Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Cost of Traveling Ministry

About a week ago, Jon Watts wrote a series of posts asking Friends for help discerning way forward.  Although his Clothe Yourself in Righteousness project has been extremely successful financially, he is not making enough money to support himself.  He is questioning whether to lay his music ministry down.

I was not surprised to read Jon's posts, though they did make me sad.  Over the past few years, I have become one of the Friends who serves as a "last door out" for people leaving Quakerism.  I hear from young Friends who have been active in ministry but feel they have to leave.  In these conversations, two themes have emerged: lack of spiritual support and lack of financial support.  

This post is about the need for financial support.  (For more on spiritual support, see the paper I wrote on spiritual nurture for young Friends traveling in the ministry.)

Traveling ministry is expensive.  I believe that Friends have misunderstood our tradition of "free gospel ministry" as ministry with no cost.  There is always a cost and, right now, most of that cost is falling on the traveling ministers.  

I have been fortunate to receive many grants and scholarships from Friends in doing traveling ministry, as well as donations from individuals.  However, I have always lost money when I have done traveling ministry.

As I was preparing to visit North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) this summer, I was thinking about how many Friends do not know the true cost of traveling ministry.  I wrote to a Friend on the yearly meeting planning committee and said that I was considering writing a post about the cost of traveling ministry, and asked if I could use NCYM-C as an example.  She graciously said I could, so I kept track of my expenses for the trip.

First, an explanation of the expenses and financial aid:

When I first felt led to visit NCYM-C, I wrote to a Friend in the yearly meeting about my leading.  She said that they would be happy to have me visit, but did not have money to pay for me to come.  So I applied for a grant from FWCC Section of the Americas for travel to and from the yearly meeting.  NCYM-C gave me a scholarship that covered my registration fee.

Apart from the travel costs, the most expensive thing about traveling ministry is the time it takes me away from my paid work.  I am fortunate to be employed and to have paid time off for vacation days and sick leave, and I mostly used that time for this trip.  Because these are paid days off, they did not actually cost me the amounts listed, but I could be using them for other things if I did not do traveling ministry.  In addition, I only had three vacation days saved up and I needed four days off work for the trip, so I took one day of leave without pay.  I also used one day of sick leave for a recovery day after I returned.  

I debated about including the expense for a massage, but I am trying to be as honest, accurate, and transparent as possible, and the truth is that traveling ministry is really hard on my body.  The combination of long hours traveling and spiritual work takes its toll, usually in my shoulders, back, and hips.  At various times, I have used acupuncture, physical therapy, and seen a chiropractor, but I have found that getting a massage right after traveling ministry is one of the best ways to readjust, so I include that in my budget when I travel.

Finally, even though I tried to include all of the expenses for the ministry here, there are some that I do not know.  While I was in North Carolina, Friends gave me rides to and from the airport and to annual sessions without accepting money for gas, gave me overnight hospitality, and fed me three meals outside of annual sessions.  I am grateful for their generosity.

Financial Aid
Round-trip flight from Portland to Greensboro
Travel grant from FWCC Section of the Americas
Taxi to shuttle

Shuttle from Salem to Portland airport

Gas for ride from Portland airport to Salem

NCYM-C annual session registration fee
Scholarship from NCYM-C
Food while traveling

Three paid vacation days

One day of leave without pay

One day of sick leave

Pet sitter


Total Expenses


Total Financial Aid


Difference between expenses and financial aid: $790

I am posting these numbers in the hope that they will start a conversation.  I am not asking for money (at least, not right now).  I had a wonderful time visiting NCYM-C; my leading was clear and I felt well-used while I was there.  At the same time, I have cut way back on the amount of time I spend doing traveling ministry, in part because of how costly it is.

I recently spoke about this with a Friend who is in her forties.  She said, "I just don't understand why those young Friends are burning themselves out."  For me, that comment reflected the lack of connection between many of the young Friends doing traveling ministry and the wider Quaker community.

So, like Jon, I have some questions for this largest clearness committee in the history of Quakerism:
  • Are young Friends mishearing the call from God to traveling ministry?
  • Does the Religious Society of Friends feel led to have a vibrant traveling ministry?
  • If so, how are Friends going to financially support that ministry?

*** UPDATE 9/18/12 ***

I realized to my chagrin today that I had completely forgotten to include in my budget the fact that, while I was traveling, a Friend quietly slipped me a check for $200 to help with traveling ministry.  So really, the total financial aid in my chart should be $1,035 and the difference between expenses and financial aid should be $590.  I am grateful to that Friend for the spontaneous gift and to all those who have done the same at various times.  That financial support from individuals is so encouraging and has made it possible for me to continue doing the work of traveling ministry.


  1. Thank you Ashley for raising really important questions.
    I wrote a post a few years ago about the other costs of traveling in the ministry that I think complements this one. Mothers as Traveling Ministers. My issues were all around children, but for others it may be pets, or eldercare or other commitments that can't be set aside, only handed off for a short time.

    I totally get why and how someone could get burned out in ministry, in a thousand different ways. What I don't understand is why someone would stop being a Quaker altogether because they were frustrated or burnt out over traveling in the ministry. That seems to me like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But I hear it frequently too, and it makes me sad. That is also a sign that we are not doing the Friends called to ministry any favors by not being upfront about how hard it is. So thanks again for moving the conversation along.

    1. Thanks for the comment and link, Robin! I have heard from other parents how hard it is to balance ministry and care for their children---and that includes serving on committees, or other service to their meetings. I think part of supporting ministry is to know the challenges each person faces. And, as always, I can only speak for myself, so I tried to be as specific about my own circumstances as possible here.

      I think one of the reasons that some young Friends leave altogether when they burn out on traveling ministry is because they do not feel a strong connection to their meetings (if they are members of a meeting at all). I have felt fortunate to be supported and known in my meetings, which has made a huge difference when traveling ministry has been hard.

    2. Thanks for the post. My mother is a UCC pastor, and even in this considerably more formal situation there is a general trouble of getting people to realize the cost of church/ministry/...etc. We are culturally used to the concept of paying for a cup of coffee and starbucks, but not at meeting.

      That being said, struggling with money is an important struggle, and how we balance each of our own ministry and feeding ourselves is an important problem. You have answered this struggle your own way, working in part to support your ministry, understanding that what is paid to you is really just deferring some of the cost.

      I very much want to support the vibrance of young people in Quakerism. But I also want to challenge young people to invest in their local meetings. There is a vibrance there that may not be as sexy, but is very real.


    3. Thanks for your comment, Craig. And, yes, I am all for young Friends investing in their local meetings! I have a hard time writing about things when I am in the middle of them, like I am with clerking my own meeting. It is easier for me to write about something I have a little more distance from, like traveling ministry. Maybe after I am done being clerk I will have more perspective on that type of involvement in my meeting and be able to write about it more.

  2. One of the key concepts that keeps coming back to me is the idea of sacrifice. You took about $790 that you could have used elsewhere, and you spent it on your trip. Whether or not it's a sacrifice is a matter of interpretation, but it's worth considering what your intentions were for the trip before making that judgement call. During the trip you get to be who you are called to be spiritually? Did you learn and make a contribution to others, and if so was that what you wanted? If it wasn't what you wanted, maybe the trip was a sacrifice in the "i am burdened and unhappy" sort of way. If not, it might be appropriate for the people you contributed to, to pay more of your costs, in keeping with the contribution you were able to provide... or it might be appropriate for you to shoulder that cost with joy and gratitude for your ability to share and provide for others. Either way, I applaud being realistic about the cost of such ministry. Let's all be willing to part with our money if it'll bring us real spiritual wealth.

  3. It's nice to hear from you, Julian, and I appreciate the two perspectives on sacrifice. I was dragging my feet when I thought about writing this post for a variety of reasons and I think one of them was that I didn't really want to know how much the trip cost. But looking back on it, I feel fortunate to have been there and like I made connections that I was supposed to make. I found the deep joy that doing God's work often brings, and I am grateful.

    1. you deserve way more , many churches are run by interest alone and they can certainly afford to pay you more , my heart is broken by the stingy comments that suggest you live in a tent to spread the Gospel
      especially in a nation of prosperity . its flat wicked to under pay people like you . you should be paid enough to make a living doing this , at least 40,000 per year and not a penny less , your a professional not a paper boy for crying out loud

  4. When I was an hourly freelancer, time was the most serious impediment to any kind of traveling ministry. If I counted all the hours prepping, traveling, and recovering, and calculated even a modest estimate of the lost income, it was quite depressing. It's hard to come back home to cold showers because we can't afford to pay the heating bill, knowing that if I worked through that weekend, we'd be flush.

    Family makes it all exponentially harder, especially in a religiously-mixed marriage (my wife was one of the burnt-out ones who finally left). When you have others, it's not just you making the sacrifice.

    But what makes it all bearable is the community, if you can find it. And I don't mean that in a superficialn way; more it's that sense of mutual recognition one feels upon meeting someone else who has prayed, sacrificed, and served. Knowing I'm not a lone nut in these leadings fortifies me and keeps me going.

    1. Hey, Martin! Yes, I am so grateful for the communities that I have found, both in person and online. It has been such a blessing to have my meeting's support through prayer and traveling minutes, and I cherish the connections I have with others who are doing the work.

  5. You are quite right about the free gospel ministry not meaning that costs were not covered, although I think that was sometimes a problem. The number of independently wealthy Friends who were active in the traveling ministry does seem like probably a higher proportion than would be explained just by spiritual gifts. I do think the assistance was based on need, so wealthy Friends were not given the assistance poorer Friends were.

    A lot of it was in-kind. People look after traveling ministers' farms and/or children if needed. Sometimes horses were provided for travelers. Wherever there was a Friends group being visited, there would be home hospitality which would take care of all lodging and food. But there was also actual money where needed. Margaret Fell managed the Kendal Fund, which disbursed funds to traveling ministers for their costs. I don't know about covering loss of income for people who were employed by others. That would have been a far lower proportion then. The majority were probably farmers, and the farm work would be done by others in the home Meeting.

  6. To add a bit to the expectations of the traveling minister: the clearness committee from one's home meeting was very important. What was the focus of the ministry?

    In particular with Friends like John Woolman, the process was not simply
    1)recognition of gifts in ministry or
    2)whether the Friends' circumstances permitted travel (This often involved the serious question "Could the meeting fill the needs of farm, family, or business?")

    Gifts and both the individual and corporate calling needed attention.

    My question about younger Friends serving as traveling ministers is somewhat more serious: Are their meetings attentive to both the spiritual gifts and the needs (cost of travel, etc.)as well as the spiritual need for support. If not, is the Friend with a concern for travel, teaching, or any other ministry) humble enough to ask the questions Jon is asking. In my experience (as an older adult Friend)there is little communication among age groups so that gifts of ministry are fully recognized... Young Friends are often left to their own devices. It may be that lack of spiritual support that is the "last door out."

    For instance, I would not travel without the full consent of my past committee of care, all of whom know me well. They have generously supported me this year (as well as my co-leader).

    What concerns me is the energy it takes (spiritual and physical), and that it most often takes an elder to attend to the mundane things -- as well as to keep the minister on track.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Christine. I will do my best to answer your questions!

      This trip, more than some I have taken, felt like true gospel ministry---a sense of being called in love to worship with a community without agenda. As I said in my report, as I was traveling to the annual sessions, I felt led to just be available. By the end, there was no one thing that felt like the "reason" I went, but I was grateful for opportunities for worship and conversation and the connections I made with Friends.

      I agree that having the spiritual support and accountability from one's home meeting is crucial. Before I committed to attend NCYM-C, I met with a clearness committee from my meeting. I had some concerns about my leading to travel because I had burned out on traveling ministry in the past. However, our meeting for clearness was filled with joy, and the committee encouraged me to follow the leading and to have fun while I was visiting NCYM-C. At present, my meeting does not have the funds to support me financially, but the spiritual support it has given me through prayer and traveling minutes has been a blessing.

      I also did not feel led to ask anyone to elder for me on this trip, which is unusual for me. I felt very supported while I was there, though. As I also noted in my report, there were a lot of folks there who had my back!

  7. We seem to have a misconception that earlier Friends travelling in ministry paid all of their own expenses. Apparently, they didn't.
    For instance, I remember my surprise in hearing about John Woolman's historic visit to Britain that the meeting being visited had a responsibility for sustaining the visitor and getting him or her on to the next destination, something that could impose quite a burden on the local community (especially when we consider the number of Americans who felt called to minister in England at the time). No wonder they wanted to sign his minute and send him on!
    More telling are the hints of the role travelling Friends played in the emerging Quaker business network on both sides of the Atlantic. Certainly, if they were carrying letters of introduction or even money or goods from one entrepreneur to another, there would have been some form of financial support. Maybe some historian can provide us with greater details on this dimension of our faith and practice.
    Among today's Friends, in contrast, what I find is that while we welcome visitation, we rarely provide support other than the occasional overnight housing or maybe an invitation to dinner after worship.
    Thank you for putting some of this in a dollars-and-sense perspective.

    1. Interesting history, Jnana! Thanks for the comment.

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