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Traveling in the *Gospel* Ministry

Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 at 01:34PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

I’d like to take another step forward in my ongoing discussion of travel in the ministry. (I feel this kind of worrying-at-the-subject is probably necessary to keep me clear about what it is, exactly, that I’m supposed to be doing.)

To review: In my posting of April 30, I discussed the way in which my monthly meeting and I came to clarity on my leading to travel, and how we knew for sure that it was a true leading.

And in my posting of May 11, I wrote of how, for early Friends, travel in the ministry was an activity in which a willingness to hear and obey God’s voice on the visiting minister’s part was met with an answering obedience to hear and obey God’s voice on the visited community’s part, thus producing a situation in which openness answered openness and everyone’s spiritual sensitivity and tenderness could be deepened.

But those observations barely begin to touch on what travel in the ministry is about. Frankly, I see travel in the ministry as an activity that goes all the way to the heart of the dynamic that is Quakerism — the metaphysic, if you will, of our life as Friends. And I’d like to bring that metaphysic out into the light of day, so that we can see it more clearly.

So: It seems to me that what is central to all Quaker travel in the ministry is our (somewhat unique) Quaker gospel: our neither-Catholic,-Orthodox,-Protestant,-Hindu,-Buddhist,-nor-Wiccan message of the way in which salvation is to be found.

This is true even of a journey as unusual as mine, although the fact may not be obvious at first glance. After all, I’m feeling led not to preach as most traveling ministers preached, but to listen, and the central focus of the insights and messages that I’m asking Friends to share with me will be not on the relationship of the individual soul to God but on Friends’ relationship to the natural world. What has any of that to do with the Quaker gospel?

— But you see, what I’ll be asking to listen in on, when I visit each Friends community along the way, is the very process by which we Friends work out our salvation: the process of direct discernment of God’s will. Yes, it is quite true that, in this particular journey, I’ll be asking Friends to apply that process of direct discernment to God’s view of the way we are treating His Creation. But the focus will still be on the same process of discernment; and in this way I suspect it will all come back to rediscovering the same gospel truth — and fairly easily and naturally at that.

I sense that this is no accident. I sense that God does not move a Friend to travel in the ministry unless the travel would involve, in some significant sense, a relation or dramatization of our basic Quaker gospel message that salvation is found through direct, divinely-given discernment.

The relation/dramatization of this gospel can take astonishing forms, as in this story from Friend John Churchman’s journal:

We … passed on … to Colerain, where we had a satisfactory opportunity with some of the town’s people, who came to the meeting out of curiosity. I felt no freedom to express the sense I had of the state of Friends then, and as the meeting broke up, I stepped to a young woman, a Friend, who lived near the meeting house, and desired her to step forward and turn the few Friends in there, as she knew them, and let the others go by, which she readily performed.

When we were all set down, it soon felt to me that if I delivered my concern in general terms, the intended end would not be answered, being in pain for their good, and close matters spoken might be taken by those to whom they least belonged; and being greatly humbled, I was desirous to be rightly instructed, not knowing their names, to speak to them separately. The Lord, who never fails those who humbly trust in him, showed me where and with whom to begin, and so to the next; and mine eye being fixed on the person to whom I delivered my speech, each knew what was delivered to them in particular, and I hope the opportunity was beneficial; for I had great peace.

When the Friends were gone, I asked the young woman, who seemed in some surprise, what ailed her; she said that several were very exactly told their condition, and feared they would judge her for an informer. I told her she need not matter that, as she knew herself to be innocent.

I mention this occurrence as a remarkable kindness from the merciful Lord to the children of men, for their help and instruction, and that his servants may be encouraged to wait upon him for instruction … who knows the secrets of all hearts…. (John Churchman, An Account of the Gospel Labours and Christian Experiences, of that Faithful Minister of Christ, recounting events of 1752)

The relation/dramatization of the basic Quaker gospel can also take forms that are truly odd, as in this story from Friend Stephen Grellet:

[Around 1760, a North American Friend named Comfort Hoag felt led to travel to England “on religious service”. After obtaining the approval of her meeting, she set out accompanied by another Friend named Sarah Barney. They were a week out from shore, sitting together in worship on the boat, when] …Comfort said to Sarah, “The Lord has accepted my free-will offering to His Divine will, to go to Europe, and now he releases me from this service; and, as a proof of it, He will bring us back again to the American shores.”

The two women continued a considerable time in waiting worship without exchanging another word with one another, when they heard the captain of the ship speaking with his trumpet to another ship, saying he would have to return to port because the ship had sprung a leak! Thus the women were returned to America as Comfort had prophesied, and from that time they felt entirely released from the service of traveling in the ministry in Europe. (Stephen Grellet, Memoirs of the Life and Gospel Labors, pp. 77-78.)

Notice, please, that the same gospel — that salvation is to be had through direct discernment — is clearly expressed in this second story as well, even though what is discerned is the opposite of what we thought was coming.

I wonder whether anyone reading this blog knows of a case of Friends traveling in the ministry for a reason that didn’t boil down in the end to our (somewhat unique) Quaker gospel of salvation.

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