: look!

    ‘Tis but piety
    Packed ’round injustice’s edge
    This dark ocean’s ‘light’

    Of what thou canst say
    Is what it is thou doest
    Our Anthropocene

    “However, being a post-traditional, mostly substanceless community means that individualism reigns. We have become a community without clear boundaries or definition, in which anything goes [and, within Truth, is dead].”

    …And CapitalismFail continues to grind up life to deliver dividends from DeadQuakerMoney trust funds so liberated Quakers can travel for their carbon fueled hookups where, at least 20 years ago, about half a million dollars were expended to redistribute about a tenth of that amount…as lead by ????.

    —————

    I’ve stopped by as part of my exploring a counter-intuitive opening: can piously privileged religious communities be inspired by greed to do good? I’m imagining a crowd sourced prize of $100,000,000 (at the denominational level), $10,000,000 (at the local level), awarded to the first faith community that succeeds in transforming the lifestyles of a local group that is 10 times it’s membership or 1/10 of its community’s population (whichever is greater) such that the lifestyle is just: systemically sustainable relative to fossil carbon consumption (without the use of offsets, or geoengineering, or relying on scaled technologies that might exist in the future, like BECCS).

    For NYYM such would be in the neighborhood of 2 million people, not, and this is a dated figure, 36,000. Are the $100,000,000/$10,000,000 numbers too small? If so, what should they be to inspire?

    A “Hi” to those with whom I no longer share the responsibilities of membership.

  • Greg Robie says:

    I am sad to hear that even Conservative Friends are now seeing the institution of the Meeting for Ministers and Elders wain into ineffectiveness. dxlloyd also talked about bygone Meetings for Ministers and Elders and wondered about the history of their demise (https://throughtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/where-does-our-vocal-ministry-come-from/#comment-2878). Since, systemically, they are integral to recorded ministers and edifying ministry, I’d like to share what I know.

    Steven taught me the phrase “that without oversight, the ministers run wild.” Intuitively I knew this to be true. Having learned about this oversight role as a convinced Friend, I served on NYYM’s Ad Hoc Renewal Committee in the early ’90s due to a leading, and with my monthly meeting providing an oversight committee for that work.

    Let me start with the bottom line of what I have to share: to record gifts, as NYYM did close to a quarter of a century ago, without understanding the systemic function of the Meeting for Ministers and Elders, which NYYM both did not, and could not (in part for some of the reasons dxlloyd lists), was it predestined to consequence the apparent subsequent dropping of the effort to renew the practice? Is Steven beating a dead horse?

    Perhaps the best place to start is with the Progressive Yearly Meeting. Friends from many yearly meetings, uncomfortable with a spirit stifling control of ministers and elders, in conjunction with the expanding ease of travel and communication, and experiencing pressing social injustices, created an annual gathering of likeminded Friends–at least in terms of the spirit they felt stifled. This meeting started its decline after the Civil War and seemed to peter out over the balance of that century. I don’t think that is the whole story.

    Funding an annual gathering requires a significant amount of work and resources. When passions are high, like with abolition, raising these funds are relatively easy. When passions cool, new strategies are called for. I would suggest two significant forces were in play as the physical Progressive Meeting’s decline: progressivism mainstreaming in the wider society, and money.

    The spirit of progressivism that animated the Progressive Yearly Meeting increasingly mainstreamed in the East Coast Hicksite Yearly Meetings. This decreased the need for a separate Yearly Meeting. This increase in progressivism within Quakerism was the logical outgrowth of those who traveled to the annual gathering returned to their monthly meetings and the telling of their experiences. This was much the same as what earlier released traveling ministers did when reporting on their experiences when returning their minutes of travel. The Society was predilected to give weight to such reports.

    The anti-slaver movement and women’s rights, as key Progressive Yearly Meeting causes, animated not just Friends. These had a wider social relevance as well. Reports on progressive causes were matters of interest to a generally sedentary populace, both within the Society and the society in general. The structural dynamism of Quakerism and human psychology and sociology meant that the Society could not but change [again].

    The schisming of the East Coast yearly meetings consequenced, during the latter half of the 19th century, pretty entrenched iterations of our current blue/red divide and it’s motivated reasoning enabled projection. The systemically constraining forces of the Meetings for Ministers and Elders grew ineffectual in both branches of Friends. As a result. Where at one time the constraint was a social good relative to the need to mitigate the wildness of ministers, relative wildness was wanted. The young Friends who had experienced their parents go nuts in the late 1820’s had helped birth progressivism within the Society. Quaker discipline and social activism provided a center that animated. This contrasted with the previous center of the Quietest period, which had animated Friends in contrast to the evangelism that animated and was the centering force of the Society at its outset. The Meetings for Ministers and Elders have gone from systemically centering wild ministers to becoming, as a highly polished ‘living’ Word, a deadening force to wildness/spirit, to becoming ineffectual, to irrelevance by attrition. This story unfolded as CapitalismFail wound society up wildly (and as Quakers who “came to do good did well”).

    Fast forwarding for brevity. Progressive lights, following in the footsteps of, by now, their progressive elders rose to positions of responsible service in their respective yearly meetings. FGC was birthed to recreate the function of the Progressive Yearly Meeting, and staffed by progressives. The gathering, now funded by others, was stronger and more vital than ever (& very much outside of Gospel Order). Concurrently Rufus Jones, as editor of “The Friend”, convinced Friends that they are, at their core a mystical bunch who do good and helps found the AFSC. By the early 1920’s a uniform book of discipline is drafted. Philadelphia adopts it in 1927. NYYM resists doing so until the mid-50s and amid the spiritual chaos of ‘reunification’ (necessitated by declining membership and monetary resources. By this time the Meetings for Ministers and Elders is all but a vestigial organ.

    And the world turns. Again the youth of this period delve into intentional communities/communes to elder and oversee one another in an effort to edifyingly marry activism and holiness within a Society that’s starting to spin into privileged pragmatic individualism…well, wildly. An influx of convinced Friends during the unconstitutional Vietnam War bring with them a flood of sensibilities that embrace both the mysticism and the lack of elders. This creates what now exists: a pragmatic do-as-little-as-possible-to-maintain-privileged-piety mystical quietist period…which exists on life support from DeadQuakerMoney (an update of a Chuck Fager phrase).

    A superior Yearly Meeting and an overseeing Yearly Meeting for Ministers and Elders is so hard to even imagine now that Josh Brown’s mid-80’s essay “You Can’t Get There From Here” title comes to mind.

    Steven, while the bulk of this entry may be from a 2012 SPARK, I’m pretty sure I read an iteration of this back in the early ’90s. The writer in you never rests. Given what my ministry experimentally taught me about the Society, it is no surprise to me that you are still asking for consideration of the practice of recording gifts in the ministry. However, as you’ve described in the post on vocal ministry, the consequences of the current iteration of unprogrammed non-Conservative Friends (how’s that label, Don?), can you be heard?

    “…being a post-traditional, mostly substanceless community means that individualism reigns. We have become a community without clear boundaries or definition, in which anything goes.” (“Where does our vocal ministry come from?”, 1/5/16)

    Traditionally, the existence of recorded ministers (and elders) also meant there was a Meeting for Ministers and Elders. Today such would need to arise organically within the monthly meeting where “anything goes”. As long as there is DeadQuakerMoney and CapitalismFail to placate a spirit of pragmatism, how likely is that to happen?

    —————

    With the intent of being helpful, the below thoughts were stream of consciousness ones relative to the “Where does our vocal ministry come from?” post and its comments. I’ve arranged them into this order.

    “Without the weight of our tradition [boeying] us [up], giving us boundaries and context and actual text—content with which we could [edify] each other [in a shared journey up and into Truth] with[in] a common vocabulary—we tend to [drift down] and away. By contrast, [waiting to be] inspired by the actual spirit of Christ [(once perfected)] instills a certain [stillness], a very powerful sense of responsibility. Which we no longer feel.”

    When do’n nutt’n
    The dance of words dominates
    Talk’n ’bout nutt’n

    Except for wished kind
    Life cannot lack for substance
    For goodness sake: look!

    ‘Tis but piety
    Packed ’round injustice’s edge
    This dark ocean’s ‘light’

    Of what thou canst say
    Is what it is thou doest
    Our Anthropocene

    “However, being a post-traditional, mostly substanceless community means that individualism reigns. We have become a community without clear boundaries or definition, in which anything goes [and, within Truth, is dead].”

    …And CapitalismFail continues to grind up life to deliver dividends from DeadQuakerMoney trust funds so liberated Quakers can travel for their carbon fueled hookups where, at least 20 years ago, about half a million dollars were expended to redistribute about a tenth of that amount…as lead by ????.

    —————

    I’ve stopped by as part of my exploring a counter-intuitive opening: can piously privileged religious communities be inspired by greed to do good? I’m imagining a crowd sourced prize of $100,000,000 (at the denominational level), $10,000,000 (at the local level), awarded to the first faith community that succeeds in transforming the lifestyles of a local group that is 10 times it’s membership or 1/10 of its community’s population (whichever is greater) such that the lifestyle is just: systemically sustainable relative to fossil carbon consumption (without the use of offsets, or geoengineering, or relying on scaled technologies that might exist in the future, like BECCS).

    For NYYM such would be in the neighborhood of 2 million people, not, and this is a dated figure, 36,000. Are the $100,000,000/$10,000,000 numbers too small? If so, what should they be to inspire?

    A “Hi” to those with whom I no longer share the responsibilities of membership.

  • This thoughtful essay focuses on a very important issue, nurturing gifts in the ministry. Ministry may assume many forms, but the vocal ministry in meetings for worship is especially important and needs careful recognition and encouragement.

    I have long been associated with traditionalist Conservative Friends, who have continued to record ministers. I have also been associated for many years with conservative Mennonites and Old Order Brethren (Dunkards), who are served by a vigorous non-professional, unpaid ministry–traditionally called the “free ministry”. So I can speak from experience about how this kind of spiritual leadership works, or should work!

    The practice of recording ministers among Friends is a mixed blessing. Recording is supposed to acknowledge, encourage and support a vital function is the spiritual life of a meeting. However, too frequently, it becomes way of adding a credential to one’s vita and a special status to one’s position in the Society of Friends. Even worse, recognition as a minster can become a “political football,” rewarding conformity to the prevailing ethos and validating one’s membership in the Quaker elite. I have seen recognition as a minister operate in all of these ways.

    Ideally, recognizing ministers ought to encourage a vital function, spiritual leadership, in the meeting, rather than creating a special, lifelong status. The trick is to encourage and oversee the function without creating a special “class” within the meeting. “Recording” creates a special status, which may or may not be validated by actual expression of a spiritual gift.

    I would advocate recognition by a meeting of the apparent calling and effective practice of vocal ministry by naming and encouraging someone’s gift; “X is an approved ‘ministering Friend’ among us,” without creating a “job title”.

    Friends whose gift in the ministry is recognized ought also to be expected to enter into relationships designed to create accountability for the exercise of that gift. In the old days, the Meeting for Ministers and Elders was the vehicle to such accountability. A version of this is still practiced by Conservative Friends, but not very effectively. A viable free ministry is hard to maintain without mechanisms of accountability.

    I have observed among conservative Anabaptists that recognition as a minister entails acceptance of serious spiritual responsibilities. Often, these responsibilities are heavy, and help to distinguish between those who are primarily on a status trip from those who will accept a call from God for spiritual leadership in the congregation. Accepting such serious responsibilities helps to “separate the men from the boys.” (Sorry for the sexist language!
    .

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