Under the care of the meeting

Quaker Quaker asked a question about being under the care of the meeting. As a member of Mid America Yearly Meeting, “Under care” is an official designation for those under the direct supervision of the board of elders. There are two ways of being “put under care”: either the elders are deciding whether or not to record someone a minister of the gospel or the meeting is correcting a breach of discipline and deciding whether to suspend membership.

For me, to officially be under the care is to submit to the will of the community. The potential minister reads what he is ordered to read, and proves his calling and gifts in the ministry by demonstrating that he meets the boards idea of what it means to be a minster. The member under discipline either reforms to meet the standard described by the disciplining board, or he loses the rights of membership.

In a real way, I feel that I’ve been under the care of my meeting in that I have been part of my community. Sometimes I have valued walking together with the community and have been willing to follow rules that I don’t always understand. Sometimes I have been frustrated that the community seemed rigid and unwilling to accept people who either won’t or can’t accept some of the community standards. Sometimes I felt that care, in the official disciplinary sense was unfairly applied. I never was under official discipline, nor considered as a candidate to be recorded a minister — but I had no doubt that I was under care of Friends.

In order to understand care, I personally step away from the official term, I have experienced much care. I have eaten many meals with my Friends communities in Hutchinson, Haviland, three communities in Wichita, Indianapolis, and Richmond Indiana. I have spent hours praying with people who have become dear friends. I have had Friends in my life who I trusted with my pain and struggles. I have played board games, told jokes, laughed and talked about nothing important. While the term “under the care” is a term that is I associate with stress and judgment, unofficial care and fellowship has been real care.

I will never forget the year I lived in Wichita away from everyone I knew. I worked weekends and holidays starting in the afternoon. I would attend meeting, and rush off to work on Sundays. I would sometimes find time to exchange a few words with members — and I have had many meaningful conversations and wonderful fellowship. Though my work schedule prevented me from engaging the community as much as I would like, the community reached out to engage me. Some of the older ladies of the church even brought fresh garden vegetables and homemade cookies to my house, welcoming me to the community. Now that I am in Indiana, Friends from University Friends Meeting continue to encourage me. Members and ministers have built relationships with me that continue in spite of distance. The encouragement of the community does more to shape me than the fear that I might “fall under the care of the elders” due to breaking some rule.

I also have never been under the care of elders because they were going to recognize my ministry. I have, though, been involved in ministry. Friends have encouraged me as I travel to gave vocal ministry at small meetings. Friends who are involved in pastoral ministry have read and commented on my sermons. They have encouraged me when I was discouraged in my calling. They have also shared their sermons and experiences and examples. I have been able to share the burdens of walking with Jesus with others who share a similar calling to my own, in this way I have been under the care of Friends. This continued encouragement is much more formative than a reading list and a rubric judging adequacy to fulfill a role that may not match my own calling.

I have never been, formally, under the care of any board — but as I have lived my Christian life with my faith community, I have continually been under the care of my meeting. I am grateful that Friends have been generous with their care.

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