Friend and fellow blogger Marshall Massey sent me a lengthy email in response to my earlier post about a set of queries that were shared at the November 2007 FGC consultation. His replies, offered from the perspective of "an eighteenth-century Quaker minister," struck a chord with me.
Even though I have shared with him my own take on the role of a human community within a Quaker meeting as that role relates to these questions, I find Marshall's words--and those of a hypothetical early Quaker minister--valuable enough that I don't wish to have them buried within a comment or isolated in an email.
Through no fault of his own, Marshall's "relationship" to Blogger seems to have changed, in that Blogger doesn't seem to allow him to participate as he once had. With his permission, then, I am posting his comments in this guest piece. --Liz
Most of the questions on the list you posted seem to me to be grounded in an idea that gospel ministry is something I decide to do in my own way, according to my own program and agenda.
This is different from the traditional Quaker understanding. Traditionally, Friends have regarded gospel ministry as being what happens when the Holy Spirit decides to use someone according to Its plans, not his.
I can imagine a dialogue between the author of the questions you posted, and an eighteenth-century Quaker minister:
AUTHOR: How do we let our Light shine without our fire consuming those we are trying to warm?
EARLY MINISTER: If thee is doing the letting and the trying, thee is not acting in the gospel ministry! Gospel ministry does not begin until thee is able to honestly say to God: God, use me as thou pleasest, I do not resist thee longer.AUTHOR: Who elders the ministers? Who elders the elders?
EARLY MINISTER: Why does thee think that the eldering has to be done by humans? It is Christ our Lord who does all the eldering, anyway; the humans who seem to thee to do it are just his instruments. Hast thee not felt Christ in thy heart and conscience, reproving thee for the wrongs thee hast done, the ways in which thee has crucified him afresh? We choose our ministers and elders in accordance with the signs we are given that they are listening very carefully to Christ and actually hearing him; and when we, or they, see that they are no longer hearing him daily, they step down from their positions, or are asked to step down. This is of course not a complete guarantee that things will never go wrong — does not the Psalmist say, put not thy trust in men? — but if thee cannot ground thy trust in Christ, what can thee ground thy trust in?AUTHOR: How do we discern the ministry we are called to? How do we discern if we are still called? How do we discern if we are called to travel in the ministry... or if we are to stay in our meeting?
EARLY MINISTER: When thee experiences the sense of being drawn or led to minister at a particular place and time (we Friends do not speak of "callings to the ministry", since callings are understood to be for one's whole life, and we do not believe that this is the way the Holy Spirit operates) — that sense of being drawn or led, is itself the discernment. Why should there be anything more?AUTHOR: If we are called to travel, how do we discern a companion?
EARLY MINISTER: If God wants thee to have a companion, God will raise up a companion for thee. The companion will know she is called to be thy companion because she will feel the leading in her heart and conscience, just as thee feels thy leading in thine own.
Just speaking personally, Liz, it seems to me that the answers to all these questions become fairly obvious, once we understand that it is God who is in charge and not ourselves!
All the best,