Friday, June 17, 2011

Gifts to Share - Part 4

Transferring Recordings
“One of our dearly held modern shibboleths is that we are all equal.  The truth is that God does indeed love each of us equally, and invites each of us, equally, into the kingdom, into salvation, into right relationship, into wholeness.  But too often there is a negative side to this cliché that all Friends are equal.  This is the attitude that adds, if anyone stands out or thinks he or she has a gift or calling, we’ll pull that person down.  If such a person is arrogant or on a power-trip, then it is right to admonish and try to help the Friend see his or her gift and role in the larger context of Gospel Order.  But what if a Friend is paying close attention to God’s voice, and living with increasing integrity and love and for that reason others feel uncomfortable?  How do we regard someone who is exercising gifts given by God for the edification and upbuilding of the faith community?  Too often deep vocal ministry, a prophetic voice, or moral leadership are resented.”  Martha Paxson Grundy, Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting
We live in a much more mobile society than early Friends, and many of the women I interviewed had moved and had to transfer their memberships and recordings from one meeting to another.  There were various reasons these ministers moved.  Sometimes they moved because of employment opportunities, either for themselves or their spouses, or to be near family.  Some moved in response to a call to ministry in another monthly or yearly meeting.  Ann M's story illustrates how each time she has moved, it has provided another meeting with the opportunity to grapple with the recording process.
Ann M was first recorded in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, but she never went through a formal recording process.  Unbeknownst to her, members of her meeting, Chester River Friends Meeting, initiated the process in conversation with the yearly meeting.  At the time, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice stated,
It is no longer the general practice to record ministers.  Nonetheless a Monthly Meeting may, with the approval of its Committee on Worship and Ministry, record as a minister a member who is recognized as having been called to such service.
Ann was serving as the clerk of the meeting.  The previous clerk felt that it was important to recognize that she had been doing significant ministry among them.  The previous clerk contacted people throughout the yearly meeting and wrote a letter to every member of the monthly meeting; they all responded.  The request then went to the yearly meeting Worship and Ministry committee.  Ann only found out about the recording process when the clerk of her monthly meeting worship and ministry committee stood and read the minute of recording out of the silence of meeting for worship.  Ann said that when she heard the minute,
I was overwhelmed and my tears flowed.  To have my inward calling to ministry affirmed after so many years released a flood of emotions within me.  Mixed with joy was sadness because we were to move from there to Richmond, Indiana within a couple of weeks, and I would be leaving this meeting that had affirmed my calling.  I also feared I would be left without a meeting that could oversee my ministry and hold me accountable.
Ann said that the recording was startling, but deeply affirming.  The meeting for worship was followed by a meal with time for celebrating
When Ann moved to Clear Creek Monthly Meeting, which was then part of Indiana Yearly Meeting (FUM) and Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting (FGC), her request for transfer also included transfer of her recording.  This presented the monthly meeting with the opportunity to consider questions about whether Friends have "ministers" and what this means in light of Friends' testimony of equality.  The meeting decided to accept the transfer of recording.  

In 1993, Clear Creek Monthly Meeting left Indiana Yearly Meeting (FUM) and continued affiliation with Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting (FGC).  Clear Creek asked Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting to recognize the recording of its ministers.  Friends again deliberated about what it means to have recognized ministers today and, following a lengthy threshing session, approved the following minute: “Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting acknowledges that Clear Creek Monthly Meeting has recognized the previous recording of Ann M, David G, Mary G, and Hugh B as ministers.”  Later, Ann transferred her membership and recording to West Richmond Monthly Meeting, Indiana Yearly Meeting, where her recording was again recognized and supported.
Most recently, Ann moved to South Bend Monthly Meeting, Illinois Yearly Meeting, which discontinued the practice of recording ministers in 1927.  West Richmond Monthly Meeting offered to continue to hold Ann’s membership and recording, but she said, “I became clear that this was not feasible for accountability because of the geographical distance between us.  I felt clear to go ahead with my transfer request.”  South Bend Monthly Meeting did not accept the transfer of Ann's recording, but did approve a minute that included the following:
We want to note that Ann M was recorded as a minister by Chester River Meeting (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) and then by Clear Creek Meeting (Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting) and West Richmond Meeting (Indiana Yearly Meeting).  While South Bend Friends is not in the tradition of naming or recording ministers, we gladly note this fact of Ann's life.
Ann said that although she is no longer recorded as a minister, she has had many opportunities to do ministry in South Bend Monthly Meeting.
Peggy P voluntarily lay down her recording when she followed a leading to do ministry.  Peggy was first recorded as a minister in Northwest Yearly Meeting.  When she felt called to start Freedom Friends Church, a Christ-centered and inclusive Friends meeting, she knew it was likely that Northwest Yearly Meeting would lay down her recording.  Peggy did not want to go through that process, and so instead, she voluntarily turned in her recording to the Northwest Yearly Meeting Elders.  

In its first year, Freedom Friends Church issued Peggy a new recording based on the previous recording process.  Eventually, the church adopted a section in its Faith and Practice that any minister who was in good standing with another yearly meeting had to lay down his or her recording to become a member of Freedom Friends Church, the church would take up that recording.  Peggy said that although she didn't think being recorded was necessary to preach or be a minister at the time she was originally recorded, by the time she lay down her recording, it was precious to her, and it was meaningful for her that Freedom Friends Church recorded her again.
Deborah S said that her sense of call has been around feeling nudged that she could use her gifts in a particular place and time, rather than a general sense that God is calling her into pastoral ministry.  After graduating from Earlham School of Religion, she felt that the Spirit was leading her to check out a little meeting called West Branch Friends Meeting, then she did training in interim ministry and went to Spokane Friends Church, and after that, felt nudged to First Friends Meeting in North Carolina.  

When Deborah moved to North Carolina, she waited to see if North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) would accept her recording from Iowa Yearly Meeting before transferring her membership.  She commented that it used to be the case that once you were recorded, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) would accept another meeting’s recording, but that changed about five years ago and now people who have been recorded in other yearly meetings have to go through some process before being recorded in the yearly meeting.
Patty L also shared her story about how she had to give up her recording when she felt led to transfer her membership.  Patty was recorded in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) as a member of Charlotte Friends Meeting.  Even though Davidson Friends Meeting had taken on its own identity apart from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), she kept her membership in Charlotte Friends Meeting, which was in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) because she wanted to keep the recording.  Eventually, Patty felt like it lacked integrity for her to remain a member of Charlotte Friends Meeting, so she chose to change her membership and give up her recording.
Patty said that Friends in Davidson Friends Meeting were very supportive of her in the process.  The meeting set up a clearness committee about changing her membership and giving up her recording, which gave Patty space to talk about her sense of call to ministry.  Patty felt like no one knew about her call to ministry, but the members of the clearness committee said that her call was part of why they valued her.  She was stunned.  She said that was probably the most significant thing that has ever happened in terms of recognizing her ministry.  

After that, Patty felt like she could just start being herself, without any pretense or fear.  The business meeting minuted the result of the clearness committee, which was that they recognized her as a minister.  Patty said that even though that minute was not an official recording process, that was the recording that really mattered to her, because that was the one that was done for her as part of a community.  Ultimately, it was the recording that wasn't really a recording that truly opened up her ministry.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the stories of women from different branches of Friends who have been recorded as ministers.]

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