Friday, September 20, 2013

More Thoughts on Recording

The night before I went to preach at Camas Friends Church, I had a dream.  I dreamed that I was sitting in the Camas Friends meeting room, waiting to give the message.  In my dream, the announcements and introductions went on and on, and I began to get anxious that there would not be space for me to speak.  To my horror, I saw people standing to leave.  One by one, they quietly walked out of the room.  But when I looked to my right, I saw a small girl sitting on the bench next to me.  She looked up at me, her eyes wide, and said, "Are you going to be the preacher today?"  Then I woke up.

I have been in Atlanta for a month now, and it has been a bit of a bumpy landing.  There are things that I love about studying at Candler School of Theology: my classes are interesting, the professors are brilliant and entertaining, and my classmates are caring and thoughtful.  But I have also experienced a fair amount of culture shock.  I am adjusting to living in the South and being a full-time student again after several years of working as a lawyer.  I am also the only Quaker in a Methodist seminary, which has its own challenges.

One thing I did not anticipate was how big of a deal my recording would be here.

Because it is the beginning of the year, I often find myself in classrooms where we go around the room and introduce ourselves.  For many of my classmates, the introduction goes like this:  "My name is Jessie and I am United Methodist, on the ordination track in the North Georgia Conference."

When it's my turn to introduce myself, I usually say, "My name is Ashley and I am a Quaker (a member of the Religious Society of Friends).  I am a recorded Quaker minister (the Quaker version of ordination)."  

When I say that, people's eyebrows go up.  They shift in their chairs.  Last week, a professor said to me, "So, you're just here for the education."

It's true.  For many of my classmates, they need to go to seminary in order to be ordained in their denominations.  As a Friend, I do not need the degree to be a minister (in fact, several Friends tried to talk me out of it before I came here).

I am grateful for my recording, and it is still new enough that I am trying to figure out what it means to me and for my ministry.  I sometimes think it means more to non-Friends than it does to Friends.

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend who should be recorded. She has a clear call to ministry and has been deeply involved in public ministry among Friends, which is bearing fruit. But her yearly meeting does not record ministers. 

She said that, in a conversation with another minister, she blurted out, "I wish they would just record me!" The other (recorded) minister reminded her that recording is not something to take lightly. 

While I agree on one level, I also think that, when someone is doing public ministry, eventually the lack of recording can become a burden, and it is a burden that the meeting should take up. It is the responsibility of the meeting to provide support and accountability for public ministers, and recording is the way that Friends traditionally have shown their intention to provide that support and accountability. 

I also think this weighs heavier on women than men. It is true that yearly meetings that do not record ministers do not discriminate between women and men (neither are recorded). However, that does not take into account all of the voices that women hear telling them that they cannot do ministry. There are entire denominations that will not allow women to preach or even teach men. It is still unusual for a little girl to hear a woman preach. And when Friends say that they will not record ministers, that is one more voice telling women that they cannot be ministers.

Recording is important, Friends. Especially the recording of women. We need to take a look around and recognize the gifts that God has given to our meetings and find ways to support the Friends who are sharing those gifts with us.


  1. Thanks for this, Ashley. This issue came up in my meeting some years ago when a Friend suggested the meeting record me as a public minister.(I refer to this in a piece I wrote published in the latest Quaker Life.)Quite frankly, I didn't know how to react and in the end we decided not to do it which I think was the right thing for my meeting at the time. We did not have (and still do not have) the structures in place to support such a recording. We have lost the knowledge of what recording a minister means. I have since spent quite a bit of time discussing the issue with Conservative Friends (as well as about the naming of Elders). I now believe that recording is, on balance, a good thing because it brings with it accountability and gives the meeting the structures within which to support and guide the minister. The mere suggestion of recording me as a minister had the effect of making me take any gift for public ministry that I may have much more seriously. I have intended to ask a number of Friends to serve as a committee to both support and guide me when I outrun my ministry (an ever present danger). I have yet to do it, however, because I feel somewhat reluctant to ask people to give up time for my care and feeding. Hence the need for an established structure and process within the meeting. As far as I know, however, there is not a lot of movement among liberal Friends to re-institute the practice. I feel a little as if I am twisting in the breeze.

    1. Thank you for sharing some of your experiences, Patricia. I have also felt that my recording has made me take what I say in ministry more seriously. At the same time, it has given me more confidence. A part of me feels like, if someone has a problem with my ministry, s/he can take it up with my meeting.

  2. Last time I looked, Philadelphia still has recording in its Faith and Practice, though it's couched as something we don't generally do. It is a shame. There's that in-between when one is testing out their gifts when some sort of meeting process would be helpful. Samuel Bownas has a great chapter on supporting and guiding "infant ministers" and I wish we were all prepared to help members discern and if necessary bridge this awkward fledgling time.

    Back in the day, I considered photocopying the F&P section on recording and suggesting to my meeting that the work I was doing was too far over the ministerial line not to be recorded--that we both needed it for accountability and recognition. But I never did. I realized my meeting probably wouldn't know what to do with a request and even more wouldn't know what to do with a credentialed minister in its minute book. For me it would have been a piece of paper to wave around to no one in particular. So I let it drop. When I was nominated for a Pickett Fellowship, I had to ask them for a minute saying I was doing good work. It was a good process and I'm grateful to Pickett to forcing us all into doing _something_. But it fell quite a bit short of a minute of gospel ministry and even now I have really been stretched in the ways of vocal ministry by any of my communities. It may be that I'm a better writer/organizer than a vocalist--but it also might be we don't know what to do to nurture gifts of vocal ministry so potential practitioners do other things.

    1. Hey, Martin. Yes, I was just recommending Bownas to someone the other day. Still one of the best writings for new ministers. And I know at least one person who was recorded by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting: Vail Palmer (now a recorded minister at Freedom Friends Church).

      One of the problems for people called to ministry in yearly meetings that do not have a practice of recording is that the minister also ends up having to teach the meeting about the recording process. That educating requires different gifts, and the minister is not always called to it. It can also be a tender thing. I am glad to hear that your meeting was able to support you with the minute for the Pickett Grant, but I wish it could have done more.

    2. Although I've since served as a pastor, I was glad that Indiana Yearly Meeting was willing to record me when my public ministry involved serving Friends World Committee for Consultation as field staff and Right Sharing of World Resources coordinator, and the prospect of serving as a pastor was not in sight.

      Years ago, in conversations at Canadian Yearly Meeting, and in discussions on the floor during CYM sessions, I remember hearing it pointed out that recording ministers would be very helpful for those Canadian Quakers who wanted to serve in prison ministry. One of the objections, as I remember it, was that there weren't Friends in prison to minister to. I thought it was a bit odd that some people assumed that ministry was meant only to be for Friends, and also that there would be no Friends in prison.

    3. That is strange, Johan! Especially considering how many Friends were imprisoned historically.

      A meeting I was a part of for a few years did a kind of pro forma recording for people who were involved in prison ministry or working as chaplains in other ways. It was nice that the meeting wanted to support those Friends in what they felt called to do, but I think there was a general sense that the meeting could do more to provide support and accountability than just sign a piece of paper once a year.

      I also think that Friends' recordings show how broadly our understanding of ministry is. As in your experience, it is not just for pastors, like in some denominations.

  3. I'm also in one of those Yearly Meetings (New York) that can record ministers but usually doesn't - at least not in the unprogrammed meetings.

    I feel that recording of ministers would be beneficial as a way for Meetings to recognize gifts and hold Friends accountable for exercising them faithfully in the Meeting. However, the fact that - as you say - recording presently means more to non-Friends to Friends is a warning sign to me that it would be a mistake for Friends to rush back into recording. We might do it for reasons of public relations that have little connection to the historic role of ministers in our meetings for worship.

    I also question whether we should connect recording too closely with "public" ministry. I don't think the status of recorded minister should be a credential that is waved around in non-Quaker settings to get the rights and priveleges enjoyed by pastors and priests. In this I think I am out of step with most Friends in unprogrammed meetings who are opening up to the revival of recording.


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