Can I do it again? Pleeease?
Perhaps the hardest part of the last week has been the realization anew that this is the work I want to be doing all the time.
I’m wrestling with the nagging feeling that God is calling me to this ministry of hospitality and encouragement: this work of bringing Friends together, convening learning communities, facilitating conversations and supporting Friends on their spiritual journeys, which brings me such joy and fulfillment and peace. Aren’t I really supposed to be doing this all the time? Am I disobeying God’s leading by spending so much of my time earning a secular living?
Or is the desire to devote myself to a full-time, "hireling" ministry a distraction? A temptation?
Actually, I think I am given both pieces of work to do. Just as God has called me to be a Quaker and not a Presbyterian, God is showing me what the Quaker path of ministry looks like. I have a “competency” as Friends have traditionally called it, and I am figuring out how to balance my household chores/family responsibilities, my paid employment and my religious vocation.
Apparently I am not called to singleness of eye or singleness of purpose. It wouldn’t make me happy to be a full-time writer/minister and watch my children go around with holes in their shoes. It wouldn’t make me happy to have a million dollar job that required me to work on Sundays or past my children’s bedtimes. And it wouldn’t make me happy to have a spotless house but no reason to ever leave it.
This vocational dilemma is a major issue for liberal unprogrammed Friends. We have a slew of new ministers, many quite young, with a tremendous fire to tend to the ailing Religious Society of Friends. But we don’t have a clear view of how to make use of their gifts.
If we look around to other religions, we see that they generally send their spiritually gifted young people to seminaries. And we have increasingly encouraged our young people to do that too. But other religions have a more defined career path for seminary trained ministers: right into paid positions in their church hierarchies, most of which have a broad need for entry level pastoral staff, along with a few positions in their central offices. Quakers also have those central offices and institutions, but there aren't that many jobs there.
What unprogrammed Friends don’t have, and sorely lack, is a large enough generation above us infant ministers (to quote Samuel Bownas) of men and women who are both living out a deep commitment to local ministry and working in some kind of trade or profession that financially supports their families. The closest examples most of us know of are academics from our grandparents’ generation whose writings have been published and preserved: Douglas Steere, Elton Trueblood, Howard Brinton for example.
There are a few Friends who are well known today who are in that same category. There are more who are mostly unknown in wider circles because while they may be ministering effectively to their local communities, they are not traveling in the ministry or writing for publication (much). (I can think of several examples in my own Meeting, and that’s probably why my Meeting is thriving today.) But there aren’t enough of them, God only knows why, and at the same time, so many meetings are struggling and many young people are floundering, not knowing how to proceed.
I wonder if, just as 150 years ago, Friends hired pastors to care for the influx of newcomers, today we might be headed toward hiring pastors in order to keep our young people and bring in newcomers.
Anyway, this is why I’m writing this here today: I want to record publicly that I too am struggling with this issue. I know I am not alone. And I know this struggle is not because of a mistake, or a failure to live out my calling.
It is part of the challenge of living as a Quaker in the 21st century.
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