by Nancy Haines 

Why not recognize our gifted ministers? After all, Friends have had a long-standing practice of officially recognizing members who have been called to this service. This recording identifies to the larger community that this Friend has the approval of his or her meeting and that he or she testifies agreeably to the leadings of the Spirit. The title “Recorded Minister” implies that this is a person worth listening to.

Nevertheless, I am concerned about creating a separate distinction for some individuals. Friends practice of ministry is based on the belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit may be bestowed upon anyone at any time. We believe that God speaks to each one of us and we receive the leadings of the Spirit when we listen to that still small voice within. Everyone, member and attender, is an essential participant in our meetings for worship, whether in prayerful silence or in spoken ministry. The quality of worship is a corporate responsibility.

Although recording is generally used to recognize a gift for spoken ministry, religious service comes in many varieties. Everyone has spiritual gifts that contribute to the life of the meeting and to the Society of Friends. Last year during our State of Society discussions, Wellesley Meeting considered the nurturing of ministry. We defined ministry as the result of discerning and following God’s leadings in our lives. We asked ourselves what is my ministry and how do we seek and nurture our own ministry as well as that of others in our meeting.

Many of us find our ministry in serving the meeting. Some of us run the committees, take care of the house and grounds, educate and nurture our children, provide hospitality, offer pastoral care, and oversee the quality of worship in our meetings. Others use the meeting community as a stepping stone to service in the community and for activism for peace and justice. Many of our members have found their ministries their jobs and are teachers and physicians, work with battered women and in the prisons, or provide services to those in need. And most of us see a ministry in serving our families and in creating homes where God’s spirit is reflected in our Quaker values and testimonies. All are important ministries and necessary to the well-ordered functioning of our meeting community. Unfortunately, the term ministry so often refers to preaching that many in our meeting found it difficult to recognize that their service is indeed ministry.

Recording ministers elevates the ability to speak comfortably and devalues the variety of ministries that exist in the Society of Friends. How easy it is when we hear a particularly inspiring message to think of the bearer as a “gifted minister” particularly when that Friends speaks often and well. However, the old Quaker phrase “thee was well-favored” reminds us that the gift of vocal ministry is not a characteristic of the messenger but a gift of the Spirit, given in that moment to a person who is receptive to the leading. Moreover, there may be a temptation for a recorded minister to feel that they have the “job” of vocal ministry and a designated role in preaching the gospel, rather than waiting to see whom the Lord has favored.

Instead of assigning the ministry to individuals, we should foster the ministries of all. We should encourage every ministry, no matter what form it takes. We should train everyone to be receptive to the teachings of the Spirit and create places of love and trust, where even hesitant speakers can share their love of God. We should recognize that the leadings of the Spirit take other forms than messages. Not all deeply inspired and inspiring Friends are able to speak comfortably. Nevertheless, their gifts are also well worth noting.
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.

Nancy Haines is a member of Wellesley (Massachusetts) Monthly Meeting. This piece was originally published in the Spring 2000 issue of The New England Friend, the newsletter of New England Yearly Meeting.