A Personal Odyssey Toward Traveling in the Ministry

By Barry Zalph, Louisville MM, Ohio Valley YM

Five years ago, no one could have convinced me that I should “travel in the ministry.” As I understood it, traveling ministers had an extraordinary sense of the Divine presence and an undeniable leading to carry their witness to others. Neither of these descriptions fit me at all. Instead of feeling that I had a special spiritual gift to share, I had a sense of weakness and lack of direction. I longed for the Spirit, but that would hardly qualify me to bring something of value to far-away Friends. My rough edges made me a mixed blessing even in my home meeting. Who would send such an ordinary Friend to witness to Truth in distant meetings?

A gradual transformation began from this place of weakness. For many months, I had foundered in career doubts. At my request, fellow meeting member Allen Oliver agreed to serve as a Spirit-centered vocational counselor to me. We worshiped together and reaffirmed that my work should support and express my faith. Allen heard of my interests and training in helping groups to reach good decisions and deal constructively with conflict. Shortly before he began working with me, Allen had accepted the volunteer post of Nurture Coordinator for FGC. He traveled widely among FGC-affiliated yearly meetings addressing needs for spiritual nurture. A couple of months after he began counseling me, Allen accepted an invitation to visit the Ministry and Advancement Committee of Illinois Yearly Meeting (IYM). They, too, were struggling. For over a year, they had sought a new field secretary for the yearly meeting. After consulting with me, Allen put committee members in touch with me. Three months later, IYM hired me as its part-time field secretary. After nearly five years, this remains the most enriching and challenging job I have ever had.

The fingerprints of Divine providence are all over this story. I trained for a job that I didn’t know existed. A gifted counselor in my meeting accepted the challenge of a new role (vocational guidance) and helped me see myself and my calling much more clearly. IYM Friends heard from an unexpected source (the FGC Nurture Coordinator, also my counselor!) of someone they would never have noticed otherwise. Most remarkably, the “match” worked. Not only have I served Friends despite my shortcomings, but following this calling has led to wonderful growth.

Illinois Yearly Meeting and I are clear that they did not hire a traveling minister. The field secretary’s role is not to preach or to act as a spiritual authority. Instead, I serve as a resource person whose outside perspective can help a meeting to consider new possibilities. As field secretary, I have led retreats and workshops, lent a sympathetic ear to Friends in pain, and helped Friends to communicate again after tensions had risen among them. Members of the IYM Ministry & Advancement Committee travel with me most of the time. This deepens the ties among members of the various meetings, and gives me essential support and oversight.

Gradually, a change has come in my attitude and experience. The challenges facing the Friends I visit greatly exceed my skills and knowledge. How can I help in such situations? I pray for Divine guidance and seek to follow it. I pray shamelessly for miracles. I pray my willingness to serve in whatever way the Spirit might require. The power, love, and wisdom to heal and transform come from the transcendent Source. In this work, humility and faithfulness outweigh expertise. Lloyd Lee Wilson writes, “. . . traveling in the ministry is not so much like bringing a message from God to Friends in a distant place as agreeing to rendezvous with God among Friends in that distant place, with the expectation that if one is faithful to the rendezvous, something divinely good will happen.” Perhaps the work as a field secretary has begun to open into traveling ministry.

By providing a clearness and support committee and a traveling minute, Louisville Friends Meeting has joined me on this journey. The committee meets with me several times each year to help me discern and stay true to my calling. This has led to travel in other yearly meetings as the spiritual companion of other Friends, and to service on the Traveling Ministries Oversight Committee and the Advancement & Outreach Committee of FGC. It has also led to pulling back from attractive opportunities that, upon examination, were not the work that the Spirit had set before me. The support of Louisville Friends, and their faith that I could grow into this work, uplift me. Whether or not the Spirit calls me to further travels among Friends, my spiritual journey begins and ends with my home meeting.

Translate »