“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 4-5.1The 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.]