14 June 2007

Recording ministers; calling pastors

At a recent Friends' pastors gathering, one pastor mentioned that he was leaving his meeting this summer. He said that they had not yet found a new pastor, and recommended that anyone free to consider a pastorate should pay attention to this meeting, because they treat pastors well.

That comment came back to me when I was looking at my earlier post on "FUM and symbolic politics," because the very last comment on that post (as of now) was from Lisa, who asked, "Johan, for all of us out here in Quakerdom, would you please explain exactly what is 'the recording of ministers' and the 'calling or recalling of pastors'?" Somehow I never noticed that question, for which I apologize.

"Calling pastors" is a subject I'm tempted to avoid in writing for an audience that includes people with documented skepticism about Quakers even having pastors. If I reveal how similar the process is to making sausages, will their skepticism be confirmed? So let me stall for a bit by looking at the recording of ministers.

Others may give more official or more nuanced descriptions of what this is all about, and I can cite the books of faith and practice used among us, but I've always taken the term "recording" very simply and literally: It's when a meeting for business records in their minutes that they've noticed sufficient evidence that Friend X has gifts of public ministry. In some yearly meetings, that minute, recorded in the monthly meeting's minute book, is the end of the process; Friend X is a "recorded minister." In other yearly meetings, such as the one where I was first recorded (Indiana), the monthly meeting initiates a process that culminates with a minute approved, usually after at least a year of consideration, by a plenary session of the yearly meeting sessions. That year or more of consideration may include discussion by their yearly meeting of elders or of ministry and counsel, and may also include asking the potential recordee to complete seminary courses or yearly meeting workshops or a reading program to correct perceived deficiencies in their biblical, theological, pastoral, or denominational preparation.

At the time I was in the recording process, those deficiencies could be addressed in a wonderful little program called the Tri-Yearly Meeting School on the Ministry, operated together by Wilmington, Western, and Indiana Yearly Meetings. I taught classes for that school twice, once before I myself was recorded.

There's nothing super-spiritual about being recorded; it's essentially a more permanent (though revocable) form of obtaining a minute for travel in ministry. It is a compact way for your meeting to tell Friends elsewhere that you've been found to be reliable in expressing Friends faith and practice in public. It is theologically different from ordination, although on a practical level it may open doors (for example, for prison ministry) that ordination opens in other denominations.

I've run into several sources of confusion about recording of ministers, and how it relates to pastoring, and here are some of them, expressed as questions:

In recording ministers, aren't you setting up a hierarchy, implying special status, or putting people on a pedestal? In theory, no. Our doctrine of the equality of all persons is not threatened by saying "this person has a public gift, and we feel led to confirm it publicly." However, if gender or social status or other irrelevant criteria entered into the process, smoothing the way for some and blocking others, that would compromise the practice of recording. Also, if recorded ministers were treated with undue deference, or were given any privilege other than being permitted to exercise their gifts, that undue deference would also be a problem.

The denial of recognition of public ministry, especially when denying people who by social stereotype are not seen as carrying spiritual authority, can represent the opposite problem--a form of marginalization. I remember one example of a modest but spiritually gifted woman being considered for recording, in the face of opposition by men who used the equality argument despite their own prestigious credentials in their work settings. Moreover, the absence of explicit recognition of public gifts does not prevent elitism and power plays. When criteria for recognition are not explicit, those who want recognition or influence for the sake of their own agendas will still find ways of getting it, but without transparent criteria and accountability.

Nevertheless, the concern about equality is probably the single most important reason that recording of gifts has fallen into disuse or dropped entirely by some (especially unprogrammed) yearly meetings. The fact that there are now many other ways we can find out about who ministers "acceptably" may also play a role.

Is it okay to want to be recorded? This is a fascinating question to me. I think there's a tradition among Friends that recording should be entirely initiated by others in the meeting, and the person who is proposed for recording should be surprised, or pretend to be. I'm sure this still happens--it happened to me. Donna Moore, now a UCC minister but then a pastoral intern at First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, was my nominator. But, although I was surprised, it was a pleasant surprise, an affirmation of the ministry I was already doing. Although I'd hope that elders in every meeting and church are concerned to support and nurture public ministry (and recording is a particular form of encouragement), I don't see anything wrong with someone asking, "Should I be considered for recording? I would like to undergo this discernment process."

Some Friends emphasize that the full name for this recording process is not "recording of ministers" but "recording of gifts in the ministry." I agree in theory, but the gifts are embodied in the flesh and blood (and spirit) of a person, and we're recording that person's name.

What constitutes "expressing Friends faith and practice"? What is public ministry? In his article on "Ministers" in the Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers), Larry Barker writes, "Public ministry is the calling to repeated preaching, prophecy, or other vocal spiritual leadership." (Bold words indicate that the dictionary has articles on those topics.) Is that a wide enough definition? When I was recorded, my "vocal spiritual leadership" was as a staff member for Friends World Committee, and its Right Sharing of World Resources program (now a separate organization). Another person recorded the same year, Dick Wood, was president of Earlham College. Both of us spoke frequently, but we were not classical ministers in a more typical model, either programmed or unprogrammed, within a local meeting.

I wonder how many recorded ministers have served as staff members of Friends organizations, including Friends Committee on National Legislation, the American Friends Service Committee, or similar organizations outside the USA. And what about Friends who are serving those organizations but are not recorded? If they're speaking publicly in the name of Friends, representing Friends faith and practice, and are doing so to the satisfaction of their local meetings and churches, wouldn't it be a helpful practice to minute this fact? Or would that weaken the concept of recording? I really don't know.

Those whose ministry is nonverbal provide another variation on the question of the scope of public ministry in the context of recording ministers. I would rather trust the discernment of a gathered meeting, than decree that a musician or a sculptor, for example, wouldn't fit the criteria, if by their ministry they were providing reliable public access to Friends faith and practice.

So what is the connection between being recorded and being a pastor? Within unprogrammed meetings where the practice of recording of ministers survives but where there is no role quite like that of a released and compensated pastor, the answer is simple: none.

It's more complicated in yearly meetings such as Indiana and Northwest, where most recorded ministers are pastors or former pastors (or missionaries). But they're not synonymous. In most pastoral yearly meetings, a meeting can call a pastor who's not recorded; and you can be recorded without serving or intending to serve as a pastor. Sometimes a meeting records its pastor (or initiates the recording process) as a form of assessment and appreciation; I know several young pastors who've had this route to recording. I suppose it is possible that someone has somehow initiated or welcomed the recording process to improve their credentials and their chances of snagging a lucrative pastorate (!!!), but, honestly, I've never seen it.

Several yearly meetings encourage pastors to go into the recording process if they're not already recorded, because that process includes a substantial component of exposure to Quaker faith and practice, or to the faith and practice of their particular yearly meeting. This helps integrate pastors who come to Friends from other denominations, or whose meetings are geographically or psychologically isolated from the yearly meeting.

What do you mean by "calling" a pastor? The Historical Dictionary doesn't include either the verb "to call" or the noun "calling," but their popular meanings are fairly simple:

"To call" means to recruit someone as pastor (or other role) on the basis of a meeting's decision that it has been led to this particular candidate. And as in some other Christian communities, a "calling" can be a specific sense of being led to a ministry, or a more general conviction that ministry is one's personal vocation, what God created you to be; and to "answer this calling" is to respond faithfully to God. So, you can feel called to be a pastor. And, once you are known to have this calling, it won't be surprising that a meeting might call you (sometimes worded as "issuing a call" to you) to serve as their pastor.

I chose the term "recruit" partly for its unromantic tone. The call should originate from the prayers and discernments of a meeting for business, but we shouldn't spiritualize our description of the process beyond all recognition! A few years ago, David Brock wrote an article for Quaker Life entitled "The ABC's of Finding a New Pastor," which is refreshingly candid about what the mechanics of the process often actually look like. And it's fairly true to my own experience of being called by Reedwood Friends Church back in 2000.

Is this calling of pastors done any differently by Friends than by other Christian communities? I think it would be straining the truth to say we do it better or more spiritually than anyone else. The politics of discernment and persuasion work the same way for us as for others. But here are some features of our process that make it congenial to us, whether or not we're unique:
  • Many meetings still consider one candidate at a time. There's a willingness to say, "This is the person we're led to, and we're not going to the next candidate until the process is complete with this one."
  • Although in some yearly meetings the staff of the yearly meeting office exercises considerable influence, generally the actual decision on whom to call is exclusively a monthly meeting decision, made in a meeting for worship for business.
  • Throughout the whole history of Friends pastors, both men and women have been called, though mostly not in equal numbers.
The whole story of equality of sexes among Quaker pastors could probably not be told without knowing how many women never even considered the possibility of being pastors for lack of encouragement or role models. There's a related challenge for all Friends: We've claimed that we choose leaders based on gifts rather than social status. But if we actually don't consistently use ways of discerning and calling out gifts, our theoretical virtue does us little good. I'll never forget the Friend who said, "We Friends ought not to evangelize. Let people find their own God." How did she think Quakerism survived long enough to reach her, and how many Friends with the gift of evangelism has she discouraged with her anointings of cold water? (I have a theory that the gift of evangelism is present among unprogrammed Friends in roughly equal proportion to its presence among evangelical Friends.)

Finally, I haven't heard "to recall" used in these contexts. However, I have heard of people's recordings being rescinded, and at least one yearly meeting (mine) asks each recorded minister every year, "Do you continue to feel called to public ministry in keeping with your recording or do you feel your ministry responsibilities have been completed?"

Update: recording of ministers as practiced by our new yearly meeting, Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Righteous links: The online Faith and Practice makes it easy to compare practices among some Friends yearly meetings. For example, using the keyword "recording" I found this description of the recording process in my yearly meeting. ~~~ Tuesday the New Sanctuary telephone/e-mail tree here was active because of a large Immigrant and Customs Enforcement raid. Oregonian coverage here; Portland Indymedia here. ~~~ This Time magazine article on Anglican leader Rowan Williams was better journalism than I've come to expect from mainstream coverage of the religion-and-sexuality wars. I wanted to say, "I've been there!"--although in a constituency that did not, even in the worst of times, subject me to the pressures he's going through. ~~~ We don't anoint our recorded ministers with oil, but if we did, I'd advocate using this Palestinian olive oil distributed through the American Friends Service Committee. ~~~ Goodbye to Ruth Bell Graham.

One of my favorite lines from a blues song: Bonnie Raitt singing "I ain't a porcupine, take off your kid gloves." ("Thing Called Love")

Sorry for the cheesy video, but the music makes up for it.... Update: Below the video I've posted my gapfill exercise for our students in Elektrostal.


anj said...

Thanks for explaining this process and language Johan. I have wondered about the specifics of this in other yearly meetings, as well as my own. And how fun is that clip; mastery and fun, what a great combination. That speaks to me today.

Johan Maurer said...

I'm so glad you found this useful. Sometimes it's hard to know when I'm helping to demystify things that might be unnecessarily mysterious, and when I am just saying stuff everybody already knows! *S*

Patrick Ruth said...

Thanks Johan for enlightening me on the concept of the recorded minister among Friends. Coming from a liturgical tradition and now in an unprogrammed Beanite meeting, I had wondered about the similarities/differences to other traditions of calling discernment. I was confirmed in believing that "ordination" this ain't but something much more organic- good and Quaker. Appreciate the continued blues clips- there isn't anything better to get to the essentials of the spirit/flesh struggles and joys.( Saturday Blues playing on the local NPR as I write this) Later Patrick

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks for these comments. Zach A., your reading is way ahead of mine. I do remember being impressed by the way London Yearly Meeting studied the issue before deciding to discontinue the recording of ministers (although I don't agree with the conclusions they reached). I mention this decision from 1924 in my Canadian YM article on the pastoral ministry, but my memory has faded on what the London YM minute book actually says. My impression is that the discussion there would support your thesis.

I remember two more recent discussions on the merits (or lack thereof) of recording ministers--discussions from Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting in the 1980's, centering on the issue of equality, and in the 1990's in Canadian YM, where I noticed a lot of resistance to the use of the word "ministry" among Friends. One of the oddest concerns, to my mind, was around recording ministers for the purpose of access to prisons. Someone said, with a negative connotation, that this would not be ministry to Friends. My inner curmudgeon said, "We need more Friends in prison." The idea that ministry is primarily to be directed to people who are already Friends is not one I can accept.


Kim Ranger said...

Thanks, Johan...a thorough explanation, from what I've read about recording. I am one who asked to be recorded for 2 years while I studied with the Seventh-day Adventists, so as to feel grounded in my own tradition and Meeting and because they understand ministers who want to study with them yet not be converted. And when I concluded the ministry, Ministry & Counsel wrote a minute to the Business Meeting ending the "recording."