Unprogrammed Friends are fond of saying that we’ve abolished the laity and each of us is called to a ministry. As with many statements, there is truth in this perception, yet among unprogrammed Friends, many are convinced Quakers who’ve left other churches and religious communities behind—and are very leery of the hierarchy and dominance that the word "ministry" implies to them, based upon their earlier experiences. George Fox called such folks "hirelings," did he not?
I remember when I first came among Friends and began to appreciate our distinctive theology, I too wondered how a Quaker seminary could meet the needs of unprogrammed Friends. Yet, coming from an ecumenical background, having worked for two denominations at the national level, and having been astonished to become aware that I was called to a "nontraditional" ministry, I could not help but be intrigued by Earlham School of Religion. Intrigued enough to seriously consider attending myself. If it had been geographically closer—or if distance learning classes had been available back then—I likely would have done so.
This year, Earlham School of Religion celebrates 50 years of serving the Religious Society of Friends, providing a space where Friends of widely disparate backgrounds can encounter each other, be stretched by the experience, and have meaningful and challenging exchanges without losing their own core beliefs. To straddle the wide differences among Friends is a tremendous challenge; to flow with the demographic and cultural changes within the Religious Society of Friends from the mid-20th Century to the beginning of the 21st is perhaps an even greater challenge.
Many Friends understand ministry as service, whether it be to a meeting, a church, an institution, or through some other work devoted to people’s basic and spiritual needs. The articles in this issue make abundantly clear that ESR excels at preparing individuals— whatever their starting point on the theological spectrum—for service and to follow their leadings well. It is not easy, in a Religious Society that seeks ongoing revelation and prizes the potential of each person to be the agent of that revelation, to discern when a leading becomes a calling, and a calling a ministry. Yet, this is precisely the task ESR has set for itself, and in so doing, has served the Religious Society of Friends for 50 years by nurturing the gifts of ministry of hundreds of Friends.
We are not often blessed to have articles from so many branches of Quakerism in one issue. But, like ESR, FRIENDS JOURNAL, as an independent Quaker organization, is tasked with building bridges across the branches of Quakerism. It is our joy and privilege to join in congratulating Earlham School of Religion on its many accomplishments. We are delighted to bring to our readers a variety of Friends who can testify to the value of dialogue and meaningful encounter with each other.
Regular readers are likely wondering how FRIENDS JOURNAL is faring, given that we’ve had a serious financial challenge this year. More information can be found on our website at http://friendsjournal.org, but I am grateful to share here that we have been blessed by an outpouring of financial gifts and words of encouragement. There is still work to be done, and our staff and Board are working hard on this. News of changes to come will appear in our August issue and on our website. In the meanwhile, I offer the thanks and deep gratitude of our staff and Board to you, our readers and supporters.