Learning to minister

On 14 February 1999 I was born again- not in the Evangelical sense, into strict Evangelicalism, but with a shocking about-face to my understanding of the World, suddenly appreciating that God was on the side of all humanity, and that we were all in it together. I gained hope. Shortly after, I attended my first Quaker meeting, after staying over with my girlfriend, and blurted out “The holy spirit is here!” I don’t know what I was thinking, and when someone thanked me for my ministry after I was back in my masks and pretence, unable to be sincere with her or really hear her. I went back later for an Enquirers’ day at that monthly meeting, with Carol.

I started attending Manchester Mount St meeting, and spoke fairly often. I remember sitting after speaking, wondering if it had been Ministry. I could make no rational case that it had, and I still like to understand things rationally, but if I sat with what I felt about it, I was sure enough. And visiting Chester meeting, I decided to share an insight I had gained from the Gospel of Thomas, which I am quite sure was just me telling Friends something which interested me, even though it was about spiritual matters and might have given someone there new insight. And I was not moved to speak, and felt great shame about it for months afterwards.

We learn by making mistakes, and by seeing what works. I have been tempted to go on beyond my leading, to give a neat peroration to sum up, and found myself shut up by the Spirit, unable to say it. I have seen others speak, then an expression of shock goes across their face and they sit suddenly. I am not giving a speech, and leaving ministry open ended may be better- though that is a feeling in a particular situation, and not a rule.

In Becoming Friends, there is a flow chart designed to discourage speaking during worship. It starts Is the message from the Holy Spirit and not just from you? It ends, Is the message also truly “not from you” but from God’s Holy Spirit? Must you speak? I find this hectoring. It empowers my inner doubts: however clear I am that I should speak, or have given ministry, doubting voices arise in my head. One answer “Yes” to this question is enough. If the message is just from you, you should not share it. A man has moved on from my AM who visited the other LMs regularly and generally spoke, explaining that recent attenders benefited from having some speech during the hour. He would not be Eldered. I sometimes felt what he said was preachy, not true ministry.

A man I knew, a committed Christian feeling rejected by other churches for being gay, started attending, and had his name added to the attenders’ list, but after an Elder interrupted him during worship to say he had said enough never attended again. Possibly it was not good ministry, but I would rather he had been drawn aside after Meeting, and asked about his understanding of ministry rather than publicly told not to speak like that. But then I visited another meeting where four people spoke, and one, a trans woman, told a story which I thought to be unduly negative, sharing her pain rather than ministering. I thought she should be spoken to after, but other Friends after wanted to let her be. Let her grow in understanding. She is committed and will learn through experience in time. And trans women can be uncomfortable around each other, unduly alive to negative impressions others may be getting from us.

I went once to Glasgow meeting, and seven stood to speak, which I thought too many. The last just seemed to say she was glad to be back in Glasgow. I have heard of people always speaking, or of there always being lots of speech, and that causing tension in a meeting. I can see that could be a problem. I find meetings with no speech beautiful; and I wonder if more spoken ministry could benefit my meeting. Could it draw us together in love and greater understanding of each other?

That flow-chart has some good rules. Is the message intended for the whole meeting, not just for you or the previous speaker? (If not, I say share it with someone after, over coffee, or treasure it in your heart.) Is it meant to be shared right now? I have had Meetings where thoughts come together during the meeting, where I might have spoken at the start, did not, and could say something more- yes, more valuable is the word I choose- at the end, as well as the commonly attested experience of hearing another say what one might have been moved to say. But- Will others likely mistake the message for a political statement, lecture or personal announcement? Will they mistake it is not the test, but is it these things. And personal announcements can be ministry, drawing us together in greater understanding and love of Friends. One recent one is probably unforgettable.

People object to “daffodil ministry”, something trite you noticed on the way to meeting that morning. And it is good to be reminded of beauty, or possibly anything a Friend could share in a sentence, or their presence and being in worship with us.

If there is too much ministry it can be a problem. Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit. Reach for the meaning deep within it, recognising that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others. It can still be a problem. And possibly a lack of spoken ministry could be a bad thing too, losing a chance to see how alike we are, to learn through one another, to grow in unity.

2 thoughts on “Learning to minister

  1. Some good thoughts here. I too go through these wonderings about whether what I’ve said is truly ministry or not; it’s not always easy to tell. Sometimes I feel absolutely certain and at others it just seems like talking – and yet afterwards people have come up and thanked me.
    Re; comments which are not quite ministry: our meeting has found it useful (at least some of us have) to use Afterword once a month. This is for comments which are not ministry but which you would like to share – the ‘daffodil’ and ‘glad to be back’ comments would fit here quite nicely I’d have thought

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    • Welcome, Friend. Thank you for commenting.

      My previous meeting had afterword every Sunday, my current meeting not at all. It felt to me like being moved to speak, still- it was not mere conversation- but I felt for others it was an excuse to address the meeting, leading to someone prosing on about what they had read in the Guardian and then long conversations better held between the two Friends talking over coffee than in Afterword.

      And, in my first regular meeting (I have moved about quite a bit) a child on its parent’s knee was asking insistently “What is it called? What is it called?” This led to ministry on vocation. After notices a woman stood and said she had come back to the meeting after a long time away, and the ministry had helped her considering whether to take a particular job.

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