What Does a Quaker Pastor Do?

Not every Quaker meeting has a paid pastor, but some have found it helpful. Margaret Webb, pastor of New Garden Meeting in North Carolina, explains her role.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

5 thoughts on “What Does a Quaker Pastor Do?

  1. We, in Europe (I’m in France, but know a little the English Quakers as well) are dominated by unprogrammed worship, and I don’t think there’s a pastor on the Old Continent ! But I hugely regret it ! I wonder if it’s not a little due to snobbery that “we do not have/need a pastor !” I think we would benefit enormously from the option of having pastored communities (not least for extending our outreach). I sometimes wonder whether with only unprogrammed/unpastored communities we do not risk “drying up”. I would love a situation where there were at least some communities with pastors or else, travelling (paid) ministers that visit communities. I don’t see why we would be the only ones who cannot benefit from those who dedicate their professional lives to “religion”…

  2. I completely agree with the comment above from our French Friend. I have been a part of two Friends communities and I have witnessed first hand the deleterious effects of the Quaker prejudice against the very concept of leadership in a meeting. In theory at least a Quaker community should be open and welcoming of the gifts of the Spirit , one of which is the gift of ministry. What I have seen is quite the opposite. In my first Meeting anyone demonstrating the least bit of energy, innovation, or creativeness was ruthlessly driven from the Meeting by the “elders”. New ideas and leadings were continually met with delay, obstacles , and a kind of smirking condescension until the new members left in despair. In my second meeting every suggestion put forth to invite new members is greeted as if someone had just passed flatulence. The sense being that it is somehow beneath Friends to evangelize. As a result our meeting hasn’t gained a new member in 7 years!!!

  3. I’m what used to be called a “birthright Friend” 11th Generation Quaker dating back to 1600s, but I grew up in a pastoral meeting in the Midwest; since moving to East have been member of 3 non-programmed meetings, attended many more meetings, all along the spectrum. I know New Garden Meeting and its semi-programmed format, and the strength and effectiveness of its admirable faith community … and wish we could imbibe some of its vigor where I live now. I continue to be dismayed, after 50+ years, with the parochialism and lack of knowledge that all too many FGC Friends have about any kind of pastoral arrangement … too many believe that any kind of Meeting staffing, even part-time, would violate “Quaker Purity” (the same way that some believe God cannot enter a room with a piano in it). In today’s hectic, over-scheduled, over-worked family structure, there simply is not enough member volunteer time available to carry out all the needed outreach, care and ministry that will nourish and sustain a Meeting. And still, year after year, in all too many meetings the number of obituaries far exceeds the number of new applications for membership. I want the Society of Friends to be viable and growing when my grandchildren are adults with careers and families … but I feel the “Purity” mindset hampers efforts to keep meetings vital and active. I admit I have no answer, but it would help to have more people open to discussing the possibilities.

  4. My thinkinh is that the objection to paid pastors in the “pure” unprogrammed tradition, is that the paid person can so easily become dominant, a paid leader, doing what God calls us to do with the divine inspiration given freely to us. Why would we expect to pay, or to be paid for that. This was the argument of George Fox and is revant still today. If we are focussed purely on acquiring greater numbers in our meeting, we can take the modern commercial route of tv evangelism, a charismatic pastor, and tge whole panoply of persuasive (generaly not honest) adversising.
    I am a new Friend, having become a member only forty five years ago, so i dont have the inherited wisdom of being a multigeneration Friend.
    Friends went through a formal Quietist period, whdn the fire became a cool ember, but from that period came the antislavery activity, then prison reform, and the adventure into scientufic discoveries and industrialisation. Was that good? It can be argued not, but the influence on modern life and society was foundational.
    If God has a puroose for Friends still, we will find it through seeking first the Spirit and being obedient to our calling. There is much to be done yet, whether that includes programmed worship and paid pastors or not. The issue is whether or not we are faithful to our leadings, or merely overthinking into notions.

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