Sunday, February 26, 2006

"releasing" ministers

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?


Anna Dunford said...

In many ways my post here as Resident Friend in Wellington is a bit like being a pastor for an unprogrammed Meeting as well as being a caretaker for the buildings and running our Bed & Breakfast accomodation. What's more I'm here on a Minster of Religion missionary visa! That still creases me up but the more time goes by in this post the more I realise how accurate it is, well maybe not the missionary bit.

I have my rent and utility bills covered by the Meeting in return for not only the practical services to the Meeting I've mentioned but also taking an active roll in the spiritual life of the Meeting. I admit to not having been as pro-active as I'd like to have been with regard to helping support the YF/JYF groups but B&B duties have been somewhat heavy over the summer.

However I am finding that I end up acting as both an elder and an overseer here despite not officially being either! Overseering I am used to, but dealing with eldership issues is new ground to me and a bit scary at times. Logging on to the online Meeting for Worship during some challenging phone calls (thank heavens for broadband!) has got me through.

There is enormous potential for RF posts to be more than just wardening. However most posts over here are just for a year which limits what you can do (Quaker process being slow!) and also they are unpaid which limits who can take them on and for how long.

It is an incredible opportunity to serve tho' and I am very grateful for having the chance to be here and do what I can.

Both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand YMs have RF posts and they are usually advertised in The Friend and Friends Journal - I recommend giving it a go!

cherice said...

Hey Anna!

Good to hear from you! That sounds like a good balance, although difficult if not paid, as you said, regarding how long someone can be in that post and therefore it probably doesn't do much for consistency. But it's a great idea nonetheless, and I would love to do that at some point.

That's hillarious it's considered a missionary visa!


Sebastian said...

Hello Cherice,

I just found your blog through Anna's, it's neat i'm finding all these blogs by NFCers lately. I will link this on mine and continue to read it. Hope all well with you(and Joel too!) a hug to both.


Lovin' Life Liz said...

hey this is Liz from WGYF (from your small group) I too found your blog thru Anna's and look forward to reading your posts .Hope you are well!

Sebastian said...

correction: WGYFers*

I wish i could go to Canada with a missionary visa, or as Resident Friend. I know i've tried for outreach here at meeting...oh well...guess it's not 17th century England anymore and I'm too much of a let your life speak one to actually go and preach "there's one even jesus christ who can speak to thy condition" however i still think quakerism is the approach...

Liz Opp said...

Cherice, you write:

Some people can be traveling ministers and I would love to see that tradition revived.

Your wish has been granted!

Friends General Conference established its Traveling Ministries Program about eight years ago, in 1998 or thereabouts.

Friends in unprogrammed meetings (in Canada and the U.S.) who feel called to travel in the ministry beyond the scope of their yearly meeting are encouraged to test their leading through a clearness process as an initial step through traveling through FGC's program.

And even without pursuing participation through this channel, my understanding is that Friends who are called to minister, who carry a spiritual concern that compels them to share their concern more widely (or who are called to a ministry of deep listening), can in fact pursue those opportunities and be released from their responsibilities in their local meetings in order to be faithful to God's call.

(FYI, I know of two such Friends who have experienced being released in this manner. My guess is there are others that I don't know about.)

I fear that the tradition itself is not lost, but that Friends' general awareness of it is greatly diminished. And groups like FGC are beginning to address that lack. The Quaker blogosphere is helping address that lack, too.

Some contemporary Friends also are tending to the weakened practice of Friends' naming and nurturing one another's gifts. But it is tricky, since there is a caution about lifting up one Friend over another, despite the recognition that we each have our own measure Light.

I would ask you to consider holding in prayer your question of whether you could be a "real" pastor. I would also ask you to consider how you are already being faithful, and where else in your spiritual life is it that you must continue to yield to the leadings and promptings of the Spirit.

These are questions that we can hold and weigh on our own, at least at first. But sometimes we may need to risk approaching a trusted Friend who has more experience than ourselves in these matters of spiritual exercise. We need to see our future selves reflected back to us in a tender yet clear way.

I recommend a new book that addresses some of these questions and ideas: Brian Drayton's On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry. If and when you have time, of course. smile

Liz, The Good Raised Up

cherice said...

It's great to hear from all you WGYFers! (And others, of course. =) But it's fun to be able to continue community we started in August. I've been thinking about WGYF lately because it happened just over six months ago now...anyone up for another? (Someone else plan it!!! Anna can say this with much more cause than I can, of course.)

Liz Opp,

Thanks for the info about traveling ministers. I'll have to check that out after I'm not treading water to keep up with school. But I agree--I don't thinkit's necessarily the tradition that's lost, but the meaning behind it. I love meetings for clearness, too, and am glad they're part of the FGC process. They're one of my favorite things ever! I'll have to blog about it someday...

OK, with people actually discovering this blog it's hard to make time to actually blog, not just respond to people! =)

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Cherice: such great stuff. As Liz said there is more attention being given to ministry in the FGC world these days. I second her recommendation of Brian Drayton's book, he really explores these issues.

I too have been wrestling with the whole "pastoring" issues, especially since returning from the Food For Fire workshop. Unprogrammed Friends tend to either be take-charge (do things without regard to spiritual promptings) or passive. There's a very real, very alive in-between that we need to re-discover.

I could go on (and will soon I suspect) but I have a lot of digesting to do. I've dived once more into Drayton's book and am tearing through various parts of the Bible more than I normally do, all for clues as to what this looks like. Good to see the conversation in my head echoed here!
Your new Friend,
Martin Kelley
Quaker Ranter
ps: also a New Jerseyite now, we need a "Food for Fire"-like event to pull together young adult Friends in these parts...

Nancy A said...

Cherice - Nice post!

I think what's happened in unprogrammed meetings is the development of a type of "pure" worship. The idea is only to have "worship" things about meeting, and no "doing" things. I know from experience how churches can get wrapped up in all the "doing" things that need to get done to the point that they don't really worship in their services.

Yet for some reason, Quaker committee work can hoover up a lot of a person's time and mental energy anyway!

Another side effect is that there are a great many members and attenders that (kind of selfishly) want only to worship when at Meeting. I know, Mary vs Martha -- but *someone* has to do the children's program.

I'm with you on the disjointed nature of unprogrammed meeting workshops and spiritual endeavours. That's a tough one. If a spiritual endeavour becomes part of the ongoing structure of the meeting, I wonder if it would lose its spiritual focus. I keep trying to encourage my meeting to develop traditions of study, discussion, and song on Sundays, rather than on weekdays, because these traditions have a better chance of survival with a "captive audience."


cherice said...

Thanksf or all your comments. I'm excited to know there's a renewed excitement about traveling ministry beyond my own musings. I'll have to look into those sources when I'm not in school...

Nancy--I hear you on the problem of people wanting to "just worship" when they're at meeting for worship, and I think there's a place for that--and yet, what IS worship? Is it just being quiet? I think worship is also action--see my post from yesterday and the last couple days (March 29 and previous) about faith and action. Yes, we need times for stillness, but these shouldn't be just our selfish desire for stopping for an hour. If we have this desire, maybe we should fulfill it on our own throughout the week!!! And you're right--someone has to do the children's programming, and whatever other ministries the meeting is involved in. If we don't have a communal base from which to work it's easy to get burnt out on all this stuff. If the worship isn't vitally sustaining us, giving us energy and joy, we miss out on the life we need in order to do the ministry parts.