The hot button issue – Ministry in Quaker Meetings
For my non-Quaker readers (of which there are many) of this blog, this post is pretty much exclusively on a topic that is close to the heart of many Quakers and is a subject of debate or, in Quaker speak, discernment. If you are not a Quaker but interested in reading more today, I’ll give this brief introduction to the topic (Quakers you can skip this bit!). Basically, Quaker meetings are held mainly in silence, as people worship or seek connection with the Divine/spirit/God/the Light directly, as they feel moved to do so. When a member feels called (by the Light) to speak or minister they do. There are no ministers, no preachers – everyone can minister. Sounds straightforward, yes?
Well, not exactly. An on-going discussion that is had amongst Quakers – and on many Quaker blogs such as Sheffield Quakers is the role of ministry in Quaker meeting. The Sheffield Quaker blog reflects the discussion very well. Some Quakers feel that silence of meeting is distrubed by too much ministry and as the blog points out, there are underlying concerns about the life and depth of ministry. For instance, one blog I read was very critical of the tendancy of Friends in many meeting to speak to political and social issues of the day – giving what he thought was ‘Radio 4 Ministry – not the ministry which is led by the spirit, the feeling something is speaking through you.
I decided to have a look through my Quaker books to find a good description of ministry and the best and most succinct was from John Chuchman in 1734 who said ‘Ministry should be of necessity, and not of choice, and there is no living by silence, or by preaching merely’.
I absolutely love this – it totally cuts to the heart of the matter. Meetings are not about just meant to be totally in silence – although of course, many times a meeting can go by with no ministry. Nor, are they about friends preaching merrily. Ministry is a necessity – a feeling as if one is being pulled up by the roots of the hair to speak. For me, another sign that I have been called to minster by the Light is that I feel a great sense of calmness when I have done. And I find afterwards, several Elders making a point to say how much they enjoyed ministry – maybe is it positive reinforcement perhaps?? :> But I would never go on the responses of other people to dicatate whether I was called to speak or not – it is just an added extra or icing on the cake if this happens. I really love what Liz over at The Good Raised Up had to say on the issue of ministry. That we are all spoken to by the spirit/God/the Light in different ways and therefore, we will have different ministries. So instead of trying to make others ministry ‘like us’ we should ‘strive to understand each other’ instead. Great post!
We had a discussion about ministry after meeting at my meeting house one day – and one of the elders described it well. It is, she said, a feeling that you HAVE to speak – that you must, and if you try not to, you feel yourself uneasy and bothered untill you do get up to speak.
Another great description of ministry I found is this quote by Marrianne McMullen, 1987 who said:
‘Ministry is what is one’s soul, and it can be in direct contradiction to what is on one’s mind. It’s what the Inner Light gently pushes you toward or suddenly dumps in your lap. It is rooted in eternity, divinity and selflessness of the Inner Light; not in the worldly, egoistic function of the conscious mind’
I very much relate to this description because the times I have given Ministry in the last year – three, I have always found myself speaking and ministering and always I’ve found myself using metaphors, speaking something that wants to be said through me – but not as a speech or trying to make a point. I know other people minister in different ways and I’m very rarely irritated by others ministry – even when I feel it does come more from an intellectual or mind place. Like my earlier post, when I talked about how some people at the ALIA conference were annoyed during the dialogue where people were supposed to speak from the heart about what was calling them to action, I feel like people need to try to speak or minister in their own way – even if it isn’t the spirit that moves them because they will soon learn the difference I feel. The only time I have gotten slightly annoyed is when someone got up to minister and gave what I thought was more of a notice that could have been given after meeting (i.e. I want to make Friends aware of an appeal for xyz charity). I very much agree with Peter Lawless who commented on the Sheffield Quaker blog it shouldn’t be so very very irritating – if someone’s ministry doesn’t completely resonate full of the Spirit. Because if you are in your centre and silently worshiping, then really it should roll off you!
Elders of every meeting have a role in gently guiding the spoken ministry – but there is no law, no enforcers and no strict guidance. And this quote from Simon Heywood really speaks to me on the issue. So I’ll end on that – and return to the discussion – here on this blog and other Quaker blogs another time.
And here it gets scary, because no-one on earth can order us about and get
us out of any messes we get ourselves in. We commit ourselves to the
understanding that nobody and nothing stands between us and God (or
other favoured term). Individually and corporately, we entitle
ourselves to spiritual freedom to the exact extent to which we
willingly accept direct responsibility to the Spirit. In this sense,
Quaker life is much *less* of a spiritual free-for-all than life lived
under the rule of a dogmatic institution, because the Spirit is not a
set or finite list of requirements. Scary thought. But that, folks, is
what we sign up to. We claim freedom in order to go deeper into the
Spirit than we would otherwise go. ~ Simon Heywood, Sheffield Quakers