While Quakers believe that we all can be ministers, some are given leadings to commit themselves to ministries deeper and farther afield. How do meetings help discern and support these leadings?
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- Have you ever had or served on a support/oversight committee? What was it like?
- How does your meeting support members who experience leadings into greater ministry?
Viv Woodland: The expression “It takes a village to raise a child” can be applied to many endeavors. Rarely does one person actually go out by his or herself and change the world. Positive changes happen because communities work together to do good.
How Quaker Meetings Support Ministry
Benigno Sanchez-Eppler: Quakerism has ambitions about everyone being a minister. Another way of saying that, that I like a lot, is that there’s no laity here.
Callid Keefe-Perry: We’re all called to ministry. That’s true. It’s kind of the full embodiment of the priesthood of all believers. And, at times, we think God calls some of us, more than others, to greater service.
What is Quaker Ministry?
Callid Keefe-Perry: It’s a movement of love. It’s a realization that we couldn’t all lift up and go and live lives either in traveling ministry or in site-based ministry… whatever it is. It wouldn’t necessarily be viable, we might not able to pay rent or do things like this. So yes, base-level, all called to ministry. And at some times, some are called to a greater ministry for a season.
Ralph Greene: And within the context of the old Quaker concept of what ministry was all about, the old idea was that a recorded minister had the responsibility to speak to the wider world. So not just be confined to the meeting, but speak truth to power.
Viv Woodland: We have these beautiful examples of Friends who have traveled outside of this community in order to share their gifts with others, and yet have been grounded in this community while doing so.
Why Meetings Support Ministers
Doug Gwyn: As Tom Gates says in his Pendle Hill pamphlet on membership, you know, it’s the responsibility of the meeting to bring people to an expectation that they will have leadings. It enriches the life of the meeting, obviously, to have a good array of voices speaking the truth as it has come through them.
Viv Woodland: The experience of Friends for hundreds of years has been that a system of support from one’s religious community is incredibly useful as a check and balance on doing God’s work.
Jan Hoffman: For me in particular, I have had a hard time discerning voices in me. What is the message? What is not the message?
Ralph Greene: I’ve always felt a sense of affirmation by the fact that I was recorded. And I’ve worked with most of the pastoral meetings in New England—mostly in Maine—and there’s been an appreciation of that. It’s an access into the wider community.
Benigno Sanchez-Eppler: So in other denominations, you have a seminary, you have a particular course of preparation, you have missionary experience. And we have less of that, but most of all we have the possibility of supporting individuals to break out in freedom in a particular direction for their gifts, for their calling.
How to Support Quaker Ministers
Jan Hoffman: My oversight committee has supported me—and this is actually within the last three years, that I’ve had some heavy-duty struggles with the adversary. A scripture came to me, probably two years ago when I was in one of these places, and it’s “cast all your anxieties on God because he cares for you. Your adversary, like a roaring lion, is prowling around looking for someone to devour. Resist, steadfast in faith.” And my oversight committee will repeat that to me. Resist. Steadfast in faith. And you are steadfast.
Viv Woodland: The meeting’s main resource for supporting a specific ministry is human resources. Establishing a support community of individuals who meet regularly with the Friend who has a leading.
Benigno Sanchez-Eppler: And so that comes with a process that is also rooted in the yearly meeting structures, and therefore they have given the monthly meeting an opportunity to say, “Oh! How do we do that?”
Kathleen Wooten: So, Fresh Pond Meeting often has discerned travel minutes for various members who have had a leading to travel among Friends. They may be called to do specific work–work for peace or work to bring a specific message, or to give a plenary talk or a workshop. Others may be called to just visit in gospel love among Friends, and the travel minute itself feels that this is a leading and the work not just of that Friend but the work of the meeting.
Support Committees for Quaker Ministers
Kathleen Wooten: So at Fresh Pond meeting I have a support committee which has been named by the meeting–sort of a working group of the meeting–and those three Friends meet with me about once a month for worship and listening for where the Spirit might be leading me.
Benigno Sanchez-Eppler: One of the things that a clearness committee, or a ministry support committee, helps you to do is to help you to say “no” to certain things for the sake of being more faithful to the things that are yours.
Jan Hoffman: I have had an oversight committee since 2000. It has changed in membership but there are two people who have been on it for a very long time. My ministry just has grown exponentially with that oversight committee.
Kathleen Wooten: Sometimes there are more logistics and sometimes there are more long-term, and it’s comforting and helpful to hear other voices tell me what I’m saying without my opinions in the way.
Benigno Sanchez-Eppler: It is very enabling. Something that even allows me to take some risks, because I know that they sat me down, they asked me questions. They heard me. They have a sense of where I’m coming from, what my gifts are, and they have a sense of where I might walk more faithfully than not.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.