Friday, 18 August 2017

What is "Written Ministry"?

You'll notice that, at the time of writing, the majority of posts on this blog are in the “ministry” category. As noted in the About page on this blog, this category contains written ministry. As also noted there, this means
“…it is not something I have carefully thought about and written down, revised, and optimised to make the point I'm trying to make; rather it is something I feel compelled to write down, and make very limited choices about myself. In short, it is the same as the Quaker tradition of spoken ministry during Meeting for Worship. I feel called to write it, and like any ministry in Meeting for Worship, I believe it to be divinely inspired.”
However, even to other Quakers, this may still be a very strange and unfamiliar concept, so I will try to write some more about what this means, and what the experience is like.
When we talk about “ministry”, in the Quaker context, there are a range of possible meanings. The most obvious, often, is that of speaking in Meeting for Worship. However, we also talk about the ministry of a person, or an organisation, in terms of the service it does for the Religious Society of Friends, and for wider society. A ministry of teaching, or of hospitality, or of outreach; of service to the poor, or engagement with government. These are all ministries, and some produce written results. In that sense, a great deal of writing by Friends is the product of their ministry, including some names that many would recognise writing today, such as David Boulton, Derek Guiton, and Pink Dandelion. I do not deny the validity of any of that as ministry, but it should be distinguished from what I speak of when I say “written ministry”, as will hopefully be clear from this post.
You will see that this post is in the “writing” category, and not the “ministry” category; this means that this is written by me in the normal way, trying to express my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and with no particular compulsion from the Divine. I choose what to write about, sit down, think about it, choose words and phrases. I read it over, and have other people I trust read it over; I trim it, edit it, expand it, rephrase it. I imagine most of you are familiar with such a writing process, from your time in formal education if not otherwise.
Writing written ministry isn't like that. I don't choose what to write about, I don't spend time thinking about the position I want to put across. I just have ideas, often at least a few phrases of text, arrive in my head essentially unbidden. They may relate to something I was thinking about at the time, or they may not. They demand to be written down, with whatever I have to hand; for unrelated reasons, I do try never to be without the means of writing things down, so this hasn't yet been a particularly troublesome demand.
The experience is much like the call to minister in Meeting for Worship, and requires similar testing, to discern whether you have an authentic leading, as opposed to having an idea that you're excited about. It does, however, have the advantage that you can involve others in that testing. Similarly, getting it written down is not enough to satisfy the call; like ministry in Meeting for Worship, the call is to share it, though it can be hard to work out how. Until I started this blog, I had mostly been sharing it through the Quaker Renewal UK group on Facebook, and a couple of pieces through my Local Meeting's newsletter supplement. The latter is made both easier and harder by the fact I am editor of that newsletter; easier, in that I need not convince anyone else to include it, but harder in that I have to bear the responsibility of determining its inclusion myself. Doubts arise very easily in that scenario.
The experience of actually writing down the ministry is also like, and yet unlike, that of ministering in Meeting for Worship. I know how it's starting, and roughly where it's going, but then I'm kind of along for the ride. Sometimes I pause to figure out the words for what is trying to come out, and other times it just flows with an amazing lack of thought. It might take a sudden turn I wasn't expecting, or I find myself writing something that I find immensely troubling. It might get to where I thought it was going, and suddenly it carries on past that to somewhere I really didn't expect. Sometimes I feel enlightened by it, and other times I'm staring at it, reading it over myself, trying to figure out what it's all about.
So maybe, if you're sitting around, watching the world go by, and an unexpected thought occurs to you, you might wonder if the Spirit is moving you to write something down and share it. You never know where it will take you.
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