By Allen Myers
When we speak of the need for developing leadership in the Religious Society of Friends, in NEYM at least, we seem focussed on the development of people who will do the work of the yearly (quarterly, monthly) meeting as clerks or other functionaries. What seems lacking, however, is leadership in ministry: who is articulating the message, the good news, the gospel? Without a living message of God’s presence, the Society of Friends is but an empty shell, hollow at its center —a state which will soon undermine Friends practices of all kinds. It may be that we have not given enough thought and prayer to how leadership in the Society of Friends might differ from secular models of effectiveness. One senses in the reports of those who have visited Cuban Friends a longing for the kind of leadership which leads us into an active relationship with God (and therefore, with each other). One argument advanced against recording is that it confers some kind of special status on the person whose gifts are recorded. Recognizing that some people have special abilities to illuminate our relationship with God and with each other does not bestow on them the role of priest or intermediary of that relationship. One of the points of Quakerism’s beginnings was to eliminate all religious practices that got in the way of one’s relationship to God. But, of course, ignorance and lack of spiritual nourishment also get in the way of that relationship. The recording of gifts in ministry points to a different understanding of the leadership needs of Quakerism. To recognize (by recording) the existence of a gift, but then to leave the individual to flounder about unsupported and undirected while she/he tries to exercise it, is simply unacceptable in a community of faith in which we are obligated to one another’s spiritu al growth and development. If, after we have recorded a gift, we have failed to support and nourish its carrier, if we have not helped to find or make opportunities for the individual to bring her/his gift to bear, and if we then find the gift is no longer being exercised, or if we find the individual bringing that gift to bear elsewhere, how can we then “unrecord the gift”? This is not to say that there should not be some mechanism for rescinding a recording—such a mechanism already clearly exists in Faith and Practice, and it is broadly worded and should be carefully applied in those cases where the application of a recorded gift is clearly at variance with the testimonies of Friends.
We need to be accountable to that individual and to that gift just as much as we hold that individual accountable. When we come to unrecord a gift, we must ask ourselves, “What have we done to nourish the gift we recorded and the individual carrying it? Have we provided a peer group to which this person could be accountable (as well as being accountable to us)? Have we been attentive to the ministry this individual’s gift conveyed? Have we responded supportively?” Friends need leaders whose primary focus is ministry; nurturing such into being is our challenge. A deep, searching look at our process of recording gifts, and which gifts we record, is a necessary part of this process.
This article by Allen Myers of Eggemoggin Reach (Maine) Monthly Meeting was originally published in the Spring 2000 issue of The New England Friend on the subject of recording gifts of ministry in the meeting.