Friday, May 4, 2012


"Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all and hold on to what is good . . ."  I Thessalonians 5:19-21.
One of my spiritual gifts is prophecy. 

I have said that sentence so many times, I forget sometimes that it might sound strange to others.  Regardless, it is true.  I have had that gift affirmed by Friends many times, in earnest and teasingly (friends who know me well like to say things like, “And then Ashley said, in her prophetic way . . .” or “How did you know that I needed that?  You must be a prophet!”).

Of course, when I say it for the first time to someone new, that inevitably leads to a discussion of what prophecy means.  My personal definition of prophesying is:  Telling the truth, all the time.  Thomas Merton has a much fancier definition:
To prophesy is not to predict, but to seize upon reality in its moment of highest expectation and tension toward the new.  This tension is discovered not in hypnotic elation, but in the light of everyday experience.
(Borrowed from Jan Hoffman and Kenneth Sutton’s piece in Walk Worthy of Your Calling, p. 153.)

Merton's definition also works for me―I tend to see things both as they are and as they might be, which can be quite painful at times.  Perhaps a more palatable way to say it is that I am intuitive and empathetic, with a gift for speaking to the present moment.

One thing I have learned is that prophets are mirrors, not problem-solvers.  The prophet's job is to deliver the message; it is up to the people listening to decide what to do with it.  In practical terms, that means I usually don't have answers when people ask me, "What are you going to do to fix this problem you have named?"

I am not alone.

Far from it.  There are many others like me―what an older Friend recently referred to as my "litter."  Young adult Friends with strong, prophetic voices, doing powerful ministry in spite of the odds.

We recognize each other, sometimes without ever having met.  The forms of our ministry vary, but we see the same call in each other.  We stay in touch over long distances, through email and social media.  When there are opportunities for us to meet in person, either individually or in groups, the energy is amazing.  But those opportunities are often few and far between.

There is a high level of burnout in this group, for a variety of reasons.  The work is hard.  Although a few of us have found ways to support themselves through ministry, most have other jobs in addition to doing this work.  Some of us have spiritual support from our meetings, others do not.  We feel the pressure of representing our generation, that there is little room for error. 

And sometimes it feels like we are yelling but no one has ears to hear . . . or they listen only long enough to shut us down.

After burning out, some leave Friends altogether.  But others of us stay, because this is our home.

 I recently had the opportunity to gather with some of these ministers at the World Conference of Friends.  I have connected with others since returning home.  My interactions with these Friends were enlivening and challenging, and gave me fresh energy for the work ahead.  

I know that we can't stay at these gatherings forever, that our work is also to go back out in the world.  But it also feels wrong for us to go back to our individual struggles to make ends meet, each of us trying to figure out how to do this ministry on our own.

I am left with the question:  What would the Religious Society of Friends look like if this rising group of ministers had the support, nurture, and accountability to thrive?


  1. Ashley, thanks for this posting from your experience. I wonder how your experience differs from those who do not name themselves minister yet have prophetic voices that accompany them wherever they go in the world?

  2. Speaking from my experience: I left the "world" of public education where I had reached the penultimate (and my own, at the time, ultimate)level, to enter the world of "Friends Education." I had been called a "man ahead of his time," etc. and had been promoted invited to an NSF academic year and a doctoral program, etc. all by the age of 30. For various reasons, some "major" like the death of my father, I gave up a substantial financial and "professional" position for a low paying "Friends education" position.
    I thus entered what appeared to me at the time a way to be true to my deepest leadings as well as to my family of wife and 3 children. Within "Friends Education" I was "led" to leave one position, fired by two other Heads of school who said I was "too Quakerly" and had other such situations. I was essentially "forced into early retirement," etc.

    However, in retrospect, given the same circumstances I am not sure I could have or would have done anything differently. I always had the "support" of some close f(F)riends at each location, and still connect with some of those from a while ago. I was recognized by the State of Ohio as a minister of a Friends Meeting and was recorded as a minister in New York YM (from an unprogrammed Meeting), but these carried little "weight" at the time or since.

    I don't know that I had any "impact" on the Religious Society of Friends and I am not sure "prophets" in any age are ever assured of a "comfortable" existence in which to thrive.

  3. People tend to think of "being a prophet" as 'a property of a particular person.'

    The way Quakers hold our meetings... suggests that this is a connection between people in general, and God. Some people will be more experienced, better at-- as you say-- saying things as they are (while including enough of the 'Might Be' to challenge the rest.) One reason for "recording ministers" in some branches was a recognition that some people could be, needed to be more practiced at filtering "the taste of the pipes" from their outflow... but a true message might come to anyone with the willingness to speak it.

    One might not even feel "prophetic" at the time, just called to say a certain thing... and be astonished, years later, to learn that someone was in that meeting, and heard that message, and has done something one never imagined with it.

  4. Friend Ashley, I love your opening quote from Paul's letter and from Merton and your effort to support prophetic ministry. You are a true Friend! I have written a blog entry on this theme and hope to encourage further dialogue. See If we encouraged prophetic ministry the way we do clerking, the Religious Society of Friends could become what God intends for us to be--a voice for social transformation that could save the world from its heart-breaking inadequacy...

    1. Thank you, Friend! Blessings on your discernment and ongoing conversations.


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