Re: Pastors, Priests, Ministers, etc.
Author: densmore
Email: densmore@acsu.buffalo.edu
Forums: soc.religion.quaker

On 20 Jun 1997, Guy Macon wrote:

What is the resoning behind some Quakers not having Pastors (Priests, Elders, Deacons, Presbyters or whatever)? In the old Quaker writings, there seemed to be very strong feelings on the subject.

From the organization of the Society of Friends into a structure, ca. 1650-60, and the mid 19th century, ca. 1860, Quaker meetings were pretty similar in having "acknowledged" ministers, elders and overseers.

The important thing to understand is the role of the Quaker ministers. I'm going to quote here and following from "A Summary of the History, Doctrine and Discipline of the Society of Friends" prepared for London Yearly Meeting in 1790, and reprinted many times.

"the renewed assistance of the light and power of Christ is indispensably necessary for all true ministry; and that this holy influence is not procured by study, but is the free gift of God to chosen and devoted servants. Hence our testimony against preaching for hire..."

In the language of George Fox and other Quakers, those who "preached for hire" (e.g. were paid) and those whose preaching did not derive from the proper source were "priests" (a negative term in Quaker thinking).

From the above it also follows that minister are not created by humans. A Quaker meeting could not appoint someone a minister, it could only "acknowledge" that he or she (and it included "she" from the very start) WAS a minister. Acknowledgement was a recognition of ministry, not the conferral of ministerial or pastoral authority.

A local meeting could have several ministers, male and female, or one or none. Vocal ministry and prayer would generally, though not exclusively, come from the acknowledged minister. The acknowledgement of ministers also said that person "x" was saying things acceptable to the Society of Friends. If person "x" was speaking in meeting and saying things that were not acceptable to the corporate wisdom of the society, he or she was apt to receive a visit from the elders. Each monthly meeting had a meeting of "ministers and elders" "in order that those who are in the situation of ministers may have the tender sympathy and council of those of either sex, who, by their experience in the work of religion are qualified for that service..." The ministers and elders met together monthly to consider their state, the same way the monthly meeting met to consider and answer a set of questions about their spiritual state.

The other office was "overseer" and the overseers were particularly responsible that "the rules of our discipline be put into practice; and when any case of complaint or disorderly conduct comes to their knowledge, to see that private admonitions, agreeably to the gospel rule... be given, previously to its being laid before the monthly meeting." This meant that the Friend who was violating Friends testimonies by, for example, by departing from plainness in dress, could expect to be visited by the overseers. If he or she did not alter her or his conduct, she or he might be taken "under dealing" by the monthly meeting and possibly disowned.

So ministers and elders were the religious offices; overseerers could be seen as more secular (concerned with behavior, e.g. exterior issues), and the clerks who presided over meetings. Neither the office of overseer or clerk is without a spiritual dimension, but neither office was/is seen as PRIMARILY providing spiritual leadership and/or guidance to Friends.

In a political sense, all of these offices were acknowledged/appointed by the monthly meeting, e.g. all of the members, which could also, if the case was necessary, remove a person from a position of authority and if needful, disown the person. Ministers were acknowledged by local meetings, not by some distant and hierarchical ecclesiastical authority. The corporate discernment of the Friends meeting, composed of all members, served as a break on the individual authority of ministers and elders.

The problem, as I understand it, is that the function of the elders and overseers was to strike a balance between nurturing spiritual growth and maintaining discipline (both spiritual and in Friends testimonies). What was intended to be nurturing could become authoratitive and repressive. On the other hand, without "eldering" and nurturing, the Society of Friends was in danger of splintering or regressing into "ranterism" where all opinions (e.g. those coming from merely "creaturely" that is human sources) were equally valid.

The Hicksite tendency was to see the authority of the ministers and elders as unduly restrictive (or simply wrong doctrinally), while the Orthodox tendency was to see the authority of the ministers and elders as essential to maintain the "ancient testimonies" of the Society of Friends. Eventually, most (I think) of the Friends meetings in the Friends General Conference gave up the practice of acknowledging particular people as ministers, though the old meetings of ministers and elders remains in the form of "ministry and council" or some equivalent. Most, I think, meetings and churches in the Friends United Meeting in the 19th century adopted the pastoral system, with paid pastors, but did not drop the acknowledgement of ministers who were not necessarily pastors.

Guy Macon wrote:

Are non-pastoral/non-programmed Friends really without a leader, or do they actually have a minister that they happen to call "Clerk" or some other name? How does it all work?

By my observation, no. Even in very loose and non-hierarchical structures there is individual leadership. However, in non-programmed meetings that leadership may be more dispersed and more fluid. If someone frequently speaks in meeting, and her or his testimonies are perceived by people to come from the proper source or be edifying, then that person is fulfilling the older role of a Friends minister whether or not the meeting goes through a formal procedure of acknowledging her or his gift in the ministry. Non-programmed Friends are, I think, wary of making such acknowledgement on the belief that if they do so, they are denying the gifts or potential gifts in the ministry of the others in the meeting, or that Friends will come to ignore their own gifts and rely on the external authority/leadership of the acknowledge/appointed minister. It might be interesting for Friends in the non-programmed meetings to ask themselves what would change if they formally acknowledged ministers within their meetings (and I think some do, but the practice is uncommon). The question is not whether there are or are not leaders, but what is the basis of their authority, and under what conditions leadership is shared among many and/or passed from person to person. [In my opinion, which is subject to change.]

The clerk emphatically is not the equivalent of a minister, but the person who presides (probably the wrong word) over the business meetings. However, "meeting for business" is also described as "meeting for worship, with a concern for business" and it isn't possible to separate the religious and secular concerns of the Society, so the clerk should be a person with spiritual discernment, but that is not the same, I think, as ministry.

Christopher Densmore
Densmore@acsu.buffalo.edu


Re: Pastors, Priests, Ministers, etc.
Author: Kirk Wattles
Email: kwattles@mindspring.com
Date: 1997/06/20
Forums: soc.religion.quaker

Guy Macon wrote:

What is the reasoning behind some Quakers not having Pastors (Priests, Elders, Deacons, Presbyters or whatever)? In the old Quaker writings, there seemed to be very strong feelings on the subject.

The early Quakers called them all "Priests." I think their reasoning was that to be a "priest," one had to have university training, which was relatively expensive, and the approval of an established church, which in turn meant that the government had a role in deciding who was acceptable and who wasn't. Also there was the question of whether men were in the business just for the money, because with tithing the population was required to come up with the funds, for which they often saw little return in terms of meaningful religious guidance.

Instead, they found that they could find guidance from among themselves, and that women also could minister (which was unthinkable in the established churches). The Baptists, actually, made the logical next steps before the Quakers were even around, and I'm not sure I can explain how the Quakers distinguished themselves from the Baptists in this regard.

But the real question is in the present tense. At what point did some Friends completely lay down acknowledged ministry, and why? Is the reasoning ever articulated, or is it just accepted that way? (I think the question really pertains mostly to those branches that never took up a system of Pastors and programmed worship [and to the Beanites who broke away and returned to unprogrammed worship(?)].)

Guy Macon wrote:

Are non-pastoral/non-programmed Friends really without a leader, or do they actually have a minister that they happen to call "Clerk" or some other name? How does it all work?

I think one of the most revealing indicators is the architecture of Friends Meetings, and then the way that Friends use the space available to them. In Atlanta, everyone sits evenly balanced around the middle, in a large octagonal room; there is nothing to suggest that one side is more important. In Philadelphia, in both the Arch Street and the Cherry Street meetings, there is a tier of facing benches, but only a handful of Friends sit in them (and rarely if ever speak); the main purpose is to be the ones who break the meeting. I think most if not all of them are from the Ministry and Worship committee, and at Cherry Street sometimes they identify themselves as the Friends who can be approached with questions after meeting for worship. Most of the time, the Friends at Arch Street meeting meet in a smaller adjoining room, where the benches are arranged around three sides of the room and down the middle facing the fourth wall, but no-one ever sits on that side. The Friends who break meeting generally sit in the benches on the far side from the doorway where most of us enter.

In other words, there is no-one in any of these meetings who takes a role in meeting for worship that could be equated with "minister."

[Are non-pastoral/non-programmed Friends really without a leader?]

Chris Densmore wrote:

By my observation, no. Even in very loose and non-hierarchical structures there is individual leadership. However, in non- programmed meetings that leadership may be more dispersed and more fluid. If someone frequently speaks in meeting, and her or his testimonies are perceived by people to come from the proper source or be edifying, then that person is fulfilling the older role of a Friends minister whether or not the meeting goes through a formal procedure of acknowledging her or his gift in the ministry.

In my opinion, those who speak most frequently are generally the ones who are not so highly regarded, so I guess in a way the leadership shown in other areas of the Meeting's life is more telling. The role that the Clerk takes in the "meeting for worship, with a concern for business" helps to set the tone for the meeting as a whole, as Chris says. The work of the committees (variously named -- Ministry and/or Oversight, and/or Worship, and/or Counsel) also allows people to take leadership roles that sometimes approach ministry.

Kirk Wattles
kwattles@mindspring.com


Re: Pastors, Priests, Ministers, etc.
Author: adam segal-isaacson
Email: a.segal@elsevier.com
Date: 1997/06/20
Forums: soc.religion.quaker

Kirk hits on the main points, but I think part of it is indeed a general Prostestant objection to the Catholic priests, who are intermediaries between the people and God. I suspect that the Church of England priests were viewed (and may have viewed themselves) as taking that role at that time (I don't think CofE priests take that role today, but perhaps someone more versed in CofE/Episcopal theology can comment on this) Kirk Wattles wrote:

But the real question is in the present tense. At what point did some Friends completely lay down acknowledged ministry, and why? Is the reasoning ever articulated, or is it just accepted that way? (I think the question really pertains mostly to those branches that never took up a system of Pastors and programmed worship [and to the Beanites who broke away and returned to unprogrammed worship(?)].)

I think it is unfair to say that Friends have completely laid down the idea of acknowledged ministry as I know of several nonpastoral meetings who have people who have been formally recognized as having ministerial gifts. This recognition is often connected to travel or other action in ministering to a particular concern of that person, but not only so. I think what happened was that Friends in nonpastoral meetings became less interested in the process of formally recognizing ministers and recognized that gifts of ministry ebb and flow. Guy Macon wrote:

Are non-pastoral/non-programmed Friends really without a leader, or do they actually have a minister that they happen to call "Clerk" or some other name? How does it all work?

Clerks are not ministers in that they do not lead worship in the way ministers do, they only "lead" the business meetings. In an nonpastoral meeting the only real "position of authority" is that someone has been designated to close meeting for worship. That person is usually a member of the Committee for Ministry and Oversight (or similarly named committee), but is not by default the Clerk. In the meetings that I have attended, the duty of closing meeting rotates week to week. Kirk Wattles wrote:

In other words, there is no-one in any of these meetings who takes a role in meeting for worship that could be equated with "minister." [Are non-pastoral/non-programmed Friends really without a leader?]

Only for worship.

Kirk Wattles wrote:

The role that the Clerk takes in the "meeting for worship, with a concern for business" helps to set the tone for the meeting as a whole, as Chris says. The work of the committees (variously named -- Ministry and/or Oversight, and/or Worship, and/or Counsel) also allows people to take leadership roles that sometimes approach ministry.
The Clerk's role in the Meeting, as in committees, is to lead by following. As Kirk says there are more or less active ways of doing this, but mostly this relates to the business of the meeting, not its spiritual life. As Kirk says, an M&O committee usually fills the role, collectively, that a minister (or group of ministers) does in other churches. How good M&O committees are at this varies.

adam segal-isaacson
a.segal@elsevier.com


Re: Pastors, Priests, Ministers, etc.
Author: Kirk Wattles
Email: kwattles@mindspring.com
Date: 1997/06/20
Forums: soc.religion.quaker

adam segal-isaacson wrote:

I think it is unfair to say that Friends have completely laid down the idea of acknowledged ministry as I know of several nonpastoral meetings who have people who have been formally recognized as having ministerial gifts. This recognition is often connected to travel or other action in ministering to a particular concern of that person, but not only so.

Getting back to how seats are arranged and who sits where, I think the pragmatic question was whether a travelling Friend would sit in the facing benches or not. With the proper letter from her or his home meeting, it would be up front, and the gathered meeting might hope that the visiting Friend would enliven their worship with a word or two (or three thousand).

Somewhere I read of a meeting where one of the weighty Friends (was it Penn or Fox?) started preaching as he got down off his horse and strode into meeting. He continued for more than an hour, walked back out, was on his horse and gone. Now *that*s entertainment!

Kirk Wattles
kwattles@mindspring.com