Judith James was the planned speaker at Meeting for Worship on August 31, 2014.
Throughout the history of the Religious Society of Friends we have recognized that to anyone may come, at any time, a special inward calling to carry out a particular service. It is characterized by a feeling of have been directly called by God and by an imperative to act. Many speak of the peace that came to them with the certainty that they were working with God.
Quakers recognize a variety of ministries. In our worship these include those who speak under the guidance of the Spirit, and those who receive and uphold the work of the Spirit in silence and prayer. We also recognize as ministry service on our many committee, hospitality and childcare, the care of finance and premises, and any other tasks. We value those whose ministry is not an appointed task but is in teaching, counseling, listening, prayer, enabling the service of others, or service in the meeting or in the world.
The purpose of all our ministry is to lead us and other people into closer communion with God and to enable us to carry out those tasks which the Spirit lays upon us.
Recently I was at the ordination of my friend’s daughter and I was struck by the authority that passed to her upon her ordination. She was given this new identity as minister and therefore the affirmation of her calling to minister to others. As a Quaker rarely is there this external affirmation from the Society where it is announced that yes you are a minister. As John Wilhelm Rowntree stated in 1899 “We as Friends are seeking a rich and well-tilled soil from which every type of ministry shall spring forth with a robust growth.”
My calling to the service of others, my ministry, is legitimized when I act and have the experience that through my actions I am in closer communion with the Spirit.
I first became aware of what a calling to communion with another meant when I did pastoral care at Messiah Lutheran in the Phillips neighborhood. When I first arrived The Lead Pastor, Pastor Lee, told me, “Here at Messiah pastoral care means finding a pack of disposal diapers for a mother whose child has been in the same diaper all day, or rounding up some food from the food pantry for a hungry immigrant family that just arrived in Minneapolis, or sitting with a mentally disturbed community member who was disoriented and agitated.” Giving advice and counsel wasn’t in the job description, and at that time in my mind those seemed to be my best strengths. What I found was I needed to meet people where they were at, stand by them not as a professional, but as a human being. The London Yearly Meeting Quaker Faith and Practice states that Quaker ministry is giving of oneself and allowing others to give to us; our common humanity enables us to minister.
In being connected to those struggling by finding our common humanity, or what is often referred to as the God within the other, a light shone to direct me. What I received was this sense of being in communion with the Spirit, the Presence of the living God in me that saw and reacted to the Presence of the Living God in another.
How this was different from the past for me as an educator, diversity worker or counselor was when I was a professional doing professional work I wanted to do something important, change something, and be someone good. I found with this approach I could became self-righteous and arrogant, professing I knew what the truth was for others and what needed to change for a better world. In essence I did justice work, even loved kindness, but I did not walk humbly with God. When I sought to be present with the living God in another I was humbled by what happened. I felt immensely moved by the goodness in them and in standing with them blessed by their trust in me and their willingness to share their story, and I was lifted up.
This experience opened me to recognize an inward calling of ministry to the disadvantaged and poor. In ministering to a person living with tremendous loss, I found a communion with God and that knew with certainty that the presence of love can change anything and allow for miracles.
Let me say for all those who might think I am saying this is a constant way I behave, you know me better than that. I know these experiences are blessings because they are intermittent, but none the less they give me a sense that I have this gift of ministry and that this Loving Presence is always with me and I can experience it if I do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.