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.


RichardM said...

I would advise that you not harbor expectations about how the visited meeting will respond. Especially you should not harbor any expectations that it will be significant. That sound's a little too much like your ego talking. If you are genuinely led to visit you will feel an internal push to go. And when you go you will feel a sense of rightness and release even if you get no visible response at all from the visited meeting. Just be faithful and don't try to control what happens or use your intellect to create results of your choosing.

Marty Calliham said...

Thank thee for this, Chronicler. I especially liked to hear the queries about expectations, along with thy own responses. This is helpful for many situations for which discernment is useful.

Would thee please explain what is meant by traveling outside thy own quarterly meeting? Does that refer to the geographical area of thy quarterly, or to meetings outside thy branch of Friends, or something else?

Bill Samuel said...

Could you travel anonymously? I've never heard of that, but I don't know who you are because you don't reveal your name. Have you tested this with your meeting?

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Chronicler: if the travel is going to be among liberal Friends, thee might be able to direct them to the resources that FGC has put together. Most of them are old (I put them online!) but they're still good and it might ease the way to show that recovering traveling ministries is not "just" a Conservative Friends concern.

I've found that visiting ministers often plant seeds that aren't immediately noticeable. Has thee heard my story of teaching a Quakerism 101 class at Moorestown Meeting? When we got to the section on Conservative Friends, participants eagerly wanted to talk about two plain visitors to quarterly meeting a few months before (I later deduced that Chip T was one). The visit had sparked a curiosity that had gone unnamed since and my class was a place to talk about it and ask questions.

If thee does move forward in traveling, I'd love to coordinate something with QuakerQuaker. There's a lot of isolated Christian Friends on the list and I think it should be possible to use real-life travels as a way to make connections.

Thank thee for sharing this!

Chronicler said...

Hmm .... questions, questions.

Marty - Quaker geography has become a challenge of late. The meetings that I have in mind are not part of Iowa or North Carolina YMs. Since Ohio Friends consider Columbiana and Mahoning Counties to be Salem QM and what's left of the world to be Stillwater QM, none of these potential visits will be outside of Stillwater QM.

Richard - thy insights are entirely correct. I have been rather busy of late - if I get a chance, I may adjust part of the posting to reflect thy more precise wording.

Bill - I do not travel anonymously. The reason that I do not have my name identified here is that for some reason I am perceived to be controversial outside of my YM, though I do not have a desire to be so. As a result, my words have to stand on their own. I have known thee for about 17 years, and I think thee can figure out who I am if thy curiosity requires it.

Martin - thank thee for this information! I will check out these materials.

Steven Davison said...

Dear Chronicler

As long as it feels like it will not interfere with your primary calling, I would encourage you to use the opportunity to build up a stronger culture of eldership in the meetings you visit by developing some way to help them deal with your minute. We are losing the traditions surrounding ministry, especially traveling ministry, and that is a shame. You may be the only opportunity these meetings get to recover their tradition, or at least, to consider whether they want to.

Perhaps a letter sent ahead of time to the clerk and to whoever oversees ministry in each meeting, outlining your process with your own meeting, the traditions of endorsement and opportunities and the corporate effort and discernment they require, and expressing hope that they will be willing to prepare the meeting for your visit. We do much the same with meetings for marriage and memorial meetings, when we expect non-Friends to attend, giving a little orientation at the beginning somehow, so that visitors feel comfortable rather than confused and so that we can have some hope of real worship.

Nancy Hawkins said...

In my experience many of the things that thee wonders about are revealed while visiting the meeting. In most instances I have written to the clerk so that they knew I was coming. It does feel awkward to tell the clerk what to do with ones own traveling minute, but the few times when the meeting seemed at a loss I just asked the members of the meeting to sign there names, explaining that the signed minute was the way my own meeting could participate a way that I could be accountable to them. Does that make sense?

Raye said...

Chronicler, I want to affirm that some of us who would be more content to stay planted in one place are called to travel at times.

There have been different tones for some of the travels I have been called to. In one case, the call was as clear as if I had heard it with my ears, and my heart was set. I still checked in with a trusted person who confirmed it. It was of a somewhat urgent nature, so I went. And all that followed continued to affirm the leading.

Sometimes the pull seems more muted. Perhaps the urgency seems less, I don't know.

Once, I was called to cancel travel plans, which, due to the nature of the situation, I carefully reviewed with trusted elders. Again, all that followed affirmed the rightness of the leading.

So, I pray that thee and all around thee in their roles to help and advise thee in the Spirit of the Lord will hear clearly and move in the Strength of the Lord.