That which Friends speak, they must live in; so may they expect that others may come into that which they speak, to live in the same. Then the water of life cometh in; then he that ministreth, drinketh himself, and giveth others to drink.– Fox
To conclude this series:
How can we get better as we carry the concern for gospel ministry? How can we help each other get better? For me, the root of an answer has two branches: first, being explicit about the intent to grow in the work; second, recognizing that all callings and services led by the Spirit are one, are different manifestations of the work of Christ in the world. We are all bound together closely in the common work of the common life. Just living into these two principles will stimulate possibilities for mutual support — here, I offer some thoughts of my own.
Courses and study groups and retreats can be helpful.So also are support or oversight committees, a mechanism which more and more meetings are using to support Friends who are engaged in some long-term concern, which have taken a lot of different forms.
But I keep coming back to the way that ministering Friends (starting with the first generation) have felt that their service, to be most faithful, needed to be fed by fellowship with and mutual oversight of each other. In prior posts I have tried to lay out some rationale for this. In at least 4 of the Quarters of New England, there have in recent years been gatherings of ministering Friends which were first convened by a visiting Friend, and then have felt led to gather again, a few times a year, each finding a different form and rhythm (here is a report from a recent one). As one who has attended several such meetings, I have wondered, How can we take the next step in active, intentional mutual education, so that we all grow in the work intellectually, spiritually, and practically?
We have to keep it simple — make careful use of time and other resources, so that people and meetings are fed and not burdened by too much structure. Second, on the other hand, we need to not over-simplify — not underestimate the work we need to do, and not. Third, there need to be many channels of support and communication, both to the group, and between individuals — emails, phone calls, letters, blogs, mutual prayer — as well as meetings large and small, planned and spontaneous. Physical meetings — in called gatherings or simple visits — anchor and feed (and are fed by) the continuing connective tissue of correspondence and communication, so that we maintain and enrich our sense of companionship and mutual care, our presence to each other.
When ministering Friends do gather, I suggest that. after worshiping together, they take time to explore together a few key questions, which we should be asking ourselves and each other persistently. I have developed a list which has been serviceable in gatherings of ministering Friends over many years — not that all need to be addressed in every gathering, but all are good to speak about openly from time to time.
A. What have you been doing, in the line of the ministry? How would you describe your concern? How do you relate your concern to the gospel, to the roots of your religious commitment?
B. Have you been faithful? Were there times when you have not been faithful? What were the issues you faced? What do you have to be grateful for, in this work?
C. How is your devotional life? Have you made changes in it? Are there ways in which you are struggling? How does your calling affect the way you spend your prayer time (or not)? Does your life feel orderly enough that you can maintain the daily watch, or is there work to do there (whether because of personal issues or factors that appear beyond your control)?
D. What are you reading? Why? Are there particular questions, topics, or issues that you are seeking insight into? What are you finding challenging or valuable? In what ways are you engaging with the Bible? Quaker writings?
E. How is your relation with your meeting? (especially if your concern leads you to activities largely out of sight of the meeting). How does the meeting know about your work in ministry? How do you report or recount what you are doing? In what ways does the meeting support or encourage you?
F. What questions are opening for you? Growing edges? What do you want to hear about from other Friends? What are you praying about? What prayer support would you request?
As I say, these have been serviceable. So, too, are other questions — the recent “Minute of exercise and queries for Ministry and Counsel” of New England Yearly Meeting (a pdf is found here) can also be valuable.
The key requirement is that Friends come to the conversation with an earnest, practical desire to improve and become more useful, more available to any work God may ask of you for the refreshing of the Children of Light.
P.S. Please share, either in reply to this blog post or in other ways, your experience of mutual cultivation of the ministry! I would also be interested to consider guest posts on this topic — let me know if you feel drawn to write something.
P. P.S. I was delighted to come across the minutes of a meeting of just this type, from 1698, reported in A.R. Barclay, Inner life of the Commonwealth, pg. 287. I wish I could have been there!
Chesterfield meeting of ministers & elders
The 5th day of the Eighth month, 1698.
At our meeting of Friends in the ministry and Elders, in the meeting-house, in Chesterfield, these things following passed:
First, in our waiting upon the Lord, the Lord appeared very sweetly and powerfully amongst us, and in us, to our great comfort. Praises to his name forever.
Secondly, we had a precious time in prayer and supplication to the Lord in a sweet stream and current of Life Eternal.
Thirdly, after prayer, we — every one that had a part in the ministry — declared how it had been with us, as to our faithfulness therein, and where we had found by experience that the enemy had hurt us or overtaken us unawares at times.
Fourthly, the snares, baits, gins, traps, nets, &c of the enemy were spoken of, and laid to plain view; and caution, counsel, and advice in the love of God given freely from him amongst us.