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.