Monday, June 27, 2011

Gifts to Share - Part 7

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  I Thessalonians 5:11.
Despite some of the challenges of ministry, all of the women I spoke with said that they would encourage woman feeling a call to ministry to follow that call.  Peggy P said, “Do it, do it, do it.  Try lots of different things.”  Darla S said to consider the costs: it is not an easy road and it is never fair, “but if you say 'this is who I am and I can’t be anything else,' then let’s journey together.” 

Ann M and Deborah S urged women ministers to seek out a strong system of support, in a support and accountability committee or a far-flung constellation of friends, ministers, and elders.  Ann M suggested including at least one older woman minister as a guide.  She said, “Meet regularly with this committee and share faithfully with them what is happening for you.  Seek and discern the Holy Spirit's guidance together.  You will be giving them a gift by so doing as well as receiving yourself.”  Deborah S added that it is essential to spend time in prayer and alone with God and to be careful not to let go of the time in reflection and processing. 

Patty L said that she would love to encourage women feeling called to ministry, to be supportive of their strengths and challenge their timidity, and listen, and understand when things weren’t the same for them as the were for men.  Deborah S said to go for it, be joyful, follow your heart, and make sure you have training in dual careers!  Linda C emphasized the importance of dwelling in the Spirit; she said to sink low and remain close to the seed, go deep, and to pray in all things:  “It’s hard work, but there’s joy in it, and fun!”

[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.]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gifts to Share - Part 6

Why Record Women Ministers?
“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.]

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gifts to Share - Part 5

Being a woman in ministry
“Sisters, hear the Truth.  Listen to the echo in your own soul that rises up to this news with joy.  Courageously take a stand against the lies, in your own life and the world around you.  You are beautiful, you are good, goodness awaits you.  Delight will one day again be yours, start walking towards it!”  Peggy Senger Parsons, Messages to a Refugee Planet.
As one would expect in such a diverse group, the women I spoke with had very different responses about how their gender affected their experience.  Most of them felt that their gender had affected their experience in one way or another, that it worked in their benefit or presented special challenges.

Deborah S said that part of her ministry is through touch, a healing touch―she hugs people a lot, and she thinks that would be less acceptable if she were a man.  Deborah knows that people have felt calmed because she was touching them.  She shared a story about how she was in the cafeteria at Guilford College one day and saw two girls that she knew.  The girls were so stressed out, the way college students are.  Deborah said, “I just put my hands on their heads, and I didn’t mean it like I was blessing them, but I was.”  She didn’t think about it in the moment, but later realized that was pretty amazing, to have the position she has in campus ministry, where people are like, “Oh yeah, she does that.”

A common experience was feeling left out because of being a woman.  Patty L said that when she was in seminary, some of the guys had a basketball team, and she decided that she would play.  She found that the way she played basketball was very different from the way the men played basketball; they were much more independent and competitive.  Where Patty was into passing and sharing and giving everybody a turn, the men were into shining!  Patty said that it didn’t work, and she couldn’t change things because some of the men playing were her professors.  In the end, she didn’t play for very long, and mostly the differences resulted in her being kept her out of the game.

Patty’s experiences were similar as a recorded minister in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM): she felt odd and not “one of,” because almost everyone else there was male.  The men all knew the same people and didn’t let her in.  Patty said that when she had other women where were in ministry, it was much easier, because they understood each other and the necessity of support, working together, and lifting each other up.  Patty said that her husband thought she would make a great pastor of a church, and would pick churches with lots of members and suggest she work there.  Patty would tell him that they wouldn’t accept her as a pastor, but he didn’t believe that, or it didn’t register in his gut like it did with her.

Various women I spoke with talked about how there still are not many women who are pastors of large Friends churches; most of the women pastors are at small churches and there are still some Friends churches that will not consider hiring a female pastor.  Darla S said that she is at Rivers Way Community, a small house church, because of gender.  Darla also commented that she doesn’t want to be at a regular church and have to battle and invest time in narrow-mindedness. 

Deborah S said that when she was in Iowa, she felt like she was always the person pointing out that others were using gendered language, such as “We’re having a meeting for ministers and their wives.” (There were about two female ministers in the yearly meeting at the time.)  She said it got old to always be the one having to say, “Can we broaden that?  Can we think about that?  What about a woman speaker?” 

In North Carolina, Deborah said she still has to do that occasionally, but there are more female pastors, as well as more male pastors who really care about affirming women in ministry.  However, Deborah said that overall, her experience has been very positive.  She thinks gender has worked in her favor: it’s something new, something different, people haven’t wrapped their minds around it, and spiritual doors have opened simply because she is female.

Some of the women talked about how it took them a long time to find their voices, which they think is related to being a woman.  Patty L feels that her own lack of self-confidence is part of being a woman in addition to being who she is, that many women have a preference for hiddenness and, to some extent, a preference to blame other people, rather than claim their own strength and power. 

Deborah S said it has taken her a long time to grow in confidence in the ministry, and she thinks that has a lot to do with being a woman. Deborah said that as a woman, she has to be careful not to abdicate her voice or always be below the radar.  She hopes that when there is a moment where there is something to say that will be hard for people to hear, that she will be ready to say it and not shrink back.

[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.]

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.]

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gifts to Share - Part 3

Recording Processes
“We recognize that God gifts and calls some individuals to sustained and public service. We recognize that God ordains these individuals. Friends can only recognize and record their gifts and calls. The purpose of this recording is to nurture and hold accountable these individuals and to give them the benefit of community discernment in the exercise of their gifts for the benefit of Friends and the world.”  Freedom Friends Church Faith and Practice 4-5.1
The recording processes varies significantly between different monthly and yearly meetings.  In some places, the recording process takes place at the yearly meeting level; in others, the monthly meeting records ministers and holds their recordings, which are then received (not approved) by the yearly meeting.  

In my conversations, I found that the yearly meetings with primarily programmed meetings and pastors had the most involved processes for recording.  In Northwest Yearly Meeting (EFCI), the recording process usually takes two to three years after the monthly meeting recommends a minister for recording.  Those in the recording process go through a series of interviews with a recording committee, do required readings, meet monthly with a mentor, write a statement about their faith, and have a final interview with the yearly meeting Elders before their recording is presented to the yearly meeting for approval.  

Similarly, when Deborah S went through the recording process in Iowa Yearly Meeting, the yearly meeting looked at Deborah’s transcripts from seminary, saw the areas that were lacking, and made up a study course for her.  She also met with a mentor monthly.  Deborah said that she thought that meeting with the mentor was good, but readings and reports were not the best way for her to learn or integrate material.

Because many unprogrammed meetings have discontinued recording ministers, two of the women I talked with who were recorded in unprogrammed meetings were the first in their meeting to go through the recording process.  When Linda C was recorded in Croton Valley Friends Meeting, she thinks she was the first person in New York Yearly Meeting to be recorded in an unprogrammed meeting (other recorded ministers in the yearly meeting were in programmed meetings).  

Linda described a dream she had the night before she met with her clearness committee.  She dreamed that she was in the meetinghouse, waiting for the committee.  When they arrived, she took them downstairs because she wanted to show them her family’s china, which was in a china cabinet.  She said she wanted to show it to them very much because it was meaningful and precious, but she was afraid that they might not understand the significance of it.  

When Linda met with her clearness committee the next day, she told them this dream, and explained that she wanted to share something with them that was so deep and so precious and so divine, that she wanted to make sure that they could receive it, and she was reluctant to bring it out.  Linda said that she felt a deep call and wanted to serve, and if she had not been able to, she couldn’t imagine anything more painful; it would be like taking the china out of the closet and having some say “Put it away,” or “I’ll tell you when we’ll use it and when we won’t,” or “Whoops!  Dropped it!”
Linda said that when she was in the recording process, the discernment process that her clearness committee was going through was significant as well, because they had never thought about gifts within themselves in that way.  The clearness committee met with Linda, her family, and the monthly meeting, and gathered letters of recommendation from her meeting, her quarter, and teachers from the School of the Spirit program that Linda had participated in.  Linda wrote about her spiritual journey and prepared a resume about the ministry she had done.  

The clearness committee recommended her recording to the coordinating committee, which brought it to the yearly meeting ministry and counsel for approval.  Then, Linda’s recording was brought before the yearly meeting body to receive the recommendation (not to approve it).  Linda said this was a big deal for New York Yearly Meeting because there are Friends in the yearly meeting who do not believe in the recording process, and it meant so much to her to be recorded as a “minister of Christ in the Religious Society of Friends.”  Reflecting on the recording process, Linda said that she felt like it brought out that which she didn’t even know she had.

In North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), recording is a decision made by the monthly meeting, which is then reported to the yearly meeting; the understanding is that the yearly meeting can’t be present at the monthly meeting level to observe the minister, and the yearly meeting trusts that each faith community is being present to the spirit of Christ and faithful in their deliberations.  

When an elder in her meeting recommended Deborah S for recording, her monthly meeting had never recorded anyone, and there was a sense that they didn’t need to do that anymore.  The matter came to the monthly meeting for business.  It was presented that Deborah was doing public ministry and recommending that the meeting record her as a public Friend.  People in the meeting said that they didn’t doubt Deborah was doing those things, but they felt that recording was unequal, and didn’t want to be about that.  Not everyone in the meeting felt that way, but it was strongly voiced.
For at least a year, whether to record Deborah came up every month, but people didn’t feel like they could get comfortable about it.  Deborah said that at first, she was able to keep it separate from herself, that they were talking about ministers and whether the meeting records when a gift of ministry is coming through, but after a while, it began to wear her down and she couldn’t separate it from herself anymore.  Finally, she asked that the request be laid down.  

Soon after, the Friend who had been most vocally opposed then decided that because Deborah didn’t have the “credential” of being a recorded minister, pastors in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) weren’t taking her seriously.  The Friend wrote a letter to the meeting talking about the issues, which was read in business meeting.  The matter was brought up the next meeting, and Deborah was recorded.  Deborah said that by the time it actually happened, she felt very distanced from the process and was able to take it with great equanimity.  In the end, she felt like the process was exactly what it needed to be, for her and for the meeting.

[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.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gifts to Share - Part 2

Coming from Other Faith Traditions
“But who is God here?  God is known and experienced as an inner power.  This is where Quaker theology is crucial.  Divine authority and power are located within the woman minister.  This gives the amazing potential for the woman to claim dynamic power, agency and authority―a radical potential in light of a general social context which acted to ensure female passivity and conformity.”  Maureen Graham, Women of Power and Presence: The Spiritual Formation of Four Quaker Women Ministers.
Most of the women that I interviewed grew up in faith traditions other than the Religious Society of Friends.  Several of the stories had common themes: feeling a clear call to ministry at a young age, but not being able to follow that call because the denomination did not allow women in ministry.  Many said that the fact that Friends allowed women in ministry was one of the things that attracted them to Friends.

Darla S’s story mirrors many of the themes women shared of growing up in denominations that did not allow women in ministry.  Darla, now a pastor and recorded minister in Northwest Yearly Meeting, grew up in a Baptist church and felt called to be a minister in high school.  She quickly found that there wasn’t space for her to be a minister in that tradition, but she was told that she would make a great pastor’s wife.  Darla said that being up front wasn’t even something that crossed her mind, because she knew that it wasn’t allowed.  As an adult, Darla and her husband joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ.  The leaders of that organization told her that, because she had small children, she had to quit her job and her ministry and stay home with the children.  

Years later, Darla learned about Friends while she was studying at George Fox Evangelical Seminary.  She was intrigued by the history of egalitarianism from the beginning.  Looking back on her experiences, Darla said, “It was a long journey . . . it took me a while to understand that my voice was equal to anybody else’s voice, and that my call was equal to anybody else’s call.”

[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.]

Gifts to Share - Part 1

“I am 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.”  II Timothy 1:5-7.
As I started doing research on women from the different branches of Friends who have been recorded as ministers, I realized that this topic is fraught.  People have strong feelings about whether Friends should record ministers at all, and about women in ministry.  Instead of addressing these issues in the abstract, the purpose of this paper is to share some of the stories of seven women who have been recorded as ministers by monthly or yearly meetings in the United States.  

The women I spoke with come from various branches of Friends: Conservative, Liberal, Evangelical, Independent, FGC, and FUM.  Most have been to seminary, many at Earlham School of Religion or George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and three participated in the School of the Spirit program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer.  Their ministries are as diverse as they are.  They work as pastors, in counseling, teaching, leading retreats and workshops, clerking committees and monthly and yearly meetings, chaplaincy, mentoring, and campus ministry.  

As a young minister, I found their stories fascinating and encouraging, and I hope others will too.

[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.]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quakers and Shakers

A message I gave on April 1, 2011:

The stories we tell are important.  Lately, I have been hearing a lot about Shakers.  I always thought that the Shakers died out because they were celibate.  That is the story we tell about them.  It is a comforting story for us as Friends, because we are not celibate (most of us, anyway), so we think we are not making the same mistake the Shakers did.

A few years ago, I learned that the story I had heard about the Shakers wasn't true.  Their celibacy may have contributed to their religion dying out, but really, they died because the story they told themselves did not match their reality.  They believed that the kingdom of God had come and was here on earth, and they could not survive the disappointment when they found that it was not fully realized.

What stories do we tell about ourselves as Friends?  What do we put our faith in?  Will we be able to survive if we are disappointed?  What stories should we be telling?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Report on Visiting Capitol Hill Friends

“Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.”  Hebrews 13:1.
It was very good to visit our brothers and sisters in Christ at Capitol Hill Friends.  On the evening of Sunday, May 15, I attended their meeting for worship, which began with a potluck meal.  After dinner, we spent time worship sharing in response to a query.  Then we sang a few songs and settled into an hour of waiting worship.  The worship was deep and lively.  I felt led to speak, as did several other Friends.  After worship, we had time for prayer requests.  We spent about three hours together that evening.

I asked my friend Jessica J to come with me as my elder.  Jessica is not a Quaker, but she is my best friend and went with me to Freedom Friends the first time I attended.  As a result of being my friend and following my blog, I think she knows a lot more about traveling ministry than many Friends do!  She was surprised that some at Capitol Hill Friends didn’t know about traditions such as traveling minutes and traveling with an elder.  After worship, when Jessica and I were walking back to the metro, I asked how she was doing, and she said she was surprised by how tired she was.  I said, yes, that’s how eldering is!

On Monday afternoon, I met with four people from Capitol Hill Friends for Opportunities, spending half an hour with each person in worship, prayer, and conversation.  All of the Opportunities were lovely, and they were very different from each other.  It was good practice for me in meeting people where they were, and I think it was a good experience for everyone.  I was especially grateful for the time I spent with Faith K and Micah B and for the chance to see how they are growing in their ministries and in their relationship with God.  After the Opportunities, I shared another meal with Friends.

Many of the things that Friends did at Capitol Hill Friends were similar to our practices at Freedom Friends, but I think their practice of answering a query might interest people in our meeting.  The query Friends discussed the evening I was there was:
How do we bear our testimony that God's creation is good and should be honored? What steps are we taking to reduce our destructive impact on the creation? How are we being called as a church to repent of our materialism and thoughtless consumption that leads to the destruction of countless plant and animal species, as well as untold human suffering? How are we careful to practice good stewardship of the material resources that God has blessed us with, remembering that all the earth is the Lord's and that we are ultimately answerable to God for our actions?
Friends shared their individual responses to the query out of worship.  Micah took notes on the things Friends shared and crafted a corporate response, which he then read back.  Friends planned to share their corporate response to the query with New City Friends in Detroit and receive New City Friends’ response to the same query.

I have been doing more ministry as an elder than as a minister lately and one thing I noticed in doing this work was how much better it felt to be going as a minister than as an elder.  I still had all my usual doubts, but it felt deeply right to be traveling as a minister―it felt like stretching out.  I am grateful to Freedom Friends for sending me out with your blessing and I am grateful to Capitol Hill Friends for their warm welcome and hospitality.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Gifts

[As part of the final project for the School of the Spirit, the teachers asked us each to write a narrative describing the particular gifts we bring to the ministry of spiritual nurture, not to exceed two pages.]

I don’t think I can talk about the gifts that I bring to a ministry of spiritual nurture without first saying something about how I have come to understand gifts.  Gifts are from God, and God prepares the person for the gift through life experiences, good and bad.  God gives these gifts to an individual for the community.  If we don’t have a shared understanding that gifts are for the community, it can be easy to fall into envy or a tendency to admire and isolate the person with the gift, which keeps the community from fully receiving the benefits and taking on the responsibilities of the gift.

A few months ago, I took an online test called, “What are my spiritual gifts?”  I did it for fun, because another friend had recommended it.  After answering all the questions, the program listed my spiritual gifts as follows:
  • Intercession/Prayer
  • Faith
  • Writing
  • Prophecy
  • Knowledge
I laughed when I read the list and thought it was a little spooky, because those seem right.

Prophecy.  Prophecy has been the hardest gift for me to accept, and the one that has been most present for me through the School of the Spirit program.  It has almost become a joke that visiting teachers and persons of presence come in and suggest that I have the gift of prophecy.  It is a scary gift, because prophets say powerful and disturbing things, and the people who hear their messages do not seem to like them much.  For me, I think it means speaking truth, all the time.  I don’t always know when something I have said is prophetic, but I know that I must speak up and say true things.  I believe that I am growing in this.

Intercession/Prayer.  Prayer comes naturally to me and is a full-body experience for me.  I grew up surrounded by prayer, in my home, school, and church, and it feels like the obvious response to the things that happen in life.  I do not understand how intercessory prayer works, but I believe that it does.  I also know that my gift in vocal prayer has touched people, particularly those who do not have much experience with vocal prayer.

Writing.  I know that I am fortunate in being able to write easily and well.  This is also the gift I have that has benefited from the most formal training.  As a literature major in college and through law school, I worked hard to become the best writer I could be.  I don’t think that my teachers and professors expected that I would use those skills in ministry, but I am glad to have them.  Through writing, I am able to reach people that I would not be able to reach otherwise, and my messages can have more of a lasting impact.

Knowledge.  I think that the gift of knowledge is somewhat related to the gift of prophecy.  It is also a hard one to describe.  I am an empath, intuitive, and bright, and that sometimes makes me seem like a mind reader.  While I can’t actually read other people’s minds, I do sometimes experience their emotions, particularly when I am doing ministry.  I also have an intuitive understanding of systems of power and how to use them, which can make me a good leader and a good instigator.

Faith.  I think this may be my most important gift.  I feel the presence of God all around me, and I see it in others.  I know that God is real, and I help other to feel that presence.  I hope that my faith impacts every decision I make, and that my faith is visible to everyone I encounter.

I am grateful to God for these gifts, even as I struggle to use them faithfully, and I hope and pray that my faith community will give me support and hold me accountable so that I can use them for the good of all.