A Sketch of a Theology of Ministry


Primarily, I intend this document to articulate my understanding of ministry in a general sense. That is, the material here addresses what I think ministry is in a functional and definitional way beyond just what I think ministry “means to me.” In attempting to be so bold as to title something “A Theology of X,” it strikes me that what is produced ought to be more than just individualized conviction, ought to attempt to lay out a sense of things beyond the personal level. Thus, I think it is vital to be able to articulate a category like “ministry” in a way such that it is not simply a personal statement of preference and opinion, but an attempt to actually make a claim about the nature of ministry in a denominationally and historically justified context. This is an attempt to make just such a claim.


NOTE: This is to be considered a permanently in-process draft. It is here both (1) for others to read in the event it is of use to them and (2) so that I can continue to develop it as I think through it in community. If you have thoughts you’d like to share one way or another I’d appreciate comments.

On the Nature of Ministry

At the core of my understanding of ministry are three affirmations.
  •  Ministry arises in individuals in the context of community for the sake of helping people enter the Kingdom of God.
  • All people – of every age, sex, and orientation – are called to ministry and some are called to a greater degree than others.
  •  The gifts of the ministry are not the minister’s but God’s, stewarded by the minister while they rest with his or her person.

Inherent to this view of ministry is an understanding that the Priesthood of all Believers is an actual work of Grace from God such that the notion of “the laity” has been abolished. All are called to the ministry and are ordained by virtue of their baptism into service for God to the whole of the world. Those of us who serve more intentionally or regularly are merely called to that task more directly, there is nothing more granted to those who serve in the ministry than that service and the opportunity to more faithfully labor under the yoke of Christ. That being said, I do affirm that “some have a more particular call to the work of the ministry and that therefore… are especially equipped for that work by the Lord. [And that our] work is to instruct, exhort, admonish, oversee, and watch over our brethren more frequently and more particularly than the others” (Barclay 215).

I believe that the gift of prophecy – in the sense of Divinely Inspired speech, not future predictive speech – is yet still poured on flesh and that it is especially upon those who serve in Ministry to not speak frivolously or without mind towards the possibility that we may be called into speaking prophetically at any time. “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:31-33). In more contemporary terms I find that I unite with the language of Brian Drayton who writes that “a concern for the ministry is a calling to be intentionally available to put our experience of the divine light and life at the disposal of others, for their refreshment and encouragement… a commitment to redouble our inward watchfulness, so that we grow in faithfulness, and grow in our ability to serve” (Drayton 17). In effect, I understand Ministry as an act of catalysis, the bringing forth of some word, some story, or some comfort that enables those present to come more fully into the Presence of God which was most certainly there prior to the minister’s arrival. The particulars of the action(s) done by the minister differ according to the spiritual gifts and leadings of the individual, but their effect is that people are intentionally brought closer to one another, to God, and/or to Creation.

On the Calling to Minister

While it follows from the above, it is worth mentioning the means by which one is called to ministry. Put another way, how does one come to be a minister? Again, I stand firmly with my tradition and affirm that “by the inward power and virtue of the Spirit of God, which will not only call the minister, but will – in some measure – purify and sanctify him or her… Since the things of the Spirit can only be truly known by the aid of the Spirit of God, it is by this same Spirit than one is called and moved to minister to others. Thus, the minister is able to speak from a living experience…” (Barclay 219). The intent here is to affirm that from beginning to end, to the extent that there is any transformation or revelation through the work of the minister, its source was not that person, but the Spirit which inspires all.

I think that it is incredibly important that those of us called into ministry never come into contempt of those we are to serve or come to think that somehow we have been given more than them. I think often of Paul’s letter, “for what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). The calling is not into any social esteem or power. Mine is the task to be of service to others, not to adjudicate or cast dispersions upon them, but to be a servant to them. A bondservant.

Furthermore, as a calling, I believe that the impulse to serve can also be lifted such that the “more particular call to the work of the ministry” no longer compels someone into service. I do not think that God ever withdraws the call to serve, which we are all to be engaged in, but I do think that the “more particular call to the work of the ministry” can have its season and may then transform or be put to rest. This means that we must be in regular discernment: Am I being called into a particular service? If I have been called before, is that calling still live? Is it changing?

On the Qualities of Ministry

Ministry is a way to embody the claims of the Gospel about liberation, justice, and freedom through service. Enacting ministry is to demonstrate that when we act from our core convictions we can bring an increasing awareness of the presence of God. That is, ministry is both about action and being. That being said, it ought not be measured by the worldly yardstick of “success,” lest we forget the parable of the sower and lose track of the fact that ours is merely the task of sowing seed and not to ensure that each one cast grows. Conversely, while faithfulness – rather than “success” – is always to be the primary mark of “a job well done” it is important that attention be paid to the wake in the minister’s passing. That is, if the minister is constantly leaving behind crowds of sad, weary, and listless people who do not seem any more marked by the Kingdom of God, well… then something might be up.

In a situation such as this if I maintain that I have been nonetheless faithful though no mark of love, joy, or liberation is noted, a sincere and weighty period of discernment is in order. I believe firmly that our service in ministry is a form of discipleship and ought to be patterned as Jesus taught: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). My service is perhaps best marked not by particular sermons, services, or articles, but in the character of the relationships I cultivate within and beyond my community.

I think that Ministry also has the quality of transforming not only the communities in which the minister serves, but also the minister. I agree with Lloyd Lee Wilson that “the individual who does not feel stretched out by calling, who does not feel to some degree exposed and made vulnerable by the act of ministry, is not likely to be surrendered and accountable to the true promptings of the Holy Spirit” (Wilson 73). Another way of thinking about this is that I believe that the minister functions as a conduit of God’s Grace and Spirit, and as such, the ministry that flows from the minister will be marked by the qualities of God’s Grace and Spirit as well, namely that God “gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6) and that the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-3). As a conduit to these graces, if I find that I am myself not more deeply reflecting these qualities I must question the rightness of my service.

Note that nowhere in this articulation is a description of powerful intellect, rigorous debate, or proof. This is on purpose as I believe the fullest power of God does not come through physical or mental coercion. That is, I believe that “Truth proceeds from an honest heart. When it is forthrightly spoken by the virtue and Spirit of God it will have more influence and take effect sooner and more forcefully than a thousand demonstrations of logic”(Barclay 200). I think that academic prowess can certainly supplement faithful service, and, in fact, feel that sometimes education can be a ministry, however the emphasis is always to be on God and the Kingdom of God and not on my own faculties.

On Scripture

The minister’s relationship to scripture is two-fold.

First, it is one of a dear companion with whom much is shared, all is entrusted, and yet with whom there are sometimes terrific arguments and disagreements. Scripture is the record that we have of human reflections upon God, including the life and sacrifice of Jesus and the culture and world from which he came. It is inspired and yet if we are to be critically engaged, thinking servants we must acknowledge that at times it frustrates and confuses us.

Second, it is one of the type of acknowledged limitation as might be encountered when reflecting upon a much-loved and much-used tool box full of the finest tools when the problem at hand is a broken heart. There are many fine metaphors and truths that the scriptures contain, and they are pertain absolutely to our lives, but they will not in and of themselves mend broken people. That task is God’s alone to do. Too often I find that the Bible is treated like an added fourth person of the Trinity, or worse, as a substitute for the Spirit. That is not something I find useful or spiritually beneficial.

Furthermore, while education may assist in helping the minister to more fully understand the scriptures and help them bear fruit in the church, I do not believe that it is necessary. Again, I find powerful resonance with my tradition: “All that someone can interpret from the scriptures though industry, learning, and knowledge of languages is nothing without the Spirit… Whereas, by the Spirit, a poor, illiterate person can say when she hears the scriptures read “This is true.” And by the same Spirit she can understand “open,” and interpret it, if necessary. When her “condition” answers the condition and experience of the faithful of old, she knows and possesses the truths that are expressed there, because they are sealed and witnessed in her own heart by the same Spirit” (Barclay 49).

That is, as with the calling and nature of ministry I believe that the origins of service and action rest firmly with the Holy Spirit, even when that action is the right reading and interpretation of scripture. This is said in no uncertain terms again in Barclay’s Apology.

Because the scriptures are only a declaration of the source, and not the source itself, they are not to be considered the principal foundation of all truth and knowledge. They are not even to be considered as the adequate primary rule of all faith and practice… We truly know them only by the inward testimony of the Spirit or, as the scriptures themselves say, “the Spirit is the guide by which the faithful are led into all Truth” ( John 16:13). Therefore, according to the scriptures, the Spirit is the f irst and principal leader (Rom 8:14). Because we are receptive to the scriptures, as the product of the Spirit, it is for that very reason that the Spirit is the primary and principal rule of faith” (Barclay 46).

On the Minister, who Stewards the Gift of Ministry

While it is the case that the Minister’s service is primarily as a function of conduit to God’s Grace and Love via the Spirit, it is nonetheless the case that the minister remains clay-footed and human. While the Spirit moves as it will and manifests as it does without apparent particular concern for human desire, the minister has significantly more limitations. Rather than consider this a negative thing however, I believe that it is a beautiful reminder of our finitude and our reliance on God. Were ministers suddenly transformed into superheros then our capacity to serve would be impeded in two immediate ways.

First, we would find it all the more challenging to act in humility and service, and second, others would look to us and not find connection, thinking that perhaps only “special” people can follow God’s vision. Instead, we are called in our brokenness to witness to the world that even through it God can redeem and uplift. I am regularly encouraged by the words of George Fox written in an epistle to traveling Friends ministers in1656:

This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you: then to the Lord God you will be a sweet savor, and a blessing.

As such I feel as if the minister’s life ought to be one of increasing integrity in all places: home, store, service, work, and play. If our “carriage and life” is to preach, if our very walking upon the ground is to be a pattern and example, then our health must be tended to, our family must be given space, time, and love, and we must remember that God’s work is for God and those of us who serve can only help but where we can.

Works Cited

Barclay, R. Barclay’s Apology. Dean Freiday (ed.)
Newberg, OR: The Barclay Press. 1991.
Drayton, B. On Living with a Concern for the Gospel Ministry.
Philadelphia, PA: Quaker Press. 2006.
Wilson, L. Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order.
Philadelphia, PA: Quaker Press. 1996.

The Future of Quakerism: A Credo


This winter I was asked to consider writing a piece "Envisioning the Future within our Quaker faith." The article was to be published in SPARK, the newsletter of New York Yearly Meeting (composed of 90ish congregations), and would have gone out in the spring. Well, it came at a great time for me as I was considering lots of things related, and so I wrote a piece in response. Turns out though, that folks did not publish it for one reason or another, only referencing it in the newsletter and putting it up online. Anywho, I felt like there was some power in it, and continue to feel this way, and so I've reposted it here in hopes that Friends find some use of it. Please re-post, reference, and comment as you please.



Where Are We Now?


I have been been sitting for weeks with the question posed to me in the request to write for this issue: How do I envision the future of the faith of the Religious Society of Friends?  Over and over, in trying to sit with the future I have been driven back towards the present. How are we to get there – wherever “there” might be – if we don't know where here is?  What is our tradition about? What is at its core? Why do we worship? I found myself scarcely able to imagine the future given that I had a hard time even grasping the present. 

It is not that I haven't considered these questions. Far from it. It is that I am unclear that my responses to them would be anywhere near to normative. And that is when it Opened: the way forward is not in there being some “normative” response to those questions, but in having some response. In our Meetings and homes we ought to be really asking these questions and expecting responses. Why do we come to Worship? Do we really believe in Discernment? Do we even believe in God? What do we even mean by “God”? Can we unite with our Faith and Practice? If not, then what? We are all doing each other a great diservice by not having these conversations out in the open. 

Contemporarily, we Liberal Friends tend to resist articulating our beliefs. “All are welcome,” we say, and “none are turned away.” With this I unite. But what happens when someone comes through our door because she wants to know what we believe? What happens when someone believes something and isn't sure they are welcome to believe it for lack of conversation? My hope for the future of our tradition is not one in which all agree, but one in which we are impelled into the transformation of inner and outer lives, concieved, nurtured, and pruned in discerning worship, the result of which ripens into Justice and the fruits of the Spirit. My hope for the future of our tradition is that we might then be empowered and encouraged to speak – regularly and profoundly – of our experiences of the Divine. Towards that broader vision I offer my perspective in hopes that you will offer yours. This is how Truth prospers with me.

I am agree with Friend Patrick Nugent as he writes that “whenever goodness radiates and transforms the heart, whenever the conscience rises up and stands in the revealing and liberating light of goodness, there, whether named or not, is the Bread of Life which never fades away, the redeeming presence of the risen and living Christ.” I stand with him and our forebears in the belief that practice of a full and authentic Christianity is grounded in experiences of Real Presence, mediated via the gift of the Holy Spirit and actually discernible in worship. My faith's power is not in a mere ethic of compassion, an eternity of heavenly compensation at some later time, or the warm glow of community life in the present. My work is to practice coming into that Light, Life, and Power which takes away the occasion of all war, that Presence of God in which we are perfected – if only for a moment – and in which we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The path is to live lives that more and more readily resemble those moments revealed in prophetic ministry: to realize that we need not “build up” the Kingdom because it is already here among us, if only we would enter it.

I believe that much of contemporary progressive Christianity – including our own Religious Society – has become too close a bedfellow to generic liberal social concern and has turned too often to rationalism and modernity for its identity, becoming habituated to a pattern of accepting a series of “second bests” instead of waiting on the liberating power of God which insists upon justice in the present. I know that much of the history and narrative of the Christian tradition is dubious and – to be frank – hard to swallow. I know this and yet I know that there is no nourishment in the desert of doubt. I believe Paul Ricoeur was correct when he wrote that we are called beyond the desert of criticism to a Second Naïveté. Yes, there are times when it is best we not eat, for there is sickness to be purged, but we must acknowledge that hunger cannot be fed with starvation: eventually there comes a time when we are to take up the knowledge and precision gained through the wielding of our hermeneutic of suspicion and step with it out beyond doub'ts edge back into a place of surrendering belief. Not as naïve children, but as people of faith working on the basis of the substance of things hoped for but as yet unseen, trusting that in our faithfulness we will be led towards justice, granted compassion, and met with community.  By virtue of our baptism in the Spirit we are called to this: belief.

And so… I believe in the resurrection of the Body: as people of God we are called into a new life, into a new way of living on earth, while still in the flesh and with our feet yet made of clay.  I believe that the story and hope of this new birth were with Jesus in his life and death and I believe that in his refusal to submit to the Powers and Principalities he offered even them the opportunity for redemption. We are called to do no less. I believe these things because they are what seem most right in the moments when I have been held under the Holy Power of God's Spirit poured out.  And yet, even as I am held in this power I feel called to resist the temptation to allow my sense of certainty to reign above my hospitality; to resist placing my sense of the truth over and above others. I feel called to proclaim my testimony as exactly that: a concrete witness to the experience of God's transforming capacity my life and flesh and not some idealized and absolute external theology or creed. 

I believe that the Living Water is yet live and that we are each invited to drink at that place of nourishment there beyond the desert, wherein we might also partake of the Bread and enter the Kingdom, for it is already here among us. If only we would enter. Enter and share the story of the land beyond.

We gain so much from hearing one another speak from hallowed places. Let your life speak. 

Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting (Quakers) Publically Affirms GLBTQ Marriage

This is their formal statement, discerned and minuted during their annual sessions, July 27-31, 2011. Short and sweet:


Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting Friends have been led by the Light of the Living Christ to understand that God's love extends with equality to all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The understanding that Christ has given us as Quakers today leads us to three conclusions. We affirm the full humanity of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgenderpersons. We are committed to their equal status within the Religious Society of Friends and the wider world. We celebrate their covenant relationships, including marriages under the care of our constituent meetings, as just as sacred, just as valid, and the cause for just as much joy as those of any other persons.

Their site is here.

Wild Goose Festival Reflection

This post is part of the july synchroblog – an eclectic bunch of bloggers writing on the same topic.  This month is centered on the wild goose festival, a justice-arts-spirituality festival held the last week of june in North Carolina.  This synchroblog will include stories from the gathering as well as from those who couldn’t go, centered on what the wild goose (the celtic image of the Holy Spirit) is stirring up for us.  The links so far are at the bottom of this post, with more to come as they get posted. 



My family recently came back from the first ever Wild Goose Festival in NC and I've got some thoughts about it. Rather than type them all out, I'll deep link to each topic of my reflection. If you don't have the time or care to watch the whole thing, clicking any of the below will open up the specific point. And if you are only going to listen to one, I guess it would be number five, on gatekeeping. That, or listen to Kristina in the second one.

First Topic: Thanks to Shay, The Anarchist Reverend, for his faithful (and tough) work to call us to acknowledge the lack of holistic inclusion of trans* and Queer folk at The Festival.

Second Topic: Families, nursing moms, and babies

Third Topic: Speakers vs. Workshops; Heirarchies; and Celebrity-less, Ground-Up design.

Fourth Topic: Time for reflection, silence, contemplation, and prayer

Fifth Topic: Gatekeeping

Sixth Topic: My intense gratitude for the Festival and all who were a part, in any way, shape, or form.



Thanks goes out to Kathy Escobar, a fellow Synchro Blogger, from whom I copied this list: 


Gnosticism’s Divine Spark and The Inner Light


A week ago I started to roll out a mini-experiment with the hopes that others would join in.  While details can be found here, the basic gist of it is that I would love to hear from folks about how it is their scholarship feeds a contemporary living faith. My inspiration in this comes from Diana Butler Bass who suggests that with some work we can find moments in history (and theology I might add) that, upon contemporary reflection, pave the way towards a more hopeful, vital, and hospitable future. 

My big wish is that other folks out in the world of the internet will join me in explicitly commenting on how it is that their scholarship feeds a vital contemporary faith.  That tired "well scholarship is important because without it we wouldn't know what has happened before," line won't cut it.  Why exactly do certain and particular events or thinkers inspire you, or give you hope? In attemping to show a few ways that folks might attempt this, I made a short (and ridiculous) film about Origen and Allegory, I did an audio recording about Maximus the Confessor and Theosis, and now I'm closing out the trio with a good ole' fashioned blog post about the Gnostics and the Divine Spark.  

If you are reading this and are a seminarian or arm chair theologian who hasn't yet considered making their work publicly available, please, please, consider doing so. I think that those of us who are blessed to be able to persue scholarship (formally or not) miss out on a great opportunity to share when we keep our work to ourselves. It doesn't have to be perfect for it to serve as useful to another.  Exhibit A? This page.  We're all just trying to figure things out, and I hope you join the conversation. If you have any questions or comments, say hello in the comments below, or via direct contact with me. And now, without further adieu…. 


The Gnostics and the Divine Spark


The process by which I decided to wrestle with this topic went a little something like this:


Me1: So I want to think about history and what in it might bear some hope for the future.

Me2: Thinking about history, eh?

Me1:Yeah, you have a problem with that?

Me2: No, its just that… well, history is pretty big.

Me1:Good point.

Me2: How about you think about what issues you struggle with in the present and see if anything in the past might shed some light on them.

Me1: That's a great idea, I think I'll use that as my topic!

Me2: Glad I could be of… wait. What? 

Me1: Light.

Me2: …?

Me1: What?

Me2: You are going to search for hope in the history of light?

Me1: Yup.

Me2: Do tell.

Me1: Well, in the Religious Society of Friends we talk a lot about the "Inner Light" and the theology around that seems to be pretty sloppy.

Me2: Ok… and that is historical because…

Me1: Because it seems quite similar to the Gnostic idea of "Divine Spark."

Me2: Wait… how did… where did that come from?

Me1: Not sure actually. Think I read it online somewhere once.


As you can see, my thought process was incredibly thorough and well-thought out. 


My premise was essentially that since I was having this hang-up around what exactly is meant by the idea of “Inner Light,” it might be of some use to see what thoughts have been had about another group of folks that had the idea of some illuminating mark of God being present within.

So what's at stake here?  Well, the basic issue is that a number of Friends I know (generally tending to be on the Liberal, Universalist, and Progressive end of a spectrum) often make use of the phrase “Inner Light,” as if somehow some portion (or a miniaturized replica) of God resided inside each of us.  That kind of thing sounds something like, “Well, we can each believe whatever we want because we each have access to the Inner Light.” It functions something like a get of jail free card for theological discussion.  Now I'm all for pluralism of a sort, but this kind of argument isn't the way I would want to get there.

I think it is telling that the Early generations of Friends tended to use the phrase “Inward Light,” which suggests that the Light is indeed coming from somewhere, namely, God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. As articulated in the second generation of the Religious Society by the Apologist Robert Barclay:

"By this Seed, Grace and Word of God, and Light wherewith everyone is enlightened, we understand a spiritual, heavenly, and invisible Principle, in which God as Father, Son, and Spirit dwells: a measure of which Divine and glorious life is in all men as a Seed, which of its own nature draws, invites and inclines us to God; and this some call vehiculum Dei, or the spiritual body of Christ, the flesh and blood of Christ, which came down from heaven, of which all the saints do feed, and are thereby nourished unto eternal life."

Apology, Proposition 6.8


Ok, so where do the Gnostics fit in, and what is the argument that the Gnostics have anything to do with Friends? Well, the Gnostics had this idea they called the “Divine Spark,” and for obvious reasons relating to the nature of any metaphor about internal lighting, there is some overlap.

While there are certainly good places (like here, here, or here) that folks can read about Gnosticism, for this little foray into Divine Sparkiness, suffice it to say that Gnosticism seems to be a form of dualism wherein the manifested physical aspects of the present world were considered evil and a pure spiritual nature, from which we descended, was desirable (mighty Greek if you ask me).  As Stephan A. Hoeller writes:

“A human being consists of physical and psychic components, which are perishable, as well as a spiritual component, which is a fragment of the divine essence, somethings called the divine spark.” 

Stephan A. Hoeller's Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowingpg. 18


Now dualism aside, this idea seems to be in some resonance with the Early Quaker ideas about the Inward Light.  


Variously referred to in Quaker Founder George Fox's journal as   “Christ Within,” “Inner Light,” “That of God in every man,” and “The Seed of God,” the belief was that there was some essential aspect of humanity that was directly responsive to the Holy Spirit, without need for mediation by a priestly class.  Each could, by virtue of this “Inward Light,” hear and respond to the Divine.  [Side Note: This all being true, Friends have nonetheless noted for hundreds of years now that discerning God's Will is most fully possible in community, not as individual interpretation.]

Important to this principle is that this Light was accessible to all people.  As Fox wrote:

[The Light is] nigh unto all men and women in the whole world, and in them, if their soul and breath be in his hand. Here you may see the eternal, infinite hand of the incomparable God, in whose hand is ‘the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind' in the whole world; for ‘God breathed into man the breath of life, and he became a living soul.’ God, who is immortal, has the breath of all (and all immortal souls) in his hand, and none can fall out of his eternal hand.


Marcus T.C. Gould's The Works of George Fox, Vol. VI pg. 333


So like the Gnostics, there is this eternal essence associated with some higher calling.  Seems compatible so far.  Until we learn about who responded to this higher calling and by what means:

[In Gnostic thought,]revelation is possible only because within the Gnostic there somehow pre-exists a disposition, a capacity, a potential fitted for testing and getting to know that particular reality. Only like can, in fact, know like. Only spiritual beings can perceive, receive and understand the spiritual. 

Giovanni Filoramo's A History of Gnosticism. pg. 40


Uh oh…  An elitist spirituality in which only certain people can perceive the true nature of this particular reality (knowing of course that a truer reality exists in which the evils of the material world have been abandoned)? Yup.  

"People are generally ignorant of the divine spark, [which] is stirred by the call of the ultimate Divine by way of divine men, or messenger of Light. [These messengers] descend from the highest spiritual realms to call souls back; they come to restore the human spirit to its original consciousness and lead it back to the Divine.” 

 Stephan A. Hoeller's Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowingpg. 18


So the metaphysical dualistic split between materiality and spirituality is reflected in practice: some people are “asleep” in the material world and unaware of the Divine Spark within them, requiring other people (sent from the highest spiritual realms) to wake them up.

I entered into this little hunt thinking that I'd find something there that might be of use and, backwardsly, I have: it isn't that in Gnostic thought itself I find some resolution directly, but it does point me towards some clarity on why the same issue bugs me in my own context hundreds of years later.  If there is something residing within all, but not everyone is accessing that which is within them, well, why is that?

I feel like there is a distinct, though perhaps subtle, difference between the positions where: 

A) Everyone possesses their own (to use the Gnostic phrase)  “fragment of the Divine” which can be woken up by special “pneumatic” humans who are “awake” and have access to the special Gnosis knowledge that resides within the fragment/spark.


B) We each have been made in God's Image and every one of us, being partly of the breath of God, can discern aspects of God's will, acknowledging that this discernment is  best done in community 


Even as I wrote that I realized how fuzzy this stuff can be.  Bottom line? I think the idea that there is special interior knowledge that only some elect humans can access is a dangerous one. Is it my experience that some people are more faithful and seem to live more righteous lives? Yes indeed, but I do not think that is due to some special essential difference between them and other people, rather, it is because of choices made that bring themselves into right relationship with God.  Againg, George Fox:

…the spirit of man [sic], is the candle of the Lord, and the candlestick is every man's [sic] body, mind, soul, and conscience, that with this spirit their candle being lighted, and set up in its candlestick, they may see all that is in the house; and with this light they may see Christ that died for them, and is risen for them: so come by this light, which is life in the word, to be grafted into Christ the word, which was in the beginning, which lives and abides, and endures for ever. 

Marcus T.C. Gould's The Works of George Fox, Vol. V pg. 356


Without the presence of some common knowledge that we can all work together to live into, the life of faith becomes secretive and individualistic, or worse, cabalistic. And that pretty much clarifies the issue I think: if our theology is somehow hidden or secret — regardless of whether that is because we believe in special pneumatic humans who have access to special knowledge or because we are afraid to talk to one another about about it for fear of offending or being cast out — well, then the opportunity to grapple with discernment together in community is pretty much shot.  The hope then, I suppose, is that we recognize that without frank, open discussion and connection to one another we miss out on any truly egalitarian exploration of faith.

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.   

Advices from some Friends

I recently got sent these and felt they were worth sharing.  They come to us from New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends and were penned by Sadie Forsyth and Ben Guaraldi, received as a report in 2006.

For folks looking to know more about the practice of Friends' Advices and Queries, check out this article and scroll down a bit to the section titles "A Way of Life: Advices and Queries."


Find in your faith things to live humbly by and to die for.
Humbly seek out that of God in the way others live and find what's deeply right in it.

Talk about your spiritual journey explicitly.  Find words for what is hard or strange.

Evangelize.  Spread the good news.

Never be absolutely sure that you are right.

Abandon your forms when they do not fulfill God's will.

Do your work.  Call others to do theirs.

Read the Bible.

Have joyful worship.  Do not always be somber.

Face your fears and your powerlessness.  Have faith.

Know who you are spiritually and trust God to know where you are going.

Deny the distractions.  Follow only God.

Love boldly.  Share deeply.

With your sins and the sins of your parents: admit them, repent them, and heal the wounds.

Forgive and forgive and forgive.

Communal Discernment and the Religious Society of Friends



Related Online Resources

The set of handouts I reference in the video are all put together in this PDF which we sometimes use.

The reference I make to Bruce Epperly's wonderful consideration of creativity and agency is part of his paper, Infinite Freedom, Creativity, and Love: The Adventures of a Non-competitive God, specifically at the beginning of the second page.

A longer video my wife Kristina and I made about Discernment and Spiritual Practices within the Religious Society of Friends as part of our educational series, the Jewels of Quakerism. Not directly about Discernment Circles or Clearness Committees, but potentially of interest.

Relatedly, I want to thank the Fund for Theological Education for the opportunities granted to me as a result of the Ministry Fellowship.

The Holy Spirit and Us


Patheos blog article on the Holy Spirit.

Phil Wyman's Four Square No More Blog post.

The Transform Gathering East Coast page.

Informational films I've made (with Kristina) about Quakerism are here.

Tony Jones' post about Pentecostalism and the Emergent Church is here.

Sam Laurent's profile (almost to the bottom of the page) from Drew is here.

Sarah Walker-Cleaveland is currently working on some pneumatology stuff and her home page is here.

On the Road Theopoetics

Lots of things in this one…

The QUIP Quaker Writers conference was held to coincide with the release of this book (which I have a few things in).

The Center for Process Studies at Claremont hosted the Theopoetics and the Divine Manifold conference , at which, most academically noteable for me (at this moment), were Catherine Keller, Vince Colapietro, and Mat Lopresti.  

While there I gave a presentation in conjunction with the paper I delivered working with my ideas about a Heraldic Gospel.

Then I spent time at Whittier First Friends Church.