This past weekend I attended a retreat that was put on by the Traveling Ministries Program of Friends General Conference.... or, for those well versed in the Quaker alphabet, FGC's TMP.
Towards the end of the retreat, I learned that there are primarily two types of TMP retreats, which are offered on alternate years. One is for Friends who currently travel in the ministry through FGC's program; the other is for Friends with emerging gifts and/or for Friends who may be traveling either through the TMP (which coordinates the visits of Friends to the meetings who ask for such visits) or within their own yearly meetings, whose visits are arranged independent of FGC.
Each year, FGC invites a limited number of Friends to these retreats. My sense is that because they are "by invitation only," these retreat opportunities have a certain felt-sense that is different, say, from FGC's small regional conferences, which happen every 2-3 years and are open to any and all Friends, though there is usually a cap on enrollment.
(I believe the next FGC small conference is planned for 2007 and will be related to religious education.)
Back to the TMP retreat:
This particular retreat was for those Friends who are carrying a spiritual Concern or who currently travel in the ministry, and for a Friend from each Friend's ongoing support committee (what FGC calls anchor committees), or a Friend from the meeting's Ministry & Counsel Committee (or equivalent).
There were about 50 Friends in all, 25 "minister" Friends and 25 "anchor" Friends.
As so often happens in my life, when I received a letter actually inviting me to participate in the retreat, I wasn't ready to receive that invitation! Surely they have made some mistake, I thought.
I then experienced a sequence of inward struggles: my own rejection of my possible worthiness; a shadowy desire to inflate my ego for having been "selected"; a concern for what others might think; a question about why this opportunity seemingly coincided with the clearness process I had formally begun around an emerging ministry about how we convey our faith and identity as Friends.
When I received the advance roster of Friends participating in the retreat, though, my struggles ended. I was a Friend among Friends, some of whom I had worshipped with, been in workshops with, or played with. I was grateful for what I can only describe as the "low feeling" that I was nobody special.
During the retreat, though I wasn't transformed overnight with some earth-shattering mystical experience, I did have a few openings that touched me unexpectedly and are still working quietly on my soul at a slow, deep level.
For one thing, I was able to hear directly from Friends more experienced than I about how they came to carry and travel with a given ministry. I heard reports of how the life of these Friends' meetings were made more vibrant over time as on-going support and anchor committees made reports to their monthly and yearly meetings.
I heard Friends talk about their laboring with their meeting when they themselves came under the burden of being called to a particular ministry; how desperately they sought care and nurture, for they could not carry the burden alone and expect to stay the course and endure; and how naked and vulnerable they felt as they spoke with their clearness committees, elders, and anchor committees.
Other times, such as during extended worship, I heard ministry from young adult Friends who clearly live in the virtue of the Light that calls us forward; and ministry from older Friends who call us to heed the call, despite any personal cost.
We were seemingly all made so tender... and I felt myself being knit into the fabric of this gathered group.
Each of these stories is my own story. Each of these callings is my own call.
Here are some specific highlights of my experience, though as is often the case when the Living Presence moves among us, I am foggy on some of the details.
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Large "peer" groups. For a portion of Saturday, we were asked to meet in two large groups--one for those identified as "minister" Friends and one for those identified as "anchor" Friends. (And yes, we spoke of how the lines between the two are blurred: Those on anchor committees certainly minister to the Friend who seeks support; and ministers certainly can provide care, support, and nurture to Friends who serve on their anchor committees.)
For me to sit in a circle with 25 other Friends whose faith journey had brought them to such a place in their life... well, it was just huge for me. I feel like I was finally being seen for my measure of Light and what I was carrying. I cannot describe the inward freedom I felt just then...
In fact, I am aware of it only as I prepare this post, that for once I was not worried that someone might have found me intimidating or arrogant. Gosh, I had not known til now how tired I have been of living with that tiny worry, when God asks me to do so much!
Hearing two other stories of brokenness and struggle. During the "peer group" time, we were asked to get into smaller groups and reflect on a number of queries. In my small group, no one chose to address any of the queries (gotta love us Quakers!), and instead we each followed our leading to share a bit of what we had experienced in pursuing a call to the ministry.
The element that each of our stories had in common was how vulnerable and tender we are when we meet with our clearness and support committees. ...I was amazed, simply amazed, to find out that I was not the only Friend who had gone through such a trying and painful time during my process of striving to be faithful to a call.
Seeing evidence of the care and nurture of young adult Friends as ministers. In one case in particular, I was struck repeatedly by the right order of seeing a young "minister Friend," about 20 or 22 years of age, accompanied by an older "anchor Friend," about 55 or 60 years of age. The younger Friend seemed to stand spiritually on the shoulders of the other; the elder of the two seemed to draw great joy as a result of his support being so openly received by the first.
Though I had spoken a word with neither, the love between them was palpable to me.
At one point, towards the end of Saturday night, this particular young adult Friend made a comment like, "...and of course the meeting will recognize and welcome a Friend who is called to travel in the ministry." (I'm fuzzy on the details here.)
An older Friend responded with a reality check of some sort, like, "Not always." To which the first Friend said, in all seriousness:
"Don't ALL meetings support and nurture those who are called to this service?"
Though the room filled with gentle knowing laughter, it gave me hope that there could be a Friend raised in a meeting where the assumption was that all gifts were nurtured, tended, and welcomed equally. May I be made as innocent as he in the years to come!
To close, I'll leave you with some quotes that emerged during the course of this retreat.
Note: I am conflicted about attaching names to the quotes because there is no written document to refer to, and because I feel the words come as ministry from a Divine Depth that belongs to no single individual. At the same time, I include names where I know them because in some cases, the words given to a particular Friend may in fact be a part of the ministry that they carry.
I hope that makes sense.
We are but a pale shadow of who we are called to be.Blessings,
- Debbie Humphries
What if one type of ministry is seeking out other ministers? ...Can you see the Minister in those who don't speak?
- Rachel Stacy
One of the most important travels is into one's own meeting.
- Michael Gibson
Ministry is not a geographical phenomenon. It is a relational one and is evocative for all of us.
We are called to stand naked in the midst of our meetings, having submitted, no longer obedient to the cultural norm of self-reliance.
The discomfort of not being perfect in our ministry is nothing compared to the discomfort of not being faithful.