Traveling Ministry

The theme of the August 2012 issue is “traveling.” This is an excerpt on traveling in the ministry from the new Friends Journal-published book, Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches. -Eds.

Throughout significant portions of Quaker history the traveling ministry has been the lifeblood of the Religious Society of Friends. Since the earliest days women and men have been called by God to travel to various places among the “world’s people” as well as among already established groups of Friends.
(Jonathan Vogel-Borne, “Traveling in the Ministry”)

In many ways, early Friends’ travels were similar to Paul and other apostles’ travels during the first century: to proclaim the Gospel and to return to fledgling groups to provide support and correction. In a short paper written in 1987 on the history and practice of traveling in the ministry, Jonathan Vogel-Borne wrote:

In succeeding generations, as our religious society became settled . . . and as we became more geographically dispersed, the traveling ministry helped to provide needed communication between the various groups of Friends. . . . Traveling ministers were certified and trusted outsiders to the meeting’s “politics.” In this capacity they could be of enormous service to the community. Their ability to discern the spiritual health of the meeting, their mediating influence to reconcile differences, and their liberty to speak out on potentially difficult issues both spiritual and temporal were often very helpful to Friends.

During the [1900s], the formal practice of travel in the ministry among Friends had virtually ceased. In the unprogrammed tradition . . . it is thought that no one’s gifts in the ministry should be recognized over and above the gifts of others. Along with the advent of modern communication . . . formal travel in the ministry had all but fallen to disuse.

Recently, there seems to be a revival of the traveling ministry. . . .

(Jonathan Vogel-Borne, “Traveling in the Ministry”)

FGC’s Traveling Ministries Program, established in 1998, has had a tremendous impact among unprogrammed Friends. It matches up seasoned Friends’ gifts with the needs of local and yearly meetings. The program has engaged in the work of naming, nurturing, and holding traveling Friends accountable. It has explored and re-energized the roles of Friends engaged in ministry to other Friends and the role of traveling companions to hold the ministry in prayer and to accompany the ministering Friend. This role is variously described as a traveling companion, an elder, or a companion in ministry.

In his paper, Jonathan Vogel-Borne suggests,

In order for Friends in the home meetings to share more fully in the Spiritual enrichment of the traveling ministry, occasions may be arranged for traveling Friends to speak about their sojourns shortly following their return. The home monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings will formally receive the returning travel minute at a business session following the return of the traveling Friend. This is an occasion where the endorsements on the travel minute might be read and the Friend would have a further opportunity to share about his or her visit.
(Jonathan Vogel-Borne, “Traveling in the Ministry”)

Travel Minutes, Minutes of Religious Service, and Letters of Introduction

A distinction needs to be made between letters of introduction, travel minutes, and minutes of religious service.

Travel Minutes

Travel minutes (or “traveling minutes”) are issued to Friends who have worked with their monthly meeting to discern a clear leading to travel and visit other Friends. They may have a specific concern, they may have been asked to visit a meeting for a specific purpose, or it may be that God has moved them to worship with those Friends and to be with them. The Friend who is led to travel lays it before his or her monthly meeting along with the whole nature of the proposed visits as far as can be foreseen. If the monthly meeting unites with the concern or affirms the leading, it writes a minute to that effect and gives the Friend a copy. A travel minute should describe any specific concern the bearer is laboring under. When a meeting comes to unity with a member’s concern to travel, it should make sure that finances do not stand in the way by being ready to contribute toward the expenses incurred.
When visits are to be made outside the quarterly meeting (if any), the minute is sent to the quarter for its discernment and endorsement as well. When visits are to be made outside the yearly meeting, the minute is also sent to the yearly meeting for its discernment and endorsement.

Such a traveling minute affirms that the individual is a Friend in good standing and travels with the blessing of his or her local community. This is reassuring to the meetings visited as well as a real support to the minister. The normal expectation is that such a minute is for a specified time, that the clerk of each meeting visited will sign the letter, including a note about the visit, and that on returning home the Public Friend will bring the minute back to the business meeting and report on the travels.

(Margery Post Abbott and Peggy Senger Parsons, Walk Worthy of Your Calling, p. 278)

It is customary, where practicable, for traveling Friends to be welcomed into the homes of those whom they visit. This has the double advantage of saving expense to the traveler and of extending more intimately the benefit of the visit.

While visiting, the carrier of a travel minute presents it to the clerk of the body visited, who reads it aloud as a way of introducing the traveling Friend. (Only the travel minute, not endorsements, should be read.) At the end of the visit, the clerk writes and signs a brief note about the visit. This is called an endorsement. (See Sample Forms, Letters, Etc. for some examples.) Endorsements may be written on the back of the page or on additional pages attached to the letter.

When the proposed visits are completed, the traveling Friend should return the minute and all the endorsements to the body that issued it. The body may ask the traveling Friend to report on his or her experiences as well.

A travel minute represents an activity with a specific form: leaving, traveling under a concern, and returning to report on the completed event. For an ongoing ministry, another form of support, such as a minute of religious service, may be more appropriate.

Companions in Ministry

Since the earliest times, Friends traveling with a concern usually had a companion who could provide both practical and spiritual support. This practice is currently being revived, largely through the influence of FGC’s Traveling Ministries Program. Friends who lead workshops and retreats or who travel with other leadings have found that having a companion in the ministry is of considerable spiritual and practical support. The companion prays for the minister as well as those ministered to, being attentive to how the Spirit is moving. The companion helps the minister to deepen his or her faithfulness. It is good practice to provide companions with traveling minutes that describe their supporting role.

Minutes of Religious Service

A minute of religious service is more broad than a travel minute and can include any kind of service. It embodies a meeting’s recognition of a call to a religious service in someone’s life.

In recent times Friends monthly meetings within the Friends General Conference have generally moved away from the practice of recording ministers, but have continued to value the practice of issuing minutes of religious service for individual Friends who are traveling in support of an important cause or to nurture the religious life of Friends, meetings, or other groups. During at least the past 30 years this practice has been extended by some Friends meetings to include the recognition of ministries which might or might not involve travel, but which are also intended to support important causes or to nurture religious life either within or outside the Society of Friends. For the past ten years Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting has been engaged in this practice, and as we have found it to be a valued practice, this document is intended to set forth guidelines to encourage and regularize the process for the future.

(“Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Recognizing and Supporting Ministries,” approved November, 2004, Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, p. 2)

Chestnut Hill Friends suggest that a minute of religious service contain the following components:

  • Name the work as explicitly as possible.
  • Affirm that the meeting experiences the person as led to do the work; perhaps include how the person’s life and spiritual path have led to this work at this time.
  • Name the meeting’s unity with the work, perhaps making reference to Friends testimonies.
  • Name the meeting’s specific commitments to supporting this person and his or her work, including the appointment of an oversight committee.
  • Ask the reader for his or her support.
  • Give the approval date and an appropriate expiration date, with the signature of the clerk of the meeting. The expiration date may vary considerably, depending on the nature of the call.

Letters of Introduction

Where visiting among Friends is merely incidental to travel for some other purpose, a monthly meeting may issue a letter of introduction for a member in good standing. Such a letter requires no further endorsement. Quarterly or yearly meetings may originate similar letters as occasion warrants.

(New York Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, p. 129)

When members of a meeting plan to travel and wish to make contact with other Friends, they may ask the clerk of their home meeting or the yearly meeting for a letter of introduction. The letter may also convey greetings from the meeting. There are no obligations for financial support, hospitality, or reporting back to the home group. The clerk can issue a letter of introduction on his or her own authority; no consultation or approval is necessary.

2 thoughts on “Traveling Ministry

  1. The Travelling Ministry would be of enormous benefit to the new worship groups in the developing world groups trying to learn about Quakerism and experimenting in living the faith or should I say, the discipline. We in Nigeria have adopted the unprogrammed school. This has posed a bit of a problem as to how we can grow more quickly. By inviting acquaintances to attend speeches given by visiting Friends, it might be easier to start the contacts that might be useful for those seeking for a new spiritual home. Most of all, we are really isolated Friends and would value such visits in many ways.

    Shima Gyoh

    Gboko Worship Group, Nigeria
    (Picture: Annual Gathering Quakers in Nigeria 2012)

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