Monday, 24 July 2017

Ministry, Vulnerability, and Faithfulness

This may come as a surprise to those who have shared many Meetings for Worship with me, but I don't like giving spoken ministry. Actually, I kind of dread it.

Giving ministry opens one up. It is, to me, an act of vulnerability. It gives one a chance to fail – to not adequately express what the Spirit has given, to be misunderstood, to inadvertently misrepresent the Divine. It forces one to reveal, even if indirectly, some of the content of your own spirit and psyche – while ministry comes from the Spirit, it is focussed through the lens of our own nature and experience. It opens one up to criticism, as the motive behind the ministry may be suspect in the eyes of some Friends.

This vulnerability is part of what gives ministry its strength. In opening ourselves to the Spirit, and opening ourselves to the meeting to share the gift that may come, we expose more of ourself than we might necessarily realise – perhaps more than the other Friends present realise. Sometimes we are saying something that we ourselves are uncomfortable with, but in faithfulness to our traditions, our methods, we give voice to it.

Sometimes, for various reasons – some of which I do not feel are appropriate to discuss publicly – I actively avoid giving ministry. Out and out refusing the call to minister is difficult, and unpleasant, in my experience. The Spirit doesn't like us to withhold what it would have us say, and unless substantially the same ministry comes through someone else in the same meeting, I find that the effort of refusing leaves me uncomfortable for some time afterwards. So, if I wish to avoid giving the ministry, there are two basic options: I can reduce the likelihood of being given the ministry, or I can find ways to satisfy the Spirit other than standing and speaking.

The first of these is actually rather easy. Ministry won't usually come if I'm not centred down properly. So I just avoid properly centring down, usually by somehow distracting myself. It doesn't always work – with the weight of presence in the meeting, it can push through a lot of distraction. It also rather means that I am not fully joining in the Meeting for Worship, whether other people can tell or not. Yet sometimes it is the easiest way.

The other method has actually led to some of the written ministry shared on this blog. I let the ministry flow, just out onto paper. I pull out my ever-present notepad, and my always-in-my-pocket pen, and write it down, just as it comes. Not all of my written ministry came in this way, nor even most of it, but some certainly did. To be faithful, I need to share it after writing it down; I don't imagine that the Spirit is going to punish me in some way if I don't. That would be pretty difficult, given my conception of the Divine. However, I do think that I will be doing myself a disservice if I don't.

So the first method avoids the vulnerability of ministry completely, while the second moves it, in time and in space. I find myself worrying what the others I worship with will think of either method, when they notice it, but being polite and conflict-avoiding as British Quakers seem to now mostly be, I'm not sure if I'll find out.
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