Weighing the call to travel in the ministry

During the past two months, I have felt an increasing call to travel in the ministry. What I am about to post is probably going to be unfamiliar territory for Friends of other yearly meetings, though the current process in Ohio YM is what other YMs would have recognized historically. This post is not at all intended as a critique of anyone else or a means of evaluating anyone's faithfulness. I ask thee as the reader to have an open heart towards me if something seems unfamiliar.

Sensing the call
During my prayer time lately, I have sensed a renewed call from the Lord to travel in the Truth's service. I have done this in the past on occasion, so this is not anything new. The particulars of the current call are different from earlier calls I have felt. My earlier travels were single journeys of varying lengths, but the current call is to visit certain new meetings or meetings that are experiencing new growth. Since they are geographically scattered, this travel will likely consist of a series of weekend trips scattered throughout the coming 12 months. Visiting all the particular meetings that have been coming to my mind over and over during my prayers will include some air travel and some long car travel.

Testing the Leading
Friends have always had a concern that none of us go forth in such a venture without the Lord's direction. This has sometimes been called "running without being sent" or "going forth in our own power or strength." Evaluating and testing the leading is very important. In this case, I don't want to talk myself into doing something.

Over a century ago, Susan B. Anthony questioned why some people claimed a leading from the Lord to do something that they were already inclined to do. I have used this insight to help weigh my own leadings. In the current case, though, it does not seem to apply. I am not inclined to travel - in fact, left to my own devices, I would stay home and become a hermit (with occasional forays to libraries and archives in various places).

In the past, when I had concerns to travel, I had people in my life who I would consult. Neither of them had sympathy for travels under religious concern, and having to explain my concern to them helped me to evaluate the strength of the call. Not having these people to consult this time, I spoke with some Friends in my meeting for initial advice before asking for a minute. Much to my surprise, they all believed that it was a right leading and were glad to hear about it. Ohio Friends have a growing sense today that more travelling and visiting is needed throughout the Society of Friends, which is fine but does not help to discern the rightness of this particular leading. I have to say that confirmation without deeper exploration is not the way my mind works (though I am willing to accept it).

One thing that weighs on me is the problem of expectations. The following things seem pertinent right now - perhaps others will materialize later.

What do I expect of my meeting? This is one of the easier queries to answer. I believe that the nature of the concern requires a travelling minute from my meeting. I plan to request it at our next monthly meeting. Though I do not plan to travel outside of my Quarterly Meeting, and thus do not actually need a QM minute as well, I feel that the weight of the concern would benefit from having a QM minute. Asking for a minute is very much a cross to my will. I find it very difficult to trouble the meeting with things like this. They will need to appoint someone to draft a travelling minute for me and work out one or more people to serve as companions. Since this particular concern is easily broken down into smaller trips, different Friends might accompany me on different travels.

What does my meeting expect of me? This is a valuable question that I don't have a good answer for yet. I usually give a report at the end of the travel, but is that sufficient?

What do I expect from the visited meetings? This question weighs on me, too. I once accompanied a Friend travelling under religious concern with a minute from his MM, and much to my amazement most meetings he visited didn't know what to do with his minute. I have wondered if I should draft a short statement of what I expect from them. Of course, at a minimum it would be nice if the local Clerk or another Friend would read the minute aloud after meeting and endorse it. It is also helpful if Friends are available after the worship time for a time of fellowship - but few meetings do anything like that these days. Also I'm not sure how many meetings will have someone able to offer a place to stay overnight.

The biggest thing, though, that I expect from the visited meetings is a sense that the visit was something more than a flippant excuse for a vacation from work.

What do the visited meetings expect from me? This is another question mark in my consideration. I definitely do not desire to be controversial or divisive in this travel. I don't seek to draw anyone away from what is happening locally - in fact, part of the concern is to enrich the emergence of gifts locally and thus strengthen the overall Body of Christ. To be sure, some people in the visited meetings will have no idea of what to expect from the "exotic birds" from Ohio. Maybe that's a good thing.

What do I expect of myself? This is a good question that I have considered today. I need to spend additional preparation time - not trying to figure out "what to say" but rather taking time for spiritual cleansing and emptying of myself to make sure that I am not carrying any venom that might taint what I say either in ministry or in conversations. This includes additional prayer time and additional time with the Scriptures and books with sound advice about ministry.

One last thing that weighs on me is the need to state that the purpose of this travel is not to make people become more like I am or even to become well-known or popular. I hope that if anything others will be able to sense callings of their own that may be brought forth in a new way and thus bring glory to our Creator, who does all things well.


Preparation for Worship

Over the past weekend, something came to my attention that seemed worth sharing with the two of you who read this blog. My major concern is a simple way to deepen the hour of worship by taking a brief time to prepare ourselves before the Lord.

On the nature of worship

I have recently visited several meetings outside of my yearly meeting. Some have times of sharing in the hour immediately before their worship. I felt that this sharing time tainted the worship and undermined its potential.

To some degree, the root of the issue is one's approach to the time of worship. It seems increasingly common for people to see worship as a time to express themselves. This approach creates a ministry that begins with sharing a personal experience and continues with a discussion of what this meant to them as an individual. It is also increasingly acceptable to decide beforehand what one will say or sing. Time of absorption between messages in meetings is becoming increasingly shorter. I don't intend this post to condemn what others are doing, but I feel a real sense that something of incredible value is not being appreciated and may be lost. The traditional approach to worship, which Friends of all kinds followed until the 1870s, has important benefits.

Self expression has its place, such as in the time of afterthoughts or the fellowship afterward. It is fine to share things of value coming from the news media, an important conversation during the past week, or some other kind of interaction - but let everything have its proper place.

The ancient Quaker approach to worship is one of the greatest contributions of Friends to spirituality. It is a time for us to approach the Divine together, to have the communion with Him that enriches thy soul and energizes thee for the coming week, and to see what Christ Jesus chooses to share with us. This may sound flippant, but it is not. When we approach the Throne of Grace with a deep and abiding sense of awe and solemnity, special things happen. We are not there to entertain God or ourselves - we are there for Him to teach us. Worship is not a time of "waiting for my turn" to talk.

When we set aside the ego for this deeper worship, we experience what early Friends experienced. Messages from the Lord have value for the group as a whole, as we learn together how to walk worthy of our high calling.

Accounts from the 1600s mention a phenomenon that still occurs in Ohio (and perhaps elsewhere, though I haven't heard anyone else talk about this). Sometimes, "Friend A" will have a leading to speak in ministry, but while that Friend is discerning the rightness of sharing the message, "Friend B" will stand and say the same thing. Records from the 1600s indicate that on many occasions, listeners would know 5-10 seconds beforehand what George Fox was about to say. These confirmations are one kind of God's fingerprints on the message.

For any of these deep experiences to take place, however, we have to come to worship fresh and with a sense that it is possible that the Lord has something special for us.

The hour of preparation

The time immediately preceding worship is very important. It is a time to cleanse our minds. We normally do this as the Lord draws us in during the early part of worship, but if we take time beforehand for cleansing, that gives us more time in deep communion.

I have seen many times when a person's mind was exercised in the hour before worship, and the person undermined the experience for others by expressing the venom. All kinds of things detract from one's state of mind. It could be a conversation, particularly if someone needs to share a hurt that was caused by another. It could be a study time in which someone felt there was not a chance to contribute something of importance. These and other things take away from the time of worship.

Which is what leads to the value of considering a time of preparation for worship. Consider the value of thy arriving for worship 15-30 minutes early, making sure that the room is ready for worship, and taking a seat. Try to remove all exercise and unease in thy mind to make thee as fresh as possible to experience communion and receive any direction that the Light of Christ Jesus might have for thee. Arriving early provides thee with time for the Lord to cleanse anything that needs to be set aside temporarily or removed altogether. Taking a seat early also sets an example that others need to speak softly if at all.

A time of preparation has many benefits. Many ministers in Ohio Yearly Meeting take quite a while in discernment of a particular message. They have a long-standing care to weed out the leadings that come from an overactive mind because they earnestly hope to minimize what Ruth Pitman called the "taste of the pipes" in On the Vocal Ministry. The effect of this is that the first half of a meeting is silent while the latter half may have several messages. Clustering all messages into the second 30 minutes means that they have to be short in order to allow time for absorption. For example, if three messages are given in 30 minutes, they would average 7-8 minutes at most.

However, if the ministers arrive (for example) 15 minutes early, and still have 30 minutes of cleansing and discernment, that shifts the character of the meeting because the time when most messages are given is increased from 30 minutes to 45. Ministers are less under the weight of keeping messages shorter and have the potential for deeper messages that often take more time. Three messages in 45 minutes would average 12 minutes each, providing the potential for twice the length per message.

While having a time for preparation is not likely to become a kind of "pre-meeting" in the way that afterthoughts have become a "post-meeting," it has some weight and potential to leaven our worship and make it more meaningful for thee and others.

Note of clarification: Over the past weekend, I attended the gathering of Christian Friends at Powell House. While the realizations of this blog posting came into focus for me at that gathering, the underlying concerns were not based on anything that happened at the gathering.



The Landscape of Ministry, Part 4

Part 4. Deportment of Ministers

The fourth and final installment in the series involves the deportment of ministers. The earliest Friends called this a minister's conversation, and when a name was proposed to be recognized as a minister, a committee was appointed to inquire into that person's conversation. They thus maintained the use of the word "conversation" as found in the Bible - they were looking at the person's overall lifestyle and being, not limiting themselves to a consideration of the person's use of language. Today we use the word "deportment" for this idea. This essay, however, is limited to non-language issues because those were covered in the last post.

Ministers today need to model the Christian life. Those around us need models. Most people who are called "role models" today are not living lives that we should follow. American culture values superficiality, greed, physical beauty, and ethics of personal convenience. Traditionally, Friends were nonconformists and rejected these values, seeking to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and souls. Thy real beauty is derived from thy willingness to be transformed by the Lord. This post is about urging thee to become the beautiful person He has in mind.

Around 1800, the term concerned Friend came into vogue; it has remained in use in Ohio and perhaps to a lesser degree in other yearly meetings. The term has a specific meaning. A concerned Friend understands that his/her choices in life contribute to the overall health of the Society of Friends or Christendom generally. Ministers need to be concerned Friends. Thy choices in life matter. Thy life needs to exemplify thy discernment of being directed by Christ Jesus outside of worship. It is not enough to choose to be faithful during worship but ignore Him the remaining 99.4% of the time (if thy worship experience is one hour per week).

The following are some things that are useful in leavening thy ministry and growth in thy gift. They are not intended to serve as a checklist or artificial guide.

A. Devotional Time

Develop a deep prayer life. Delight thyself in the Lord, and He will give thee the desires of thy heart. Take time to be with Him, alternating between speaking and waiting for direction. Give Him time to perform His work. Prayer helps thee to persevere when times are difficult. It helps thee learn from thy own weaknesses so thee can have mercy on the weaknesses of others. William Waring wrote an article on prayer in the late 1800s, in which he noted that the Quaker tradition of kneeling for prayer was not an empty form because it exemplifies our yearning to bow before our Creator for the guidance we can only receive from Him.

Read the Bible. Surveys provide contradictory information, but it appears that the average American spends something on the order of two minutes per day reading the Bible and two to four hours per day watching television. In fact, in some recent years, self-identifying Christians have spent more time reading Christian fiction than the Bible. Just to keep things in context, a person reading the Bible 15 minutes per day will finish it in a year's time. In the early 1800s, Ohio Yearly Meeting inquired how many families gathered to read the Bible aloud. About 75% of our families were doing that back then. Try it out.

Read the Approved Writings of Friends. This is controversial, I realize, and even some Friends don't want to hear it. I have read several contemporary Christian books, but there are only two that I would classify in the "must read" category. Compare that with landmark Quaker authors in the same category - Joseph Phips, Christopher Healey, Sarah Grubb, Mildred Ratcliff, John Griffith, Joseph Oxley, Isaac Penington, Thomas Chalkley, William Penn, Thomas Story, Priscilla Gurney, Robert Barclay. There is a reason that their works are part of the Approved Writings. They had something to say about modelling the Christian life. They were not interested in scare tactics or empty words. While I respect those who disagree with me on this, I can also say this: earlier writers of other denominations had more substance than 90% of Christian authors right now. I have read books by George Whitfield, Charles Finney, and Dwight Moody, and their works will continue to be discussed in the future. Most contemporary Christian writings will not.

B. Meeting Life

Demonstrate community. Don't talk about community. Practice it.

Speak with thy meeting about having an Elder appointed for thee. I can't emphasize enough how important this is. Don't underestimate how the Lord can cleanse and prepare thee for greater use through the advice of a well-chosen Elder. Also be prepared to assess from time to time if an alternate Elder appointment is needed (they can get burned out).

Answer the ancient queries for ministers on a regular basis.

Learn to listen to people. This will help when someone comes to thee to ask for guidance or to discuss a difficult life situation.

Learn how to discuss difficult things with others and maintain a meek spirit, then tell me how I can do it, too.

C. Thy Christian Walk

Find a way to anonymously help others. I can't express enough the blessings that come from this. Doing so will help thee understand when thy friends fail to recognize or appreciate a kind deed thee did for them. See if there is a way for thee to do something anonymously for the person in life who irritates thee the most. Christ Jesus came for that person, too.

Practice truthfulness. By this, I mean identify those things that are True for everyone and act accordingly. But don't talk about it unless someone asks. Just do it.

Discover submission. Don't insist on thy way all the time. Others have valuable insights, experiences, and leadings too. Let the Lord work through others to enliven and nurture the entire body.

Experience the things that retain value. Most elements of contemporary culture are transient, or, to use the old Quaker terminology, the "perishing things of this world." Time is precious, and we are urged "redeem the time." Do that by reducing how much time thee spends with transient things.

Learn not to speak evil of others. A good place to start is to stop criticizing politicians. Those on the other side usually are genuine in what they hope to accomplish. Both parties have people who are intelligent, those who have virtue, and those who lack virtue. Free thyself from harboring hard feelings toward anyone. Seek the good of all.

In short, experience this admonition from George Fox: Let thy life preach.



The Landscape of Ministry, Part 3

Part 3. Thy Use of Words Outside of Ministry

This part considers some issues surrounding discernment of speech outside of ministry.

Most of us have heard that we should not give rebuttals to what someone has said in ministry. I have mixed feelings about this, because I have seen times (admittedly few) when a Friend was anointed to offer a rebuttal, which immediately got the meeting back on track. The greatest care should be used in these matters, so don't rush in without divine direction. Of course, the best option is for an Elder to approach someone who is off track in ministry and try to get them to yield. This usually is effective but should be reserved for the more serious cases. Let trivial cases pass because it is likely that no one will remember them anyway. I have seen several cases when ministry was offered to help draw Friends back to the Light of Christ Jesus, ignoring the offending message. Modeling the pattern of right discernment and delivery is preferable to an open dissection of the previous message.

If someone vocally opposes thy words during worship, it is not thy role to defend what thee said, so don't even try. Vocal opposition during worship may come from a variety of spiritual states, but always weigh it carefully. The person may be right (or not). About five years ago in Ohio, an Elder stated briefly during worship that the words just given by a minister had missed the mark. The minister considered that remark and then stood to express her mind that the Elder was entirely correct, asking forgiveness of the meeting. Usually it is best to allow the worship to continue without a response. If thy words came from the Lord, He will use them according to His purposes - so consider whether thy leading was rightly discerned and, if it still seems to have been right, let it go.

On occasion, someone will approach thee after worship to discuss thy message. This is awkward. The most important thing to convey is a sense of thy discernment. Anointed messages don't need to be defended, and there is no defense for other messages anyway, so avoid that discussion. Whatever else thee does, make sure thee understands what the person feels a desire to tell thee, particularly if that person has a leading in the way of eldership. If that person had to listen to thee in ministry, thee needs to listen to them when they are directed to approach thee afterwards. The person may have something of spiritual value or not, but at least try to find out if this might be a teaching moment.

One thing that is always difficult is discerning a response to quick statements like "thank thee for thy message." These statements are usually genuine. Generally, the best response is a simple recognition of the comment. William Bacon Evans would sometimes say "thank thee for thanking me." Some times I have responded with a statement that suggests that my discernment was faulty. This kind of modesty undermines the message in the long run and should be avoided. One could say something like "I seriously endeavored to be faithful," which is truthful (right?) and concise.

Friends who are naturally inclined to speak freely outside of worship and also speak with some frequency during worship often face the challenge of conveying a sense of discernment. Does this person just want to talk all the time? Joseph John Gurney liked to dominate conversations outside of worship, which pained Friends who were already bothered by the quality of his discernment during worship and in his writings. Chattiness is not necessarily bad, so if this is thy natural inclination, consider the following. Sometimes asking for a moment to seek for direction (and then actually using the time for that purpose) helps to keep thee on track as well as conveying to the hearer thy desire to find the Lord's words for the discussion. Depend on Him to provide savory and weighty words, not on opinions or rhetorical strategies. If thee learns to do this well, it will leaven thy chattiness and nurture those who are sent thy way.

Whether in private conversations or in ministry, thy use of words is very important. Rightly discerned words do not tear down another person, undermine that person's reputation, or promote divisions. The world has all the spouters of venom it needs - don't increase the statistic. Words are powerful. Learn to use them the right way, for God's purposes.

If thy life experiences incline thee to be negative about life, seek divine direction to be healed of this tendency. Even if thee attempts to be as faithful as possible, it may be thy lot to endure incredibly difficult circumstances. This is not necessarily a divine judgment on thee. Don't be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good (does thee have faith that God will help thee do that?). Don't let thy words be overcome with evil, either, and don't let thy ministry be tarnished with venom. Verily, others are more versed at that than thee, so don't even enter into the competition.

One last thing that ministers have to bear in mind in discussions is the importance of expressing appreciation for other people. Do that. Let others know that their faithfulness may be even more important than thy faithfulness in ministry. It is sometimes. Christ Jesus has things for thee to do and things for others to do. Those who are called to speak on His behalf need the modesty to commend others when they are coming forth in their various gifts. Laboring in the divine vineyard is a team effort as we all attempt to stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to life. Don't wait until an important person dies to mention how that person gave thee hope, direction, or assistance. Thy words of encouragement might be used by the Lord for an unknown but precious purpose. Bless everyone, including thyself, by blessing another.

Thy words say a lot about thee. Choose them wisely.

Final Part: The Deportment of Ministers



The Landscape of Ministry, Part 2

Part 2. Delivery of the Message

The previous posting covered topics surrounding discernment of a particular leading to speak during worship.

So now that the Lord has a word for thee to share, the next topic is thy delivery of the message. Historically, this topic was called elocution, and school teachers used to have courses on the topic. Some principles of practical elocution seem fitting for Quaker worship.

The first topic should be considered by all who speak on any regular basis, which is thy choice of seating. In Quaker meetings where gifts of ministry are recognized, acknowledged ministers are expected to sit in the gallery (facing benches). People in most FGC meetings usually don't care who sits there, as the purpose of the facing benches as a location for members who have come forth in their various gifts has ceased. Friends in Ohio care who sits there, so don't be forward in this at our meetings. Sitting in the gallery serves some purposes that should be borne in mind. First, it gives a perspective on those gathered that helps thee to see if someone is rising to speak themselves. It is a little unnerving to rise to speak just to discover that someone else has also risen to speak. Sitting in the middle of the group makes it difficult to survey everyone else and thus spare thyself this little discouragement. Remember if this happens that it does not mean that thy discernment was faulty. Anyway, consider sitting somewhere that allows thee to look at all others gathered before rising thyself.

Sitting in the gallery also has an advantage that all need to bear in mind - it aids in projection. For some unknown reason, too many Friends believe they have a word from Christ Jesus to share, but when they stand, they speak so softly that others cannot hear them. Ministers don't need to speak at the top of their voice like Ann Branson and Jeremiah Allen. God is not deaf. However, some attenders are a little hard of hearing - and if thee is going to interrupt the silent waiting, these people need to be able to understand what thee has been given to share. So project thy voice. Thy words may be given with some softness, which I have found particularly good when visiting a meeting where I didn't know anyone. The catch here is that often the speaker concentrates so heavily on the message that projection is not rightly considered. I once caught myself halfway through a message, thinking that I was speaking with some softness - but since those gathered were seated fairly close together, it was appropriate.

Of course, men Friends remove their hats when speaking during worship, either while standing in ministry or kneeling in prayer. A woman Friend who wears a bonnet sometimes removes it while speaking or praying if she is wearing a head covering - otherwise she does not.

A common technique used by ministers is to stand silently for a few seconds before beginning to speak. This is good for three reasons. First, it conveys to everyone the seriousness of thy desire to correctly discern the leading, rather than standing and starting to speak immediately. Second, it gives an opportunity for thee to yield if someone else stands and starts to speak. A few years ago, I visited a meeting where two Friends stood to speak at the same time, and one of them asked the other to wait. Don't do that. A willingness to yield is appreciated by everyone, and it contributes to something to be discussed in a later part of this series. Third, the introductory pause continues a useful Friends tradition that dates back to the 1670s that ministers make a public statement that they feel a leading to speak but want to take a last moment, publicly but silently asking for final guidance about the anointing.

Most ministers feel that it is best to speak with one's eyes closed. They argue that looking around might distract from the leading and cause thy message to wander aimlessly. Others believe that looking at those gathered provides some valuable feedback to how others receive thy words. Here is a warning that I have. At a particular meeting one time, I had a leading that I thought was somewhat stronger and clearer than usual. Near the end of what I felt called to share, I chose to look at those gathered. Someone who was seated almost directly in front of me was rolling his eyes. Was I speaking too long? Was my message wandering? Did he just not want to hear what I was saying? I don't know - but in fact I truncated the remainder of what was on my heart into one sentence and sat down. Since that time, I have felt it is best for me not to look at the reactions of others (but more on this in a later post, too). Feel free to experiment, bearing in mind that having open or closed eyes is not as important as thee sharing clearly and audibly a word that the Word has given thee to share.

This latter event also brings up the issue of when to sit down. We sometimes hear that we should speak as long as the leading continues. That means that at the end of what thee has in view to share, take a moment to weigh if that is all, before sitting down. My tendency is to sit down too soon, and in one case I felt that an important part of the message had not been shared yet. Try not to do that.

Pauses are good to use throughout a message. Try not to drag out the pauses too much, though. Short pauses serve several purposes: they can act both as paragraph markers and as brief moments to check thy faithfulness in the leading. Historically, Friends ministers used pauses even in mid-sentence, which contributed to the so-called "sing-song" ministry that characterized Quaker ministry in the years 1780 to 1860 and continued in Ohio into the late 20th century.

The last part of the topic of elocution is the use of preambles or conclusions. The Ohio Discipline contains cautions against the unnecessary use of these two elocutionary conventions. For the most part, we don't need to tell people that the Lord has a message for them, because one's choice to stand to speak already conveys that. Something that has weighed on my mind from time to time, however, is what I call the George Keith syndrome. Keith was raised in northern Scotland, and throughout his ministry, people reported that they couldn't always understand what he was saying. This was true both in England and also after he removed to Philadelphia. Once when I was visiting in Maine, I attended a meeting there, and I felt a keen sense that I needed a preamble to ask for their forbearance if they couldn't understand my accent. Be open to using them but only if needed (or don't travel to Maine in ministry).

It is easy to say that these things about elocution are not important, and to a degree that is true. However, reading these things may help thee gain a sense of matters that will become a natural part of thy ministry. They require a separate discernment from that given to weighing a particular leading to speak. This should allow thee to convey the message of the saving Light of Christ in the most effective way possible while focusing thy discernment on the leading.

The upcoming topic considers our verbal interactions with Friends after sitting down and after the rise of meeting.



The Landscape of Ministry, Part 1

This is the first installment in what I anticipate will be a four part posting on the landscape of Quaker ministry today. This posting consists of an introduction to the series as well as the first of the four areas of the lives of ministers.

The framework that I am about to share came to me late last month at a time when I was thinking of other things, and I trust that what I feel an urgency to share is not the creation of my own mind. It is with some trepidation that I enter into this brief series, because I understand that others have more experience and deeper insights than I have. I ask for forbearance from all if I outrun the Guide. Also if anyone posts replies with insights from our Source, please indicate if it would be a burden on thy mind if I incorporated appropriate portions of thy comments.

This series on the landscape of Friends ministry provides a context for an evaluation of one's own ministry / discernment (with the Lord's assistance) as well as some aids for Elders to perform their function of nurturing Friends in the ministry. Of course, these discussions should be pursued with the greatest care, seeking always to find the direction of the Light of Christ Jesus and avoid the unfulfilling shortcuts that our minds and natures sometimes offer.

My postings are not intended to be a critique of any person. They are not to be used to undermine the ministry of another person. They are strictly some insights that have been granted to me that perhaps don't apply to anyone else. The discussion relates to nurturing gifts, not undermining gifts.

Part 1. Discerning the Leading to Speak.

One of the most challenging aspects of speaking in ministry is the discernment granted to a particular message. Discernment is important. It is critical to the growth in the gift of anyone who speaks as the oracle of God. The reason for its spiritual weight is that the speaker is standing during worship, speaking to others on God's behalf. This is a big thing. We all know the danger that a misspoken word may easily push a person further from the Lord rather than drawing us all closer. We all want to avoid this pitfall.

Thee may know that Friends have traditionally distinguished between ministry and testimonies. Ministry is usually considered to mean "speaking a message on God's behalf." A testimony is usually considered to mean "here is something unusual that God did in my life." Both are important and have value, but they are different. I prefer myself to keep them separate, though of course the Lord may direct otherwise.

The normal discernment queries that ministers have always mentioned continue to apply. Is a given message received from the Almighty, or is it something that I have conjured up myself? Am I truly speaking on His behalf, or am I actually speaking on my own behalf? Does God want me to share this particular thing with others, or is it a message meant for me?

In short, why am I interrupting the expectant waiting to share these words?

In the earliest years of Quakerism, this whole discussion was considered to be part of the "qualification" for spiritual labor. The journals of the 1650-1750 era contain a lot of threshing out the issue of qualification. The word was being handed out so often that the famous book written by Samuel Bownas is often abbreviated to simply "Bownas's Qualifications."

The Discipline of Ohio Yearly Meeting contains an advice for ministers that partially addresses the issue of discernment of a particular leading to speak:

Let all, in their spoken testimonies, be cautious of ... asserting too positively a Divine impulse - the baptizing power of Truth accompanying their words being the true evidence.

This sentence was recently ridiculed by some non-Friends who considered them to be nonsense, but consider what the sentence says. The evidence that a person was speaking on God's behalf is not whether the speaker says "God told me to tell you this" but rather that the words are accompanied by the baptizing power of Truth.

Think on this for a moment. The Divine Scheduler often uses the words granted to thee to help shape the life of another person. Often thee does not even know that He is active at that point in time. Thy words, spoken in season, enter into the conscience of a hearer in the context of the recent experiences of the hearer. A word in season might mean different things to two or three different people, but if the Lord gave thee the words, He can use them to nurture lives of these hearers in differing ways. But in all this, He is doing the real work.

Thy discernment process should not include an analysis of the needs of those gathered. There is One who knows their needs as well as thy needs. Let Him direct thee to the words that are needed in the situation. It is not good for thee to speak on thy own behalf while pretending to speak on His behalf.

During worship, others gathered are not particularly interested in thy opinions, thy desire to be heard, or thy wishes. They are rarely interested in hearing about what thee has been reading lately. They are not there to be entertained; they are there to be nurtured and given guidance on what it means to live the Christian life today.

About ten years ago, during a lively discussion in Ohio, someone asked one of our older ministers (who had been silent up to this point) what he thought about the topic at hand. He said that he was waiting for a word from the Lord. With this statement, the conversation ended. In worship, this is what Friends wait for - a word from the Lord.

People flocked to hear the ministry of Jesus. It changed them. It opened their understanding to the reality of the spiritual realm. Jesus opens the real doors that provide the guidance for right living, right thinking, and right relationships. His words are spirit, and they are life. He directs thee and me to experience the holy life that He makes possible.

The words that Jesus gives are alive. Ministers are not trying to regulate the lives of others. They are trying to share what God wants to be heard. When they are the most faithful they can possibly be, ministers convey hope, encouragement, and direction to people in ways that the minister cannot possibly comprehend. That is because the presence in the midst has become real again.

These are the words that ministers seek.

Next installment: "delivery of the message."


A Plea for Strong Eldership

"Then fourteen years after, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain." Galatians 2:1-2.

In this passage, the Apostle makes a remarkable statement - after a time of ministry, he went to visit those "of reputation" to find out if he had run in vain. If such a visit was needed by Paul, how can any of us believe that we need any less?

In the Society of Friends, people named Elders provide feedback to ministers, guiding them around the pitfalls and nurturing them with the spiritual guidance wherein they appear lacking. Most groups of Friends scaled back the duties of Elders in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century because of a reticence that anyone else should "judge" the leadings of a minister. Now, in the early 21st century, the position is beginning to emerge again in various places. In some midwestern FGC yearly meetings, the role of Elder is played by people serving on what are called "anchoring committees." Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has recently started appointing Elders to serve as something of "silent observers" during business meetings, who attempt to foster the sense of worship during the deliberations.

Although these varied interpretations of the office may not be consistent in their intent, some general principles appear to hold among all groups of Friends.

Ministers need Elders.
This statement is so obvious that it seems pointless to mention. No matter how much a minister attempts to be true to the Guide in speaking, mistakes are made. The problem is this: often, when someone speaks under a false leading during worship, there is a possibility that a hearer will be turned away - not from the speaker - but instead from Christ Jesus. Such an event is a major problem, particularly if it continues. One role of the Elder is to look out for anything that takes away from a person's ministry, emphasizing the strengths and guiding the minister away from shortcomings. Elders are not the enemies of ministers - in fact, Elders work to help ministers grow in their gift and improve their ability to follow the guidance of the Light of Christ even better. The two therefore have a

Joint exercise of gifts.
Meetings of ministers and elders were instituted over 300 years ago. Of course, in the 17th century, Friends understood there to be more of an overlap between the two offices, and Friends were not being specifically named to either office until the early 18th century. The overseers have participated in these meetings since 1958. When Friends with diverse gifts gather to discuss the things of the Spirit, individual gifts are sharpened as Friends grow in their yearning to help each part of the body to function at its best. Those in all three stations need to be good listeners, both to the Lord and to each other. To use an analogy from the world, they are all part of the same team, and not in competition with each other.

It is a great irony that one of the most powerful words in the English language is also one of the shortest. The word "no" is a word that those who speak on the Lord's behalf need to hear sometimes. Most Elders are able to work around a direct "no" by saying something like "I wouldn't do that now," but the fact stands that ministers need to know when they are straying from the path. The relationship between a minister and an Elder must be well-nurtured and strong in order that the caution may be received in the right spirit. Ministers need to hear "What thee is doing is undermining thy ministry" if the Lord has shown that to an Elder. As someone who hardly ever hears "no," I can say without hesitation that when I hear it, I take notice.

Last year, a woman was telling a story in a conversation among four Friends (including me). As part of the conversation, the woman said that if God told someone to do something but the Elders counselled against it, the person should go ahead and do it anyway. This really bothered me. To begin with, if the Lord gave a person direction, that person should be able to convey a sense of the gravity of the leading to the Elders. If rightly appointed Elders believe it not to be "of the Lord," I told her that I would definitely hesitate to do the thing. There is safety in the multitude of counsellors, because whether we like it or not, each of us occasionally finds it difficult to discern between ego and God. Last, if it is a true leading, the Lord would grant the Elders strength to see His hand in the matter.


Ohio YM Epistle of Advice, 1813

Historically, Yearly Meetings issued epistles of advice to subordinate meetings. These epistles were sometimes issued annually, other times sporadically. More often than not, in Ohio the women's yearly meeting was more active in sending such epistles down.

The following is the text of the epistle of advice issued by the men's yearly meeting in Ohio in 1813, the inaugural year of that body. The minutes of the women's yearly meeting have been lost. The initial minute book (1813-1825) was taken by Jane Plummer, one time clerk of the Ohio Women's Yearly Meeting, who left Friends in the mid-19th century.

As a caution, readers should be aware that this is a typical epistle of advice (having read some from the yearly meetings of Ohio, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and North Carolina, this assessment is based on some hands-on experience). It is being offered here simply due to its nature as the one approved at the first session of Ohio Yearly Meeting. The spelling has not been altered, a decision influenced by a desire to enhance the historic flavor of the text. The last paragraph concerns the War of 1812, then under way.

The epistle is offered here not as a critique of any person or body of people but simply for its historic value. The ideas expressed herein stand on their own, and I leave it to thee & the enlivening Light of Christ Jesus to discern whether something here may leaven thy spiritual life.


20th of the month [Eighth Month, 1813] and 6th of the week.

The state of Society as contained in the reports from the Quarters being now brot. into view, friends were deeply exercised on account of the weakness and deficiencies existing among us, and in order that these may be removed, it was earnestly recommended that all friends become so exercised in the Spirit of their minds, as to be qualified to worship the Father of Spirits, whereby we may experience his love operating in us; the blessed effects whereof would not only be joy and peace, but carefulness and circumspection in all our ways, whereby our hands would be strengthened and we enabled to labor in the spirit of meekness and restoring love, with those in whom deficiencies appear.

We should be so far persuaded from the spirit of talebearing and detraction, that in conversing, even among our friends, we should be careful to avoid expressing our opinions too freely, or in an improper manner, which, though it may be done without an evil intention, may have a tendency to destroy the unity and harmony that ought to subsist among us. And friends are desired to keep to plainness in dress and address; for altho these things may in the view of some appear small, they have in the experience of many been found to be as the "little foxes that spoil the tender vine," and we are persuaded that where the light of the blessed principle is attended to, all our defects will be manifested to us, and that the right government of our families is indeed of very great importance. It has been sorrowfully observed that the general round of business, or too frequently things of a temporal nature, are the principal things conversed of in families; but it is most assuredly believed, that as parents are brought under the Divine Government they will find their minds drawn to discourse of higher objects, whereby the minds of their children may be instructed. But for want of this care, it is greatly to be feared, there are many amongst us who are far short of their duty to their children, many of whom would be much at a loss if they were asked a reason of the hope that is in them; and it ought to be an alarming consideration, that unless there is more care on the part of these, they will find themselves encompassed with clouds of darkness in a trying time.

And lastly in regard to the commotions which are in the World: "Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves." Friends are earnestly entreated to take no part in political concerns and avoid the expression of sentiments in relation thereto. "And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, see that ye be not troubled:" but trust in the Lord Jehovah, in whom there is everlasting strength. And then, altho ye may be tried, and sifted as wheat, ye shall be preserved.

Horton Howard, Clerk


An Early Ohio Epistle

From our Yearly Meeting of Women friends, held in Mountpleasant, by adjournments, from the 7th of the 9th month to the 12th of the same, inclusive, 1818. To the Yearly Meeting of Women friends to be held in Philadelphia.

Dear Sisters,

As "deep calleth unto deep" so we can feelingly acknowledge your acceptable Epistle with others read at this time have been like a renewed call on us to dwell near the Fountain of Truth, that will cleanse and purify all our efforts to promote the welfare of Zion and "the enlargement of her Borders." We may acknowledge that the precious union and fellowship which we have felt in the Bond of Peace have proved strengthening and encouraging to many of our minds; and though some have been ready to say in doubtful dismay, "who is sufficient for these things," yet we are sensible that as the day of trial and baptism is pateiently abode under, the unslumbering Shepherd of Israel will arise for their help. And, Oh that these tried ones may be enabled to say, "Wash me, make me clean"; "let not thy hand spare nor thine eye pity, till thou hast brought forth judgment unto victory," till thou has cleansed not only from the dross and the tin, but also from the Reprobate silver.

We have had to view with solemn awe the high profession we are making in the world; and earnestly desire in that spirit which wisheth well to the whole human family, that our lives and conversation may adorn the doctrines we profess, that we may become as a light to the people, and an ensign to the nations, that none may be dwelling as it were in their ceiled houses, saying to themselves, "We are Abraham's children," and thereby become a stumbling block to those who are inquiring the way to Zion.

We feel drawn tenderly and affectionately to salute the rising generation, the hope of succeeding times. May you not, beloved young sisters, suffer your minds to be deluded by the vain allurements and fascinations of this world, which passeth away as a shadow; nor too much of your time engrossed by these pleasures and pursuits which may be termed comparatively innocent - but as a means of alluring your attention and unfitting the mind for the reception of substantial good, and consuming the precious moments which never can return, are inimical to your progress towards the land of Promise.

The design of the Enemy of your souls is answered if he can beguile by the very least of his baits. But the earnest breathing of our spirits is that the Shepherd of Israel may watch over you, and keep you as within the "Garden enclosed" where no hurtful thing can enter; that you may yield now in the morning of your day in submissive obedience to the visitations of the Father's love made known in your hearts; and there be qualified to fill the places of those ancient Worthies, many of whom have been removed from works to rewards.

Our annual assembly has been large; and though we have not, as heretofore, had the company of many of our friends from distant Yearly Meetings, one from yours has been acceptably with us. And we trust the Master has been graciously disposed to bless the few loaves and fishes to our strength and support.

We remain your affectionate Sisters,

Signed on behalf of the Meeting,

Charity Rotch,
Clerk this year.


Living in a trash can

Many of you are aware that my wife of 12 years decided that she would be happier in life without me, moving out last summer. This has been a difficult time for a variety of reasons. Several of these reasons I would have expected, others not. The following are three challenges that I face in my new role in life.

1) Unsolicited advice. One thing that has surprised me has been the increasing amount of unsolicited advice that I receive. I realize that most people offering advice are well-meaning and want to help me deal with the situation - it's just that often it would be nice to have a few more Queries rather than Advices.

A major issue of unsolicited advice is the topic of the remarriage of divorced persons. Ohio Friends can have strong opinions on the topic. Some Friends remind me about the words of Jesus regarding this, while others quote the passage that if an unbeliever leaves a marriage, the believer is no longer bound. When the topic comes up, I try to clarify that I am not looking for someone new in my life - which satisfies most people.

2) Changing relationships. A surprise for me has been that my circle of friends has been adjusted. Some people have been noticeably friendlier over the past six months. Two Friends in particular have been faithful to inquire about my welfare. Even though I spend large blocks of time alone now, sometimes I really like to be alone. Other times, the phone call lifts my spirits during a low time.

Not all relationships have grown closer, though. Two people in particular seem more distant than before – though whether that is a result of events in my life or theirs is sometimes unclear. Some people appear to believe that God brought this to pass to punish me for something, with the associated conclusion that now I am a second-class (third class?) Christian.

3) Handling responsibilities. Over the years, I have been appointed to a limited number of committees and positions of responsibility. One of these positions has never been held by a divorced person. Given the diversity of opinion among Ohio Friends, I sometimes wonder if I should hold them. Last summer I wrote to two weighty Ohio Friends and told them that I was willing to resign from two certain positions if that would make things easier for everyone. They both immediately urged me not to resign from either.


In the meantime, I am finding myself able to get caught up on some things that I needed to work on. I also recently came into possession of a microfilm reader, which I have used to read some old minutes of Ohio YM. I have also been completing some small projects that have lingered for a while, some Quaker-related. These various projects have been useful in occupying my mind during this painful time, which is remarkably similar to the death of a loved one. The therapeutic effects of the projects are not as strong as the knowledge of my mother’s love for me – nor my Father’s love for me.