I travel in ministry quite a bit. And, for the past six weeks Debbie Humphries’s Spreading the Fire has traveled with me. Sadly, though, it mostly sat in a compartment of my backpack. I say “sadly” because last night, here at home between trips, I pulled it out. I found myself highlighting nuggets of truth that would have been of great help had I availed myself of its wisdom sooner.
Many Friends know and appreciate just how integral traveling in ministry has been throughout Quaker faith and practice over the years. From George Fox’s trips to the Americas through current visits by Friends—including Friends General Conference’s compiled list of traveling ministers and visiting Friends and Friends World Committee for Consultation (Section of the Americas)’s new Traveling Ministry Corps initiative—there are numerous examples of both the efficacy and helpfulness of this unique spiritual service. Now, Humphries has provided an important little booklet that will strengthen and encourage those called to travel in ministry.
Humphries uses her own experience as a way to introduce important ideas regarding what it means to do this spiritual work. That’s not to say she points to herself as a model. Rather, her personal stories help the reader connect with different aspects of being a traveling minister and growing more fully into the work. Her stories are warm, informative, and accessible. Those of us who already travel in ministry will resonate with many of her examples. When she relates attending the 350th anniversary of New England Yearly Meeting and worshiping at the historic Newport (R.I.) meetinghouse, she says, “I could feel the cloud of witnesses who had sat in those same benches before me.” I know I often experience that same feeling when I enter a meetinghouse—whether it’s 350 years or 350 days old. The sense of Spirit preceding me through those who gathered prior to my coming is palpable.
Humphries also writes wisely and well about her personal preparation. Especially valuable are the lists of resources she offers. While many of them are familiar, it is good to be reminded of these touchstones of our faith and practice. She also provides a strong reminder of just how important it is to have one’s local meeting and/or support committee endorsing, encouraging, and overseeing the work. As her writing reminds us, the traveling ministry is no Lone Ranger sort of enterprise. Like the best of Quaker practices, it is undertaken best when rooted in our historic faith and practice and when we are accountable to the community. A traveling minute, as she notes, from one’s faith family helps remind us what our ministry is (or is not) and is much more than a friendly greeting from one meeting to another. It’s an invitation to welcome us and to report back on whether we were faithful or not. It can be a teaching tool in the school of the Spirit for us.
One of the strongest parts of this pamphlet is the list of items Humphries shares under a section titled “Personal Challenges.” Since reading them, I’ve wondered about writing them on the palm of my hand when traveling!
- It’s not about me.
- Let go of expectations.
- Trust the Spirit.
- Walk regularly with my own failings and do my own work.
- Listen for what I’m carrying.
While these points are strong on their own, what makes them really helpful is her expounding on them. To find out what she says about them, you’ll have to read the pamphlet yourself. I’m not going to give them away.
Readers will also benefit from her queries for individuals and meetings, specific nuts-and-bolts suggestions for Friends traveling in ministry, and the discussion questions.
I almost skipped the section titled “Spiritual Condition of New England Friends Today.” It’s not that I don’t care about the spiritual condition of New England Friends; it’s just that I wondered what relevance it would have to me or the pamphlet’s readership. I ended up being glad I read it. In that section, Humphries makes four observations that I felt could engender discussion among Friends no matter where they’re located.
- Being Quakers is often central to our personal sense of identity.
- We are all new to Friends.
- Our hunger to do good work is often thwarted by our desire for comfort.
- Few of us put our spiritual journeys at the center of our lives.
I found these, as I pondered them, powerful, challenging, and humbling. And they are worth the price of the pamphlet alone.
Whether you, like I, have much experience in traveling in ministry or are just beginning to feel the divine nudge to do so, you’ll find this pamphlet an important tool and guide. It offers both challenge and encouragement—just as traveling in ministry does to the people visited and the spiritual visitor.