5.09.2007

Traveling companion or not?

One of my concerns as I was preparing to go to Providence to speak at the FWCC Section of the Americas Annual Meeting was whether I should have some kind of traveling companion. It seems to be the Quakerly thing to do. The current Clerk of my Meeting likes to remind us that Friends should travel in pairs.

It’s tricky to know what term to use for this kind of spiritual companion. I know some people use the term “elder.” Others have defined elder differently, as more of an in-house function in a monthly meeting. The FGC Traveling Ministries Program is currently using the term “traveling companion.” In any case, I didn’t really have anyone to sort this out with before I went, but I thought about it some.

I actually thought I should have an elder/traveling companion. However, getting to Providence from San Francisco is a long and expensive trip, and my Meeting was already helping with my expenses. I started trying to find out if there was anyone I knew from my yearly meeting who was also going. It took a while to find out who our current FWCC representatives are, and even then I didn’t really know any of them well. When I found out that my friend Janet L. was also planning to go, I was very pleased.

I first got to know Janet about three years ago when we served on the CPQM children’s program committee together. Janet was clerk that first year and then served as an elder to me as I was clerk the next year. I find her sheer presence calming; her thoughtful, serious questions helpful; and her humor and musical ability make it a joy to work with her. I also know her a bit through her eldest daughter, who is about my age.

Frankly, I was afraid to formally ask her to serve as an elder for me because I was afraid she would take that title too seriously and say no. And really, can I just ask someone to be my elder or should that be an appointed function through some formal body? I don’t know. We in Pacific YM are still pretty new at this whole concept.

I did feel clear to ask for her help in a few specific ways. First off, I asked her to pray for me and my workshop. She agreed, and even offered to come and sit in the front row while I spoke and hold me in the Light. As it turned out, she sat right next to me in the first workshop where I spoke and I took strength and comfort from her presence.

Secondly, I asked her advice about getting a Spanish translation of the Bible. She generously offered to loan me hers during the annual meeting. This turned out to be more important than I knew, and I will write more about that in the coming days.

Thirdly, I asked her to listen to me, over the phone, as I tried to discern what I needed to say as my part of the workshop. We set a phone date and we talked for about half an hour. I explained how I came to be invited, and what I thought I would talk about. She asked good questions and was generally encouraging about the idea of convergent Friends and whatever ministry I might be called to around that.

I also asked her a few practical questions about the annual meeting, since I had never been to one before. We agreed to help each other remember not to get too caught up in the busyness of the annual meeting: to remember to take sufficent time to breathe, to walk calmly, and to pray. This was very helpful. Every time I saw her face, I remembered to breathe and to smile.

Another blessing of her support is that I know that I will see her again and again as I return home to my usual responsibilities and involvement. She can report (informally) to others in my Quarterly and Yearly Meeting as to my conduct while out in the wider world. I will have the opportunity to discuss the experience later, after I’ve had some chances for reflection, with someone who was there when it happened, and who heard other people’s responses while we were there.

Next time I do something like this, I want to name what I’m asking for, and to be a little more transparent/formal about it. But in any case. I’m grateful for the practical and spiritual help and the boost in my confidence. Thank you so much, Janet.

Now that my anchor committee is formed, they have agreed to help me think this through, for short and long trips that I may be considering. How can we discern, not only to what traveling ministry I am called, when and where, but also who else might be called to serve in this work? How do we find the resources that will be necessary, spiritual, financial, logistical, to carry out the work that God has given us? Notice that it’s not just about me. One of the wonderful things that our TMP visitors reminded us was that we on this committee have each been given a piece of this ministry to carry.

One other thing that I learned when I got home is that it was really hard to arrive home at the airport all alone. Well, I already kind of knew that about myself. Arriving at a new airport is part of the excitement of the trip, but coming home alone is just depressing. In this case, I mean that literally. I was in tears over a minor delay in the shuttle service from the airport to my home. The concept of being spiritually tired helps me now to understand why it was so hard that night.

From now on, I need to either travel with someone, or have someone pick me up at the airport when I get back. In fact, I think what I would really like is for someone to stay with my children, at our house, if it’s late, and they’re asleep, so that my husband could come to pick me up. My anchor committee agreed to help me make these arrangements next time. They affirmed that this is not so unreasonable to ask for, and I think it would make a big difference in not being so, so, wiped out when I get home.

Maybe then I’ll be able to write about it sooner.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hey, Robin, good questions. I know that the committee that supports FGC's Traveling Ministries Program (TMP)--the Traveling Ministries Committee--has been working on a statement to clarify what a travel companion is or isn't. It's a question I have sought guidance around in my role as clerk of the Workshops Committee for the 2007 Gathering, since a number of workshop leaders are intending to be accompanied by Friends who can provide spiritual support, and there are a number of terms and understandings floating around out there.*

In your specific case, it sounds like Janet was "tuned in" and provided you with the support you yourself were hoping for, and your explanation of how she was "there for you" pretty much captures all that a companion in ministry might do for a traveling Friend.

I have heard and experienced all sorts of requests for and offers of this kind of spiritual support: from Friends who travel in the ministry making formal requests from their meeting to name a Friend to travel with them; from traveling Friends who are paired with a stranger as they both are part of the TMP; from Friends who are scheduled to provide a workshop and find out a trusted personal friend is going to be there, so the workshop leader just asks the trusted friend--as you did--for being a prayerful, intentional presence.... The list goes on.

I find that the title or job description for being a companion in ministry to a traveling Friend isn't as important as the faithfulness we lend to the Call that we receive!

I also want to add that in no way do I think your yearly meeting is unusual in "being new at this [TMP/travel companion] thing." And besides, it's all part of restoring some valuable, nearly-lost practices, right?

I'm glad you've shared this. And I'm glad you'll make plans in the future to be met by someone at the tail end of your travels. The need to be nurtured doesn't end when the opportunity to serve ends...

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

*P.S. Since FGC serves Friends in North America, even though it focuses primarily on Friends who worship in the unprogrammed tradition, there are differences in the understanding of "elder" between Liberal Friends and Conservative Friends, as well as differences from meeting to meeting. And of course, a few bloggers have threshed this topic already. See the list of related posts at the bottom of my own.

5/10/2007 12:17 AM  
Blogger kwattles said...

With cell phones and email, I think the main reason for a traveling companion is taken care of. Traveling around in olden days, you could disappear and no-one would know what happened!

I'm only slightly tongue-in-cheek here. Certainly there are other good reasons, and if you can get someone to do it, that's great! Failing that, it's good to have a 'clearness committee' and to keep in touch with them later. My mom had one in her meeting in New England, for a trip to east Africa, and they were quite helpful.

5/10/2007 12:01 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hi Liz, thanks for taking the time to respond. You're right that I found a way to ask for and receive what I needed. I am glad that many Friends are looking into what kinds of support ministers need to be most faithful and effective and efficient. I want to be clear that I do not see these three as mutually exclusive, but mutually supportive.

Kirk, it's still possible to get lost and have no one know what happened to you.

One of the things that interests me is how to make it easier for Friends to expect and ask for spiritual support. And to be clear about the benefits to our whole Religious Society of giving and receiving individual spiritual support when needed.

5/10/2007 7:36 PM  
Blogger kwattles said...

I studied sociology for awhile, so for me the mundane reasons come to mind first. They need to be factored in before we get to the esoteric reasons. "Getting lost" can be understood at either level.

It's helpful to "compare and contrast" with how Friends did things in the past, e.g. with traveling companions. Greater distance from our present situation gives us room for perspective. At the same time, we expect to find some congruence, from then to now, in how we attend to our own spiritual condition and how we may care for one another.

We don't just do things the way Friends used to do them because they "knew better" than us, or because they preceded us down the same path that we're now on. I'm thinking, for example, of Nancy A's discussion of Quaker "Firstism," in her blog.

So thank you, Robin, for sharing this dimension of your trip, and explaining how you anchored it by making more explicit certain expectations and social arrangements within your meeting.

We're all creatures of the wider society much more than we realize, and our Friendly society is often affected in ways that are hard to see clearly, for instance by our busyness day to day and our constant shifting among different social settings and reference groups. These provide lots of reasons why Friends would typically find it hard to reinstitute traveling companions, and easy to dismiss. But we've got to keep pushing, testing, and experimenting.

5/11/2007 10:02 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Quakerism is an experiental religion. At this time many Friends are digging deeper into the roots of our tradition and trying to revitalize practices that have gone dormant in many meetings. Traveling in the ministry is one of these. As we try to do this we will utilize whatever resources we find. Old descriptions of how it was done in the past will be helpful as well as what remains of the living practices in the places were it has not completely gone. But in part the act of reconstruction will have to proceed by people just diving into it, doing the best they can and learning from experience. How do you get an elder to travel with a minister if the meeting has no recorded ministers or elders? The answer lies in our tradition of trusting the Spirit to raise people up and lead them. How to we get new ministers and elders? The Holy Spirit provides them. People will be lead to do what ministers and elders do. Actually ministering and eldering comes first. The recognition by the monthly meeting that a new minister or elder has appeared among them comes after.

Unlike churches that try to pick people to become ministers and train them to fulfill the function, Quakers trust that God will raise them up. The community's function is to recognize and nurture them.

So you don't have to wait for your meeting to name an elder in order to ask them to accompany you. Asking someone to accompany you on your travel is an opportunity for a gift of eldering to reveal itself.

5/11/2007 10:15 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Kirk, I agree about the mundane - I personally like to stay aware of how blood sugar affects my perception of the Divine presence as much as any other factor.

And I second the point that we shouldn't do things the way Friends used to just because they used to, but because some of those practices still have the power to transform us. This was one of the points of the talk I gave in Providence. Eventually I will get around to writing about that here.

Richard, I think it was my recognition of the gifts of eldering in my friend Janet that made me think "I should ask her," rather than anyone else I knew who was going.

I don't think my Meeting is ready to record elders or gifts of eldering on a standing basis, but I think we are able to recognize those gifts and to name the individuals on an as-needed basis. I believe it is part of my work in my Meeting to continue to push us to be more transparent and more formal about this recognition by asking for help in finding a companion next time.

This was part of the work we did with the visitors from the traveling ministry program - to open more fully and formally the discussion of spiritual gifts, of ministers and elders, to help us notice and nurture those gifts among us.

5/11/2007 3:56 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Dear friend Robin, I think you should know that not every weighty Friend thinks that Friends should travel in pairs. Deb Fisch, who is both the clerk of my yearly meeting, Iowa (Conservative), and also the clerk of FGC's Traveling Ministries Program, told me -- before I set out on my walk across the Midwest last year -- that she did not think so. For whatever that's worth.

I might also note that a lot of weighty Friends, historically, have travelled in the ministry alone. John Woolman did so in his journey to England.

Personally, though, I favor the idea of having a weighty companion travel with any Friend who travels in the ministry. This is because we traveling Quaker ministers are not always wise enough to say and do the right thing when we are alone in strange circumstances. A second Friend can ground us in reality, keep us from being foolish, correct us if we err spiritually or theologically and if need be rein us in physically when we are on the point of giving in to temptation. I speak from personal experience here.

With apologies to my dear friend Kirk Wattles, I do not believe that cell phones and e-mail are an adequate substitute.

5/11/2007 8:57 PM  
Blogger Quaptist said...

Okay, Robin, I'll try again. (My last attempt to comment here got lost in cyberspace.) I have some experience traveling with an official companion, an unofficial companion, and "alone". All have been worthwhile experiences.

An official companion who knows the territory can be especially helpful, for example, if special meetings must be "called". It is much more comfortable for the companion to say, "So and so is here and feels to call a meeting." than it is for the minister her/himself to say, "Would you all please take time out from your busy lives to come meet with me?"

Either the official or the unofficial companion can be helpful in the elder/encourager role, for helping to discern when to speak, be still, stay, or move on, and to process what has been experienced as a result of following the leading.

When traveling alone, one has to lean especially on the Lord for provision of these helps through the Holy Spirit, and if the leading is True and the minister is sincere, this help is usually and abundantly provided. I have occasionally traveled alone to places where I felt I should not be alone, only to be greeted at the door by the one the Lord had appointed to look after me!

At the triennial in New Zealand I was feeling quite empty and alone after sharing in ministry during a business meeting. At the rise of the meeting I sat quietly praying that someone would come to me as the room slowly emptied and Friends moved on toward the dining room. When it became clear to me that no one was coming for me, I got up and headed toward the door, whereupon an unfamiliar voice called me by name. A sweet, motherly woman appeared with a message of encouragement which was just what I needed, and a wonderful companionship began which carried me through the entire conference.

Perhaps this connection would have occurred if I had had a companion with me, but it would not have been as precious, nor would I have had the same conviction that it was by the Lord's good providence that I was so richly blessed.

I hope these comments have added to the sense that I've gotten from this discussion that what we're reaching for here is faithfulness to the leadings of God in our own times and circumstances, rather than merely to recreate something that may or may not have been exactly as it's presented to us in the history books. I've been blessed to grow up spiritually among those Friends where these traditions have not completely died out, as someone has accurately described it, where at least some Friends remember the days when traveling ministers regularly visited their meetings and homes and it was a special event in the community. (Though not all of those memories are fond ones.) Even among conservative Friends, the culture has changed so much that the old forms just don't fit quite like they used to, for better or worse. But we can still glean from past experience important insights, particularly about the humility, the culture of listening, the joy of giving and receiving hospitality, and the glorious provision of our loving Lord for the soul that is truly surrendered to God's will.

Growing in Grace,
David Male

5/13/2007 11:31 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you, Marshall and David.

I think that we are all agreeing that it is best for traveling ministers to not go alone, for logistical and spiritual reasons. However, I'm not hearing Friends say that a minister shouldn't go if a companion can not be found ahead of time.

I had a recent experience of traveling with another minister when that companionship became very important. I am trying to write that up for a new post tomorrow.

5/14/2007 12:46 AM  
Blogger MartinK said...

Hi Robin,
I'm not sure there's a one-size-fits-all answer to any of this since so much depends on the circumstances. In general it's probably a good idea to travel with someone. Not to replace cellphones or to do place-setting work, but rather to help ground the experience. A traveling companion can help keep a formality to the experience and the companion can ask questions beforehand that will help focus the traveler. In the olden journals I've read, it seems that ministers tended to travel together without formally deciding on separate roles. If we stay tuned to the Spirit we'll know how to serve one another.

I sat on a three-person "Quaker blogging" panel at a local meeting yesterday. My mother attended with me but she doesn't count as a traveling companion, alas, and while I was friends with some of the audience members I was there alone. I'm struck by the strong feeling that something wasn't quite right in how it all happened but have no one to really talk about it with. A traveling companion to decompress about it would be awfully nice right about now.

5/14/2007 6:59 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

I think the practice of someone traveling in the ministry having an elder or companion is a good one, although I agree with Marshall that it should not be an absolute rule. I have had experience on both sides of the equation.

Traditionally, the companion was normally appointed by the meeting. This can be helpful, but again should not be an absolute rule. One has to sense what is right in each situation.

A companion helps to spiritually anchor the minister. S/he prays for the minister, reflects with the minister, and generally provides spiritual support.

A long time ago, when I felt a calling to travel in the ministry for a specific occasion, the Lord seemed to be saying to me that a particular person should be my companion. Although the event was only about a couple of days away and the companion was a person of no fixed address, way opened for me to contact the Friend and he readily agreed to be my companion.

I found myself with much inner doubts and uncertainty before the occasion, and having the companion to share with proved invaluable. I am doubtful I would have proved faithful in that ministry without the help provided through a companion.

On another occasion, I was the companion for someone else. This was in providing leadership for a retreat. The retreat group was a little mystified as to why there were two who came, but one did all the leading, but that provided an opportunity to educate them about the practice. It was a rewarding experience to be able to so serve.

5/14/2007 9:22 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hey Martin, I had heard you were going to speak about Quaker blogging - I would have loved to be there. Couldn't you talk with the other panelists? You can always email or call us if you just want to talk about it.

Thank you Bill for sharing your experiences. Those stories are good reminders on several levels.

5/15/2007 1:41 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

I've been thinking about this post for a while. Something that bugs me a bit about modern Friends is that we can be a bit, well, cavalier, about individual Friends and their leadings. It seems really easy to minute our support, and easy to just stop there. I do think it is the responsibility of the meeting to support ministers in finding companions or whatever other support they require. It shouldn't be up to the minister to recruit. Then it's too easy for both the minister and the prospective companion to view the request as a personal favor, instead of as being faithful to divine leading.

5/20/2007 10:59 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Linda,
I really like this reminder that serving as an elder or traveling companion is not a personal favor to the minister, but an opportunity for service to God and the faith community.

5/21/2007 2:04 PM  

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