Library: Bill Taber on Quaker ministry and the razor’s edge

03/21/2016 § Leave a comment

One “strand” of posts on this blog (Tags! I’ll use tags!)  will be “Library.”  I’ll post a document on my “Library” page (see the menu, upper right?], and introduce it with a blog-post. These are pieces I find valuable, not widely available nowadays and (I believe) not bound by copyright or other restrictions.


Just returning from a weekend on travel in the ministry at the Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting, I am freshly aware of the importance of this first entry for this strand.

It is the text of an address that Bill Taber gave at Pendle Hill in the mid-90s, and it is full of wisdom about Quaker worship, the role and source of silent and spoken ministry, and the experience of the calling or vocation of ministry, as Friends have understood it.  It has many excellencies, but I want to lift up just a few — and then urge you to read it in full.  It is not long, and it is savory!

  1. It conveys the seamless unity of outward and inward exercise in Quaker worship, and thus the radical nature of both —  it is easy to forget, I fear, how radical Quakerism’s claims are, in this connection.   Bill sets the tone in terms that are very characteristic of him:
    Spoken Quaker ministry could be described as responding to the “inward motion.” Quaker ministry could also be described as walking the razor’s edge. Or we could say that such ministry arises out of and contributes  to the primary “Quaker technology of shifting levels of consciousness.”
  2. He describes how every individual act of ministry must arise from a fresh and immediate calling: “Something is needed, and I am at this moment the appropriate instrument to carry it out.”   This experience is something that every person sitting in worship is in some danger of experiencing (along with the work that is needed to know if the impulse is a true one)!
  3. However, in addition:there is a deeper and more persistent sense of calling to the ministry which has occurred to some Friends throughout Quaker history–and it is still occurring today. We have only to read the journals of earlier as well as more recent Friends to learn of their struggles as they came to recognize and to accept their “vocation” as a minister in a way which paralleled the sense of call experienced by prophets in the Old and New Testaments.
  4. This phenomenon can pose problems in present-day Quaker practice, both for the individuals and for our meetings:
    Modern unprogrammed Friends who experience this traditional calling and longing to be about the work of God often experience great frustration because there seems to be little or no place for ministry as a vocation in the modern Society of Friends…we modern Friends value expertise and genius in virtually every field except the spiritual…Every generation of Friends, including this one, has had its quota of people who in other cultures might be called budding shamans or seers or medicine men or medicine women. In earlier Quaker eras these budding Quaker shamans were watched over and nurtured and in subtle ways encouraged so that many of them were able to respond to the ever beaconing Call to become a sanctified instrument of the Divine Will.
  5. Bill sets ministry where it belongs, as one part of the fabric of worship, and our unfolding experience of the divine, both as comfort, and as challenger and transformer of lives:
    …as we learn to dwell for periods in the Living Stream, the Radiant Center, or what some devout Christians would call being present to the Holy Spirit–at least two significant things happen to us. First, we are given increasing and progressive self-awareness. It is almost as if we can stand back and observe ourselves, discovering more and more about our motives and reaction patterns– and, wondrously, we are given the power gradually to change toward that full wholeness of the image of God which is our heritage. This process can at times seem amazingly easy, or at least organically and harmoniously and synchronistically right, but it can also be a struggle, because when we are truly in the Radiant, Living Center, the Stream, we are also on the razor’s edge. In other words, one of the outcomes of our faithful participation in waiting worship is that our self knowledge, and therefore, our behavior and our aspect or stance toward all circumstances will be more and more in accordance with the narrow but glorious Way taught by Jesus. A second outcome, related to the first, is that we become more able to discern in general, and specifically, that we are more attentive to the inward motions from God.

As we learn better and better to live from what Bill calls the Radiant Center, that place of rest and of dynamism, we become — as individuals and as a community — more and more able to give and receive ministry that is truly a service “to the refreshing of the Children of Light.” We can come to value and to nurture this service in its place, and to encourage its abundant, diverse flourishing.

I hope I’ve given you enough of a taste that you’ll read Bill’s whole piece — and pass it on, and discuss it with your friends.



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