This I wrote 8/18/04 to my meeting's M&W. I won't go into the result of it, but perhaps others can relate.
Dear Friends on Ministry & Worship and Clearness & Counsel:
I hope this letter finds you well in the Light. I pray that your work blesses you so that you may do the work as the [current] elders of the meeting.
Over the past several months, and especially since FGC Gathering, I’ve had an increasing leading to look inward and consider what God may be calling me to do in Gospel ministry. In the past it seemed almost always to include vocal ministry in meetings for worship and the chance Opportunities that would come about with individual Friends and other people.
I thought that, when I left Earlham School of Religion, my ministry was over. I had not been able to fight the spiritual and psychological demons that came before me, nor was I nearly mature enough to enter into any professional sort of ministry. Since then God has not given up on me, though I do know experientially what Paul meant when he wrote that from being weak and broken God could build us up to how God wants us.
At Gathering I had several conversations, one with a fellow member of Ministry & Counsel (FLGBTQC) who is called to Gospel Ministry. She is a recorded minister in Southeastern YM (a liberal YM like ours). She encouraged me to be faithful and suggested that God is calling me to be active in the ministry. Other Friends, involved with Traveling Ministries, and others who I’ve met through traveling in our wider Religious Society have likewise affirmed my gifts and provided positive eldering.
With the situation between Friends United Meeting and Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I’ve been feeling a particular leading to turn to Christ and be open to what he is telling me to say and do. I’m not clear as to what, if anything, my calling to Gospel Ministry may have to do with the situation, but I know the calling to be a minister for the Cause of Christ, for the Prince of Peace is increasingly strong. I also have a great feeling of love and genuine concern for GLBT people . . . . that they not run from God because of the rejection they find in so many organized religions. While I don’t sense a particular ministry to any one group of people, that concern remains.
Unfortunately, the committee that was set up to meet and worship with me has met but twice. The first time was pleasant, as members seemed to be trying to grasp what it means to be “called to ministry” and how it pertains to our Religious Society. The second meeting seemed more of a committee to assure those present that I was not going to broach the topic of being recorded in the ministry. I assured Friends that it was not an agenda of mine, but I admit I was severely troubled that there would [apparently] be no openness to such a suggestion if it were to come from another Friend.
As you know, in our tradition, a person called to ministry generally does not announce himself to the meeting saying, “I have a gift!” Rather, the elders of the meeting (in our case one of you) would be sensitive to those in the infancy state of ministry. That is to say, the elders seek out those who God seems to be calling to some form of ministry and offer the pastoral care. (I would add that the same goes for the role of Nominating Committee which should appoint people to committees based on observed gifts and that own person’s sense of being called, not merely filling slots so that Friends get a universal sense of the different aspects of the life of Homewood). I know that I came to Homewood somewhat in the middle of such a process – my gifts were recognized elsewhere and I began my walk in the ministry a long time ago. Still, West Knoxville did write in my introductory letter (when we first arrived to Baltimore in the Summer of 2000) that whatever meeting we chose to call home would need to continue the work of helping me in my call to ministry.
I am a bit discouraged that there are few Friends in these parts of Quakerism who are familiar with Gospel Ministry, and how to nurture and care for those of us who are called. Friends have wanted to know when I speak of my calling to ministry what concern I carry (Such as Stan’s Population Concern). Perhaps for some, their ministries take a particular form or shape in a social way. Mine is one of speaking, of ministering in somewhat the traditional sense of the word – being a disciple of Christ. All of us called to ministry need our elders. There are Friends who have gifts of eldering, but who would help them to realize their own gifts? I fault no one, if anyone it would be the Friends who had this knowledge who died without passing on the tradition first! And we do evolve, and we have many new to Friends, so I am not naïve to the developments in liberal Friends meetings over the past 60 or so years. It doesn’t change the fact that we need elders in our meetings – those who recognize their gifts in discernment and pastoral care and who can nurture those called to ministry with their spiritual wisdom and insights.
I want to share with Friends a bit more about my calling to ministry and what it has entailed so far inwardly. I mentioned already some of the outward forms. What I feel generally is a love for people but especially for Friends. All Friends. I’ve studied extensively the history of our Society out of a passion for our version of the Christian faith. The lives of previous Friends have served as more of an inspiration to me than the characters of the Bible! My concern is indeed for the souls of people that they may come to the Light and know God, and that they may be grow in relationship with the Divine.
A passage in one of my Bibles that I highlighted when I was an teen at West Knoxville Meeting reads: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 2:12.
I suspect that this passage was probably political and may have even been directed at the various “heretical” Christian bodies of the time. However, I read this personally. I saw this as a reminder for me to remain faithful to Christ, and to stay centered in the Spirit, not straying too far from the doctrines that Friends have so clearly and faithfully tested. To Friends beliefs I try to remain faithful, without believing them for their own sake.
No gift, if not based in love and community, can ever be made to benefit others. Without love, a gift is not shared but displayed. Without a healthy, dedicated community, the seed cannot be nurtured and will die or not sprout at all. What I do have is an unconditional love for the Religious Society of Friends and the Friends Church – it is this love that has kept me in worship these past 16 years rather than leaving to another Christian faith (and I’ve tried a few times to leave). My faith in Christ is the reason for this love. It is in Christ that I’ve been justified and for missing the mark time and time again I’m forgiven. I know the wages of sin are death and despair – I know this experimentally. I believe in the power of the spoken word as it has brought me closer to the Spirit and I have witnessed it bring others closer to the Spirit through me. My greatest fears are to outrun my guide so as to be a hindrance to others coming to know the love of Christ or to not be faithful and let an opportunity pass to speak when God leads me.
In the past 7 years I’ve had several losses in the “Lamb’s War.” That is to say, where Christ has called me to fight for truth and purity I’ve turned my back on him and even myself. Yet Christ remains faithful, even to this day. He does indeed “stand at the door and knock” and lately he’s been knocking incessantly.
I don’t know that I’ve been sanctified in the Spirit, and this is of great concern to me. My own spiritual and psychological battles get in the way of the necessary qualification to being a Gospel Minister. I know that this probably all sounds foreign and strange, but what I mean to say is that my soul aches to be free of the bonds that hold it. It craves to be low before God and silent so that it may grow and do the will of God. However, I can choose wicked ways that would keep the ministry from speaking to the condition of others. I do not have the experience and understanding to know the fullness of my own gifts and keeping to it.
I need those who are gifted in hearing who tend to their own gifts to be there at worship and listen. I need Friends who are tender who will neither set me up nor pull me down. I need Friends who are willing to help me try the spirits to see if they are of God, who will worship with me regularly. Those who are spiritual will see where I am better than myself.
So, I’m asking Friends to weigh heavily these queries. Depending upon the clarity of Friends, I would like a different committee who would be willing to meet with me and worship with me regularly, and who would also be willing to consider reading the book A description of the qualifications necessary to a Gospel Minister by Samuel Bownas. This book is helping me and is also helpful to elders chosen to work with a minister in his infancy. I have certain Friends that I would like to see on that committee, and I’d prefer the committee be quite small.
· What do Friends understand 'ministry' to be?
· Do Friends find something of God in me that answers to my gift?
· Does my way of ministering seem to be of God or myself?
· Are there Friends who rashly judge Friends who regularly speak in meeting, tending to greatly discourage vocal ministry overall? Does there exist at Homewood a censorious and critical temper that could hinder some from coming forth in their gifts in ministry, putting into silence those who have had insufficient time to make or give full proof of their ministry?
· Does my zeal sometimes stretch beyond my authority?
· Do Friends spiritually sense my love for the Society?
I hope that Friends receive this letter in the love in which it was written. I know I seem to ask much, and often, of this meeting.
In the Light,