Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Modest Proposal: Part 6A For the Revitalization of the Quaker Message in the United States

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the Quaker pastors." Brently VI, part II, Act 4, scene 2 (with apologies to William Shakespeare -- and all the Quaker pastors.)

Okay, now that I have your attention, I do not mean that literally. Any more than Shakespeare did when he had Dick the Butcher utter that now famous line from Henry VI -- "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." As one scholarly analysis of those words says, "... the famous remark by the plotter of treachery in Shakespeare's King Henry VI shows [that] the surest way to chaos and tyranny even then was to remove the guardians of independent thinking."

So, with tongue firmly in cheek, I propose we kill off the Quaker pastorate. Well, with tongue out of cheek, at least the way it is currently constituted.

Since our earliest days, Friends have railed against the hireling ministry. As George Fox himself said, "Christ saith to his ministers, 'freely you have received, freely give,' and they laboured 'to keep the gospel without charge.'"

And yet, in the late 19th century many Quaker adopted what Fox would have seen as a hireling ministry -- the pastoral system.

Now I am not going to rant against the pastoral system per se. I find it it gauche to bite the hand that fed me, so to speak. Nor do I think that the Quaker paid ministry is necessarily a bad thing -- as an idea.

The way that it is practiced today, by and large, though, I think is not helpful to a revitalization of the Quaker message in the United States.

These are just my thoughts, but the issue is something I've wrestled with for a long time (since before I was recorded in 1980) -- how does my role differ from the Presbyterian pastor next door -- and how, or can, the idea of Quaker pastor be reconciled with the Friendly testimony against hireling ministers?

This is a pretty involved topic, though I do think it's high time, especially given the number of seminaries preparing women and men for Friends pastoral work, that someone write a relevant guidebook or apology (or both) for the nature and work of the Quaker paid ministry.

Having said all that -- here goes (again these are my thoughts! I'm very open to disagreements or rebuttals):Elton Trueblood asserts that men in the clerical profession in the times of the early Friends were considered “hirelings’ because “they seemed to make the ministry more of a job than a calling.”

This whole idea of calling and following a leading is central to the nature of Friends pastoral work. It has to be a call, not just to general service, but to particular places of service at particular times. I see this differing from many other, especially mainline traditions, where women and men prepare for the ministry in general and that it becomes their career path.

I saw this most clearly in the semester I studied at a Lutheran seminary and various folks talked about their path into ministry. I was one of very few who used the concept of call as I delineated it above.

A concern about Quaker pastoral ministry has always been that it will evolve into "profession."

Richard John Neuhaus (certainly no left leaning type), in Freedom for Ministry: A Critical Affirmation of the Church and Its Mission, points to the increasing consideration of the pastoral ministry as a “profession”.

This sounds to me a lot like what is going on at times among Friends in pastoral ministry. This move toward profession, Neuhaus says, “is a poignant confession of vocational bankruptcy.”

Sounds like he and Fox and some other early Friends might agree.

Another difference (besides calling) is, I think, the question of authority. Many pastors in many denominations have authority by virtue of their ordination. A Catholic priest and Presbyterian pastor are both, in effect, the c.e.o's of their congregation. That is not true for the Quaker paid minister (no matter how some might wish it was).

The Clerk is the authority in our Meetings. That's a significant difference that we need to ensure is not blurred.

I do think there are a number of Biblical models for a Quaker paid ministry.

One is Ephesians 4:11&12 “It was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”

My understanding of what the Friendly model should be is reflective of the passage in Ephesians. Throughout the history of Friends, we have had folks in these various services. Evangelists – the Valiant Sixty, John Camm and John Audland to Bristol. Pastors – “Second Day Morning Meeting” which supervised the “nourishing of various flocks” (Elton Trueblood) and supporting various ministerial/pastoral types (not with salaries, but in support of their families).

Robert Barclay says, “We do believe and affirm that some are more particularly called to the work of the ministry ….”

The paradox for Quaker paid ministry today is to find a third way where the paid minister is not the c.e.o. of the local Meeting nor slave. The role of the Quaker paid minister must be to prepare God’s people for works of service. I see the Quaker paid minister as a fellow spiritual pilgrim -- moving toward God with the rest of the congregation, set apart only because he or she was called to serve the members (even -- or maybe even especially -- the annoying ones).

If authority or weight is granted, it comes not from the title, but because the congregation recognizes the spiritual depth of the paid minister in the same way it recognizes other weighty Friends. For Friends today, I believe that involves both the specialized ministry of a trained and called pastor and the universal ministry of a called and equipped congregation.

To facilitate that, Lorton Huesel says four things are essential


  • The meeting for worship must be free from rigidity which prevents the workings of the Spirit

  • Preaching in our meetings for worship must be under the leadership of the Spirit.

  • We must adhere to Friends’ business methods and never let power and authority be centralized in the pastor.

  • Paid ministers and the other members of the meeting must be trained in the art of silence.

Seth Hinshaw, in The Spoken Ministry Among Friends, said, “The pastor’s role in a Friend’s meeting is exacting and difficult. The pastor is not hired to preach, but liberated to serve.” The italics are mine. We need to recover, I think, that sense that the Quaker paid ministry is an exacting and difficult liberation to serve.


Notice that I have quit using the phrase Quaker pastor and moved to Quaker paid minister. I did that because I am concerned about the use of the title "pastor" and its implications. One of which is that the Quaker "pastor" functions exactly the same as a pastor in any other faith group.



When I served as pastor of Friends Memorial Church in Muncie, I had sign on my door that said, “His Eminence’s Study.” Everyone knew it was a joke, because we Quaker pastoral types don’t use titles.


Or do we?

I’ve noticed, to my dismay, a creeping “title-ism,” lately. Like in a few of the newsletters I read from when the pastor signs her name “Pastor Betty Joy” or some such thing. I even read a piece by a Quaker pastor type who signed it "The Reverend Doctor." This bothers me, even if these are folks whose ministry and friendship I respect and cherish.

It bothers me because I worry that by doing so we blur one of the distinguishing differences between being a Friends pastor and one in any other denomination.

Scott Russell Sanders, an unprogrammed Friend from Bloomington, Indiana and professor at Indiana University, writes in Falling Toward Grace: Images of Religion and Culture in the Heartland, about how in the 19 century many Friends congregations began hiring ministers. The result, he says, is that they began behaving “for all the world like other low-temperature Protestant churches.”


That may sound harsh, but Elton Trueblood, in the 1960 Quaker Lecture at Indiana Yearly Meeting (and later in Quaker Religious Thought) said something similar when he noted that “our pastoral system in … some areas…of Friends is merely a poor reflection of … stronger Christian bodies.”

“The mistake,” Elton says, “was that a fundamentally alien system was taken over, almost intact, from other Christian bodies.”


One of the ways he said he knew that to be true was the preponderance of Friends pastors who allowed themselves to be referred to as Rev. So and So at community and other gatherings.


Scott and Elton, though poles apart on other issues, are in agreement on this one. And I’m with them. The role of the paid minister among Friends is like that in no other denomination. To be sure, there are similarities. But we need to keep the distinctives in mind, too.

We need to remember that we are neither CEO nor doormat. We are called to be co-laborers with Christ and congregation. That understanding of the unique relationship between the one called to pastor and the other Friends who are members of the Meeting begins to erode the moment I begin referring to myself as Pastor Brent or Rev. Bill.

I read this piece the other day and wondered: Does this describe us?

At the core of this dilemma is the role of the Pastor as a spiritual leader. The late Erich Fromm noted that most people fear freedom, and seek to escape it by turning to a leader who can relieve them of any responsibility for their identity, character, and future. Many people treat their pastors as such shields against accountability. But that is not the Quaker way. Ultimately, a pastor who agrees to serve in that capacity is an accomplice in stunting someone’s spiritual maturation, depriving them (and God) of the distinct rewards of an adult faith.


Rather than imposing a dictatorial control on the seeker or believer, the pastor is, above all, a teacher. ... Teaching happens only in an environment of freedom and curiosity, of commitment freely entered and community voluntarily joined. ... Robots are not told to “choose life that you may live,” nor are computers informed of the consequences of their choices. But the people called Quakers are, because God cherishes our voluntary service and our obedience freely offered.

In that journey, no Quaker is under the compulsion of another. We have not given up an Egyptian Pharaoh to take on a pastoral one. Instead, God has liberated us from the very model of despotism, of ever abdicating our souls to another human being.

Pastors traditionally do not seek to deaden the mind or to stifle the heart. We provide authoritative information about what the Bible teaches and what the Lord requires of us. We embody (or seek to) the best of what Quaker living and Quaker values can attain. As teachers and as role models, pastors are essential to Quaker survival. But when acting as vicarious Quakers (living a Quaker life and thinking Quaker thoughts so the rest of us don’t have to) or as externalized authorities (making all the tough choices), some pastors and their followers subvert the very tradition they claim to love.

Instead, as partners, by meeting our congregants and students in the sea of the Bible, we navigate together those ancient words and powerful insights. Pastors ... offer the shimmering wares of faith. But the Quaker, each Quaker, must decide for him or herself: do I buy it? Do I cherish it? Do I care for it so I can transmit it to my children?

Actually that's a piece by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson about the role of the Rabbi. I just cut out Rabbi and inserted Pastor (and Bible for Torah, Jew for Quaker, etc). Those who serve as paid ministers among Friends live in a dynamic tension of serving as spiritual guides while remaining fellow spiritual travelers of a local congregation. It's very much like the role -- not of other Christian pastors -- but of a rabbi.


I am not proposing that we paid ministers in the Society of Friends begin to call ourselves rabbis. Instead, the sixth part of my modest proposal is to drop the term pastor in favor of a new name that I think gets back to the original intent of the pastoral system among Friends (and indeed, back to ministry among Friends). The new name and how I see it working will be in the next post -- Part 6B For the Revitalization of the Quaker Message in the United States.

-- Brent






5 comments:

Robin M. said...

Oooh - a cliffhanger. I hate those. :-)

I think this is a really important issue for Friends. I have heard these concerns from Friends in all the branches - evangelical pastors who refuse to be called Reverend... Unprogrammed Friends who wish we had more help in teaching our newcomers and young people... FUM Friends who worry about how badly the people they call pastors are paid...

And I know all these people (well, at least a dozen in person, and more through my blog) who would like nothing more than to devote themselves fully to the Revitalization of the Quaker Message in the United States, and yet if they did, they couldn't pay the rent on a shack in southern Indiana, much less an apartment in San Francisco.

Tell us, how can we do this better????

Chuck Fager said...

Actually, I think "Rabbi" would be a big improvement over "pastor."

A rabbi is a teacher, who presumably has knowledge or wisdom to share. A pastor is a shepherd; and shepherds herd sheep.

In my experience, "pastoral" Friends groups have a basically different "corporate culture" than nonpastoral ones. The difference is embodied in the layout diagram of the "Friends church" that Brent posted in a previous segment. It comes down to the audience-performer arrangement that design implies; and it also carries the leader-follower trope.

Such models obviously "work" for many or most churches, so they exert an influence that's hard to break. To break, I think involves more than rearranging the chairs/benches. New names and roles are required.

Still, I'm not entirely against hirelings among Friends; good thing, since I am one. But I'm not a pastor. I don't mind being a teacher sometimes, when I have something useful and appropriate to share.

The late liberal Friend Kenneth Ives published a most provocative study about the place of hirelings among Friends. It was pre-computer tho and I don't have it handy to quote; I'll have to hunt it down when I get home. He argued that a quarterly meeting, or an equivalent, was a "Safe Place" for a hireling minister, because it had the best chance of avoiding the leader-led cultural fate.

Also, the late writer R.W. Tucker published a fine piece, "Structural Incongruities In Quaker Service" in a long-ago issue of "Quaker Religious Thought" that made a powerful case for a distinction between "leadership" among Friends, which he felt needed to be unpaid and contextually-driven, versus "functionaries," staff hired and paid to run certain specialized, definitely non-pastoral functions of Quaker groups, e.g., libraries, large building maintenance, peace projects, etc.

Although they are some decades old, I still think these seminal pieces are key to sorting out the role of hirelings among us. I’ll be interested to see if Rabbi Brent can improve on their insights.

Brent Bill said...

Actually, I had thought of Rabbi -- but it too is fraught with meanings desired and undesired for my purposes. And I do have a descriptive term in mind.. but it will have to wait for at least one more day.

Not to make this more suspenseful, but only because I am in between (literally) computers at the minute -- my old giving up the Intel ghost and the new one needing some fancier accesories than I had (like a USB keyboard). Add that to my being technologically challenged, it's going to take at least a day to get things migrated over to the new machine...

I hope you'll (whoever is reading this) will stay tuned...

Robin M. said...

Apparently patience is the virtue I most need to practice right now, since the Good Lord keeps sending me opportunities in this area.

Best wishes for your new computer. I went through that at work in July and I still haven't really caught up.

cherice said...

I really like this, especially where you said, "The role of the Quaker paid minister must be to prepare God’s people for works of service." I think this is key. The Friends "pastor" (I haven't read your next post yet to find out what you want to call them) is called by God, that call is recognized by a community and they release that person financially to help them prepare and carry out works of service.

I was talking to a friend (who is not drawn to Friends) the other day about her impressions of our meeting, and her expectation when going to a worship service is that The Pastor will preach each Sunday, and that she'll leave feeling inspired. This is not the role of the Friends pastor, so she doesn't really care for the way we "do" worship at our meeting. Whoever preaches at our meeting (sometimes a released minister, sometimes not) challenges us. Although there might be encouragement and solace in there somewhere, there is also a sense of more to be done to connect with God through action in the world. The person preaching isn't saying s/he will be the one doing all that action--quite the contrary. S/he is saying that as a body, we are all called to go out and do God's work (acts of service) in the world.

But I agree with Robin--what about Friends who feel called to pastoral types of ministry and revitalization of the Quaker message, but who can't do that very much or very effectively without financial assistance? Traveling ministers, for instance, or Friends whose vision and ministry doesn't fit into a "pastoral" model. Can we also release them more often? Can we release Friends to do ministry that doesn't directly benefit ourselves?