Can I Have a Definition, Please?

How would you define travel in the ministry?

The definition matters more than we might think, especially when it comes to the connotation of the phrase, which for me has long included meetings for worship, vocal ministry, and somehow or other, the presence of horses. I feel a bit foolish revealing this as my mental image because I’ve spent huge amounts of time asking the question, “How do we define travel in the ministry?,” and I feel like I should know that it doesn’t have to involve bonnets or anything, and yet, when I close my eyes and picture it . . .

At the same time, for years, there’s been all this anxiety about how to define my own call to ministry. I phrase it deliberately as “there’s been all this anxiety” and not “I’ve had all this anxiety” because mostly the anxiety hasn’t come from me. It’s come from other people who have, for various totally valid reasons, needed to be able to describe what I’m doing. But even with help from clearness committees and support committees and other ministers and trusted elders, there never seemed to be the right language.

“Writing-speaking-organizational consulting-storytelling-multigenerational community-systems analysis-outreach-revival ministry” is reasonable accurate, but . . . seriously?

Hearth-building ministry” is something I made up that’s easy to say, but nobody knows what it means.

This all brings me back to a time when I was very young and had a boyfriend who’d never kissed me. One particular evening, we found ourselves in a situation that was very TV-show-romantic (mountain climbing, sitting by a fireside), and it certainly seemed like he ought to be kissing me, and I wondered why he wasn’t kissing me, and at the same time he kept doing this weird thing with his face where he would turn and put his mouth very close to my chin and I couldn’t figure out why—

It took me six weeks to put that together.

Anyway, in what feels like a similar phenomenon, it finally occurred to me about three weeks ago that what I’m doing among Friends is traveling in the ministry, which really and truly does not require horses and which is sufficient as a phrase all by itself, and why didn’t I figure that out a lot earlier? Why did it seem like I had to come up with something else to say?

I think it’s because Quakers, collectively, don’t have a good definition of traveling in the ministry. I mean, aside from the horses and bonnets thing.

Lloyd Lee Wilson has some words about this that I’ve found handy. He says that “travel in the gospel ministry is different from, feels different from and looks different than, travel under a social concern or a simple visitation,” and he also mentions that “the first motion toward travel in the gospel ministry is love for Friends, usually not personally known, in distant meetings.” Both of those statements ring true, but Lloyd Lee’s description of travel in the gospel ministry leans heavily on vocal ministry in meeting for worship and also worship opportunities within homes, and he doesn’t say much (as I recall) about whether other venues of ministry might also be gospel ministry.

My own yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice (New York Yearly Meeting) emphasizes the procedure around travel in the ministry much more than the essence of what it is. And I will understand if you read the first few words of this quote and then give up and skip to the next paragraph. “Where a member proposes to travel under the weight of a concern, the monthly meeting may issue a minute of travel releasing the Friend for a particular service. The minute of travel is a certificate endorsing the Friend’s concern, indicating that the meeting is in unity with and in support of this venture. The service undertaken may include arranging public addresses, informal conferences, visiting in families, appointing meetings, or making group visits, prompted by a desire to deepen the religious life of the Society or promote a specific form of social action. At the business meeting where the proposed minute is taken up, and in advance of that meeting, where possible, Friends should give counsel and sympathetic consideration to the individual and the concern. Discretion and sensitivity to divine guidance, as well as to the conditions of those who will be met, are vital qualifications for visitors. A minute of travel should not be granted lightly, and the monthly meeting’s preparers should so phrase it that there can be no doubt of the purpose for which the monthly meeting issued it or any basis for confusion with a letter of introduction.”

Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas tells us that traveling ministers “encourage Friends to learn from one another, and following consultation and discernment with the local communities, proceed to minister through prayer, pastoral counseling and encouragement, religious education, or peace, justice and environmental concerns.”

In Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches, Mathilda Navias quotes Jonathan Vogel-Borne: “Throughout significant portions of Quaker history the traveling ministry has been the lifeblood of the Religious Society of Friends. Since the earliest days women and men have been called by God to travel to various places among the ‘world’s people’ as well as among already established groups of Friends.” True, and helpful in setting it in historical context.

Callid Keefe-Perry talks about this at length and in wonderful ways, and one thing he mentions is that his “own service falls within the . . . category [of] Traveling in the Ministry, meaning that while I continually return to, and am grounded and held accountable by, community there, the work I do is primarily outside of my congregation.” This accountability piece feels important to me.

Brian Drayton and Noah Baker Merrill once said that “the calling to ministry always involves travel—and travail. The motion of love, the inward response (willing or unwilling), and the risk of service demand preparation, clarity, listening, humility, trust.”

SO MANY WORDS.

Don’t get me wrong—Lloyd Lee Wilson, Faith and Practice, FWCC, Mathilda Navias, Callid Keefe-Perry, Brian Drayton, and Noah Baker Merrill are all awesome. There’s not one name or organization or publication on that list that I don’t respect, and I’ve found all of the above text genuinely helpful over the years.

But somehow, I’ve still got horses and bonnets in my head.

In contrast to the horses-and-bonnets thing, here’s some ministry stuff that I’ve actually done lately:

– Traveled to Africa and the Middle East and a bunch of places in the United States

– Clerked committees

– Taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Kenya

– Tutored special education students in Palestine

– Administrated Facebook groups

– Made a documentary

– Published blogs

– Wrote a workbook for sixth graders

– Led programmed worship

– Facebooked and Instagrammed

– Facilitated workshops

– Went for walks with people

– Attended a World Council of Churches gathering on evangelism and ministry

– Consulted with staff members of various Quaker organizations

– Raised money

– Served on a board of directors

– Took over somebody’s Twitter feed

– Sent a whole bunch of emails

Is there a phrase for this other than “travel in the ministry?”

For the sake of recognizing travel in the ministry, and also for the sake of making it feel attainable, we’ve got to come up with a modern-relevant definition. I think I might take mine from Jeremiah. “All you have to do is go where I tell you to go and do what I tell you to do.” That’s a pretty good definition of travel in the ministry, right?  (Jeremiah 1:7)

Though I don’t want to lose the accountability piece, the connection to a local meeting, the corporate discernment process of sending someone out and receiving them back. That’s the difference between Quakerism and what I understand about historical Ranterism; for Quakers, there’s an emphasis on knowing that we can’t consistently discern where God tells us to go and what God tells us to do without a community to help us test things. So . . .

Travel in the Ministry: going where God tells you to go and doing what God tells you to do while checking in with your home faith community pretty often so you don’t accidentally go rogue or forget to take care of yourself.

How would you define travel in the ministry?

Also, what does it look like?

1 thought on “Can I Have a Definition, Please?

  1. As one who has the blessing and the burden of a Minute of Travel I offer this: The ministry begins at home and the travel begins with a call to simply share with others, beyond your normal sphere, the Divine Truth you have been given. To evangelize is a word that makes many Friends squirm, but it is the right word when it means to share good news. For me, that means to go to a place that may or not be open to the content of your ministry and when there, to act in a way and to speak in a way that points away from yourself and directly at the Source of Light that called you to travel and share in the first place. That others may perceive and Experience that Light is the object of the ministry. It is my hope that many Friends will listen for this call and anchor it in their home meetings. Blessings on your labors Emily.

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