The Faith Community:
Hearing & Following God's Leading with
Friends emphasize the direct
relationship between believers and God in the present time. This direct
teaching, guiding relationship is not,
however, an individual or personal relationship. It is a relationship
between a faith community and God.
Friends have developed since the
earliest years a wide variety of practices that enable the faith community to:
1. Hear God's voice for the group
2. Reach unity around an understanding of what the community is being called to
3. Identify & nurture spiritual gifts & ministries of meeting members
& hold such members accountable for living out their gift faithfully
4. Lovingly hold each other accountable for personal faithfulness to the social
testimonies that Friends have agreed are important for us to live by.
Church government among Friends
is a unique practice called Meeting for Business. This is a spirit-led practice where an individual officer known
as a clerk seeks to hear what God is asking the group to do through listening
faithfully to expressions by group members as to what is right. The
clerk's discernment is tested and if she or he has accurately perceived what is
the group intention, this is "minuted" and the group moves
The Four Pillars of Meeting for Business is a fine detailed description by Debbie Humphries of NEYM of what it takes for this process to be successful (with a nod to Bill Taber's classic Pendle Hill pamphlet, Four Doors to Meeting for Worship). The article includes excellent queries that all participants in meeting for business can keep in their hearts to help the faith community discover God's hopes for them together.
Susan Smith, a former clerk of Ohio Yearly Meeting
(Conservative) gave a wonderful talk on a very traditional approach to meeting
for business, called Friends
Business Meeting as Conservative Friends Experience It.
Unfortunately, this method of
decision-making is difficult to practice and requires both significant
giftedness on the part of the clerk and large doses of humility, patience,
discernment skills, and willing to let go of one's own personal agendas on the
part of all members taking part in the process. In practice today, most
local Quaker meetings are even less likely to be able to achieve deeply
God-guided meetings for business than they are to experience frequently deeply
gathered, spirit-led worship.
Eldering (or "eldership:) is the term given
traditionally by Friends for both identification and nurture of personal
spiritual gifts - and also to holding one another accountable for lives of
faithfulness around shared community expectations of
"testimonies". See this site's page on this subject as well as a resource list
Meetings for Clearness. Prior to about 1970 Friends utilized
clearness committees basically for 2 purposes: to determine whether a meeting
was comfortable accepting an applicant into meeting membership and to discern
the rightness of marriage by a couple seeking marriage "under the
care" of the local meeting. Beginning (at least in my perception) in
Young Friends of North America and later spreading much more widely among U.S.
Friends, clearness committees now provide assistance to individual Friends in
helping them to discern what God is asking them to do on a wide variety of
personal decisions from vocational choices and financial decisions to
discerning calls to ministry.
Support committees. Traditionally Friends recognized gifts of
vocal ministry during worship by "recording" ministers. This
practice was abandoned by FGC Frtiends, but many meetings now will appoint an
ongoing committee to meet regularly with an individual meeting member to
nurture a particular spiritual gift of various kinds and hold the individual
accountable for living out their gift in the best possible way.
Engaging with a Monthly Meeting about Ministry describes the process which her own meeting went through in response to Debbie Humphries' request for a minute recognizing her leading to carry out travel under religious concern.
Fears of accountability. Many Friends today are deeply ambivalent
about opening themselves to shared accountability with other members of their
faith community. In my view there are two major reasons for this:
1. In the 19th century many Friends experienced meeting "elders" as
having seized too much power in the life of the meeting community and
exercising it in ways that were more judgmental than loving.
2. Friends in this area as in many others have been strongly influenced
by the surrounding culture. We live in an individualistic society in North
America. Again, this is in large part a reaction against small town and
rural life where many people felt stifled by others knowledge of and
"meddling" in their personal choices. Many people like the fact
that others do not know or care how they live their lives personally. It
is very difficult for many modern Friends to allow others in their faith
community to be aware of their own personal choices or to challenge them around
Holy Obedience: Corporate
Discipline and Individual Leading
This is a rather detailed essay I wrote in 1998 following a presentation I made
on a panel at a Pendle Hill Conferience on Friends & the Vietnam War
Fears of Shared Accountability among Friends Today This is a 2005 Friends Journal article
growing out of a called meeting for business of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
held the previous May on global climate change, focusing especially on the fear
expressed by many of minuting an expectation that PYM members act in their
lives to reduce damage to the earth.
A final article discussing several issues in this area:
Challenge to 21st Century Quakerism
This is a 2002 Friends Journal article that I wrote on the 350th
anniversary of George Fox's sermon to a thousand seekers that many consider the
unofficial beginning of the Quaker movement. The essay focuses on
Friends' need to overcome fears of outreach to those outside our spiritual
community, of spiritual authority, and of shared disclosure and accountability
within our local meeting communities.