Saturday, December 29, 2012


"You'll be ordained before you start school in the fall, right?"  Inger asked me as we were standing in line at a coffee shop.  

I'm generally not a superstitious person, but I quickly looked around for some wood to knock―sort of a shorthand for "if it is God's will."  

I said, "If all goes according to plan, I will be recorded as a minister by my meeting over the summer."

I have now mentioned a few times on this blog that I am in the recording process at Freedom Friends Church, but I haven't felt ready to write about it directly.  Even though I have actually been in the process for years now, it still felt tenuous.  But the process is going forward, and I don't feel like I can avoid writing about it any longer.

First, some definitions and background.  Friends do not ordain ministers.  That is because Friends do not believe that people can make ministers, only God can give gifts of ministry.  Instead, Friends observe and record the gifts of ministry.  As section 4-5.1 of Freedom Friends' Faith and Practice states,
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.
There are many yearly meetings around the world that still record ministers, but most liberal, unprogrammed Friends lay down the recording of ministers during the 20th century.  There were a variety of reasons for doing so, but my sense is that most of those Friends felt that recording ministers was inconsistent with the testimony of equality.

For those Friends who continue to record ministers, the recording processes vary greatly.  A few years ago, I interviewed a number of women from different yearly meetings who have been recorded as ministers.  That paper is available on my blog under the tag Gifts to Share.  

Last year, a task force at Freedom Friends looked at our Faith and Practice section on recording and created an annotated outline of the process.  They wrote, "This list presumes things going forward, it is possible at any point for the Friend, Clearness Committee, M and O or the Monthly Meeting to lay down or pause the process."  The task force also noted that the list is intended as a gentle framework with lots of room for flexibility and individuality.  The framework is:
  1. Ministry is observed and/or the Friend feels led towards ministry.
  2. Ministry and Oversight minutes step 1.
  3. The Friend Meets with Ministry and Oversight for prayer, guidance and first set of queries.
  4. Ministry proceeds.
  5. The Monthly Meeting is notified that a Friend is being advised.
  6. Ministry Proceeds
  7. Ministry and Oversight recommends that the Friend is entered into a season of discernment, possibly leading to recording. The Monthly meeting is asked for its blessing of this.
  8. A Clearness Committee is formed by M and O and the Friend with at least one member of M and O.
  9. The Clearness Committee meets with the Friend and considers the second set of Queries, the CC and Friend design a support and accountability framework, including a timeframe for meeting and reporting.
  10. Ministry proceeds.    
  11. CC occasionally reports to M and O and M and O reports to the meeting.
  12. When the CC feels that the Friends is ready to be recorded they let M and O know.
  13. M and O recommends recording to the monthly meeting
  14. The MM discerns the recording. 
  15. If approved, a certificate will be made and a celebration would be appropriate.
I have now met with a recording committee twice, so I think that means I am on step 10 of the process.  

My recording committee is made up of three Friends, two from Freedom Friends and one from Multnomah Monthly Meeting.  Our first meeting in November was mostly organizational: how often the committee would meet, what the structure of the meetings will look like, how long we expect this process to take, etc.  We agreed to meet once a month, with the hope that the committee will bring a recommendation to the monthly meeting by June.  In our December meeting, the committee listened patiently for about two hours as I recounted a time when my ministry went particularly badly.  The topic for our January meeting is "power."

I have had a number of clearness/support/care committees over the years and they have all been wonderful.  This committee is no exception.  I have been nervous each time before we have met, but I don't need to be.  These Friends listen deeply, ground our meetings in worship, and ask good and challenging questions.

As noted, it is possible at any point to lay down the process.  I almost did last summer.  I had received the meeting's blessing to go forward with the process and the next step was to ask Friends to be on my recording committee, but I was dragging my feet.  

It is always hard to ask people to be on a support committee, but the real reason I was stalling was that the Faith and Practice states that recorded ministers can "arrange for nurture and accountability through other means that they desire, such as requesting elders, clearness or care committees, or spiritual direction."  It seemed like, at the end of the recording process, I would be in the same position as at the start, and wondered why I should subject myself to a recording process.

But then I spoke with a friend from an FUM yearly meeting who casually mentioned in our conversation that she was in the recording process, but was not meeting the benchmarks. Friends tend to be pretty quiet about these things, so I hadn't even known that she was in the recording process.

For the next few days, my heart felt lighter when I thought about our conversation.  I realized that, although I know a couple young women who are in the recording processes through their yearly meetings, and I know a lot of young Friends who are gifted and active in ministry, I do not know a single recorded minister who looks like me.  That feels deeply wrong.  If Friends truly believe that God gives gifts of ministry to people of all ages, races, and genders, our recorded ministers should reflect that belief.

Of course, the deep question when it comes to recording (the question that runs through my mind and seems to be out in the world, even if people don't usually say it directly) is this:
Who do you think you are?
 Or, what makes you so special?  Why should you be recorded as a minister?

When I hear that voice, I take a deep breath and try to remember who I am.  My name is Ashley Marie Wilcox.  I am 31 years old. I am a member of Freedom Friends Church of the Religious Society of Friends.  I am a beloved child of God.  

I believe that God has entrusted me with gifts of ministry and that those gifts are not for me alone, but for my meeting and for the Religious Society of Friends as a whole.  I need my meeting to support me and hold me accountable in using those gifts, and I have found through (sometimes painful) experience that my ministry bears more fruit when I go through the processes my meeting has put in place to provide support and accountability.  

So, I am going forward with the recording process.  I am sure there will be highs and lows along the way, but I trust my meeting to hold me in this process and I have faith that all will be according to God's will.

[For more information about the recording process at Freedom Friends as well as readings about recording in general, see the Resources page on the Freedom Friends website.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ashley Applying to Seminary FAQ

Hey Ashley, I hear you are applying to seminary?

It's true, I am!

Are you applying to a Quaker seminary?  Are there Quaker seminaries?

There are Quaker seminaries, but no, I am not applying to a Quaker seminary.

So where are you applying?

I am applying to Candler School of Theology, in Atlanta, GA, Drew Theological School, in Madison, NJ, and Claremont School of Theology, in Claremont, CA.

Why those schools?

Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I chose those three is financial considerations―they all offer excellent financial aid.  I still have a significant amount of debt from law school and I am going to need quite a bit of financial aid if I am going to go to seminary.  

Additionally, these three seminaries seem great.  They are different from each other, but each one has aspects to its program that convinced me it would be a good fit for me and an excellent place to continue my education.

But why go to seminary at all?  You know you don't need to go to seminary to be a minister in the Religious Society of Friends, right?

I know.  As I have mentioned before, I am currently in the process to be recorded as a minister by my meeting, Freedom Friends Church.  If way opens, I will be recorded before I begin seminary.

The primary reason that I am applying for seminary is that I feel like that is what God is calling me to do.  I have felt this call for the past few years and tested it with people I trust to listen and be honest with me.  Throughout this time of discernment, I have felt clearer to go ahead and now feels like the right time.

But if you don't need to go to seminary to be a minister, why go?

A few reasons.  For a while now, I have carried a concern for supporting ministers in the Religious Society of Friends.  I believe that seminary will give me some of the tools I need to support those ministers.  I also think that a Master of Divinity will help me develop skills for sustained public ministry.  I tend to give ministry everything I have, and I hope that seminary will help me acquire some better boundaries and self-care in doing ministry.  Finally, I am interested in learning systematic theology, to give me perspective on the biases I unconsciously bring to ministry.

What do you plan to do after you graduate?

I am not sure, and that is scary!  As of now, there is not a specific, paying job for what I am feeling called to do.  But my experience of leadings is that I only get one step at a time.  Right now, I feel that God is leading me to apply to seminary, so that is what I am doing.

When will you know whether you got in?

At this point, I am hoping to get all of my applications done by mid-January.  I should hear back within the next few months.

What about being a lawyer?

I am a member of the Washington Bar Association; if I go to seminary, I will go on inactive status.  After I graduate, I will have the option of going back to being an active member of the bar if I choose.

How do your friends and family feel about this decision?

Everyone has been really supportive!  My close friends and family have been watching me over the past several years as I have felt called to ministry, and me going to seminary has seemed like a natural next step for many of them.  I am grateful to have so many wonderful, supportive people in my life.

Is there anything I can do?

You can pray for me.  I can always use prayer and especially in this time of transition.  I would also appreciate any information about scholarships I might not know about.  And if you feel led to support me financially, that would be great.

Any other questions?