Recording gifts in ministry is a tradition which goes back to the earliest days of Friends. Many Quaker pastors are recorded, as are a number of other “weighty Friends”. Because Friends emphasize that everyone is a minister and that all of us are equal, recording has often been misunderstood. In yearly meetings with pastors, the emphasis on pastoral leadership has often led to the neglect of non-pastors who felt called to minister, and in unprogrammed yearly meetings, Friends have often abandoned the practice of recording.

Recording gifts in the ministry is not a new practice. In the 1600’s, the Quaker movement depended on the efforts of “public Friends,” who traveled, spoke, debated with non-Quakers, visited families, set up new meetings and worship groups, and often suffered imprisonment, fines, and other hardships. Though they were unpaid, they were given hospitality on their travels. At one time in London Yearly Meeting a number of horses, called “Truth’s horses”, were kept for the use of traveling ministers.

The special place of such Friends was acknowledged in Robert Barclay’s Apology:

We do believe and affirm that some are more particularly called to do the work of the ministry, and therefore are fitted of the Lord for that purpose; whose work is more constantly and particularly to instruct, exhort, admonish, oversee and watch over their brethren; and that. . . there is something more incumbent upon them in that respect than upon every common believer. . .  (Proposition 10, section 10)

Though there were no pastors in the 17th century or early 18th century, a large meeting might have a dozen or more recorded ministers. These Friends’ concern for the spiritual vitality of the meeting led them to speak frequently at worship, to be concerned for newcomers, to voice the concerns of the less articulate, to visit families and nearby meetings, and to attend (though not to officiate) at weddings and memorial meetings. No formal educational requirements were set for recording, but recorded Friends were expected to be deeply versed in the Scriptures and other works, both to assist in their own ministry and to answer the objections of outsiders to Friends’ beliefs.

In the years after the Civil War, many new meetings were being set up, and in small towns and frontier communities the Friends meeting was often “the only church in town.” Young adult Friends were impressed by the liveliness of neighboring revivals. They wanted such radical innovations as hymn-singing and a prepared message rather than the “dead” silence into which they felt many meetings had fallen. Out of this atmosphere, the first Friends pastors were called. These Quaker pastors were almost always recorded ministers. At first they were not paid, but gradually Friends “released” them for fuller service by providing full-time financial support.

During the theological wars among Friends in the late 1800’s, many yearly meetings began tightening up the requirements for recording to make sure that ministers were “acceptable” (held and taught the “right” theological opinions). Starting in the early 1900’s, some pastors and mission workers began taking college or seminary courses to better prepare themselves for ministry. By the middle of the 20th century, most yearly meetings had standardized educational requirements for pastors.

The early 21st century has seen high-profile battles over whether some pastors are “too liberal” on issues such as homosexuality and the atonement of Christ, or “not Quakerly” on issues such as baptism and communion. There have also been serious financial problems as small and mid-sized meetings struggle to provide adequate support and health insurance for their pastors.

In unprogrammed yearly meetings, there is often a “leadership gap”. Friends everywhere need trained, dedicated, and experienced leaders to make local meetings run smoothly, to run our many educational and service programs, and to communicate what Quakers believe with the rest of the world. Without these leaders, we might as well close up shop.

This may be a good time for Friends to revisit the practice of recording of gifts in the ministry, and remind ourselves of some things:

  • Not all recorded ministers are pastors – in fact, most are not! Smaller meetings need to have at least 1 or 2 recorded ministers, while larger meetings need at least half a dozen. Recorded ministers should outnumber pastors several times over.
  • Meetings are richer when we have more leaders! We need more teachers, more prophetic leaders, more people skilled in listening and wise counsel. We need more Friends in each meeting who can prepare and deliver a message, or write an article, or teach a workshop. We need gifted clerks, youth leaders and elders. We need more people who can start new meetings and guide them through the first critical years.
  • A degree doesn’t make a minister, but in today’s world our leaders need to be well-read, trained and experienced. Friends need to take leadership training more seriously and build it into their meeting plans and budgets.
  • We need a broader range of ways to recognize and encourage ministry. “Recording” has become a lengthy, daunting, expensive and contentious process in many yearly meetings. Many newer Christian groups have found ways to do this. We don’t need a professional class or an ordained clergy – we need people who feel that God is calling them to serve the church, and we need to structure new and creative ways to encourage and support them.
  • Large and mid-size meetings can release one of their members for full-time service, but most smaller meetings can’t afford to do so. The “norm” for Quaker ministry needs to move away from full-time  paid service, and encourage Friends who are part-time, bivocational or volunteers. Recorded ministers need to be the new “normal” for Friends!

In my next post, I plan to discuss some ways we can recognize and support ministry, including traditional recording but expanding the idea in different ways.


(Full disclosure: Back in the 1980’s I helped to write the manual on recording for New York Yearly Meeting, and some of the material in this blog is drawn from there. )


9 Responses to “Recording”

  1. 1 Tom Smith April 19, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    As one who was recorded in Manasquan MM and New York YMCA in the late 70s and not a pastor, I would like to commend this posting. I also would add that in a history of Kansas YM a quote was taken from a letter regarding the hiring of “ministers” in the late 1800s which indicated that “it was easier to give them what they wanted than to teach them to be Friends.” The need for “ministers” who can teach us to be Friends is what I believe this post calls for.

  2. 2 Tom Smith April 19, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I thought I had corrected the auto suggestion of YMCA but apparently not. Of course I meant NY Yearly Meeting.

  3. 3 wmgsmith59 April 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    In 1963, I was my gift in the ministry was recorded by my monthly meeting (Center) and Quarterly Meeting (West Branch) at no prompting from me. I had served as interim pastor at New London Meeting (Western YM) in the spring and summer of 1963. I was planning to start teaching in Cincinnati and did not intend to serve as a “Pastor.” Tom Mullen and others asked that this recording be brought forward to Indiana YM to test whether or not individuals who did not intend to become full time pastors would be considered. The answer was that recording was for full time pastors only.
    Yes Tom Smith is my brother and Logan Smith was our father. The instigation of paid “pastors” and “programmed worship” in Iowa and Kansas was in spite of the protest of weighty traditional Friends such as Joel and Hannah Bean.

  4. 4 Jon Watts (@jonwatts) April 22, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Hey Joshua!

    This is such a central question to be exploring! Thanks for the invitation to begin wrestling with it. Vital ministry is the lifeblood of Quakerism. For me, I see:

    “A degree doesn’t make a minister, but in today’s world our leaders need to be well-read, trained and experienced.”

    …as the central paradox. The human (or maybe it is cultural?) tendency to default to those with credentials has caused my branch of Friends (Liberal FGC) to throw out recording of ministers almost altogether, but as a Friend who finds himself called to ministry, I have felt left out in the cold… no acknowledgement ends up meaning: no community accountability, support, or familiar ground on which to tread.

    At the same time, I see Meetings with hired pastors that have become docile in their practiced recognition that ministry often comes from surprising places, too stuck in their routine to hear the new movement of the Spirit.

    (Not that I would claim the Liberal Meetings are particularly good at this either, as we have become so theologically lax that G~d knows what most of us are doing in the silence on Sunday morning.)

    So how do we balance the two? Community practice of accountability and support of our members whom G~d has gifted with ministry, without sliding into over-reliance on those Friends, losing the gifts and full involvement of the non-recorded members?

    No answers here! Seems like the RSoF has bounced back and forth in our relatively brief history. But it seems like the right question to be asking! thanks again for writing.


    • 5 Clem April 25, 2013 at 5:37 am

      JOn, I feel your pain, as also ministerially-adrift in FGC, and your concern to translate seeing “that of God” in Friends to affirming/encouraging same. Perhaps if we could get passed the honor and to the response-ability, for “Each one to reach one” with their gift, we’d find the “what and why of God” as well – both within ourselves and our Meetings.

  5. 7 Callid Keefe-Perry (@CallidKP) April 25, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Smaller meetings need to have at least 1 or 2 recorded ministers, while larger meetings need at least half a dozen. Recorded ministers should outnumber pastors several times over.

    Wow. THIS WOULD BE AWESOME! (And — of course — present new challenges with which we would get to struggle)

  6. 8 Roger Dreisbach-Williams April 26, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you, Josh, for opening the door and letting air/light into the closet of things Friends don’t talk about because…

    Thanks to all who have already commented. I look forward to the continuing discussion.

    In my view recording includes support and accountability, and in my experience few monthly meetings have the resources to provide that. They value the work of these faithful Friends but don’t consider the care and growth of faithfulness as something they should get involved in.

    Unless local meetings see support and accountability of members in their ministries as a vital function of the meeting, it will continue to be left to individuals to find these resources wherever they can.

    I regret to report that NYYM has suspended the recording of ministers and is only just beginning to talk about it. This article may help, if it is widely read.

  7. 9 marvel avengers alliance help guide August 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Very good info. Lucky me I came across your website by chance (stumbleupon).
    I’ve book marked it for later!

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.



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