Quaker Ministry Since the Cessation of Recording

January 1, 2023 § 13 Comments

I’m not sure how I came across this article, but its subject is right up my alley: “Our Quaker Ministry Since the Cessation of Recording,” by T. Edward Harvey, published in the British Friends Quarterly Examiner. It is apparently the transcript of an address to the Elders of London Yearly Meeting on May 22, 1946.

The author expresses a concern that is a recurring theme in this blog and my other writing: the collapse of meaningful, proactive eldering of vocal ministry after laying down the practice of recording ministers, or, as I prefer the usage that New York Yearly Meeting uses, recording gifts in ministry. Because its about the gifts and the ministry, not primarily the minister.

Anyway, here’s the section that spoke to me the most (page 188):

When Yearly Meeting made its decision to cease recording it was careful to say that recording was a matter of machinery, and that whether recording was discontinued or not, much more responsibility for the exercise of the ministry should be taken by the Monthly Meeting. Its recommendations are contained in Part III of our Book of Discipline, but unfortunately the great majority of our members do not read this—even Clerks of Monthly Meetings are sometimes lacking in knowledge of a good deal of it, and I would venture to say that there are a good many Elders who are not familiar with many of the passages in it dealing with the work which especially concerns them. [London Yearly Meeting apparently still had elders at this time.] There are in it extracts from the decisions of Yearly Meeting in 1924 which lay on our Meetings a definite duty with regard to the Ministry—and this duty we shall, I believe, have to admit has very largely not been carried out, though we may thankfully hope that the recommendation with regard to “a greater exercise of sympathetic eldership in our meeting, encouraging those who are beginning to speak” has been fulfilled in large measure. The section on Ministry continues thus:—

“The definite duty should be laid upon all Monthly Meetings of finding ways to show their interest in the Ministry and their sympathy with those called to this service. Though this is already the task of the Elders, it should also be shared by the meeting as a whole.

“It is not necessary that Monthly Meetings should adopt uniform methods of procedure in this respect, but in all cases they should be asked to find time for the consideration of questions affecting the Ministry and to endeavour in practical ways to express their fellowship with those who are called to undertake this service.”

How far has this been carried out? Do our Monthly Meetings regularly make it a part of their duty?

This was written twenty-two years after the yearly meeting laid down the practice of recording. Seventy-six years have passed since Friend Harvey addressed those elders, literally my entire lifetime. I think the situation is still the same here in America, at least.

Except for one all-important thing: In 1946, there were apparently still Friends who felt called to vocal ministry, though their meetings had fallen behind and were no longer ministering to their needs. How many Friends (who aren’t pastors in pastoral meetings) feel a calling to vocal ministry today? And how many meetings would recognize such a calling if it occurred or know what to do with such a person if they did?

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§ 13 Responses to Quaker Ministry Since the Cessation of Recording

  • For those who would like to read the article by T. Edmund Harvey, you can access it on Brian Drayton’s blog, Amor Vincat: https://amorvincat.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/harvey-our-quaker-ministry-since-the-cessation-of-recording.pdf

  • […] – as were many, many Hicksite Friends in the decades following him. More significantly, there is very good reason to think that Liberal Friends’ century-long experiment in DIY spiritual nurture hasn’t […]

  • Ellis Hein says:

    To those who say they have a calling to vocal ministry, what are you called to be a minister of? And who has called you?

    George Fox and the early Friends ministers were ministers of the gospel that was right and true for all mankind for all time. Their name for this gospel, borrowed from Revelation 14:6, was “The Everlasting Gospel.” And they knew their commission to preach this gospel to the inhabitants of the earth. Edward Burrough described their commission in these words:

    “Then having thus armed us with power, strength, and wisdom, and dominion, according to his mind, and we having learned of him, and being taught of him in all things, and he having chosen us into his work, and put his sword into our hand, and given us perfect commission to go forth in his name and authority, having the word from his mouth what to cut down and what to preserve, and having the everlasting gospel to preach to the inhabitants of the earth, and being commanded in spirit to leave all, and follow him, and go forth in his work, yea an absolute necessity was laid upon us, and wo unto us if we preached not the gospel. For when we looked abroad and beheld the world, behold it was altogether darkness, and even as a wilderness, and desolate, and barren of good fruit; and death reigned over men, and no good fruit was brought forth to God, but leaves we beheld upon every soul.” (Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp 14-15)

    Is this the work you have been called into by the living God?

    True ministry brings those who will receive it out of darkness to the light of Christ Jesus, out of death to that life that made us living beings in the beginning, out of the ceasless stitching together of fig leaves to be clothed with the life of Christ. “The work of the ministry,” wrote Fox, “was to bring people to the knowledge of the son of God, to a perfect man, to the unity of the faith, to the measure and stature of the fulness of Christ…” (Works, Vol. III, p.165)

    Only that power that will deliver us from darkness, bring us life, and clothe us with righteousness is gospel, i.e. good news. Anything else, even the fairest pretenses, is cruelty; because promising release from captivity, the false gospel enslaves with greater bondage.

    • “Then having thus armed us with power, strength, and wisdom, and dominion, according to his mind, and we having learned of him, and being taught of him in all things, and he having chosen us into his work, and put his sword into our hand, and given us perfect commission to go forth in his name and authority, having the word from his mouth what to cut down and what to preserve, and having the everlasting gospel to preach to the inhabitants of the earth, and being commanded in spirit to leave all, and follow him, and go forth in his work, yea an absolute necessity was laid upon us, and wo unto us if we preached not the gospel.”

      This sounds very accurate to my experience. In my ministry, wherever I speak, whatever I write, it is to point people to the Good News – that freedom comes in giving ourselves to God, that we are aided in this by Christ, and that, in being transformed by the Spirit, our souls, our families, our meetings and our world are redeemed. It’s pretty much the only message I preach, though I do it in different ways and different words depending on context. I’d love it if you joined the conversation on my blog (shadowofbabylon.org), where I’m feeling renewed energy to write.

    • Ellis, your language, and Fox’s language you quote, are full of “true for all mankind for all time,” and “dominion,” and “swords,” and “cutting down,” and “absolute necessity,” and “altogether darkness.” Is this the only message that a genuine calling to ministry can deliver? Is this a gospel of love?

      • Ellis Hein says:

        Steven, It is the love of God that moves his ministers to call to those who sit in darkness “Step into the light.” And to those who are chained by death, it is the love of God that moves his ministers to cry “this is the way of life, walk in it.” The love of God shows mankind their condition without him and teaches us to walk in true righteousness as it was in the beginning. We can’t walk in the light until we turn from that which darkens us. We can’t enter into life until we turn away from death and know death to be destroyed within us. Read the whole of Burrough’s preface to Vol. III to get a better picture of what all he is talking about. It is much too long to be entered into a comment. Look at John 5 where Jesus tells various Jewish authorities, “You have not heard the Father’s voice…you do not have his word abiding in you…you search the scriptures to find life but refuse to come to me of whom the scriptures testify that you might have life…you do not have the love of God abiding in you…” This is as much as to say “The Father is not your God and you are not his people.” The foundation on which the people of God was and still is built is “If you will hear/obey my voice, I will be your God and you shall be my people” (See Exodus 19:5-6 and Jeremiah 7:23) The true compassion of these statements is revealed by Jesus’ statement, “I say these things that you may be saved.” The beginning of light and life is the loss, the discarding, of all that has appeared “beautiful upon the sand.” The ministry of the love of God must declare against all sandy foundations for those footings will not hold up. There is one true foundation that will support LIFE. This is the love of God as expressed by Fox and early Friends and by all who stand in that same spirit and power, to call people off sandy foundations and build on the rock that will not be moved.

  • Thank you for these reflections and questions!

  • Steven, thank you so much for this post.

    I do feel a call to vocal ministry, and I have since my early days among Friends. But I get deeply anxious about it: am I speaking too long? Am I speaking too often? Is what I’m saying edifying?

    Friends often have strong reactions to my ministry, whether positive or negative, and both extremes make me deeply uncomfortable, because I don’t have any oversight.

    I suppose if I say something truly horrible, someone will take me aside, but that’s an uncomfortable possibility as well. As someone who gives vocal ministry an average of once or twice per month, I am aware of having a disproportionate impact on the quality of our worship, and that makes me nervous. I would love to have support and encouragement and accountability, but I don’t think anyone sees it as their job.

    M&C has care and oversight of our worship. My anchor committee helps me discern about my ministry activities broadly speaking. But who nurtures and prunes my speaking in worship?

    I think one benefit of recording was that it identified specific individuals who needed oversight, and therefore specific individuals were named to provide it.

    • When I served on NYYM’s Ministry and Counsel, I served on a little committee that revised the guidelines for recording gifts in ministry and almost immediately, I served on the first committee convened to discern whether to record the gifts of a Friend recommended by her meeting using the new guidelines. Those experiences influenced me deeply. They gave me a deep appreciation for how important recording could be for the minister who, like you, takes their calling seriously and understands that oversight is an important part of meaningful support. But important, too, for the meeting, which wants to recognize and raise up new ministers, which knows how important Spirit-led ministry is to the health of the meeting, and which knows that oversight of the vocal ministry is important to the spiritual welfare of both the meeting and the minister.

      Meanwhile, I suspect that there is only one other person in my meeting (which is a big one) who also feels a calling to vocal ministry besides myself, and she faces resistance for some of the same reasons as you mention in your comment. So what to do? Especially if your meeting doesn’t get it, or at least, can’t come to unity about how to provide you with the support you need?

      • briandrayton says:

        The issues that you two raise here are perennial challenges for ministers in unprogrammed meetings. When I first was drawn into the work, there were few to get guidance from, or apprentice to, so to speak. Friends were very reluctant to encourage gatherings that might somehow seem to be “privileging” either the individuals, or the particular calling to vocal ministry. It took some hunting around to find companions and more experienced ministers to learn from/with. The ministers, eager to serve at the Lord’s prompting, for the upbuilding of the body, felt some urgency for mutual encouragement and guidance. In some places, things have changed or are changing, but there is so much still to do!

  • Brian, you inspire me to seek out other Friends in my area who also feel called. Thanks.

  • briandrayton says:

    Dear Steven,
    This paper by Harvey has long been a favorite of mine. As to your question about friends still feeling a call to the (vocal) ministry, in the unprogrammed world: I can only answer from my own experience. The answer is Yes. I have led or attended dozens of gatherings for such Friends since the mid-70s. Such gatherings have drawn people from many yearly meetings. As you know, monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings vary widely in their capacity for calling or seeing such gifts, and for nurturing them. It’s why I have been concerned to gather ministers in local areas together, so they can provide mutual support and encouragement. My own YM, New England, has been actively experimenting with these questions for many years — much still to learn! and the last few ministers to receive formal recognition in our YM have been from unprogrammed meetings.
    I know there are many others who can add their stories, as well. But much, much needs still to be done!

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