by Subcommittee on Ministries & Leadings of Pacific YM’s Ministry & Oversight Committee
Does an individual’s leading always become the Meeting’s leading?
A number of models for support by the Meeting are outlined above. Supporting a Friend in response to a leading means that the Meeting recognizes the Spirit at work in the life of the Friend—but does not necessarily imply that the Meeting as a whole is under the weight of the concern. In the process of discernment within the Meeting for Business, however, it may be that the Meeting as a whole comes to feel the weight of the concern that has been brought by the Friend, and finds unity not simply in supporting the Friend, but also in undertaking a corporate witness regarding the leading. If so, the Meeting may minute its unity regarding the leading, and take further steps that it deems appropriate.12
What is a Spiritual Accountability Group—and how is it formed?
A Spiritual Accountability Group is charged with acting “on behalf of the Meeting in holding the Friend’s faithfulness in prayer, offering care, asking hard questions, and holding the person accountable to the Spirit and responsible to the Meeting.”13 Responsibility for creation of a Spiritual Accountability Group rests with the Committee on Ministry and Counsel. Some Meetings may create a standing Spiritual Accountability Group whose function is to provide guidance and oversight for any Friends whose leadings have, in Meeting for Business, received the support of the Meeting. More commonly, however, a Spiritual Accountability Group is formed anew for each specific Friend when that Friend’s leading has received the support of the Meeting.
While the Friend with the leading may suggest persons for his or her Spiritual Accountability Group, final responsibility for selecting the group rests with the Committee on Ministry and Counsel. Normally, a Spiritual Accountability Group consists of three to five persons from the Meeting who are known for their spiritual sensitivity, careful discernment, insight and fairness.
While the above is one pattern that has been found to be useful, Friends are reminded that it should not be regarded as “set in stone,” and are urged to heed the creative voice of the Spirit rather than adhering rigidly to fixed rules. (Please see “A Note to the Reader Regarding This Booklet,” p. 2, and Section #19 below.)
What is the role of the Spiritual Accountability Group?
The purpose of a Spiritual Accountability Group is to help the Friend with the leading to remain faithful to that leading. The Spiritual Accountability Group “provides a structure of accountability for the person with the leading [and] continues to discern what the lifetime of the leading is among those who are carrying out its work.”
When the Meeting has found unity in support of the leading, the Spiritual Accountability Group serves the Meeting as well as the Friend with the leading, assuring that there is integrity between the Friend’s ongoing ministry and what the Meeting has approved.
What general questions should a Spiritual Accountability Group address?
In supporting the faithfulness of the Friend with a leading, the Spiritual Accountability Group should be attentive to the following issues:
- Ongoing spiritual care: Is the Friend with the leading faithfully exercising his or her gifts and responding to the call? Is the Friend’s ministry filled with a rich sense of the presence of God? Is the Friend nurturing his or her spiritual life while carrying out this work? Is the Friend able to care for her/his health and well-being and fulfill other responsibilities while carrying out the work?
- Responsible conduct: Are the means of fulfilling the leading appropriate to the call? If a minute of religious serviced has been approved by the Meeting, is the Friend’s work focused and responsive to that minute? Is the Friend in right relationship with others doing similar work and open to learning from and collaborating with them?
- Financial accountability: If funding is being provided by the Meeting or other Friends’ groups, is there a clearly expressed and adequate budget? Are funds being raised in appropriate ways, representing the work and its goals accurately, and representing the role of the Meeting accurately? Is the committee satisfied that funds are being properly accounted for, being spent for the purpose for which they were granted, and that appropriate and timely reports are made to the funders?
- Adequacy of support: Though the Spiritual Accountability Group is not responsible for obtaining financial or other support for the Friend’s ministry, it should take care to review with the Friend the adequacy of support for the work.
- Companions for travel: If the Friend’s ministry requires him or her to travel outside the Meeting, would it be useful for the Friend to travel with a spiritual companion or elder who may offer ongoing support and honest spiritual discernment?
- Changes in the leading: As the leading evolves over time it is the responsibility of the Spiritual Accountability Group to discern whether the form of the Meeting’s care should also change. Is it rightly ordered for the new shape of the leading to be under the Meeting’s care? If there is a minute of religious service, should it be modified to conform to the changes? Is the call continuing or has the time come to lay down the ministry? What are next steps for laying down the leading or transforming it to a new stage?15
What are the specific tasks of a Spiritual Accountability Group?
It is useful for the Spiritual Accountability Group to meet with the Friend with a leading on a regular basis to review the concerns listed above. In addition, the group should remain in touch with the work. Members might travel with the Friend as companions from time to time in order to keep informed. Holding the Friend in prayer is another appropriate form of support.
If the Friend has been receiving financial support of the Meeting, it is a responsibility of the Spiritual Accountability Group to assure that the Friend is working to discover how the ministry might become independent of the Meeting’s financial support.
The group also maintains communication between the Friend and the Meeting, for example by encouraging the Friend to share experiences of the ministry through the Meeting newsletter, or by arranging opportunities for the Friend to teach or witness within the Meeting.
Normally the Spiritual Accountability Group reports to the Committee on Ministry and Counsel at least once yearly. Appropriate topics for a report include a description of the activities carried out and any results of those activities; how the ministry has contributed to the spiritual growth of the Friend and of those whom she or he has served; if applicable, a financial report listing sources and amount of income, nature and amount of expenses, and the distribution of any surplus; and recommendations for continuing, laying down, changing the form of the ministry or changing the form of the Meeting’s support.
When is a Spiritual Accountability Group not appropriate?
There are a number of circumstances in which a Spiritual Accountability Group may be not (or not yet) appropriate. For example, some leadings may be best pursued through existing structures of the Meeting, rendering unnecessary the apparatus of a Spiritual Accountability Group; or the work may be of such short duration that there is insufficient time and/or little need for a formal structure. Some Friends may be intimidated by the rigor of a formal Spiritual Accountability Group, and may be more faithful within gentler, informal pathways.17
In most cases, however, a Spiritual Accountability Group is appropriate when a Friend seeks formal Meeting support for his or her ministry, and especially when financial support is required.
What other forms of accountability and support are possible?
Elders: Early Friends developed a practice of formally naming those in the Meeting who, by virtue of a deep understanding of Quaker tradition and spirituality, displayed special gifts of discernment and guidance. These persons were called “elders.”
While the formal recognition of elders has been largely discontinued among liberal, unprogrammed Friends, the function that elders performed remains essential to the spiritual life of Quakerism. In recent years, the use of elders has been reintroduced in many Quaker Meetings and organizations. Sometimes one member of a Meeting will invite or admonish another Friend to acknowledge a leading that the Friend has resisted or doubted. Or a Friend who senses that he or she may be called to a particular ministry may seek out the advice of a trusted spiritual mentor in the Meeting. Some Quaker organizations routinely appoint elders to accompany a Friend who is traveling in the ministry. Other forms of eldering are possible.
If a Spiritual Accountability Group seems overly formal for a particular case, provision for an elder to advise and perhaps accompany the Friend with a leading may be a good choice.
See Appendix D (p. 20) for a fuller description of “Elders and Eldering.”
From the pamphlet Faithfulness in Action: Supporting Leadings in Pacific Yearly Meeting.