The Same, But Different: Ministry and the Quaker Pastor
Reviewed by Margaret Webb
Phil Baisley writes in the introduction to The Same, But Different: “In writing this book I have two aims. I want to encourage Friends pastors to unashamedly practice their faith according to Quaker traditions.” Additionally, he “want[s] to show readers from other faith traditions what happens when our mutual foundational beliefs are carried out in the everyday work of local pastors.” I believe that Baisley accomplishes both of these goals with wit and eloquence.
Baisley begins by describing the historical changes that led to the hiring of paid pastors. He then goes on to describe what he believes are some key Quaker theological ideas, including the guiding idea that the Living Presence (the Spirit) is among us at all times, and that we feel the Spirit in the silence of worship and through the ministry of all people. The majority of the book (chapters 3 through 9) delves into the various ways that Quaker pastors bring these key spiritual beliefs to the work of worship leadership, preparing messages, religious education, evangelism (“walking cheerfully”), weddings, funerals, and pastoral care. Baisley weaves into the text illustrative stories from his work as a pastor and educator as well as the stories of other Quaker pastors from a range of pastoral contexts.
As the full-time pastoral minister at New Garden Meeting in Greensboro, N.C., I recognized my own work and experiences within the pages of this book. It was perhaps the first time that I have ever encountered a holistic description of the ministry that I do. Often when I am with other clergy people, I feel the differences between what I do and how they approach ministry. In The Same, But Different, those differences were articulated and celebrated. This work gave me words for some spiritual truths that before I had only felt. Although I have seen other shorter pieces discussing some elements of the work of contemporary Quaker pastors, this is the first full book I have ever encountered on the topic.
Additionally, although this was not one of Baisley’s articulated aims, I believe that The Same, But Different may offer important insights to Quakers who do not come from the pastoral tradition. Because I was raised among Liberal unprogrammed Friends and later entered full-time pastoral ministry, I see that many unprogrammed Friends have little understanding of a Quaker pastor’s work.
It is understandable to see first the ways that the various branches among Friends are different, in worship and practice particularly, and to miss or overlook our similarities and how we share theological roots. This book may be a tool to aid finding common spiritual ground among Friends of various worshiping practices.
Early on in the book, there’s an excellent example of the way a bridge between pastoral and unprogrammed Friends can be built: by articulating shared beliefs and experiences. Baisley recounts an experience where an attender named Ralph stood during worship and shared in a way that was less than Spirit-led. Baisley writes, with characteristic humor, “Sometimes, you leave room [in worship] for the Spirit, but you only get Ralph.” If that is not an expression of a universal Quaker experience, I don’t know what is.
Baisley concludes with a chapter that speculates about how pastoral ministry among Friends may be changing in the twenty-first century. As a millennial, I resonated deeply with Baisley’s conclusion that Quakerism is changing rapidly in the United States, and that the future of ministry, and indeed of all our worship life together, may be very different. I, like Baisley, am filled with hopefulness and excitement for the ways that Quakerism may speak afresh to the non-religious and to those who have been injured or rejected by other faith communities. Again, as we look forward into the future, I think our shared ministry will be profoundly the same as the ministry of past generations, and yet, joyfully different.