Vocal Ministry and Worship and Ministry Committees

January 17, 2019 § 1 Comment

In my last post I said that “our current culture of ministry continues because our worship and ministry committees are paralyzed, unable to address the problem for various reasons.” Here’s what I think those reasons are.

First, the committee rarely feels that it has the backing of the meeting as a whole, that it knows what the meeting wants. This is because the meeting never does know what kind of eldership culture it wants. Our meetings do not have a clear agreement about what constitutes Spirit-led ministry or how the committee should protect the worship. For protecting the worship and ministry is one of the charges of our worship and ministry committees. But it’s hard to expect the committee to act when it has no clear mandate from the meting and might fear that some in the meeting will be upset by its actions.

Then, there’s Quaker process. The committee has to come to unity about its approach and it only takes one member of the committee to make that impossible or at least very difficult. If it’s difficult, especially if the committee must labor a lot through meeting after meeting, exhaustion sets in. And meanwhile, there are other things to do, setting up the schedule for clerking worship, etc.

So the third problem is the makeup of the committee. Nominating committees always struggle with filling committee slots anyway, and this one can be especially hard. It’s hard to find Friends who really know the Quaker traditions of worship and ministry, who are gifted or even called vocal ministers themselves, and who are willing to serve. And inevitably, at least one person on the committee seems to think the ministry is more or less just fine, anyway. They may even be part of the problem themselves.

But one attribute may be even more important and it is certainly harder to find—confidence, decisiveness, even boldness, a temperament capable of acting in spite of the fear of over-stepping.

For this is perhaps the biggest problem. We are afraid to elder, and rightfully so. We are afraid to hurt someone. We are afraid to cross some line that, as individuals, we can rarely see with confidence, let alone share with confidence with a bunch of other Friends. Many of us have been hurt by some eldering experience ourselves. We know how it feels.

And we’re not sure how it’s to be done. How do you approach someone whose ministry is perfectly acceptable to some unknown but perhaps fairly large percentage of the meeting to tell them to get with the Spirit?

This brings us to the final problem. We are not a covenant community. We don’t see membership in the meeting as an agreement about our mutual accountability in the life of the Spirit. Put in concrete terms, we don’t say to applicants in our clearness committees for membership that we look forward to their gifts in ministry unfolding over time, that we plan to help that unfolding however we can, and that we hope (expect?) that it’s okay that we can have a direct conversation about their ministry as it unfolds, including even some questions when it seems they’ve “stepped through the traces”, as Friends used to say in the elder days—gotten tangled up in one’s relationship with the Guide.

If we have not broached this matter of mutual support and accountability regarding ministry in the clearness committee, it’s doubly hard to bring it up later, with no foundation on which to stand. We seem to be just coming in with the warship and dropping a bomb.

We need agreements: That, as individuals, we want nurture and support for our unfolding gifts in ministry and that we want correction when our ministry needs work. That, as a committee, protecting the worship and engaging with our ministers is our proper role. That, as a meeting, we need—we insist on—ministry that comes from the Spirit, and that we trust the committee to foster and protect it.

So this exercise in the last couple of posts has brought up some ideas about what to do. On to those in the next post.

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§ One Response to Vocal Ministry and Worship and Ministry Committees

  • Bill Samuel says:

    Yes, meetings very often do not have unity on what is vocal ministry, or of other aspects of the spiritual grounding of the community. “We are not a covenant community.” Often true among Quakers.

    This certainly relates to why I left Quakers. Now I am in the process of joining a church which is very clear about being a covenant community. And it is non-pastoral, uses Quaker process for decision-making, and opposes violence and injustice as traditionally Quakers have.

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