Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holy Obedience - More reflections on the FGC Consultation on Gospel Ministry

I had mentioned to a number of people before the FGC Consultation on Gospel Ministry that I was looking forward to spending a weekend with a bunch of people who don't mind the term "holy obedience". I chuckled to myself when it popped up in the welcome letter we were sent just a week before the consultation, and again in the first session. I also hear it echoed in Liz & Callid's reflections on the consultation.

We had a discussion about the recognition of gifts and callings and how modern Friends seem reluctant to acknowledge that some may be called to gospel ministry as an ongoing concern, as if that somehow elevates one person above another. As I was reflecting on the practice of recording ministers, it made me think of the people who make the coffee, greet people at the door, teach First day school. We record these names in various ways, and it is an acknowledgment of the responsibility of the individual to carry out this task, and of the meeting to make sure they have what they need. It does not elevate the person above someone else.

The recording of ministers isn't really much different, except that the "task" is much more long-term and involves a commitment of one's life to preparation. Although the messages themselves aren't prepared ahead of time, the messenger is. It also involves a commitment to living one's life as an example of "holy obedience". The meeting must also commit to giving a minister support, such as an anchoring committee.

One thing I noticed at the consultation was how familiar most participants were with the bible. When we were discussing how some Friends get little or no support from their home meeting, another Friend rose and started reading a passage from the bible (Mark 6), which started "He departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples...". A good part of the room made sounds of recognition, and then we laughed about it, realizing that the Friend probably could stop reading, because we had all realized that it was the passage about "a prophet is not without honor, except in his native place".

"Holy obedience" has also been a source of frustration for me within the circle of Friends I am called to be amongst. For example, many months ago a blogging Friend said something to the effect of "I'm not going to take off my clothes and preach naked in the street" (apparently some early Friends did just that), and it was in the context of following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I don't really want to preach naked either, but I hold out the hope that if I was called to do that I would. Another Friend was very emphatic recently that "we are not sheep!", which seems to be the opposite of holy obedience, and a sentiment I have heard expressed in various ways.

One of the reasons to be in a religious community is the recognition that we all fall short of the mark, and we often need other people for support. When we are all shooting for different marks, how can we be of assistance to each other? During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says "Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" For me, sometimes the "bread" I am asking for is help with "holy obedience", and instead I am given a stone.

So I don't end this on such a down note, I would like to say that both my monthly meeting (Atlanta Friends Meeting) and my yearly meeting (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association) have been very supportive of me. Atlanta approved a traveling minute for my trip to the consultation, and has also set up a support committee. SAYMA recommended me to the Traveling Ministries Program when they asked for names of people to invite to the consultation, and also paid for my travel. God continues to bless me in so many ways.


  1. Mark, It's good to hear you are getting support. It's best to focus on the people who support you and not pay too much attention to those who don't see the wisdom in ideas like holy obedience or accountability or community. If a person isn't ready to hear such ideas, and many people are not yet ready, you can't argue them into it. They have to come to an appreciation of the emptiness of depending on individualism in their own time and as a result of their own experience. Lately I've been coming to an appreciation of the fact what we need to do is offer advice and encouragement to people who want it. Those who don't want it now need to be given more time.

  2. Richard,
    It is funny that I have actually been taking an approach like that with respect to people who have difficulty with Christian language, but I guess I wasn't applying that to other things. Thank you very much for that reminder!
    With love,

  3. I think that there is a process that is happening in the RSofF as far as more and more meetings beginning to find ways to support and nurture those who are under concerns or following leadings or even living into callings to ministry.
    One part is to find language that can work for a given monthly or yearly meeting. Some words can help a meeting to see something or open-up to something. I am not suggesting that we throw-out words like "holy obedience", but some Friends might be able to hear something like "being responsive to the Spirit" more readily. Similarly, it is hard for many people to imagine someone being called to "gospel ministry" not being lifted above others, but when they see someone stewarding and living into the gifts that God is providing the meeting they have no problem with it in the concrete.

    Thanks again Mark.

    Take care, Andrew