Monday, February 16, 2009

Support and Accountability

A few months ago, when Quaker Buddy and I were reading A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister, we talked about how we both really liked a story from the introduction describing an experience Samuel Bownas had as a young minister. When Bownas felt a concern to prophesy, he asked experienced Friends for their advice.
After a time of quiet, they gently told Samuel their sense that he was probably more influenced by his love for his friend Isaac than by the Holy Spirit. They did not, however, forbid him to preach; they simply advised him to wait, for if his concern were truly from God, it would grow stronger; if not, it would decrease. And so it proved; the concern gradually went away, and Samuel and Isaac were both much wiser ministers and more kindly spiritual guides because they themselves had been treated with such tenderness. (xxxii)
As we discussed this story, QB raised the question of whether this would happen now. We both felt like it probably would not. QB suggested that we don't know each other well enough in our spiritual communities to be able to know whether what one person believes to be a leading is truly from God.

Over the past few months, the group that started out as my clearness committee has agreed to be an ongoing support and accountability committee for me. Last week, I met with the three women from three generations who are now on the committee and I am again having a hard time finding the words to express my gratitude.

This meeting reminded me of the best parts of Quaker process. We worshiped together and listened and asked questions and tried to answer some. We also talked about how for Friends, feeling like God is telling you to do something is the first step, but it is crucial to test that leading in the community to see if others agree that the leading is truly from God. If Friends have that kind of support and accountability from our communities, we can then go forth to do God's work in the world with joy.


  1. Yes! Thank you for articulating this for me. This has been troubling me for some time but have struggled for balanced words to express it.

  2. This sort of thing does happen in some Quaker communities. I know it happens here in NCYM-C. What keeps it from happening more often is not any lack of the ability to listen deeply and discern what is from God and what is not. God hasn't changed and the needs and gifts of people haven't changed. What has changed and what often prevents this from happening now is that many individual Friends do not trust the process and don't ask for the advice from elders as Bownas did.

  3. I would expect that an enlightened community acknowledges that wisdom, knowledge, and concerned intelligence resides in younger people as well as with elders. I think in some cases the problem resides more in lack of trust in the fellowship and family of Friends than in young people being too big for their own britches. Before people speak from the most tender areas of their hearts, they like to feel those who will hear them have been listening all along. How do we develop trust in our communities if we do not develop bonds of love?

    I won't trust the advice of a Friend who has shown little interest in me as an individual no matter how weighty they are. Neither am I able to trust my own ability to discern whether or not a Friend (regardless of their age) is singing a discordant note if I am unfamiliar with their unique song.

  4. "QB raised the question of whether this would happen now. We both felt like it probably would not."

    I have been on both sides of this experience--of offering counsel for a Friend to wait/discern/test/wait further, as well as being offered such counsel.

    For me, this question speaks of a spiritual intimacy among Friends as well as having some knowledge and/or experience of the fruit that comes out of "waiting in the Light" when one is uncertain...

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  5. Thank you Ashley. You have offered a wonderful example to be savored by others who may be those who doubt or distrust the process. I believe we need more examples like this to demonstrate to those who have not been long in the Friends' process how our time-honored method works.


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