by Ralph Greene
As a Friend noted in our State of Society meetings, we are like a “mosaic quilt,” all fitting together, yet so different. In nurturing everyone’s ministry, we are enhancing the beauty of the whole and creating a deeply bonded community of the Spirit.
A young man from the Midwest has been attending our meeting lately. After meeting for worship one morning he observed that he has been trying to find a spiritual home among us since moving east but found it difficult because most of the Meetings he has attended had so little sense of ministry and he was left spiritually hungry. He asked pointed questions as to how we go about nurturing our leadership and what the future of our meetings will be without a clear sense of purpose. He went on to say that it seems that we are developing a “do your own thing” religion by not actively encouraging a leadership with a sense of spiritual discipline.
His questioning has made me ponder, again, the role of my own particular ministry. I need to remind myself of how Christ’s message can be made real to my fellow travelers in this world. This can only come when one hears a clear, inward call to work for the Kingdom of Christ. From that place a minister can help bring others to feel and know the Inward Christ who will then send them on to their own paths of ministry. This is the hope of our church!
But in nurturing leadership we need to consider the second half of ministry, that of corporate/communal encouragement of that ministry. To have any meaning at all, ministry has to come out of a community of committed Christians. Early Friends in their wisdom recognized that there were those who were gifted in the ministry and as such should present by word and writing that message to the people of the world. The corporate act was recording the gift of the ministry. This did not mean that a person was recorded a minister as a matter of ordination as is practiced by most other Christian groups.
In one of his most stirring messages from jail, (Launceston Gaol, 1656), George Fox sent an epistle which came to be known as “An Epistle to Friends in the Ministry.” In it he spells out the challenges of those who freely exercise their gifts of ministry, with all the joy and power which can come by being faithful. Three times in this short epistle he writes of speaking to that of God in every person, which is a common expression among Friends today. We must remember, however, to keep this expression in context, for it is not used in a manner which would weaken our sense of ministry, but rather makes it clear that our ministry is a deeply Christian spiritual experience which is to be supported by the community of faith.
In that same message he writes that the minister “reigns and rules with Christ,” who brings “all into the worship of God; plow up the fallow ground, thresh and get out the corn, that all people may come to the beginning, to Christ, who was before the world was made.” He then states what the tasks of a minister should be in specific terms: “This is the word of the Lord God to you all, and a charge to you all in the presence of the living God: Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you go, so that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering to that of God in every one.”
Friends, our task is to continue to encourage a strong ministry whether it be by recording gifts, by the nurture of the many forms of the ministry available to a local meeting, by establishing a strong and sure teaching foundation under our leadership, and by fearlessly preaching Christ’s Kingdom to this world. Otherwise we might find ourselves as members of a small but interesting anachronism which merely hides in the shadows of those mighty “publishers of Truth,” our ministers of past days.
In closing his epistles, George Fox urged us, as ministers, to “be obedient to the power, for that will save you out of the hands of unreasonable men and preserve you over the world to himself. Hereby you can live in the kingdom that stands in power and has no end, where there is glory and life.”
Ralph Greene is a recorded minister and former pastor of several meetings in New England YM. He wrote this article in 1981, while serving as pastor of Durham (Maine) Monthly Meeting.