Ministry (June 2006)
A few weeks ago I got onto the train on the way to work and started to read On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry by Brian Drayton. Two stops down the line a woman wearing earphones sat down next to me. She had the volume up and I could hear what sounded like angry shouting coming from her portable CD player. I listened further and realized that she was listening to preaching, not shouting. I tried to focus on the book. I read: "A concern for the ministry is a calling to be intentionally available to put our experience of the divine light and life at the disposal of others, for their refreshment and encouragement." As I read these words, I thought of the quiet preaching of Friends and how a meeting tends the spiritual fires of attenders, gently cultivating a kind of listening to the 'still, small voice' which transforms. I wondered how different a world it might be if that still witness were more readily available. I wondered how my companion on the train would receive such ministry. She started to look over my shoulder at my book, took off her headphones and asked me what I was reading. I showed her the beautiful cover featuring Darcy Drayton's watercolor "An Expression of Light" and told her that the book was all about discerning the will of God and learning to be faithful to the callings you receive. She said, "Amen!," and put her headphones back on.
As I continued reading, I started to feel a leading to give her the book. I read a few more lines and wondered whether this book was the most accessible introduction to Quakerism, whether she would get anything out of it. Friends talk to one another so often in Quaker vernacular, I wondered whether this book would speak to her. But the leading persisted and I understood that it wasn't for me to determine the outcome of the action, but whether I was being faithful. I read a few more lines and the leading persisted and felt true to me. I understood that the messages and wisdom in Brian's book were well worth sharing. At the next stop she rose to leave the train. I reached out my hand and lightly patted her; she turned around and I handed her the book. "Would you like this?" I asked. "Yes," she said, "are you sure?" I said, "Yes, I know where to get another copy." She said, "Thank you" with a huge smile on her face and got off the train.
I hope that my companion on the train found words in On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry that spoke to her condition. It is a book I'd like to hand to every Friend as it is rich with advice on how to live a life focused on being holy. Brian Drayton offers a vivid picture of the process of the development of a call to ministry, the life cycle of a minister and how to grow into a life of ministry. Though this book_ explores some of the same territory as Samuel Bownas' A Description of the Qualifications of a Gospel Minister (first published in 1767), Brian Drayton's book is focused on the peculiar challenges and context of a 21st century Friend experiencing and cultivating the stirrings of the Spirit. It is also a guidebook for anyone seeking to live a life rooted in faith, whether that faith calls one to vocal ministry, to carry a concern for the earth, or to nurture the spiritual lives of Friends. This book springs from the author's own extensive experimentation with living his life whole, with God at the center. In her foreword Fran Taber says, "Brian Drayton has provided Friends with a thoughtful, faithful explication of authentic Quaker spirituality." At its core, this book is a guidebook for cultivating Friends' individual and corporate lives of faith.
Another wonderful book which takes the reader inside the life of a Quaker minister is Resistance and Obedience to God: Memoirs of David Ferris (1707-1779) edited by Martha Grundy. One of the great strengths of this journal is that it describes not only many moments when David Ferris is faithful to God, but also many times when he is not. He describes times of sorrow and feeling disconnected from God and how God seeks him out and brings him back into God's company, through inward messages felt in his heart. His journal is an exploration of doubt as the companion of faith and how one can learn to set aside the ego and learn to be more fully faithful. Ferris examines the temptations away from God and joyfully testifies to the ever-present stream of living water. In her introduction Martha Grundy says of the journal,
"Here then, is the journal of David Ferris, a man touched by God, who struggled between his pride and fear, and what he understood God was asking of himâ€¦His willingness to share with unknown readers his struggles and failings, and his sense of God's grace, is a reflection of his growing spiritual maturity and humility. His motive was to be of help to others on their spiritual journeys."
Martha Grundy's excellent introduction, study notes and queries accompany this edition of the journal, making it very useful for adult religious study or for spiritual formation groups. Ferris' spiritual journey has much to offer the contemporary Friend.
The publication of Lloyd Lee Wilson's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order in 1993 led to many invitations for the author to speak at Quaker gatherings. Wrestling with our Faith Tradition, published last summer, is the written record of his vocal ministry on these occasions. Lloyd Lee Wilson covers much ground in this book on the contemporary state of Quakerism. His wide-ranging exploration of Quakerism includes essays on the "Biblical Basis for Quaker Peacemaking," "Friends Testimonies in the Marketplace," " and "How to Be Non-Egyptian in the Land of Pharaoh." Among the major themes which he develops throughout the book are putting "God at the center of our story rather than ourselves" and the importance of Quaker community in developing and grounding our faith. He speaks about the tension between the wider culture, which is individualistic and full of mediators to the promised land and Quaker culture, which emphasizes community and unmediated awareness of the divine. He speaks about practicing a spirituality of subtraction, which endeavors to take away the distractions of the world in order to give our full attention to God. He talks about the need for building "up our meeting communities, our communities of faith, as the primary points of reference for understanding, interpreting and acting out the great query: What does it mean for us to be children of God, God's agents in the world, at this particular time, in this place, among these people?" Though I didn't agree with every point Lloyd Lee Wilson makes in this book, I found a great deal of spiritual nourishment in these pages and many messages that I have continued to ponder.
May we each be open and faithful when we are given opportunities to minister to each other in whatever form that ministry might take.
In Friendship, Lucy
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