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Different types of ministry
As someone who has until recently funded his Quaker travel and work out of his paying job, I am curious about the Quaker response to the other side of bivocation (“In Celebration of Bivocational Ministry,” FJ March): what has Quakerism to say about discerning our vocations in business and industry?
“Bivocational” implicitly acknowledges two types of calling, not just the one to public ministry. In earlier centuries, the paying side of Quaker work might have been farming, iron smelting, shop-keeping, banking, etc., and the work was often conducted within a network of like-minded Friends. Friends today seem prone to sharply divide public ministry from worldly work. We don’t always know what to offer the young Friend who might be released into ministry but lacks a job and resources; at the same time, we ignore as somewhat unquakerly the young Friend who feels led toward a career in metallurgy, finance, or agribusiness rather than one of the few open positions at American Friends Service Committee. As the Quaker Robert Greenleaf pointed out, there are plenty of opportunities for servant leadership beyond Quaker public ministry, but who among our meetings is raising up corporate or entrepreneurial servant leaders and supporting them in their work?
Thanks to Micah Bales for his well-thought-out piece (“Free Ministry for All?,” FJ March). He has described my life as a Quaker minister. I have often felt torn between serving in a secular job that did not recognize my work as ministry and attempting to live out my ministry in a faith that has little means to provide for its ministers. My meeting has always done its best to support me in small ways, and I am grateful to see organizations springing up in yearly meetings that recognize the importance of traveling ministry and recorded ministry. We need to continue to encourage ministers in our historic tradition and find ways to support them financially.
Linda J. Wilk
Falling Waters, W. Va.
I remember decades ago when some Friends raised questions about the length of time a particular Friend was to be released for ministry, much of which was to be spent leading workshops. The work was very similar to what some paid staff do at the Pendle Hill study center. Longtime similar ministry under the oversight of a meeting committee, however, was not deemed worthy of the same kind of support. In trying to explain this, those objecting to the release distinguished between “ministry” and what folks do within institutions. Making this distinction was difficult because in reality there wasn’t always much of a difference.
We do not need to be rigid, but we should let the Spirit guide us into what is right in a given situation, regardless of whether the guidance fits a particular framework in our minds. We need to try to free Friends to exercise their gifts. Free gospel ministry is really about following God’s call in one’s life no matter the obstacles; it’s not a statement about not paying people engaged in ministry.
Silver Spring, Md.
The March issue of Friends Journal was dedicated to discussing the funding of ministry. I became increasingly uneasy as I read along and found no description of traditional release of Friends to ministry, even in the article entitled “Releasing Friends” (although I was intrigued by the modern use of computers and crowdfunding to achieve much the same). I began to worry that we have actually forgotten this part of our history.
The word “ministry” seemed to be almost exclusively used to describe what I would call pastoral ministry, either a religious vocal ministry or pastoral care for our meetings themselves. This is certainly a kind of ministry and one with which many unprogrammed Friends have conflicted feelings. In regards to pastoral ministry, I think we need to get over ourselves and our history and decide to compensate fairly as valued employees those Friends who serve us in our meetings and Quaker organizations doing work that we value.
But there is another kind of ministry. It is a leading that often takes place out in the world. In regard to the second type of ministry (a led ministry), I would like us to remember our own traditions of releasing Friends. This is not a quaint footnote of our historical experience. We can use it alongside modern tools like crowdsourcing to release Friends to minister to the urgent needs of our suffering world.
The costs of a Quaker education
As Louis Herbst mentioned in “Elitist Institutions?” (FJ April), tuition costs at most Quaker schools exclude the vast majority of Friends and most Americans as well. This state of affairs is at odds with the Quaker values of equality and simplicity. That this is a common situation throughout most American private schools does not excuse Friends in education from being part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Students in Friends schools who are wealthy or upper-middle class are shortchanged in their educational experience by not interacting in class with poor and working-class students of equal talent, intelligence, and academic heft. The current elitist reality, at sad variance with simple and equal intentions, is unquakerly and would cause most of our early Quaker fathers and mothers to turn over in their graves.
We have two sons who both graduated from Scattergood Friends School. I still struggle with the personal sense that it was somewhat elitist for our family to send our children to boarding school, even though our income was barely above the poverty line at the time and we were given generous financial aid to make it possible. In reality, I think that their experience at Scattergood exposed them to a far more diverse community (both ethnically and economically) than they would have ever had going to our public schools in northern Minnesota. And since we live far away from our home meeting, attending a Quaker school gave our sons a Quaker community with which to identify.
We could have been scared away from even thinking a boarding school was financially possible, but Scattergood told our sons to apply first, and if it was a good fit, they would help make it happen for us. And they did. We also had to commit to adjusting our family budget to invest in our children’s education. Ironically, when I think about it, I find it was much more difficult to overcome the sense of social stigma of elitism than it was to come up with the money for their tuition.
It is clear every Quaker school has its own flavor, but Scattergood did a wonderful job of creating a diverse community of students from many walks of life and many cultural backgrounds. This is a worthy Friendly mission and accomplishment. Harsh judgements of elitism are too simple. Public schools face the same problem of segregation based on the economic level of the local neighborhood or the diversity of a particular region. Instead of condemning the inevitable imperfections of the institutions, we should be encouraging them to adapt to meet the current needs of our society. As the article implied, one of those needs is to create spaces where children from all walks of life can learn from each other and create community.
I find Louis Herbst’s article very frustrating because it seems to dodge and weave rather than provide concrete information to support a more constructive conversation.
Data about the income distribution of families with kids in Quaker schools, how many applicant families request financial aid, what share of financial aid requests are met, etc., would help us better understand whether it’s factually correct that Quaker schools are not “elite institutions” or “schools for rich kids.” More substantively, I agree that having schools that teach Quaker values to some of the children of the most financially well-off families may be a useful thing for the world and the Religious Society of Friends, but we can’t have that conversation if we can’t acknowledge that many of our Quaker schools are elite institutions.
The article also takes a very uncritical view of the expenditures of the schools, implying instead that it’s impossible to run a school for less money. Having things like small class sizes, beautifully maintained buildings and campuses, cutting-edge technology, and fancy dance studios are choices that independent schools make in order to compete with each other and to provide what they believe to be the best educational experience. Those might be the right decisions, but I think it’s useful to discuss whether we approve of how our local Quaker schools are balancing expenditure desires and tuition costs.
William Penn started a school for the children of families who couldn’t pay tuition. Lucretia Mott’s parents sent her to a “common” school, rather than one of the select schools more often used by families in her social class, because they didn’t want her to develop “class pride.” Do there remain any Quakers concerned with the education of all children including those whose families can’t pay tuition or move to an exclusive suburb?
In “Country Rider,” a poem by Robert Bense in the March issue, we accidentally swapped a letter, turning “out” to “our.” The eleventh and twelfth lines should read “What he wrote out / is a story squarely in your face.” You can read the corrected poem in its entirety on our website at fdsj.nl/country-rider.