Sunday, 31 January 2010

More thoughts on ministry, concern and our meeting

I have been wanting for some days to reply to/comment on Craig’s posting and now Simon’s posting. I want to do it as succinctly as I can. This posting is not a coherent quasi-essay, but some random responses, which have been knocking around in my head.
Like Simon declaring his role of current Elder, I need to do the same for any blog readers who aren’t aware of it: I am clerk at Sheffield Central at the moment.
Here are some of my thoughts… this discussion takes me straight back to the very valuable and thought-provoking article by Craig some months back about ‘Quaker space’ and ‘Quaker way’. I think the need to re-organise our meetings is partly about providing more Quaker space. More and more people are finding what a good experience it is, to be in that Quaker space for an hour (or more) a week. Arranging more meetings is in effect increasing the amount of Quaker space available. That’s good.
But Simon has also referred to the difficulty we can have in securing Friends (or attenders… for many positions, it doesn’t matter which) to fulfil roles within the meeting. That’s about taking on the ‘Quaker way’ – ie. Committing yourself to doing something over and above being there on a Sunday morning and enjoying the vibe. We really do need that as well.
As for the quality and quantity of ministry… I have to say, I don’t mind having several pieces of ministry, when they are all pretty short. I find them a great deal easier to digest. And I do believe that it is a spiritual discipline to listen to the spoken ministry and to discern whether it is something helpful for oneself, or not. And if not, to gently and uncritically let it go. I wish I could more easily comply with that word, ‘uncritically’. It is very human and natural to pass judgement on a piece of ministry that may not match up to some ideal standard: too trite, too rambling, too wordy, too obscure… etc.
Simon’s blog has partly been an extended exploration of the word ‘concern’ and its special Quaker meaning. 2 words which are really important for me are ‘commitment’ and ‘service’. Maybe they are more immediately meaningful than concern, to anyone without a Quaker background. I think this is partly what Craig has been getting at when he reminds us that coming to Meeting on Sunday is not just about getting our own needs met – there also has to be an element of being prompted and pushed outwards and onwards, to do something once we leave the meeting.

My over-riding feeling though is of excitement and delight that we should be having this discussion via the blog – which is amongst ourselves and with others out there, who are also taking an interest. And that the dilemma posed for our meeting at the moment results from having increasing numbers joining us to worship on a Sunday morning. What a great ‘problem’ to have!


Nadine Wills said...

Hi Laura,
I'm really glad you posted the link to Craig's post about the difference between Quaker Space and Way. It is an interesting distinction. I personally find myself drawn to Quakers because it is a Way/path (although certainly do not adhere to the exact same aspects as others do despite much overlap from what I understand this seems the norm).

I certainly like and enjoy the Space aspects of it (as Craig defines it, very useful this, I think I have more blog archive reading to do). I wonder how much of this recent conversation is blurring between Space and Way?

It seems to me that to truly listen, then you need to listen, to whatever is being said. Finding positive ways of engaging with the responses is always the challenge and one I trust we will work our way towards (noting that listening is to yourself in response to Ministry as well as to what others may be saying out loud is crucial so Craig beginning/continuing this conversation is important).

I have no specific response to Ministry in Meeting really except that to hope there is a solution - and trust that there will be one and am holding this in the Light - that meets as many needs in as appropriate a fashion as possible. It just has made me a bit sad but also reminded me that when these kinds of conversations are truly embraced creativity, connection and opportunities flow. So, that is what I am hoping will come out of this.

I have been wondering a bit about the Spiritual Friendship that Woodbrooke has a week on coming up in March. It seems to suggest somehow to me (I know nothing about this, so this is conjecture and any comments or clarifications would be welcome) the idea of carrot rather than stick in reference to Quaker discipline in Meetings: helping people to develop their concept of ministry and engagement through personal relationships, understanding and dialogue with each other?

It seems natural that people go through stages of enthusiasm and perhaps mistakes and need time and gentle guidance/mentorship to help appreciate the more subtle aspects of how Meetings work rather than discipline necessarily. Perhaps this also allows for an appreciation of what these people have to offer. Maybe then they will be Ministering in other places at other times and so it becomes a virtuous circle of generosity and acceptance. Is that how this idea of Spiritual Friendship is meant to work? Is it a type of buddy system but on a deeper level? A personal engagement and commitment to each other and personal/informal learning rather than larger maybe more formal workshops with specific learning outcomes? Is this is why such a concept and a training exists? Because other Meetings have encountered similar issues?

Anyway, I agree with you Laura. It is a wonderful problem to have, I would hope that people minister because they are inspired and want to share with others. I would also hope that those who experience silence and spirituality on deeper levels, find ways to communicate that to others so that their understandings are shared with newcomers informally (not just through Ministry or "events" so that this explains and perpetuates a deeper understanding of the Quaker Way).

I'm glad to be in a Space where these kind of things are discussed and people are so passionate and actively engaged in their spiritual lives.

Craig Barnett said...

Nadine - I think what you identify is so important:

"helping people to develop their concept of ministry and engagement through personal relationships, understanding and dialogue with each other"

Something that has been developed recently to facilitate this is Woodbrooke's 'Becoming Friends' project. Info at:

This looks like such a valuable resource, combining elements of learning and personal reflection with 'spiritual friendship' from a local Friend. I've got a copy of the handbook, and will write at more length about it soon.