FGC’s Consultation on “Calling Forth & Nurturing Gifts of Ministry”

Background by Deborah Fisch

On March 17-19, 2000 a gathering of representatives from the affiliated yearly meetings of Friends General Conference took place at Bethany Hills Camp near Nashville, TN. The meeting was arranged by the FGC Traveling Ministries Program (TMP) for the purpose of worshipping together and sharing with each other about recognizing and nurturing gifts of ministry in our meetings, with special attention to encouraging travel. In fact, the TMP was hoping to learn from the meetings how to better serve them. Someone suggested that we were really trying to provide space for the affiliated meetings to consult with, share and learn from each other. Thus it was decided to call this gathering a consultation.

Bethany Hills Camp outside of Nashville was chosen because it was a midpoint, near a major airport, near a monthly meeting willing to help with local travel arrangements, had a beautiful rural setting, and was moderately priced. Money was budgeted to pay for all registration, lodging, and meals while at the conference. The Development Program staff was able to secure grants to assist with costs including transportation. It was the desire of the TMOC that Friends traveling a great distance would not have to make more financial sacrifice than those living closer to the site.

Careful attention and willingness to be led as way opened helped make the first consultation of the TMP a good overall experience. Just as important was the enthusiasm and desire of those attending the gathering. From the gentle and careful hospitality provided by local liaison Penelope Wright, to the early morning meetings for worship to hold the group in the Light before the first scheduled meeting for worship, Friends came ready to lead and be led. Simply put, Friends were faithful to their leadings and grace abounded. The consultation was not perfect. More individual quiet time for processing intense experiences and a ministry of time keeping so all present could have the same opportunity to be heard in sessions were two lessons learned by the planning committee. But overall, Friends expressed that there had been a richness of fellowship, worship, and sharing and asked that FGC continue to provide such opportunities. We were blessed.

Deborah Fisch serves as TMP’s staff coordinator.

A View by Raquel K. Wood

Thirty-five Friends from Florida to Alaska to Prince Edward Island and down the Eastern Seaboard met for a weekend of sharing questions, experiments and answers in our common desire to nurture the life of the Spirit within our local meetings and the thirteen yearly meetings from which we came. We met in the lovely early spring of red-bud blossoms, spring beauties and migrating birds.

Though we were a mostly gray/white-haired group, two young women (one high school aged and one college aged) contributed much appreciated youthful energy to our weekend. Fine preparation by the Traveling Ministries planning group and FGC staff, together with the ministry of hospitality by Nashville Friends, led to our rich time together, part retreat and part workshop.

Friday evening we shared around the circle our names, yearly meetings, the role(s) we held in our yearly meetings and/or with FGC and the questions and concerns we had brought with us. It was a long list. The following questions summarize major groups of concerns. How do we discern needs of meetings and provide appropriate responses? How do we help overcome the resistance of many new Friends to traditional structures and language? How can we breathe new life into old forms? How do we deal with the critical issues of equality, responsibility, accountability; theology, geographic isolation, wide differences within meetings so that our meetings continue growing and healthy? What specifically can yearly meeting committees do to encourage the spoken ministry and the ministry of travel? How can we make best use of staff?

On Saturday morning representatives from four yearly meetings shared experiences on calling forth and nurturing gifts of the ministry. Here are some of the highlights: South Central representatives described the challenges they have as a relatively new (30 years) YM with many widely dispersed small meetings. New York YM is a “united” Meeting having both pastoral and unprogrammed meetings in their history. This requires a process to discern how pastors are selected. NYYM has also recently recorded a minister from an unprogrammed meeting. Baltimore YM also has the dual pastoral/unprogrammend tradition and a Spiritual Formation Program. The yearly meeting also “releases” Friends to carry on a variety of social action concerns, validating individual Friend’s gifts in spiritual nurture and social ministries. BYM’s summer camps for children have been a strong source of growth. From a college student member of New England YM, also a united YM, we heard about the development of its ministry to Cuban Friends and the process of clearness that participants of all ages go through to prepare for service there. Another representative from NEYM shared various aspects of ministry-the need being considered for a paid coordinator of a traveling ministries program, uses of elders to support those in ministry, and descriptions of various documents which have been developed within NEYM regarding spiritual gifts.

On Sunday morning we came back together to provide the coordinator of the Traveling Ministries Program with our ideas of how the program might be of help to individual yearly meetings. We also began spontaneously to share with one another. Ideas and needs gushed forth in a fountain that could hardly be contained. We all agreed that more time was needed for this kind of sharing.

I did not anticipate the breadth and depth of experience that all the yearly meetings have collectively. While we and others may perceive FGC Friends to be all alike-generally liberal in theology and in social testimonies-I believe our yearly meetings’ histories, geographies, and regional subcultures have “grown us,” or perhaps we have “grown them,” somewhat differently. But I felt deeply that the Spirit in which we seek to live brings us together at the deepest level. I believe this was the experience of most of the participants. The challenge to those of us called together in Nashville is to see how we can share what we learned back home in our yearly meetings.

Raquel Wood is a member of Prospect Hill Monthly Meeting in Minneapolis, MN.

A View by Daphne Davey

My attendance at FGC’s Traveling Ministries consultation was, in many ways, a first-my first FGC event, my first Quaker event outside of Canadian Yearly Meeting, and my first opportunity to discuss the subject of ministry and visitation in depth. I am also a first-time clerk! I am therefore particularly grateful to both FGC and CYM for supporting my participation in such an educational experience.

We addressed two themes: how to nurture and support existing gifts of ministry (gifts that have already received some formal or informal recognition); and how to call forth and support undeveloped or unrecognized gifts of ministry (gifts of which the bearer may have little or no awareness). This proved to be a rich field to harvest, and our discussions gradually developed a picture of the problems, rewards and future possibilities of “watering the buds of ministry” in our Quaker garden.

Our first tasks was to define the term “ministry” in the Quaker context. For some Friends, this is the “M” word! But connotations of hirelings, hierarchy, inequality and spiritual superiority obscure the important role ministry does and should play in our Quaker communities. After all, we do claim that we “minister” to one another in our meetings for worship. This is the essence of our form of worship, that as God inspires us to speak, so we share that inspiration with others as ministry. Ministering draws up water from the deepest well within us. Ministry is that which makes more real the presence of God.

We quickly recognized that ministers come in many guises, including Friends called to formal ministry, such as Released Friends, Friends traveling on a concern, and Recorded Ministers. We also identified those who minister through the spoken word in worship, or through the provision of refreshments and other services (we should remember that administration is also a ministry and cooperate accordingly!). Then there are those who minister through social action, living out their Quaker testimonies in the world at large. We heard from New England YM of their cross-cultural ministry through visitations with Cuban Friends. Finally, there are those precious Friends who minister through the Light which shines in their daily lives, illuminating everyone around them. This is the Ministry of Being.

How then can we support those already recognized as ministers? And how can we encourage the blossoming of latent gifts of ministry among those in our midst? Meetings have a responsibility here, to ensure that opportunities for ministry and the development of such gifts have a place for expression, not only through worship but worship-sharing, workshops, and in some cases the provision of elders (that’s the “E” word, by the way!). Service on a committee, or attendance at a Quaker gathering, also offer opportunities. Above all, ministry requires the openness of the gathering to listen, receive and ponder the message.

This consultation ended for me with a wonderful example of “first the worship, then the service.” Three of us drove 45 miles to visit with a small worship group under care of Nashville MM. We worshipped with eight Friends clearly anxious for support and guidance, feeling the presence of the Spirit as we shared, listened, encouraged, and steered them to connect with each other. This was Quaker ministry in action. Give, and you shall receive. Listen, and you shall hear.

Daphne Davey is Clerk of Home Mission and Advancement Committee, a standing committee of Canadian Yearly Meeting whose wide responsibilities include the nurture of meetings, worship groups and isolated Friends. Daphne is a member of the Prince Edward Island Worship Group, a component of New Brunswick Monthly Meeting.

A View by Linda Chidsey

Janet Carter and I traveled to Bethany Hills Camp as New York Yearly Meeting’s representatives to the FGC Traveling Ministries “Consultation on Calling Forth and Nurturing Gifts of Ministry.” We stayed in the main lodge of the camp, and held the majority of our meetings in a room overlooking a pretty lake and the woods beyond. A wrap-around porch with rocking chairs provided space for small group meetings, friendly conversation and a brief moment of quiet retreat.

Friday evening, the consultation began in worship and then moved into a time of introductions, which included an opportunity to share the concerns and questions each of us was bringing to the consultation.

On Saturday morning Friends spoke of a wide range of challenges and successes, at the same time acknowledging a similarity of themes across the yearly meetings. Challenges included that of geographical distance and meeting size; a high percentage of convinced Friends with little understanding or experience of our tradition, theology, or the underpinnings of Friends’ corporate practices; a tendency toward individualism; a discomfort with the concepts of ministry and eldering, often carried over from negative experiences elsewhere; a generalized unfamiliarity with intervisitation as a part of our tradition.

A number of successes were also highlighted, including active or partially developed visitation programs; a defined system of clearness and support of Friends called to travel in the ministry; the development of written materials on the naming and recording of gifts in ministry, letters of introduction, traveling minutes, and letters of covenant. Also reported was the development of a Spiritual Formation Program and the releasing of Friends by their monthly meetings to carry concerns among Friends and beyond.

Saturday afternoon and evening were devoted to the overall themes of nurturing gifts in ministry and calling forth gifts in ministry respectively. Utilizing the technique or format of “open space technology” (a phrase unfamiliar and at first a bit puzzling to many), Friends were asked to suggest topics around these themes that they would either like to lead or explore with others. After five or six topics were identified, others were invited to sign up for the group in which they wanted to participate. Friends were welcome to move from one group to another, as led.

The last session included a sharing of important topics that had not been covered during the weekend, and how the Traveling Ministries Program might help yearly and monthly meetings. A time of evaluation followed and the consultation closed with a meeting for worship.

I was very appreciative of the thoughtful and thorough planning that went in to the consultation. The accommodations and location of the camp were well suited to deep rest and repose, even as we went about the full schedule that had been planned for participants. There were ample opportunities for sharing resources in large and small group presentation and discussion formats, as well as informal conversation. The written materials Friends that were asked to bring and distribute provided concrete examples and suggestions for others to work with and build upon.

Perhaps most gratifying was the depth and duration of worship experienced during the consultation. It was heartening to be with Friends from meetings across North America and to feel the earnestness with which so many are seeking to be faithful and obedient to the present call. I experienced not only a renewed sense of hope and certainty that God is calling us as a people, but that there also exists a very real desire and commitment on the part of many to reclaim the basis and living spirit of our distinctive practices and tradition. I returned home with the sense that indeed, Christ continues to come to teach his people himself.

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