“Many have heard the familiar phrase, 'many are called but few are chosen' (Matthew 20:16). If we look at it as descriptive and give it a Quakerly cast, we might translate it as 'all are invited but few respond.' We remember Jesus’ parable of the banquet whose invited guests were too busy to bother attending. These are different ways of describing the phenomenon with which we are all familiar: relatively few people dedicate their entire selves and all areas of their lives to listening to and following God’s will.” Martha Paxson Grundy, Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting.Women hear so many voices telling them that they can’t be in ministry, particularly the women who come from faith traditions that do not allow women in ministry. It is especially important to record women as ministers when we see them showing these gifts because the norm―at least outside the Religious Society of Friends, if not within it―is a male approach to ministry. If the only models of ministers are men, we may miss the ways that women are expressing their gifts of ministry. This impoverishes our meetings and deprives women who are young in the ministry of role models and mentors as they explore their call to ministry.
Particularly if ministers are coming from a different tradition, a recording process provides a way for Friends to ground ministers in Friends’ traditions. As Patty L said,
The need for public recognition of who you are is just huge, and particularly important for a woman because of our tendency to choose hiddenness and to be afraid of our strength. So we need people who affirm us for who we are and encourage us, and being recorded does that and at least gives you a way to connect with others who have the same vocational interests or the same reading interests as other ministers, so that you can be connected ecumenically, be treated with awareness of who you are, and given certain kinds of authority.In my interview with her, Patty L reminded me that the value of recording, if it is done right, is to hold the minister accountable and to keep the gifts within the monthly meeting. The gifts of ministry do not belong to the minister, they are gifts for the community. The recording process is a gift to the meeting in that it helps Friends to recognize and name gifts, and to think about the ways that we can provide support for people doing public ministry and how we should hold them accountable. Linda C echoed this in saying that the gifts of ministry are for the community and if they are not received by the community, there is something missing.
An ongoing system of support keeps ministers grounded in the monthly meeting. The women I spoke with suggested many ways that meetings can support ministers, including support and accountability committees, spiritual direction, mentors, and asking for reports to the monthly meeting. It can be hard for a minister to have to ask for these kinds of support, but greatly appreciated when the meeting offers them.
Ann M said that when she asked for a support and accountability committee opened the way for several others in the meeting who were engaged in public ministry to ask for support committees to be appointed by the meeting. Depending on the kind of ministry the person envisions going into, a recording process can also provide partnerships and mentoring.
Recording also provides a way for ministers who are doing the same work to identify and find each other and thereby be able to provide each other with mutual support. The women I spoke with emphasized how important this mutual support has been for them in spiritual friendships and peer groups that meet on a regular basis.
Darla S meets every other week with a group of women who are also in Northwest Yearly Meeting to talk about theology. Darla said that this group is a really nice place to talk about ministry as women and talk about theology in the ways that women talk about theology. In particular, the group is sensitive to viewing God as outside of gender, and the power involved in gender roles and masculinizing theology. Finding a group of women that are all part of Northwest Yearly Meeting and committed to the yearly meeting has helped Darla find her own place within the yearly meeting.
Deborah S feels connected to what Patricia L described as “a core of fellow masons” who do this work in different parts of the country. Deborah S described a covenant group of three women ministers (the other two were Mennonite and Episcopalian) who met one to two times a month for eight years. Deborah also participated in an Upper Room program called Companions in Ministry. One of the requirements was to start a clergy peer support group; she did, and has been meeting with six to eight pastors for five years now.
The women I spoke with also said that recording was important for them in doing ecumenical work. When Linda C was clerk of New York Yearly Meeting, the yearly meeting sent her out to do work on their behalf and minuted that she, as the yearly meeting clerk, could speak on behalf of the yearly meeting as long as it was in keeping with Friends’ historical testimonies, minutes the yearly meeting had approved, and in consultation with a support committee.
Patty L said that when she worked as a chaplain, being recorded meant that she had the denominational support and was able to be accepted in clinical pastoral education. Deborah S spent six months doing service work at an Anglican retreat center in Australia; she said that if she hadn’t been recorded (what they considered ordination), that door would not have opened up for her.
[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.]