Meeting response to individual concerns
July 26, 2017 § 8 Comments
Last Sunday a Friend visited our meeting from another nearby meeting and, in our “joys and sorrows” time, expressed puzzlement and hurt over the fact that she had come to us some time ago with a deeply held witness concern and a minute from her meeting and nobody showed up for a program she had gone to considerable length to organize with outside speakers. I learned from speaking to her later that the experience had cast a shadow over her ministry and now, in addition to the sense of hurtful rejection of her ministry she struggled with spiritual confusion about the nature and future of her calling.
I have seen this happen before. A Friend who carries a witness concern with deep commitment and passion has trouble getting other Friends to pay attention. Often, it’s the lack of interest in one’s own meeting that hurts the most, especially when your desire, or even your expectation, is that the whole meeting will take up the concern collectively.
Meanwhile non-Quakers seem more receptive. Often such a Friend finds support only among the members of whatever secular movement has organized around the concern, but those folks do not appreciate the spiritual roots of your concern or its religious expression.
We can’t expect our meetings to collectively take up our concerns, witness or otherwise. This takes time, energy, and resources both human and sometimes financial, and our meetings are usually short on all three, or four. Taking up as a collective body the deeply held concerns of all those in the meeting who have them would lead to exhaustion and collapse.
Moreover, we come to meeting with different religious temperaments and for different things. As a survey by Britain Yearly Meeting of who had come to them through convincement has shown, we break down into three basic groups, broadly categorized: activists, mystics, and, in BrYM’s terminology, refugees. I would call this latter group communitarians, people who seek religious community; not all of these Friends are refugees from some other tradition, but they share a hunger for community and find fulfillment in fellowship and service to that community.
My point is that the communitarians and the mystics are not temperamentally inclined to respond to an appeal to activism. Friends in both groups are inclined to acknowledge the importance of a given witness concern, but aren’t likely to embrace it with passion, or maybe, even to go out of their way to attend a program.
I ran into this from the other end just a few weeks ago when I unknowingly set up a Bible study on the Politics of Passion Week at the same time that someone else was leading a session on racism, a concern which our meeting has taken up collectively. Four Friends showed up at my session, instead of the 15 or so who had been coming to past Bible study sessions, and those four felt quite torn. I didn’t blame them. I would never have scheduled my Bible study opposite that session if I had known. We often feel torn by competing goods like this.
However, while we can’t expect our meetings to whole-heartedly embrace our concerns collectively, we should be able to expect them to give us the discernment and support we need to be faithful to our call. This visiting Friend had a minute of service from her meeting but apparently no other support.
Too often writing a minute of service for someone with a leading is as far as a meeting goes. New York Yearly Meeting, for instance, routinely endorses minutes of service at its sessions—and I do mean routinely. The body usually gets some sense of the ministry from the reading of the minute itself, when that occurs. But there almost never is any follow-through—no background, no report from the Friend and/or her or his accompanying elders or support committee, if there are any. It’s all very pro forma, as though the yearly meeting has no other responsibility for the individual ministries it supports.
The Friend who visited my meeting obviously needs a support committee and also a clearness committee to help her sort out where she is with her call. She doesn’t have either. Did she ever have a clearness committee for discernment of her leading? If she did, then at least the Friends on her clearness committee would know what her leading means to her and maybe they could provide support. Having a support committee spreads this intimate familiarity with the Friend and her or his concern even farther into the meeting. This helps to ameliorate the feeling of isolation, at the very least.
But many meetings do not really know the faith and practice of traditional Quaker ministry. All they know how to do is write a minute, and that often with a rather shallow understanding—or maybe they don’t. They often don’t know how to conduct a clearness committee for discernment. They may not know about the resources available for guidance in creating support committees for Friends with leadings.
My meeting has a committee dedicated to this work, but mine is the only meeting I have ever heard of that has such a settled and seasoned infrastructure for the nurture of Quaker ministry. Meanwhile, this is the very heart of Quaker spirituality—as individuals, to listen for and to answer God’s call to service, and as meetings, to support the ministries that the Holy Spirit has raised up.