Fellowship of Ministers
Beth Henricks, Indianapolis First Friends
Resources: A Quaker View of Ministry by Keith Esch
Four Doors to Meeting for Worship by William Taber
Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by Christopher Smith and John Pattison
Friends, we experienced an incredible worship service last Sunday as we honored our pastor Ruthie as our shepherd for the last five years. She loved us, connected us and gave her whole self to us. I know that many of us are still soaking in the depth of God’s love that touched us last week. Our faith community has been changed by Ruthie’s ministry. And we are excited for her as she determines her continued ministry in retirement.
So here we are the week after Ruthie is gone. What does this mean for First Friends? How do we move forward? How do we care for each other? What is next in our journey together? Where is God taking us?
A couple of weeks ago Mike Mott came into the Meeting and gave me a big file folder of First Friends memorabilia gathered from his parents that highlighted our history together. It was fun to look through our past and think about all that has gone on before us today. While folks gathered in homes for a number of years in the early 1800’s, a building was erected at the triangle of Delaware, St Clair and Ft Wayne streets in 1856 (Total cost was $3,000). For several years First Friends was a preparatory meeting and it wasn’t until 1865 that Indianapolis First Friends was established as its own Monthly Meeting. It had 147 members at that time. By 1885 the membership was up to 385. First Friends had many ministers in the congregation and a few were identified in a timeline but no one was a paid pastor until 1888. In 1895, a new church was built at 13th and Alabama St. In 1955 ground was broken on this plot of land on Kessler and this new building was dedicated in 1957 (cost of the building was $350,000). 3 buildings, 15 paid pastors in 152 years and we are sitting here today benefitting from so many people that loved First Friends, committed their time, energy and resources to First Friends, and ministered to each other and to those in our neighborhoods and city.
Our faith community over the years at First Friends is where we have learned to mature together into the fullness of Christ. We have learned patience by forgiving and being reconciled to one another. Our commitment to our faith community is essential if we are to learn patience and practice stability. Patience can hold us together when other forces conspire to rip us apart. We learn patience by immersion and not by running away or participating from a distance. Our commitment to grow deeper with the same people in the same place no matter what will provide a rich context through which God will bring forth fruits of the Spirit. Reading through our history I have seen this exhibited time and again.
If I were to ask you today what it is about the practices of Quakers and First Friends that keep you committed to this faith community, I can imagine I would receive a number of different answers. We have some distinct differences from other Christian congregations in how we live in faith, in worship, in conducting our business and in our outreach.
One of our clear distinctives is the idea that we are all ministers of the Gospel. No paid staff or pastor is more of a minister than each one of you. As Ed read in our scripture today, each of you brings your skills, experiences, your inadequacies, your brokenness to our faith community as a gift of God. You embody the local manifestation of Christ in the diversity of gifts that have been given you.
Growing up in the Nazarene tradition, our pastor was clearly the head of the church and much reverence and deference was given to him (and it was always a him) and his authority. I always had trouble reconciling this because I saw our pastors be very human and make mistakes, engage in improper actions and sometimes became more concerned with their power and ego and less concerned with following God’s leadings. My best friend in middle school was our pastor’s daughter. It was terribly difficult to grow up in that spotlight of expected perfection for the entire family.
How refreshing to join the Quakers and embrace our idea of ministry. Wilmer Cooper, former dean of the Earlham School of Religion said that “one characteristic of Quaker ministry is that it is not the responsibility of a particular class of persons, namely the clergy, but it is a gift and responsibility of every member of the meeting. Everybody who is a follower of the Christian way is a potential minister, a proclaimer of the word of the Lord. Ministry is not a profession to be performed or an office endowed with apostolic rights. Ministry is God-given and is the function of the whole People of God”.
The local fellowship is the soul of Friends ministry. The ministry is encouraged, directed and fed through the fellowship of ministers. I have watched ministry occur with so many of you through so many ways – meals, visits, children’s worship, working at the pantry, praying for healing, music, teaching, sharing …the list goes on and on. Our human bodies are way more than the sum of its individual parts. The ministry of this Meeting is way more than just adding up what each individual does. Our meeting provides a means for participating in the ministry of one another.
The Meeting belongs to all who gather and it is under the leadership of the Spirit of Christ. No pastor, worship committee, weighty Friends can claim the meeting as theirs. This is empowering. Planning and programming cannot take the place of the participation of the members. This creates a sense of ownership and community.
So, what is the role of the pastor here particularly as we consider the opportunity for a new pastor? I believe one of the most important ministries a pastor in a Quaker setting provides is the ministry of equipping. Through programs, vocal ministry, teaching, sharing, our pastor will help equip each of us to recognize our gifts of ministry and to deepen and strengthen our faith. An equipping ministry is one of multiplication. Our pastor is a teacher to teachers, a minister to ministers and a counselor to counselors. This is how the early Christian communities had explosive growth in their fellowship. Quaker Keith Esch describes five key elements to an equipping ministry:
1.Deepening and strengthening one’s faith – often through prayer and our devotional life
2. Enable persons to discover their gifts and develop them
3. Development of a caring community – programs that require a spirit of cooperativeness for their success
4. Level of meaningfulness of our Meeting for Worship
5. The extent to which persons are finding their way into new and/or more significant avenues of service.
The faith teaches commitment and service. A vital community which experiences meaningful worship calls forth the gifts that in a spirit of commitment and servanthood need to be expressed in ministry.
We need to be clear that the life and power of ministry is through the Spirit. Cooper said that “if the Holy Spirit is not in our ministry, guiding, directing and inspiring it, then it will be lifeless and could be likened to seed falling on barren ground.”
One of our other distinctive at First Friends that means a lot to many of us is our communion through unprogrammed worship. There was a lot of preaching in the early Quaker meetings but it was all for the purpose to take the hearers to Christ and to leave them there. I believe all of the elements of our programmed service prepare us, challenge us, equip us to enter into the experience of our Quaker communion. This is the heart of our worship and friends this is powerful. Worship is gathering together to minister and be ministered to – there is a sense of anticipation and an element of excitement because we don’t know how the Spirit will move.
This expectant waiting worship that we are about to enter into is the invisible but eternal stream of reality which is the living and eternal Christ. Our unprogrammed worship isn’t something we do – it is more a state of consciousness that we enter in to.
We should think of this holy experience as dipping into the stream – we are practicing the presence – we enter unprogrammed worship by doing 3 things – we have a desire and profound yearning to be in the Presence, we focus and use whatever technique or lack of technique to center ourselves and be attentive to the Presence and we trust to go into the deep Living Water of the Stream. Be responsive to the Spirit if you are called to deliver vocal ministry to us. Also, be responsive if you just need to sit in that Stream with the Spirit yourself.