This is the substance of remarks delivered to Salem Quarterly Meeting (of NEYM) by Brian Drayton on January 23, 1994.
I would like to begin by saying that discussions about the recording of gifts in the ministry are something of a red herring, at the present stage of things among us. I have been part of several weighty considerations of this topic over the years, and although they have been good discussions, there has not been a lot of progress. This is a sign to me that we are not yet asking the right questions. It seems to me that the right questions have to do with the way our community recognizes (in the sense of “comes to see”) the gifts being poured out upon us, and takes an appropriate, active role in their cultivation, without which the gifts will not bear fruit as they should.
All discussion about “machinery,” “church polity,” has to take second place to a focus on this central question. We are in a weakened condition, as a people, in part because of our lack of attention to the nurture of gifts. Talk about recording ministry only helps if it furthers our understanding of the tasks lying before us. How can we grow again into a witnessing, prophetic community? There are words we are not saying, deeds we are not doing, questions we are not asking, and it is related to the way we care for the gifts bestowed on our community. I believe that today’s discussion can be helpful, but only if we keep our eye on the ball.
There is a lot of confusion or lack of information about the Friends’ approach to the acknowledgement of gifts in the ministry within this Quarterly Meeting, so I would like to address the basics of the history and procedures of recording. I will try to do so in such a way as to address its relevance to the larger question of nurturing gifts in the present day.
I should say that I will not speak about Friends’ pastors here. The recording of ministers is a much older practice, by more than a century, than the calling of pastors by Friends meetings, and it is quite possible to discuss recording without reference to pastors at all — they are not the same thing! I also will not address anything about the variations in the practice of recording from one Yearly Meeting to another, though that might be interesting as well. If Friends are really interested in such things, we might return to them later.
Finally, please note that in most discussions about ministry, we end up focusing on vocal ministry, the ministry of the Word. In part, this is because the gospel ministers, whose gift was the gift of articulation, felt it part of their duty to record their experiences under the weight of their gift. This means that, from some periods of Quaker history, we have a lot of information about the growth, nurture, and pitfalls of gifts in vocal ministry (in all their great variety, as we will come back to later). It does point up the central role that the ministry of the Word has held among us during the entire lifetime of the Quaker movement. On the other hand, other Friends, with other undoubted gifts, have not left us any such record of their life-cycle in ministry. Since Friends have not yet redressed this balance, we often find ourselves referring to the great body of history about vocal ministers, as a point from which to draw speculations or analogies about other kinds of ministers. I wish we could find a way to get around this artifact of our history!
From the earliest days of the Quaker movement, Friends have assumed that, while anyone may be called to ministry, some seem to be called, appropriately and faithfully, to more responsibility or concern for the work than others. The assumption is that Christ is the head of the Church, and pouring out the gifts that the community needs. These gifts (tasks, responsibilities, abilities) come for longer or shorter periods of time, and vary in many other characteristics as well. Robert Barclay’s articulation of this in his Apology is retained in our Faith and Practice.
Friends who felt the call to ministry were in touch with each other on a local, regional, and national level, by frequent meetings and in correspondence. They felt strongly their fellowship, their special kinship, as a result of their shared calling, though in each life the calling looked different.
By the 1670s, there was a regular meeting in London of all public Friends who happened to be in town. They met for mutual support, and to work out who would go to which meetings in the coming week, so that “ministers should not go about in heaps.” (That is, so that folks would spread themselves out amongst the numerous meetings.) There was also discussion of places that might need special attention or support. Since this meeting was held on Second-Day, it was always called the Second-Day Morning Meeting (or Morning Meeting, for short), and it continued until this century. (After Fox’s death, it served as a way-station for Friends correspondence, and as the censor of Friends publications in the Yearly Meeting, though it had no official status as part of the Yearly Meeting—it was not the same as the Yearly Meeting of Minsters and Elders, for example.)
The way you were accepted as a member of the Second-Day Morning Meeting was to sign in a big book. It happened that a Friend (I forget his name right now) signed in, who (other Friends thought) was not in unity with Friends, and his right to attend the meeting was challenged– this was in 1734. After lengthy wrangling, the Yearly Meeting ruled that the Second Day Morning meeting could not exclude anyone who came with a letter from their monthly meeting attesting to the fact that this Friend was a minister (= public Friend) in good standing there.
From these haphazard beginnings, there developed predictably the following procedure, varying only slightly from place to place in Quakerdom for two centuries. In our yearly meeting, this old procedure is intact, if rarely used. It goes like this, with variations from one Yearly Meeting to another: If a Friend gives evidence of a “sustained gift in the Gospel ministry” (what other denominations call the Ministry of the Word), then the local Meeting on Ministry and Counsel brings it to the Monthly Meeting. If the meeting unites in this perception of the Friend, the matter is referred to the Quarterly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel, who appoints a committee to meet with the Friend in question, and the meeting as well, if necessary. If the committee agrees with the Monthly Meeting, it makes a recommendation to QM Ministry and Counsel, which if it concurs then passes the matter with a recommendation to the full QM. If the QM approves, it then informs the monthly meeting, and there is an end to it. In the old days, the only ceremony that would mark the final approval is that the Friend would for the first time take his or her place in the facing benches at Meeting. For the full procedural details in NEYM, see Faith and Practice.
There might well be more than one minister in a meeting (better if there was), or none.
What did this mean in practice?
Well, Friends have always held that the ministry in Meeting may fall to anyone, but that in addition (following Paul’s lead, in 1Corinthians 12 and elsewhere) some Friends would have extra responsibility for preaching and teaching. How this was to manifest itself would depend on the Friend’s gift, and could not be legislated. Some valued ministers spoke rarely in meeting, but were good at home visitation, or at holding meetings among nonFriends, or at some other kind of public religious work. Some Friends whom we remember as great travellors really were — Elias Hicks covered perhaps 40,000 miles in his long life; he and others such as Rebecca Jones or Stanley Pumphrey might have visited all the meetings of Friends then existing. On the other hand, most of Hicks’s travel minutes were for service within his monthly or quarterly meeting, or yearly meeting at the furthest extent, and some of these were at the instigation of the concerned meeting. If you total all of John Woolman’s travels, his lifetime time on the road might be less than three years; many ministers never got minutes for travel at all.
All that was required of ministers was that they devote time to prayer and Scriptural study, shaping their life to service, and then to do anything they were called by God to do, and nothing else (in religious work), subject to the discernment of the meeting, especially the elders of the meeting. They were to seek the society and counsel of more experienced ministers, though never to emulate them. They also were to be faithful in attendance at meetings for worship and business, and at meetings of Ministry and Counsel (monthly, quarterly, and yearly). In New England YM, ministers are not ex officio on the local meeting on ministry and counsel, but are members of the YM Committee on Ministry and Counsel.
(In many meetings, the only vocal ministry came from recorded ministers, resident or visiting, and this was one reason why Friends have wanted the institution abolished — to remove the sense of elitism, and open up the ministry to all, as in the old days. Even in the old days, though, at the most anarchic stages of the movement, Friends recognized that some were rightly “in the ministry,” and were effective in supporting them. London YM did away with the practice in 1924, though a retrospective by Harvey in the ’40s suggested that the Yearly Meeting had not succeeded in its plan to care for the ministry by more “democratic” means.)
Friends ministers were never paid for their work, though if they could not bear the cost of something the meeting had agreed they were called to do, the meeting was obliged to help, either with travel expenses or help at home while the minister was away.
Recorded Ministers in NEYM
There are about 30 recorded ministers in NEYM. Most of them were recorded when they were pastors at a meeting; most of them are not pastors now. There is no rule about what they do if they are not pastors. Many still do various kinds of “pastor-type” duties, including filling in for pastors when needed. A few of the recorded ministers are from unprogrammed meetings, and were never pastors (for example, myself, Gordon Browne, David Douglas, Kevin Lee, Fay Honey Knopp).
There are quite a few people recently recorded. I think Carol Marshburn, Margaret Benefiel, Kevin Lee, and I are the youngest; most are rather old. The largest numbers are in Vassalboro and Sandwich QM, the fewest in Connecticut Valley QM. (All are listed in the YM Minute Book).
I was recorded by Salem QM when I was a member of Lynn MM, in 1983. I was serving as Director of the Friends Home at the time, and trying to revive the monthly meeting in Lynn, formerly a programmed meeting, but at that time meeting in silence (mostly). When that meeting was laid down, I transferred my membership and status as a minister to Cambridge, and thence to Fresh Pond.
Being a recorded minister has allowed me not to avoid these questions, and to raise them with feeling. It has also connected me with others who have felt themselves called to ministry in many ways among Friends and elsewhere, and that has been a very great help and delight in my own life. Thus I have been able to benefit from the guidance of more experienced Friends, somewhat in the old way, to a greater degree than I might have otherwise. It has had other effects as well, but that is perhaps not necessary to detail here.
Who are our ministers?
Usually, when people are asked what value ministers can have, the answers point to things like getting access to places (like prisons or hospitals), ecclesiastical endorsement of pastoral counsellors, having people who can speak or act officially (for example, perform weddings), and representation at things like clergy associations. I find these personally uninteresting, and not at all in line with Friends tradition, though others have found them very important to their work—Fay Honey Knopp’s work in prisons being a good example.
My own thoughts run something like this:
The assertion that “we are all ministers” is, while potentially true, too trivial to carry much weight in the discussion about whether the spiritual body has any specialized organs at all, or is all a uniform mass, apparently democratic.
What I want to say is a little more concrete. I believe that the unprogrammed tradition of the Society of Friends is in a period of great weakness. We are hesitant about declaring our faith, hesitant about our allegiance to our spiritual community, contentious about verbal formulations, limited in our demographics. We have poor skills for spiritual nurture, a weak ability to overcome internal conflict, and limited resources for continued spiritual growth beyond the first stages; our education and spiritual nurture is geared to enquirers, and undeveloped for children or long-time Friends.
Now, in the past, the Society had a system within which these tasks were possible to do. I do not say it was perfect, but it was there, and Friends accepted that it should exist, and also that it should change as needed (though carefully). Many of the issues confronting Friends have to do with spiritual authority, leadership, and the care of communities, and the ministry—what kinds there are, how it should be supported, how it affects the community—is a central meeting place of all these issues. In working out answers to these questions, we also have to confront the whole question, central to Friends’ experience, of the relationship between the individual and the community. How does the community exercise discernment? What influence should it exert on the members’ lives? What do members owe the meeting?
The institution of the recorded ministry rested on several important assertions: that the community has a spiritual life that needs cultivation; that the cultivation needs specific attention, in parallel with care of the members individually; that God calls people to specific service, in varying degrees and for varying lengths of time, and in various kinds. How do we recognize, support, and shape concerns in a meeting? It must in the end focus on the Friend under concern—you cannot for long support “the ministry” without supporting the ministers—the carriers of the concern. Therefore, a recorded minister in these days in some sense incarnates the need to consider these questions as part of the life of the meeting, and the Society at large. People are reluctant to get down to particular people, so a recognized minister is an easy mark, since he or she has already been singled out, and thus can serve (in these experimental times) as a guinea-pig for these explorations in applied spirituality.
In addition, the institution of recorded ministers has in the past supported the collegiality among Friends experienced in following a certain kind of call over long periods of time, and provided a kind of apprenticeship for Friends entering on such a long-term calling. This is certainly not provided for by our current practice, either by clearness committees or by the Meetings on Ministry and Counsel. This lack of cultivation over time means that our ministry tends to stay within rather narrow bounds, and we see little growth in the gifts, little grounded experimentation within the ministry of any one person.
Another critical factor here was that part of a minister’s call was always and everywhere to be sensitive to “the springs of life breaking forth in any” (to quote Fox). Ministers were to call out the gifts of others, and lovingly encourage them in faithfulness.
The pact between ministers & their meeting
Finally, I think that recognized ministers are part of a pact with their meetings and should be willing both to submit their leadings to the meeting’s discernment, and to listen when Friends suggest ways of service that might be appropriate to consider. All ministry should come with a sense of fresh requirement by God, but one can never tell how a call might come. A call from the meeting may well be in right ordering. Such a relationship is to the meeting’s benefit as well.
The YM has often discussed how to encourage appropriate oversight of ministers, and has asked meetings to consider this, but I am not aware of any progress. Some Friends (in other YMs) have a committee that oversees them, though I think Ministry and Counsel (and other elders) should be the location for such contacts and nurture. I do think that the minister might have the responsibility for reporting to Ministry and Counsel on some regular basis. (I reported regularly at Lynn meeting, most meetings don’t do this, and Cambridge meeting never was interested in that.)
I do not claim that the old machinery is what we need, but that the old machinery was  consistent with our theology, and  addressed real needs which are not now being met. Since few of us grew up in a setting where the old traditions lived on in some measure, the old ways cannot mean the same to us now, but they can be instructive and challenging. This includes the ways in which the traditional practices were not adequate to their tasks, of course — no social system is perfect!
Our challenge as a meeting is to face the real needs of our community. What will release and make the best use of our gifts and opportunities? The discussion of recording must continue among us in such a way that we do not just reach some conclusions about an old custom, but we take creative steps that build both our current understanding, and on three centuries of Quaker practice—practice in a very specific spiritual path with its own boundaries and its own kinds of truth.
Note: Friends who are interested are welcome to ask me about the sources of the information for the above and related matters. —Brian Drayton
Brian is a member of Souhegan Preparative Meeting of New England YM. He lives in southern Massachusetts with his wife, Darcy.