Monday, May 31, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 5

Financial Support
“We Friends today need to open our hearts to discern what God is teaching in regard to support for a minister who is led to spiritual work that is recognized by his or her meeting.  This is an unfinished piece of business for unprogrammed Friends.  It is an opportunity to test our theory that God will teach us and bring us into unity if we sincerely ask and humbly listen.”  Martha Paxson Grundy, Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting 
When I started to think about this paper, I was not planning to write about money.  I thought I could just focus on spiritual nurture and support and avoid the question of financial support.  But as I interviewed young Friends who travel in the ministry, money kept coming up.  I also realized as I talked to them that financial support of the ministry is a form of spiritual support.  If a meeting can offer a minister some funding to support her ministries, that shows that the meeting cares about the minister and that the ministry is under the meeting’s care.

Traveling in the ministry is expensive.  Not only does the ministry require money for gas, airplane or train tickets, or bike maintenance, the time the minister spends traveling is time that the minister cannot spend on other, paid work.  The money for this ministry has to come from somewhere, and frequently it comes out of the minister’s pocket.  One young Friend I spoke with said that she had at times been in “dire” financial straights as a result of following her call to ministry.  None of the Friends I interviewed expected to receive a lot of money for their work, but several wished that they could find a way to make their ministries financially sustainable.  Even in those cases where the minister was paid to speak, the honorariums they received usually did not begin to cover the travel expenses and time lost from paid employment.

As I have traveled in the ministry over the past year, I have found that working full-time and traveling in the ministry on the weekends is not physically sustainable for me.  I would come back from a weekend visiting meetings and churches and feel unable to go immediately back to work the next day.  I was fortunate to have understanding employers and generous paid sick leave from my job, but this is not the case for everyone.  After several months of trying to balance full-time work and ministry, I felt clear to lay down my paid employment for a few months to focus on ministry.

Many Friends meetings struggle with the idea of providing financial support for Friends who feel called to ministry.  Young Friends who feel led to travel in the ministry provide an opportunity for meetings to hold these concerns in worship and discern how they feel the Spirit leading them to respond.  One Friend cautioned that if members of a meeting have a concern about providing financial support, they should raise the concern before the minister begins to travel, because it is far more difficult to address these concerns when the minister is traveling.  He also said that it was hard for him when his meeting began to question funding his ministry after he began to travel because it felt like the meeting did not support his ministry.

Large Friends organizations also provide some possibilities for financial support for young Friends traveling in the ministry.  Many yearly meetings have grants and scholarships for young Friends.  Other organizations, such as Friends General Conference and Friends World Committee for Consultation have funds available.  If meetings need additional funds to provide financial support for ministers, they can apply on the minister’s behalf for some of these funds.  The meeting can also provide support by helping the minister find sources of funding.  Because these organizations usually require a specific process and minuted support of the Friend’s ministry, as well as a written report when the Friend returns from traveling, they can also provide another layer of seasoning and accountability.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 4

Community Support of the Ministry
“We cannot stress enough the importance of community blessing for public ministry.  When this does not happen within the immediate congregation, a person who is called must reach out more widely.  If the blessing is not present in the wider community, either the individual misheard the call or the community is at risk of dying.”  Margery Post Abbott & Peggy Senger Parsons, Walk Worthy of Your Calling: Quakers and the Traveling Ministry
One of the most visible ways that a meeting can provide support for someone traveling in the ministry is by providing the minister with a traveling minute or a minute of service.  After the minister has met with a clearness or support committee to discern how to proceed, the committee should prepare a report for the meeting to consider in its meeting for business.  The report should include a description of the ministry and proposed travel, and a recommendation from the committee that the meeting support the Friend’s ministry.  

In the meeting for business, the community as a whole can consider the Friend’s leading and how to support it.  This is also a good time for the community to ask the committee and the minister clarifying questions about the scope of the ministry.  By giving the traveling minister a minute, the meeting provides an introduction to the Friend, a testimony of the Friend’s character and good standing in the meeting, and shows that the Friend’s ministry is under the care of the meeting.  

A minute also creates an expectation that the Friend will bring back endorsements from the meetings and churches he or she visits, and will report back to the meeting after completing the travel.   Noah M, from Putney Monthly Meeting, said that his meeting’s process in approving his traveling minute and other’s reactions have helped him take his ministry more seriously.
An issue that came up frequently in the interviews was how it can be more difficult to find meeting support when the minister is not a member of the meeting he or she attends.  Young Friends in particular may not be members of meetings because they are in a transitional time of life and may be waiting until they have finished school or settled somewhere more permanently before applying for meeting membership.  Erin M, an unprogrammed Friend from Canada, stated that she has not felt led to become a member of a meeting in part because she feels that she is a member of all Friends and cannot choose between the different branches of Quakers.  Others, like me, may live at a distance from their primary faith community.
I would like to encourage meetings to support young Friends who feel called to traveling ministry even if they are not members of the meeting.  Emily S, who is a member of Durham Monthly Meeting, but attends Central Philadelphia Meeting, said that she was amazed that the meeting gave her a support and care committee, even though she is not a member.  If members of the meeting are concerned about why the minister is not a member of the meeting, ask the Friend directly.  In addition, if the minister is living far away from his or her home meeting, the home meeting should consider ways that the meeting can provide support at a distance, through emails, phone calls, prayer, and reports from the minister to the meeting.
Another way that the meeting can provide support for the minister is for individuals to learn about the culture of the place where the Friend will be traveling.  Sarah H and Treye M, from University Friends Meeting, who have both traveled in the ministry in Palestine, said that it was very helpful for them to be able to talk to each other about their experiences, because they did not have to explain all of the details and history of the current situation in Palestine to each other.  Similarly, I have found that when I travel to visit evangelical Friends churches and yearly meeting annual sessions, it is helpful to be able to talk to others who have spent time with evangelical Friends and understand how they are different from unprogrammed Friends, both in worship style and theologically.
One of the best ways a meeting can support a minister is by being clear about how the meeting will continue to support the minister while she travels and the meeting’s plan for holding the minister accountable.  If the minister does not have a support committee, the meeting should help the minister create one.  The meeting should provide ways for the minister to keep in contact with the meeting while she is traveling and let the minister know what its expectations are for reporting back to the meeting after traveling, whether that should be through a written report, a presentation to the business meeting, or another form of reporting back.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 3

Supporting and Encouraging Leadings
“In the early days of Friends, it seemed as though ministers sprang up from the earth like watered crops.  Now it seems as if this gift is the rare tree emerging from a crevice in the rock.  We marvel at its tenacity, but it does not occur to us to apply fertilizer.”  Margery Post Abbott & Peggy Senger Parsons, Walk Worthy of Your Calling: Quakers and the Traveling Ministry
For many of the Friends I talked to, they began traveling in the ministry before they knew what to call what they were doing.  Several Friends spoke of individuals who had acted as mentors for them.  It was helpful for them to have other recognize, support, and encourage their leadings.  Young Friends who feel called to travel in the ministry may have a difficult time asking for support, or knowing what kinds of support they need.  Several ministers said how grateful they were to others who suggested forms of support and helped them find the support they needed.

Many meetings and churches have experience with providing clearness committees for Friends who are getting married or need support in discernment.  When a young Friend expresses a leading to travel in ministry, a clearness committee is a good place for the meeting to start helping the Friend discern how she is being called.  If it becomes clear that the Friend is called into ongoing service or ministry, the meeting should provide an ongoing support and accountability committee for the minister.

A support and accountability committee functions in some ways like a clearness committee.  Friends meet and worship together, the minister shares how she sees the Spirit at work, and the committee may ask clarifying questions or mirror back to the Friend things that seem important or ways in which the Spirit seems to be moving.  A support and accountability committee differs from a clearness committee in that it is ongoing, instead of meeting just once, and it’s purpose is to provide support for the minister that is specific to his or her ministry.  Support might include being in contact with the minister while she is traveling by phone or email, praying for the minister, helping the minister find an elder or traveling companion, and acting as a liaison between the minister and the rest of the meeting.  It is important for the committee to allow the minister to use spiritual language that is comfortable and meaningful for her.

I have had wonderful experiences with my own support committee.  It started out, as many of them do, as a clearness committee.  I was feeling led to ministry in various ways and having a hard time seeing how they all related, so I asked my meeting for a clearness committee.  After we met, the committee suggested that we meet again in a few months.  We have continued to meet for two years.  When I began the School of the Spirit program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer, my committee became more formal and began to meet once a month.  I am grateful for a place to worship with Friends and I feel supported and challenged by them each time we get together.  They have been able to watch me grow and change in how I approach ministry and can ask me whether I am being faithful.

Because I am sojourning with University Friends Meeting and plan to return to Freedom Friends Church, I actually have two support committees, one in Washington and one in Oregon.  Before each meeting, I write a page or two about my condition and send it to both groups.  I meet with the committee in Washington, and someone takes notes during the meeting.  The notes go out to both committees.  After I move to Oregon this summer, I will continue to follow this practice, but meet with my committee in Oregon.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 2

The Historical Practice of Friends Traveling in the Ministry
“The ‘valiant sixty’ was a movement of men and women in their late teens and twenties who went first to London, Bristol, and Norwich to proclaim the Gospel message.  Later they traveled to Europe and to the American colonies to carry the message abroad.”  Wilmer A. Cooper, A Living Faith: A Historical Study of Quaker Beliefs
In the early days of the Religious Society of Friends, many women and men felt called to travel in the ministry.  Although there are an increasing number of traveling ministers today, meetings and churches may have little or no experience with Friends traveling in the ministry.  

A surprising number of the ministers I spoke with had formally studied Friends, Friends history, and travel in the ministry in college or in seminary.  Meetings and churches are fortunate to have ministers with a strong understanding of the history of travel in the ministry, but it can be draining for these ministers to have the added burden of educating their meetings and the meetings they visit about the historical practice of Friends traveling in the ministry.

Accordingly, the first step meetings and churches can take in supporting young Friends who feel called to travel in the ministry is to become familiar with the practice, both historically and in the present day, and to learn about the various ways that meetings and churches can support these leadings.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 1

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.  He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”  Luke 10:1-2.
When I decided to write about the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry, my motivation was personal.  As a young person who travels in the ministry, I found it was easy for me to get traveling minutes, and not very difficult to get money (not a lot of money, but grants to pay for travel), but it was harder to find spiritual nurture.  I wasn’t even sure what I meant by spiritual nurture.  I was also aware that some of the issues I was facing arose specifically because I am a young Friend.  So I decided to interview other young Friends who travel in the ministry to find out what kinds of spiritual nurture are most helpful to them.

The response was incredible.  Friends from all over the United States and Canada responded to my questions in person, over the phone, and by email.  Each one was so supportive of my project and urged me to contact other Friends to hear their stories.  And as I talked to these traveling ministers and elders, it felt like looking into a mirror.  Over and over, I heard my own experiences reflected back to me.  In each conversation, I felt my heart expand in love and appreciation for the work that these Friends are doing.

As my research for this project, I interviewed 16 Friends (including myself), age 24-34, who have traveled (and in many cases, continue to travel) in the ministry.  At least twice as many names were suggested to me.  These Friends represent the various branches of Quakerism.  About two-thirds grew up as Friends.  I interviewed Friends who identify as liberal, evangelical, conservative, convergent, and who feel called to Quakerism as a whole.  Some identify as Christian, others do not.  They are responding to calls to pastoral care, hospitality, music, eldering, telling stories, education, gospel ministry, bridge building, and reconciliation.  They have traveled to Haiti, Mexico, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Jordan, England, Kenya, Iraq, and meetings and churches across the United States and Canada in response to the leadings of the Spirit.  I am grateful to all of them for their stories.

It would take a book for me to relate all of the experiences that these Friends shared with me.  Instead of trying to include everything, I am going to focus on the places of connection, the times when others’ experiences resonated with my own.   In our conversations, I was amazed by the similarities between these Friends’ stories, and it was easy to see themes.  My hope is that this paper is useful for meetings and churches that want to support young Friends who feel called to ministry, and it will encourage young Friends who may be experiencing that call.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Monday, May 3, 2010

Reflection Paper

In preparation for the 2010 Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference, we have asked each woman attending the conference to write a brief reflection paper on the theme, Walk With Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends, and three quotes:
From: 2 Timothy 1:5-7
I’m reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, then in your mother Eunice, and now, I’m certain, in you as well. That’s why I want to remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline.

From: Martha Paxson Grundy, Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, p. 27, Pendle Hill Publications.
“Many Friends today are crying out for spiritual mentors, for ministers and elders who are lovingly steeped in our tradition. Some Friends hunger for a deeper relationship with God, for a connection with a divine power that heals and empowers. We long for wise and loving role models and examples.”

From: Patricia Loring, Listening Spirituality Vol. II, 1999.
“As meetings became settled, elders performed a variety of functions, according to their gifts and leadings. . . . [A]ll gifts and ministries were for building up the spiritual life of the meeting and the Society: directing and re-directing people to the Spirit of God, to the Inward Christ, the Light, the Inward Teacher, the Guide, the one true Priest and Shepherd. It was clearly understood that any member of the meeting might be called to some part of this service, but that some were specifically led by the Spirit at any given time.”
This is my reflection paper, which will be shared with all of the women attending the conference.

Walk With Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends

As a child, I had frequent nightmares.  Seeing any sort of violent picture or watching a violent movie would give me terrible dreams.  I convinced my younger sister to share a bed with me for years to try to keep the bad dreams away (though I told her that it was because she might have nightmares, not me).  When I talked to my mom about my bad dreams, she gave me a Bible verse, II Timothy 1:7.  In the translation she taught me, the verse was, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and a sound mind.”

I think the verse was helpful for me when I was younger, and the translation we are using for this conference seems like an appropriate message for me now.  “For God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline.”  I sometimes act as if God had given me a spirit of timidity.  I resist giving vocal ministry until I am visibly shaking and my breath is ragged and it is clear to everyone around me that I have to speak.  I dread public speaking and I am embarrassed when I am the center of attention.  But God keeps telling me to speak, so I do.

As I have helped plan this conference over the past two years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the theme.  The first time I heard Quakers use the word “elder,” I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it sounded like a bad thing.  These Friends were discussing someone’s inappropriate behavior in meeting and having to “elder” that person.  Since then, I have learned a more positive definition of elder: someone who names and nurtures the spiritual gifts of people in a meeting and cares for the spiritual needs of the meeting as a whole.

Part of the work I have done to prepare for this conference has been to visit Friends meetings and churches and invite women to come.  Sarah P and I have gone to many meetings and churches to worship with Friends and talk about our experiences with the conference.  Although speaking in front of groups has been challenging for me, overall, this travel in the ministry has been a very good experience.  Friends have been welcoming and we have had wonderful discussions about the different ways we talk about and experience the Spirit.

I am so grateful to all of the women who have been walking alongside me for the past two years.  Each time the planning committee met, elders would hold us in prayer.  I have a wonderful support committee made up of women who meet with me once a month to worship, listen, and hold me accountable as I try to discern what I am called to do.  As Sarah and I have traveled and worked together, we have tried to be intentional about our spiritual friendship, giving each other space to talk about how God is at work in our lives.  I am also thankful for all the friends who have checked in with me and given me phone call pep talks.

Many people have commented on how young Sarah and I are to be co-clerking the planning committee.  When I attended the last women’s conference, I was so impressed by the amount of experience the women at the conference had.  I met women who had served as leaders in their meetings, churches, and in the wider Quaker world.  I look up to these women as mentors and elders, and I hope that this conference will provide space for women to share what they have learned with each other, across lines of age and tradition.

Setting aside time to listen to God and to listen to each other is a powerful thing.  As much as I have been trying to plan this conference, I know that I can only do so much.  I look forward to hearing what each person will bring as we gather together to listen.

[If you are interested in attending the conference, registration is open until June 1 on our website.  We are also accepting donations for scholarships.]