October 2011 Archives

Charles Marshall Epistle

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An Epistle to Friends Coming Forth in Ministry

by Charles Marshall

Who in your assemblies sometimes feel a testimony for the Lord to spring to your hearts, keep your watch in the light, that so none stay behind, nor run before; but let all that open their mouths in the assemblies of the Lord's people, do it as the oracle of God, in the arising of the eternal power; for nothing can beget to God, but what comes from the word of life, that lives and abides forever; and nothing can refresh, strengthen or comfort that which is begotten by the word of life, but what springs from the same. Therefore, dear Friends, whom this concerns, wait diligently, not only to know and savour every motion, but also to know the appointed time when the motion should be brought forth; so shall what is ministered, if it be but few words, reach, and do its service. For this I have learned,, that though there may be a true motion of the power of the Lord, and a true operation thereof, yet where there is not a waiting for the perfecting of what is to be brought forth, but instead thereof, coming forth before the time, there is an untimely birth; which hurts the vessel through which it comes, and the hearers are burdened; and the life which first moved comes to be oppressed. .... 

And, Friends, when any through want of experience err,  in running before the power, be very tender; and although there may be a savour and judgment in yourselves, and you may be burthened,  yet beware how you speak to ease yourselves, but wait on the Lord therein, to be guided by his counsel; for some having such a sense, and not discerning wherein the miscarriage lay, have run forth in judgment, and have sometimes hurt, and even destroyed, or at least have become a stumbling-block to such an exercised Friend, and have also much hurt themselves. So that not having a true discerning, between the first moving cause, which is the power, they have judged both,  and so have brought a hurt over their own souls, through judging the power of the Lord; and this sometimes may extend to hurt others. Out of which snare God Almighty preserve all, that so one may be a strength to another, taking one another by the hand, and saying, "Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, who will teach us more and more his ways; and here, in God's holy mountain, is neither hurting nor destroying. " 

The Life of Charles Marshall. In: Evans, William and Evans, Thomas, eds. Friends' Library. Philadelphia: Printed by Joseph Rakestraw, 1840, Vol. IV, page 161. 

Excerpts on Vocal Ministry

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Excerpts from various YM disciplines on the subject of
Spirit-led Vocal Ministry

The EARLY disciplines of American YM's (those written before the 1827 schism) have a great deal in common in structure and language.  The issue of spirit-led ministry is addressed in sections specifically addressed to the meeting's ministers & elders, as these are considered the members with special responsibility for this area of meeting life.

Philadelphia YM:  "Ministers and elders watch over one another for good, to help those who are exercised in the ministry in the right line, discouraging forward spirits that run into words without life and power, advising against affectation in tones and gestures."

Each of these early American disciplines had special queries that were to be answered by the committee of ministers and elders, such as these:

Baltimore YM & New England YM:  "Are ministers, in the exercise of their gifts, careful to wait for divine ability and thereby preserved from being burthensome?"  ["Divine ability" is a term frequently used to refer to the specific calling from God to speak during meeting.]

New York YM [Do ministers & elders] "discourage forward persons whose communications do not proceed from the right authority?"  [Are the mtg's ministers] "careful to minister in the ability which truth gives?"

Later, perhaps in response to the concerns generated by the Hicksite-Orthodox split, the emphasis seems to shift from divine ability or leading to asking whether ministry is "sound in word and doctrine".

I particularly like this version from Virginia YM's 1814 discipline:  [Ministers and elders should exhort the meeting's ministers to] "earnestly seek the mind of the spirit of truth to open the mysteries thereof, that abiding in a simple and patient submission to the divine will, and keeping down to its opening of love and life in themselves, they may witness a gradual growth in their gifts, and be preserved from extending their declarations further than the power of truth shall be experienced to accompany them."

Here are three fine excerpts from MODERN DISCIPLINES

Pacific YM (1985) and North Pacific (1993) include the query: "Is the vocal ministry exercised under the divine leading of the Holy Spirit without pre-arrangement and in the simplicity and sincerity of truth?"

New York YM (1998) asks: "Are we careful that our ministry is under the leading of the Holy Spirit?"  Direction is also offered: "Friends are advised to observe our Christian testimony for a faithful ministry of the gospel under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Members are reminded that all have a responsibility in ministry." This same query was strengthened in the 1986 revision of New England's discipline.

A very similar query was among the queries adopted jointly for use by the Hicksite and Orthodox YM's of Philadelphia in 1948 but was dropped from the 1997 revision. 

(Although I was unable to discern from those on the revision committee the reasons why it was dropped, my strong suspicion is that this was due to a deep-seated discomfort with "judging" the quality of others' spoken ministry within the meeting.  I attempted without success to urge Philadelphia YM, which I was a member of at the time, to reintroduce this important query to their discipline during a minor revision around the year 2001.  This is an interesting commentary on the difficulty many Friends today have, even those on ministry and worship committees, feeling the authority to actively nurture the quality of waiting worship and vocal ministry within their meeting.)

Britain YM does not appear to address the issue directly in its discipline.

Although Ohio YM still has committees of ministers & elders, its 1992 discipline no longer has specific queries for ministers & elders.  Ohio' general queries do not really address the quality of vocal ministry directly.  The following instruction is provided, however, in the section on Meeting for Worship:  "Though the nearness to God may result in spoken ministry or vocal prayer, the distinctive excellence of heavenly favor consists in the direct communication with the Heavenly Father by the inward revelation of the Spirit of Christ."  The same message is reinforced later:  "Vocal service in such a meeting, whether prayer or exhortation or teaching, should be uttered under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit." 

Created for as a handout for a course entitled "Gospel Order Exploring Some Challenging Issues in Quaker Faith & Practice" offered at London Grove (PA) Meeting, Jan. 14-Mar.18, 2001.  For the full curriculum for this course see: Gospel Order Course

Traveling Ministry

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Traveling Ministry

History.  From their earliest beginnings in 17th century, Quakers have valued and supported travel by individual Friends "under a religious concern".  In most cases such Friends have traveled among settled (i.e. already established) Friends Meetings either in their immediate vicinity or at a great distance.  At times, however, Friends have felt led to travel among non-Friends with a particular leading.  A striking example is when Mary Fisher felt led in 1658 to travel to Istanbul to meet with Sultan  Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire.  All early Quaker leaders, especially those identified informally as the "Valiant Sixty", carried out such travels in the gospel ministry.  Later Quaker journals are filled with accounts of such  religious travel.

Shared discernment and support from the faith community.  Friends developed very early a process for group testing, usually by one's local congregation, of such leadings.  This process is now usually referred to as a "clearness committee" for one-time calls to travel and a "support committee" for the nurture and holding accountable of those led to carry out such work on a more ongoing basis.  This provcess is one important example of what Friends refer to as "eldership" or eldering.  The process of shared discernment of God's call and holding an individual accountable for carrying out that call faithfully is the same whether or not it is carried out by persons formally recognized as elders or by others not so designated. 

It is considered important that Friends undertaking such work obtain a written minute of religious concern often referred to as a "traveling minute" that describes the faith community's official endorsement of the individual's calling to a particular or more ongoing religious work among Friends or in the wider world.  In cases of distant travel among Friends, these minutes are also often endorsed by the Friend's yearly meeting (regional association).

It is considered critical that Friends undertaking this type of work travel with a spiritual companion or "elder".  The elder both provides prayerful support to the "minister" (both during any programs the minister is leading and before and after) and also to hold the minister accountable for faithful exercise of her or his call.

There is separate webpage with more information on Eldering

Biblical underpinnings. Early Friends saw themselves as continuing a pattern of religious work described in Bible, especially the New Testament.  The importance of traveling with an elder ties in with the fact that Jesus sent out his followers in pairs.  See Mark 9-13.  The resurrected Jesus gave similar briefer instructions in Matthew 28-18-20.  Many examples can also be found in the Book of Acts and Paul's letters.  You can read many reports of the process of discerning in prayer with others what particular travel or religious task Paul and others were called to carry out.

Engaging with a Monthly Meeting about Ministry describes one Friend's request to her meeting for a minute of travel and how the meeting responded.

For a description of some of the types of work that Anne Patterson & I (Peter Blood) have done see Our Travel under Concern.

Eldership Resources

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Eldership Resources

Some important resources on this subject include:

A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Quaker Minister by Samuel Bownas.  This thin but powerful volume is the classic Quaker treatise on this subject.

A Few Passages Relating to Elders & Ministers prepared by Bob Schmitt, Jan Hoffman and Kenneth Sutton

Elders posted by West Hills Friends (in Portland OR)

Echoes from a Worship & Ministry Retreat Concerning Eldering from Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore

Eldering then & now by Liz Oppenheimer

Selected Bibliography on Ministry and Eldering prepared by the FGC Traveling Ministries Program


Three important pamphlets that are not currently available online include:

Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community by Sandra Cronk.

So That You Come Behind in No Gift: Papers from Ohio Yearly Meeting's Gathering on Eldering

Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry & Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, by Marty Grundy, Pendle Hill Pamphlet # 347, 1999.

We would welcome hearing from others regarding additional resources on this subject that you have found particularly helpful.