What does it mean to be called Part 5: A Quaker perspective

Friends have a history of recognizing that there are both calls and gifts for the moment, and that there are life long vocations. The traditional model of Friends ministry both recognizes those called and gifted for lifelong service while leaving a space open for the short term, or even momentary calling.

The whole concept of waiting worship is a recognition that there is a vocation of the moment. Friends believe that God can, and does, give prophetic messages. There is the belief that those who speak should be called to vocal ministry in that time and space. This act of deliberately making space for a calling to give a single message is a system that recognizes that there are times when a person is called to minister in a very specific time and place, and this space allows for obedience to this call.

There is also a belief that there may be a calling to spread the message beyond saying a few words in a person’s own meeting for worship. There is a long tradition of traveling minutes, where a person would travel under a concern, knowing what he or she would say while traveling in the ministry. This is a recognition that some people are called to an extended, but temporary ministry. It is possible to be called to a people or to a message for a brief time.

While, most likely, the practice of recording ministers was to comply with the Toleration act of 1689, which required preachers to somehow be licensed, the nature of recording shows a view that some people have a lifelong gift and calling to a specific type of ministry.

Throughout what is known as the age of Quietism, not only were vocal ministers recorded, but the offices of elder and overseer were lifelong appointments. Even Clerks might serve for the rest of their lives. There was a real sense that the was a vocation of keeping a well ordered society. Administrative and judicial roles were just as much a life-long vocation as perpetual vocal ministry.

When Friends explore the idea of calling, there is a procedure, both for the individual and for the larger community. For the individual, there are functions such as clearness committees to help the individual test whether it is a personal notion or a real calling. In the sense of the wider community, at the lowest level, the Monthly meeting appoints clerks, elders, and in some places there are still overseers. The Monthly meeting also writes traveling minutes for those they discern should travel in the ministry.

Those who should be recognized by the wider society are identified by Monthly meetings, and the name is passed up for further discernment to see if recognition is warranted by the larger body. While there are informal structures to allow people to follow the call of a single moment, there are formal structures to carefully discern whether or not to record and support a life-long calling.

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