I grew up in a yearly meeting of mostly programmed meetings (EFI), although I went to an unprogrammed meeting as a kid (until I got to youth group age and the programmed meetings then have a lot more to offer, generally). Since middle school until this year I've been going to programmed meetings, although I tried to get to unprogrammed meetings when I could. Now my husband and I attend an unprogrammed meeting in New Jersey (FGC/FUM). So I guess that means I've been part of three branches of the American Quaker scene, all except Conservative Friends, which I'd like to experience eventually.
Anyway, I've struggled for years with the question of releasing people to be pastors of "churches." In many ways it seems like this goes against all Quaker ideals, and yet, if done well I think releasing people to minister can be completely consistent with Quakerism. Since I'm in seminary right now I'm thinking a lot about whether I could be a pastor.
This summer I'm going to be a "pastor" whether I like it or not, because we have to do a pastoral field education experience for seminary. I think I'll actually like it, though! In fact I'm really excited about it. I will be preaching three times in three months, which seems like a manageable amount (I give a "sermon" every day right here, don't I? It shouldn't be that hard to speak them...), and I'll be doing other things like helping the meeting form a young adult group, getting them connected with Habitat for Humanity, working on assessing their leadership development and helping them discern how to go about that in a more effective manner, and who knows what else. These are things I'm really excited and passionate about: I think it's so important to develop good leaders and help people feel supported by the meeting in their gifts and talents, and I love doing young adult ministries, and I'm excited to help them get connected with a social justice organization that does great things and where various members' skills can be utilized. I'm even excited to preach, to be given the trust and honor of listening to God and sharing what I hear with others.
But I wonder if I could be a "real" pastor or not. In this case I'm just assisting the pastor, I don't have to do things I don't want to or that I'm not as good at, I don't have to take responsibility for things that don't go so well... And above all I don't have to feel the need to come up with something to preach about each week that will be inspiring and inspired.
I think I could be a pastor of an unprogrammed meeting. That would be the best of both worlds! I would love to be released by an unprogrammed meeting to work on leadership development and community building and social justice stuff that the meeting could be involved in, and to bring words as I felt led (as anyone else could).
I wish there were meetings that were like that, where they were okay with releasing people to do the organizational/pastoral stuff, but not have all the expectations of a "normal" church on the pastor's shoulders. As I'm attending the unprogrammed meeting here I love going to meeting and attending various workshop-type-things, but in a lot of ways things seem really disjointed and disorganized. I would be the same way if I was volunteering my time, so I don't slight them for doing the best they can. And yet, I've been going to this meeting for six months, and every week there are people I've never seen before who ask us if we're visitors (because they don't come often enough to have seen us before, I guess), or worse, people who we've seen before and even had discussions with over post-meeting cookies and coffee, who ask us if we're new. I don't think this would happen so much if there were small groups, if we built houses together for Habitat for Humanity, if we went on retreats together, if we just hung out together sometimes to get to know each other.
There are some groups who do semi-programmed worship and have pastors, and I think I could even do that. But it seems sad to me that people aren't released by unprogrammed meetings to do help the meeting build community and intentionally listen to God as a group more effectively. There are people with these kind of skills and passions, and I don't think either side of Friends is doing an incredibly good job of fostering them. Either the pastor is expected to do too much (and the rest of the community assumes they're off the hook and don't have to listen to God themselves), or volunteers are expected to do too much and can't be the kind of community that I think Quakers want to be about.
I'm so grateful that some people are willing to release pastors, however. I think it was different in John Woolman's time--he could wander around and stay with Friends, be a traveling minister who people would take care of and then go back home to his shop and open it back up, or perhaps people took care of his shop or tailoring business while he was gone. It seems like that society was set up more for traveling ministers to be able to survive. Now we need money...we need jobs, and we can't always travel all the time. Some people can be traveling ministers and I would love to see that tradition revived. But we can communicate with each other better now without actually sending someone around to different meetings, and it seems like what we need more now is people who can help us be better communities.
Communities, I think, are inclusive of anyone who wants to be part of them, they attend to the needs of their members but also look from the wealth of joy and love and resources within them to meet the needs of those outside of their immediate community. This kind of community can happen without someone who's paid to work on it and intentionally think about how to help it happen, but it's more difficult, and generally would need to be someone who wasn't working another job. But is this really fair? It seems to me like it's more fair to give someone what they need to live on in exchange for the hard work they are doing. It seems to me that's what the early Friends did anyway, it just wasn't in the form of money, but instead in the form of a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and care when they were sick.
We as Friends have great potential, and I think our practice of listening to God in silence has the potential of raising up incredible leaders if we work to encourage those leaders and give them avenues to use their leadership skills. It's amazing looking back over the history of the United States and how many amazing women and men were in positions of great leadership in the important social reforms of the last several centuries. What are we doing now to encourage those kinds of leadership skills and to create space for those skills to come out and be used for the benefit of our meetings and our world?