“Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings—Spiritual Nurture

January 13, 2017 § 1 Comment

Support for Spiritual Gifts and Ministries

Best practices:

  • Provide an “infrastructure” for the spiritual nurture of members’ gifts, leadings, and ministries that is visible, welcoming, and both proactive and responsive—a structure in the meeting in which Friends with the gift of eldership work together to recognize and foster spiritual gifts in the members and to whom members can come for discernment and support of their gifts, leadings, and ministries.
  • Provide resources on the faith and practice of Quaker ministry

Quaker spirituality

I have for some years now felt called to a ministry focused on raising up the traditional faith and practice of Quaker ministry, and I feel that the nurture of our members’ and attenders’ spiritual lives is one of the core purposes of the Quaker meeting. (See my 2014 series on What is Quakerism for?)

I feel that Quaker spirituality comprises two essential aspects, one inward-looking and the other outward-looking. Both are what Patricia Loring has called listening spirituality in her books with this title.

The inward-looking spiritual practice involves turning toward the Light within and what early Friends described as “standing still in the Light”, surrendering to the redeeming, healing, whole-making, refreshing, awakening, and inspiring Light within us, which threshes out the kernels from the chaff in our hearts and souls and winnows the chaff away in the winds of the Spirit.

The outward-looking practice involves surrendering our life and our inner moral and spiritual compasses to the Seed within us, as Doug Gwyn has put it in A Sustainable Life—giving ourselves over to divine direction in our lives and “listening” for the voice within us, which calls us betimes into loving service in the world.  When one receives such a call, the meeting should be there to help with discerning the truth and the direction of the leading and with support for the ministries that such leadings awaken.

Such openings and leadings and ministries arise from an internal ecosystem of spiritual gifts in an individual. They often sprout directly from one of these gifts. Thus another core mission of a meeting is to recognize and foster these gifts, to help our members till their souls, live in the Seed, and produce good fruit.

Creating an infrastructure for spiritual nurture

Central Philadelphia Meeting has a Gifts and Leadings committee whose charge is to “nurture gifts of the spirit [and] support efforts to discern one’s ministries”.

CPM is a large meeting, so a separate committee for this work makes sense. In much smaller meetings, this would be one of the functions of the worship and ministry committee. But even in a medium-sized meeting, having a separate committee for gifts, leadings, and ministry means that this important work doesn’t get pushed back in the agenda by the routine business that nevertheless must be done and by matters that might seem more pressing.

The point is that whoever takes on this work should have the time not only to recognize and respond faithfully to the leadings and ministries that arise in the life and membership of the meeting, but also to work proactively to foster a vibrant culture of eldership in the meeting around spiritual gifts, leadings, and calls to ministry. The goal is that

  • all in the meeting are used to thinking about their own lives in the light of the faith and practice of Quaker ministry;
  • someone is regularly encouraging Friends to deepen their spiritual gifts, come forward with their leadings, and pursue their ministries in the light and shelter of meeting life;
  • the meeting periodically offers programs for education in the faith and practice of Quaker ministry and for deepening in the life of the spirit; and that
  • it’s obvious where to go in the meeting for discernment and support.


However this nurturing eldership is structured, Friends with the responsibility should know about resources that are available to those who want to learn more and those who have been called.

  • Funds. Some meetings and yearly meetings have bequests and other funds to which Friends with leadings may apply for support of the ministry.
  • ReleasingMinistry.org. Every meeting should know about (and maybe support) ReleasingMinistry.org, an online education and support network for Quaker ministry that I feel is one of the most important innovations in Quaker practice since the invention of the clearness committee.
  • Clearness committees. The meeting should know how to constitute and conduct clearness committees for discernment. Patricia Loring’s Pendle Hill Pamphlet Spiritual Discernment: the context and goal of clearness committees (#305) is an invaluable resource. Friends should also be aware that clearness committees for discernment are not constituted or conducted the same as clearness committees for membership or marriage, or clearness committees for decision making. See my blog entry on the four types of clearness committees.
  • The meeting and ministry. Meeting websites should have resources describing how the meeting supports Quaker ministry (assuming that it does) either in the main menu or at the most, one click in. Central Philadelphia Meeting has a QuakerCloud website and they have a submenu under About that has a tab for Ministries. Right at the top of that page is a link to a page that describes the ministries currently active in the meeting (though as I write this, that link isn’t working), and in the sidebar, the page has links to a page describing a ministry fund, a page describing “the emerging understanding in CPMM of how we support one another in dynamic faithfulness”, and a page describing an earlier version of the same kind of document.
  • Library. Meeting libraries should have resources on Quaker ministry. For a list of printed resources on Quaker ministry, visit this page on the New York Yearly Meeting website. For resources on Quaker spirituality, try this page.

§ One Response to “Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings—Spiritual Nurture

  • Steve — I know several meetings that do this in various ways.

    Several years ago, I was invited to participate with Central Philadelphia Friends on a committee of clearness for ministry for a Friend in the meeting. Not everyone understood that ministry, or the leading to pursue it. In turn, I was supported by my meeting to participate in a meeting that was not my meeting of record. This was immensely helpful, in part because of the practical aspects when the discernment got a bit rough around the edges.

    A continuing committee of care may be important in the support of any ministry. Several of us who have been involved with the School of the Spirit have had a continuing committee of care over a period of two years — and beyond — as we struggle to adapt our understandings to natural changes in our spiritual lives.

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