Nurturing the call to vocal ministry

January 22, 2016 § 7 Comments

So, given that most of our meetings are never going to record the gifts of their vocal ministers, if we are going to abandon the centuries-old infrastructure that our forebears used, how do we nurture and elder those who are called to vocal ministry?

The infrastructure we use nowadays for the care of ministry is the committee for worship and ministry. Some meetings have committees for ministry and counsel or pastoral care, combining the pastoral care of members with the spiritual care of members. In theory, this combination makes a lot of sense, because there is always a spiritual dimension to a Friend’s pastoral concern or condition and a pastoral dimension to a spiritual concern or condition.

In practice, however, in my experience the pastoral concerns almost always shove the concern for the worship to the side. They are usually just too pressing to ignore, and the worship usually is just going along as it always has, at least until some problem arises. In my experience, proactive attention to the quality of the worship and the vocal ministry almost never happens. So I think meetings should have separate committees for pastoral care and for worship and ministry if they are going to give the worship and its vocal ministry any real attention.

But even when a meeting has a separate committee for worship and ministry, proactive eldership of vocal ministry almost never takes place. I think the main reason is that the wider meeting usually has never clarified for itself how it wants the infrastructure for spiritual nurture of vocal ministry to operate, so the committee feels uncertain about its charge. The meeting and the committee share a concern for judgmentalism regarding the vocal ministry, even when many in the meeting are quite dissatisfied with its quality.

But this gets into the eldering of vocal ministry and I want to focus on the care of those who feel called to a ministry of speaking in meeting. I want to focus on the ministers.

It seems to me that Friends feel the call to vocal ministry with varying degrees of self-awareness. Some know they have been called. Some find themselves speaking fairly often, perhaps even along some theme, but don’t really know what to make of it or what to do with it, and end up dealing with it in the moment as they feel led to speak. And finally, some Friends just speak a lot.

These three groups of Friends need different kinds of support. And the meeting or the committee needs to be clear about which kind of support to give.

Those who know or strongly suspect that they are called to vocal ministry need corporate discernment to test the leading, to give the minister confidence and the meeting clarity. And then they need support and oversight, probably in the form of a committee for care or nurture of the ministry—a group to go to when doubts arise or some other problem, and just to proactively maintain faithfulness to the call; and a group that can step in when the minister steps through the traces or runs past his or her guide. For this is a covenantal relationship, in which the minister and the meeting mutually agree that eldership includes both support and nurture and discipline, a corporate agency for discipleship, or faithfulness to the call.

Those who are emerging ministers, who find themselves speaking often enough to notice a pattern but may not be clear about their call, need the same things, but with a different emphasis. Here, a clearness committee for discernment might be in order, for the first charge of the committee for worship and ministry is to help the minister gain clarity about the call and to reassure the Friend that more support is waiting if the discernment clarifies a leading—or even if it doesn’t, for that matter.

Those who just speak quite often need the same things, also, but with a different emphasis again. This is delicate. In fact, all of this is delicate. But if a meeting is going to actively nurture vocal ministry, if you are going to do more than just react when some vocal ministry seems so inappropriate as to require a reaction, then it needs to engage with its vocal ministers at all stages of their development.

How do you start this conversation?

If the meeting has never openly discussed the focused nurture and eldership of vocal ministry and the committee therefore has no clear charge in this area, then approaching such a Friend will seem odd and possibly criticizing. The wider conversation needs to take place first. So ministry and worship committee needs to bring the matter of support and oversight for vocal ministry to the wider meeting for discussion. They need to feel confident that they can act with the meeting’s blessing and be at least a little bit clear about who can do that, when, and how.

In any of these cases—even in the case of inappropriate ministry that you feels needs your attention—if you feel you can approach a Friend about their vocal ministry at all, then I would offer this way to open the conversation: “We have noticed that thee speaks fairly often in meeting and we wonder whether thee feels a call to vocal ministry? If thee is not sure—but especially if thee is sure—then we offer ourselves as a possible source of discernment and support. Would you welcome a deeper conversation?”


§ 7 Responses to Nurturing the call to vocal ministry

  • Greg Robie says:

    The question of how, begs the question, why. Is this concern for nurturing and overseeing vocal ministry inspired to improve the likelihood of a gathered–or more deeply gathering–meeting, or something else?

    Expanding on my previous comment that spins a story of how the meetings for minister and elders came to be vestigial entities on their trajectory to extinction (, the shared oxytocin-fest that is, biologically, the gathered meeting, is by itself (i.e. out of context), a neuropeptide induced group-trip.

    I know this “group-trip” concept is a view of the gathered meeting that is, at best, a foreign or even a sacrilegious concept. However, since it is always easier to see ones own unconscious issues in the behaviors of others, this current “The Economist” article may be helpful to look afresh at post-Progressive Quakerism by considering its “opposite”. The article focuses on post-Pentecostalism. Is the story of the rise of post-Pentecostalism one that for post-Progressive Friends could be an opening to see things that, because of motivated reasoning, are a challenge to even imagine?

    To any Pentecostal Friends reading this, the article is shared without the intent offending.
    For brief background information concerning the brainwaves, which I’m about to use to share the insights I see in the article, see * below.

    The Prayer and Praise segment of the Fundamental/Evangelical/Pentecostal/post-Pentecostal continuum worship service is an experience of an ecstatic unifying condition before God. This worship service segment tends to follow a scriptural reminder segment, and a segment for confession and repentance. This order of worship suggest a Beta wave to Alpha wave energetic transition, followed by a jump to a shared High-beta wave experience. Once the worshiping community has soaked in the energy of this elevated emotional state of unity, it is well prepared for a prepared message and instructions which follow the Prayer and Praise segment.

    With that as a mirror, what is the energetic order of worship for unprogrammed worship? I intuitively speculate that centering worship brings a group into a shared, thanks, in part, to mirror neurons, Alpha wave space (i.e. 1st 10-20 minutes). The length of time depends on participants discipline to come prepared for worship. It also depends on whether the meeting space is prepared for worship. Once the Beta wave busy-ness is hushed (related neuropeptides metabolized) and a shared Alpha wave space created, the next phase is possible. The transition is sometimes assisted by vocal ministry from Theta wave awareness (dream state), but more frequently without such ministry, and the group can drop into shared Delta wave activity. There, and occasionally, vocal ministry is given that increases the amplitude of the shared Delta vibe that is in progress: the gathered meeting. That state, once it has accomplished most of its therapeutic function, can be edifyingly broken. If the rise of meeting is well discerned, a deep joy/peace is both corporately and personally savored: the oxytocin-fest manifested.

    Neurologically, the gathered meeting happens at the opposite end of the brainwave energetic spectrum from where the wave lengths that effects ecstasy originate. What is shared between those worshipping spaces of the opposite ends of this electromagnetic spectrum is an anticipated common group-trip. This group-trip facilitates its practitioners to be joy-filled; to feel holy; to feel whole. While there is a qualitative difference to the joy evoked within these relatively separate religious memes, the joy commonly satiates and affects oxytocin, which, in turn, strongly informs and reinforces the perception and experience of community.

    I’ve come to conclude that this joy, oxytocin, and it’s evoked perception of community is ‘the why’ of the experienced need to nurture and oversee vocal ministry that Steven has articulated. The concerns I have heard raised about vocal ministry generally relate to facilitating this energetic order of unprogrammed worship. By itself (and out of a Christian-Quaker context), the ‘mystery’ of the above energetic dynamic and how to maximize the group-trip of the gathered meeting is the central concern of unprogrammed Friends and worship. Unless there is something else that Friends are about, the above information should help those giving vocal ministry to self-oversee; for M&C (though I guess it is now Worship & Ministry) to ‘elder’ and nurture. Is more needed when, addicted to DeadQuakerMoney (and all that implies), the Society is as Steven asserts [& I augment]:

    “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].”

    As I say I the previous comment:

    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.


    * So, a brief background in brainwaves. My education on the function of various brainwave frequencies is limited and originates with The Center For Symbolic Studies, in Tilson, NY. Part of the biofeedback research/therapy that is engaged in there assigned these functions to these frequencies (& this from memory & ~15 years old):

    Delta wave – (0.1 – 4 Hz): perception of God
    Theta wave – (4 – 8 Hz): dream state
    Alpha wave – (8 – 15 Hz): mediation
    Special Alpha wave – (15 – 17 Hz): at the time of my exposure to their work this was a known sort-of unknown
    Beta wave – (15 – 25 Hz): conscious life
    High-beta wave – (25 – 50 Hz): ecstasy

    Digging into this again as part of writing this comment I see that Wikipedia’s page on brainwaves suggests a refinement and expansion of what I’ve listed, but also confirmatory information (via the links) of these functions.

    Also, in the FWIW category, I was the guinea pig for the introductory session I attended at the Center, and once hooked up with electrodes was asked to meditate. The results produced an audible gasp from the facilitator. Apparently I went into Alpha faster than anyone they’d tested, and all frequencies of my brainwaves were in balance. From their therapeutic perspective I was at an as-god-as-it-gets. Given that this was near the zenith of the systemic shunning my ministry was being subjected to, both among Friends and within my marriage, it was welcomed “eldering”. 😉

  • […] Steven Davison on nurturing the call to vocal ministry. […]

  • bxlloyd says:

    I continue to be grateful for your faithfulness to this calling: examining vocal ministry in 21st century unprogrammed Quaker meetings. With this post, I believe you have identified the threshold we stand before. How do we speak to each other about each other’s vocal ministry? How do meetings balance some sense of exceptionalism and holiness for the meeting gathered in worship, against the freedom of the individual worshiper?

    I agree with you that there needs to be a single committee within the monthly meeting charged with these delicate concerns, and that it should be divorced form pastoral care. I actually believe that “committees for worship and ministry” on the whole are not the right bodies. Too often, those committees become tasked with general topics: lectures and workshops on Quaker theology, the timing and content of announcements, overseeing the Quaker ethos of the meeting community. These are all valuable and important tasks. But I maintain that the care of the content of the meeting for worship needs a single group, designated, trusted and loved by the meeting, who have the authority to speak to anyone about their vocal ministry. And I share your belief that this care should be proactive, so that the meeting is aware of these friends, that there is a resource Friends and attenders can use, and to some extent aware that their ministry is being evaluated.

    You make a distinction between “ministers” and “people who speak a lot”. I urge caution here. I believe that if God is indeed working through us, we are not able to make that distinction. In a curious comparison I admit, it reminds of the alcoholic. We may all believe someone is an alcoholic, but that is a useless judgment. The only judgment that matters is the one the person makes of themselves. Likewise, we may believe someone is not a minister, but simply someone who speaks a lot. But their ministry will not change until they develop a self-awareness, coupled with a reverence for the meeting gathered in worship. And that evolution will only occur through the loving eldership of Friends they trust.

    I caution all Friends and attenders from ever speaking to someone else in their meeting about what that Friend has spoken, *on their own directly after the meeting*. I am speaking here especially of critical or complicated reactions, “thanks for saying that” or “that really touched me” is always fine. Frequently, with complicated reactions to ministry, our feelings may be too stirred up for our words to be helpful. We may need days, even weeks, to season our reaction to what a Friend has said, before we we take any action with that Friend. Finally, I urge all Friends to test their reaction to another Friend’s vocal ministry confidentially with another Friend they trust. See if that Friend finds your reaction sound. Then if speaking to the Friend in question is warranted, I urge this to be done with a third Friend in attendance, to act as an Elder for this encounter, holding it in prayerful safety and ensuring that all are heard. Ideally, this Elder is from the group I suggested before. Note: not all Elders are old.

    I return to my feeling that – if we remove our judgment of others, judging what is given by God and what is not – all we are left with is our own developing visceral awareness of the calling to speak. This can be noticed, examined, and practiced. Combined with loving guidance by trusted Elders, grounded in our shared Quaker history and experience, we may grow together in the life of Spirit, and be ever more faithful to the ministry given to us.

  • Roger Dreisbach-Williams says:

    To rise out of the Silence and speak is a fearsome thing. I have done/do it often – it doesn’t get any easier. I am never alone when I rise to speak, nor when I sit down, and for meetings willing to take up this concern I suggest starting with the experience of those who speak. There are times when I Know it was wrong. When the message came from me rather than through me … and that is not a pleasant experience. But when I’ve been faithful, when the quality of the worship is noticeably changed, there is joy in heaven and I am full of awe.

  • barbarakay1 says:

    All of which presumes there is more than a handful of regular attenders…

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