The Religious Society of Friends, Minutes of Travel, and Me

 

 

If you are just interested in reading the Minute of Travel, click right here, otherwise, here goes:

 

This post serves a kind of two-fold purpose, the latter of which is more significant:

 

1) to share with my extended community the Minute of Travel I now carry, and 2) to explain my sense of what a Minute of Travel is, i.e. to articulate my understanding of ministry and carrying a concern within the tradition of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

 

The former I want to share because there are those with whom I have connection that might want to see the document, that latter because I think it might be worth sharing another perspective on ministry and travel as Friend. I'm bothering to type up all this so that Google can find it and so that it is in the Cloud in the event others might want access to text. There is not a whole lot written on this topic and I thought it might be of use/interest to someone out there.

For the purposes of trying to make this accessible to those who might not know Quakerese, I'll try to articulate things in such a way that they avoid jargon unless it has explanation.

 

[Note: I am part of a local Meeting congregation that is in the unprogrammed tradition of the RSoF, what is often referred to as Liberal Quakerism and is associated with two of the four sub-sects of of the RSoF. Through New York Yearly Meeting (which is something akin to a Conference in other denominations) I am connected to Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting. The other two forms of the RSoF are the small numbers of Conservative Friends and the Evangelical Friends Church International] For more info about these sub-types of The Religious Society of Friends, check out this video around minute 2:03.

 

If that was enough, and now you're just interested in reading the Minute of Travel, it is still right here, otherwise, here is the rest: 

 

Short Version

A Travel Minute is a document issued when someone feels called to Ministry outside of his/her local congregation. It states the nature of the ministry to which the indivual is called and bears the endorsement of at least the local congregation. Depending on the extent/breadth of the work the person anticipates, sometimes it will have endorsements from Quarterly Meetings (composed of multiple local Meetings) and/or Yearly Meetings (composed of many Quarterly Meetings). My minute was issued and endorsed by Rochester Monthly Meeting on April 18, 2010, endorsed by Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting on May 23, and endorsed by New York Yearly Meeting on November 13. More-or-less, the Minute is documentation of a gathered congregational body's clearness that the contents of the Minute are right and true by their discernment.


Long Version

Often times people (sometimes Friends themselves) are under the impression that The Religious Society of Friends (RSoF) has no ministers. This is wrong on at least two counts.

First, two of the four (Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International) strands of the RSoF regularly do appoint or "raise up" pastors to assist congregations with their growth and life in the Spirit. These congegations are often referred to as Pastoral or Programmed Meetings and sometimes as Friends Churches.

 

Second, and more theologically significant, even aside from the pastoral tradition, the RSoF has always had ministers: it is not that ministers were done away with, it is that the notion of laity was abolished. All were/are called to ministry and if some are called to it more than others it is not because of any special merit, marking, or reward. We are all one in the Body of Christ.

 

My own service falls within the second category in something referred to as Traveling in the Ministry, meaning that while I continually return to, and am grounded and held accountable by, community there, the work I do is primarily outside of my congregation.

Often times when a person Travels in the Ministry they do so under a particular "Concern," that is, a certain topic to which they feel called to support and/or bear witness. Most famously, 18th century Friend John Woolman travelled in the Ministry with a concern for the abolition of slavery, moving from congregation to congregation worshipping and praying with people as he shared his sense that God was calling them all to live in greater integrity, freeing all slaves. Contemporarily there are Friends traveling under a concern for the right care of the earth, for the end of torture, and for the full extension of rights to the GLBTQ community, among other things. Historically, these travelling Friends would have often been "Released," or financially assisted so that their worldly economic obligations did not hold them back from service. This rarely occurrs today outside of travel stipends that Meetings can provide for the person to help them get from place to place.

My own "Concern" is somewhat less bound than the ones mentioned above: I sometimes will go to a place without knowing exactly what I am to do there other than listen faithfully and respond as I might. This means I am not always sure what content will be present if I am asked to preach, what precisely will happen at a retreat if I am facilitating, and/or if I will even give vocal ministry when I travel to be present somewhere. Traditionally, this was called Travelling in the Gospel Ministry, and I understand a significant amount of the work I do to be some mix between this calling and an awareness that I am sometimes of use to people by means of offering fresh articulation or a new persepective. Some folks have begun to use the phrase "a Concern for Deepening Faithfulness," and I feel this is accurate as well. Whatever the category, I understand my Vocation to be about listening, being present, and offering whatever I can as needed.

When I head out for some place with a sense that I am travelling there under a sense of this concern, I bring a copy of the minute with me and when I am finished there, someone will take the copy and mail it back to my Meeting in Rochester, attaching an accompanying "endorsement" note sharing their experience of worshipping with me. The note ranges in length from a few sentences to several paragraphs, and serves to keep the congregation apprised as to my work in the world. Traditionally Friends traveled in pairs as per Acts, so there is often someone else with me while I am serving, but that person is not usually from the community to which I am going, so it is useful to9 hear form them directly. When it comes time to consider whether or not it is appropriate to issue a new minute of travel sometime in the future, congregations will sit in discernment with their own sense of the Friend as well as all the endorsements (some of which may be critical) that have been received since the last minute was issued.

Central to all of this, and one of the primary reasons that Friends originally did away with paid clergy, is the idea that the ministy I do isn't mine, and that the spiritual gifts that I employ are not actually in my possesion. That is, I am a steward of gifts that have their origins as charisms of the Spirit for as long those gifts reside in me and since we cannot know the mysterious mechanism(s) by which such gifts show up in the first place, we ought not pretend to know when they might depart. The regular return to worshipping bodies to consider the minutes of those travelling is a matter of routine discernment: Is there a new Concern? Does the person still carry the gifts that were noted in the last minute? Have they left? Deepened? Been replaced by others? The idea is that travel in the ministry should be grounded in a congregational body that looks after the personal and spiritual welfare of the individual, nurturing and pruning as need be so that the work they are engaged in is the work to which they are called, not just a doing of things out of some sense of ego-pleasure, obligation, or personal momentum.

That about does it in terms of the general other than to note that most of the time once a Meeting has become clear that someone's leading to travel in the ministry is rightly ordered, the Meeting appoints a committee of three to five people to routinely worship with the traveler and assist in discernment, support, and grounding. These committees go by different names depending on the practices of the Meeting, but usually are named one of the following: Anchor, Support, Nurture, or Oversight Committees.

Having said all that in the abstract, I would just point folks still interested to the minute itself, which I feel is pretty much resonant with my my own sense of things as pertains to how it is that God is opening in my life. [Nerd Note: I am particularly pumped about the inclusion of the word "catalyst," in the minute as the chemist in me is aware that the catalyst in a reaction is what allows the change to take place, it isn't the actual means of reaction or the end product. I don't want to ever forget that I am not the message: I am the messenger and I bear witness to a great Good News beyond me.] As I continue to rejoice and find fellowship and service beyond just the Religious Society of Friends it may be that the Anchor Committee appointed to discern with me may have to grapple with language that reflects this broader denominational sense of leading, but we shall see. For the moment I think it is a dang fine reflection of what I aspire to. I'm hardly there every day, but at least I know it is there on the edges calling me. I am grateful for that and the community that supports me in that work.

 

If folks have questions or comments, I'd love to see them below.   

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