Vocal Ministry: The Importance of Being Called, of Having a Caller
September 25, 2018 § 2 Comments
In my previous post I emphasized the differences in how we approach our vocal ministry, both as individuals and as a meeting, between having a sense of calling, or not, between having a sense of a caller and not, and how one thinks of ministry as service. But I was being a bit disingenuous and even doctrinaire, and/or hypocritical. Because of my own experience.
I do feel a clear calling to vocal ministry. But I do not have a clear sense of a caller. But that’s not quite accurate either.
The thing that is clear for me is the sense of a call to vocal ministry. And this makes me take my vocal ministry very seriously. But I imagine that’s how almost all Friends feel about their vocal ministry—they, too, take it seriously. Ministry that I, in my judgmentalism, find shallow or unsatisfactory probably in the moment feels at least appropriate, maybe even deep, to the speaker. In the moment, when we rise to speak, I suspect that my ministry and that of almost all other Friends, feels Spirit-led, however we experience that.
What a sense of calling affects, in my experience, is how you carry the ministry the rest of the time. How important it is to prepare in the morning before coming to the meetinghouse. How important it is to carry the ministry in one’s personal devotional life. How important it is to understand and respect the Quaker faith and practice of ministry.
As for a sense of a caller, I do suspect that feeling called by Christ must load the ministry with a real weight of responsibility. However, this does not just add weight; in my experience, being called by Christ also adds content and direction. A direct relationship with Christ almost guarantees a new level of engagement, even reverence, for Scripture, and often brings Scripture into the ministry. It also tends to encourage gospel ministry, that is, ministry that proclaims Christ as the good news. At least that’s what I observe in the Christ-centered Friends I know who clearly have such a call.
I do not have such a relationship. I am quite versant in Scripture and often do bring it into my ministry, but I never bring gospel ministry to my meeting. I have not been called to do that.
On the other hand, I have had several quite extraordinary transcendental experiences of Jesus behind vocal ministry, as it were—apparitions of him behind someone who just then rises to speak—and one involuntary call to pray to him on my knees out loud in a meeting for worship. Which, believe me, was really weird and soul-shaking. Thus, when someone speaks in meeting, I now imagine Jesus standing beside them. This is how I hold our ministers as they speak.
More importantly, I pray to Jesus for my own ministry during meeting for worship. This seems to align me inwardly in a way I find helpful. That’s why I think it makes a difference in your ministry when you have a sense of a caller—even though I don’t really feel called by Jesus.
But maybe I am and I just don’t know it. But that’s not very helpful; I’m not even sure what that might mean. So my prayer is based on faith and an inward experience of alignment.
On the other hand, I do have a clear sense of a caller when it comes to my written ministry. This comes from a formative experience in a sweat lodge ceremony with a spiritual entity that I will call for want of a better label an angel. In this case, I think of angels as elemental spirits—devas—that have been awakened to relationship with humans.
I experience this “angel” as a muse. Ever since that experience, my writing life, my inner life, my spiritual life, have all been, in some ways, one life. I find myself writing about what’s coming up in my spiritual life, and I find my spiritual life being redefined, renewed, moved forward, by my writing.
So I do know the feeling of being called by a distinct caller. Mine even has a name. But does Fire in the Earth call me to vocal ministry? That’s never been made clear. I think so, actually, but thinking that is another act, or alignment, of faith. Or, to put it more accurately, it’s pure speculation that I nevertheless give some weight.
Working all this out has given me, all unexpectedly, a new appreciation for faith. I am by temperament, an empirical mystic. I try to stick to what I have actually experienced, or at least to what I see real, tangible evidence for. These experiences of Jesus in meeting are all subjective and unverifiable, and personal, though not without support in lots of religious and spiritual traditions. But, empirically—that is, in my experience—it does seem to improve my mystical life to incorporate these alignments toward Jesus and Fire in the Earth in my spiritual practice based just on faith, on speculation to which I confer some authority.