The first generation of Friends developed a unique approach to worship in which those present gather in silence to wait upon God. All present seek to turn their hearts towards God. As more and more of those present do so, the worship becomes “gathered” in communion with God and with those present.

There is no pre-planned singing, preaching, or vocal prayer. Instead, if any present believes clearly that God requires that person to speak, words given are spoken (or sung) out of the expectant waiting silence. This speaking, prayer, or song is referred to as vocal ministry.

Gathered Worship

Friends who practice waiting worship do not gather in silence as an empty ritual. Early Friends discovered that moving deeply into silent prayer before words are uttered increases the possibility that Friends will be able to follow the leading of Christ within in their spoken prayers, preaching, or song.

The Gathered Meeting is a tract by Thomas Kelly. The first sections deal with what happens between participants in the silence whereas later sections address vocal ministry.

What We Do in Worship is one section of longer 1947 pamphlet called An Interpretation of Friends Worship by N. Jean Toomer.

Shifting to the Heart by Marcelle Martin describes the process of inward shift in the hearts of worshippers towards a place of pure silence and deep expectant waiting on God. It draws on Francis Howgill’s description in A Gathered People of how Quaker worship began.

Experiences of Worship and the “Gathered Meeting” comes from a Meeting for Discernment on the process of preparing for and entering into worship at QuakerSpring in 2012.

Spirit-led Vocal Ministry

Early Friends were adamant that vocal prayer, preaching, and singing can only be true expressions of worship if it is given in direct response to the inward direction of Christ. Those who have a special call to this work were engaged in what they called “Gospel Ministry”.

Do Messages in Meeting Really Come from God? Is a wonderful short essay by Richard Accetta-Evans of 15th Street Meeting in New York, who writes the Quaker blog, Brooklyn Quaker.

Some Quaker Voices about Vocal Ministry collected by Bridge City Meeting in Portland, Oregon.

On Being Moved by the Spirit to Minister in Worship is a practice-focused article by Lewis Benson.

Consecrated Ministry is an extraordinary address given by Lucia Beamish to London YM elders on the how it can be possible to nurture the calling of Friends to deliver God-directed ministry in our meetings today.

Friends Ministry is an article written in 1981 by Ralph Greene. He says that Christ’s message can be made real to our fellow travelers in this world only when there are Friends who hear what he calls “a clear, inward call to work for the Kingdom of Christ”.

Excerpts from YM Disciplines on the Subject of Spirit-led Vocal Ministry was a handout prepared for a course curriculum on Gospel Order.

Minute on Vocal Ministry by Middletown Meeting (Concord QM) to Philadelphia YM questioning its altered query on vocal ministry.

Advice to Ministers by Brian Drayton. In this short piece Brian talks not so much on how one discerns what Christ lays upon us during worship as the way those who feel a calling to vocal ministry live their lives.

In Quaker Worship: We Cannot Do It on Our Own, Christoper Stern suggests that Friends need to return to the idea that Christ leads our worship rather than “that of God in each of us”.

Gospel Ministry

When an individual Friend feels a persistent call to give vocal ministry guided by the Inward Teacher and a willingnesss to nurture that call through disciplined spiritual practice, this is referred to as “Gospel ministry”. This  traditional Quaker term refers to those who feel an ongoing call to bring others to a deeper understanding of Quakerism through public prayer and speaking. This bringing of others to the Inward Teacher through spoken ministry often occurs during regular meetings for worship but may also take place during what is referred to as  traveling ministry and also in the past referred to public meetings intended to introduce others to Quaker faith. It means much more than just vocal ministry under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Samuel Bownas wrote the definitive teaching book for those feeling this call in 1750 entitled A Description of the Qualifications Necesssary to a Gospel Minister.

Brian Drayton of NEYM has written a book in this century on this subject called On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry.

  • Advice to Ministers is a short excerpt of a longer historical overview by Brian on the practice of Recording Gifts of the Ministry.
  • Cultivating Gospel Ministry is reprinted from a series of five blog posts by Brian.
  • Brian Drayton and Noah Merrill hold sessions several times a year where Friends from across NEYM who feel a concern for gospel ministry gather together for mutual support and encouragement. Earlier Brian led annual retreats at the Friends Center of Ohio YM for those living with this call and those eldering them.

In the “Prophets” section of his Michener Lecture on Prophets, Midwives, and Theives, Noah Merrill describes some of the ways God works through the lives and words of those called to gospel ministry.

Historical Background

Frances Howgill’s description of A Gathered People offers insight both on how Friends’ unique approach to worship began and how God works today in the hearts of Friends during Meeting for Worship.

“The first that enters into the place of your meeting…” —Alexander Parker’s 1660 simple description of the process by which Friends turn their hearts towards the Light as they enter into expectant waiting worship til all hearts are knit together as one.

“The breaking forth of that power…” is a brief excerpt from Isaac Penington describing the different forms that Spirit-led vocal ministry can take.

A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister. This wonderful 18th-century volume by Samuel Bownas offers invaluable advice to those who feel led to faithful vocal ministry during worship. This version is the original language but with modernized punctuation and spelling that makes it easier for the modern reader to follow. It includes a long introduction by Bill Taber. [This can be read on this site for free, but it is also available in hardcover for $15 from Pendle Hill Publications here]

The Biblical Roots of Quaker Worship explores biblical passages that led early Friends to waiting worship and spirit-led prophetic vocal ministry (based on the 10th proposition “Concerning Worship” of Barclay’s Apology).

An Epistle to Friends Coming Forth in Ministry by Charles Marshall, excerpted from the Life of Charles Marshall.

Traditionally, Friends used the word “ministry” to refer specifically to vocal preaching and prayer guided by the inward voice of Christ, as opposed to a variety of spiritual gifts Friends are called to over time. The term “minister” referred to Friends who were recognized by their monthly meeting (and yearly meeting) as demonstrating an ongoing gift for faithful Spirit-guided vocal ministry. This ongoing call to the faithful practice of offering ministry during worship under God’s guidance was called “gospel ministry”. The are a number of settings where a Gospel Minister could be used by God to preach, teach, pray, prophesy, or sing, including:

  • regularly scheduled meetings for worship
  • smaller and at times ad hoc gatherings (what Bill Taber liked to call “opportunities”)
  • while traveling under religious concern among Friends beyond one’s own meeting, and
  • public evangelistic gatherings to share the good news of Quakerism to non-Friends.

For at least the first two hundred years, meetings formally recognized (“recorded”) those members that were called to gospel ministry. (See below the section on Recording of Ministers.)

The unique Quaker practice of waiting expectant worship and vocal ministry guided by the Living Teacher was in real danger of being lost among Friends. During the 19th century, many meetings replaced waiting worship with Protestant-style services with pre-planned hymns, Bible readings, and a sermon—often but not always by a paid pastor. Among those meetings that kept to the unprogrammed form of worship, many came in time to lose the heart of the practice, namely the deep communion with and willingness to be guided the divine Spirit. Some Friends that attend unprogrammed meeetings today say that they do not feel they have ever experienced gathered worship in their meeting. As a result, spoken messages are more likely to stay on a surface level, arising from the thoughts of the speaker rather than the immediate guidance of the Living Spirit of God.

Many unprogrammed meetings today have been rediscovering ways to deepen their spiritual practice of expectant waiting worship and Spirit-guided vocal ministry. Programs such as School of the Spirit and Earlham School of Religion offer training over time in the practice and nurture of faithful worship in meetings.

Traveling Ministry

This is a particular form of Gospel Ministry where a Friend is led to travel under religious concern to Friends beyond one’s own meeting and perhaps to non-Friends as well. Such a Friend often receives a Letter of travel under religious concern or “traveling minute” from their home meeting, which may also be endorsed by the quarterly meeting and yearly meeting. 

On Traveling Ministry includes a discussion by Peter Blood-Patterson of this practice and issues around it.

Engaging with a Monthly Meeting about Ministry is an article by Deborah Humphries describing the process by which her monthly meeting wrestled with the request to have her calling to travel in the ministry acknowledged formally by her meeting.

Nurture and Oversight of Worship

Everyone taking part in Quaker worship shares responsibility for holding and nurturing the life of waiting worship, to help knit hearts together in the Living Christ, and to pray that Christ-led speech, prayer, and song will emerge from the gathered silence. It is important, however, for certain Friends to give special attention to the fabric and depth of the meeting’s worship and the extent to which God is truly guiding this worship.

For the first two hundred years, this was the responsibility of the appointed ministers and elders of the meeting (see below under Recording Gifts of Ministry and the section of this online library on Eldership). When the practice of recording gifts of gospel ministry and formal recognition of meeting elders was discontinued in most unprogrammed meetings, this responsibility was passed to a committee (variously called Ministry & Counsel, Worship & Ministry, etc.). The members of this committee are generally chosen by the meeting with specific time limits such as three years. Unfortunately such committees may have limited understanding of how to nurture Spirit-guided worship, or even feel uncomfortable exercising such oversight of worship.

The Quality of Worship Is a Corporate Responsibility. In this article Nancy Haines of Wellesley (Massachusetts) Monthly Meeting discusses the importance of not elevating gifts of vocal ministry above other forms of ministry that serve the faith community.

Nurturing the Gift of Vocal Ministry is an article written by Peter Blood-Patterson in 2001 for the New Zealand Friends Newsletter. It focuses describes the traditional Quaker practice of formally recording gifts of vocal ministry, a practice now abandoned by most unprogrammed meetings. It also describes, however, other means of deepening the quality of vocal ministry during waiting worship and includes a set of queries that any member of a meeting can use to reflect on the quality of spoken ministry in her / his meeting.

Nurturing Gospel Ministry is the minute of exercise from a meeting for discernment held on ways to deepen worship in the meeting held at Quaker Spring in 2008.

Recording Gifts of Ministry

Within the first century of Quakerism, the practice developed in which Friends meetings formally recognized (“recorded”) those Friends who demonstrated over time a gift of vocal ministry guided by the Divine Spirit, whether in the local meeting or in larger circles of Friends. Both men and women were recognized as ministers. Meetings also came to formally recognized as elders those members with a gift for discerning and nurturing the gifts of ministers. Ministers and elders usually sat on facing benches at the front of meetings for worship. Vocal ministry was never limited to formally recorded ministers, but in practice the bulk of vocal ministry was given during worship by the recorded ministers.

The names of ministers recorded and elders recognized by the monthly meeting were reported formally to the monthly and yearly meeting. Ministers generally continued in that formal role for life unless found to have become incapacitated, and recognized elders also often continued in that role throughout their lives.

The ministers and elders of the meeting met regularly, usually once a month, to:

  • discern together the spiritual depth and richness of meetings for worship
  • provide feedback to individual ministers about the faithfulness of their vocal ministry – including:
  • letting them know if they seemed to be failing, for some reason, to deliver the gospel message or
  • where the minister appeared to the elders or other ministers to be “running beyond her or his guide”.

Needless to say, this kind of sharing required a great deal of trust and a commitment to hold each other both in truth and in love. Ministers and Elders also met with each other on the quarterly meeting and the yearly meeting level.

This practice gradually disappeared in Hicksite YMs and has functioned differently in programmed meetings where vocal ministry is often given (with advance preparation) by the pastor. When a meeting discontinued the practice of formally recognizing ministers and elders, the Ministers and Elders’ Meetings evolved into Ministry and Worship Committees made up of meeting members appointed for fixed terms.

An Historical Note on Recording Gifts in the Ministry by Brian Drayton of New England YM.

The Practice of Recording Gifts in the Ministry is a report from a subcommittee of the Ministry & Counsel Committee of Vassalboro QM in Maine.

Recorded ministers in the Society of Friends: Then & Now is a talk given by Brian Drayton to Salem QM of NEYM in 1994.

Observations on Ministry, Leadership, and the Recording of Gifts. Allen Myers discusses how recording gifts helps to establish a mutually accountable relationship between individual members in exercising their spiritual gifts and the faith community of which they are a part.

“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”: Thoughts on Being a Recorded Minister in the Religious Society of Friends by Alice Hildebrand

Comparing the Practices of Recording Ministers in Various Yearly Meetings explores the differences in how different yearly meetings approach the process of recording gifts of vocal ministry – if they utilize this practice at all.

Since We Are All Ministers, Why Record the Gifts of Any? is an article by Marcianna Caplis of Westerly (Rhode Island) Monthly Meeting laying out arguments often advanced against recording gifts of ministry.