At West Hills Friends we have pastors. Not every Quaker meeting does. Want to know more about this? Keep on reading!
George Fox (an early Quaker leader), certainly had some very strong opinions about ministers. And he wasn't terribly shy about making his opinions known! He would often confront ministers about the shallowness of their own spiritual lives. He sometimes called them, "Hireling Priests," because they lived well at the expense of their parishioners (who were required to pay a tithe).
Fox also had contempt for the "worldly" credentials of most ministers, saying that an education at Oxford or Cambridge does not qualify a person to be a minister of Christ.
Fox was so hard on the religious establishment of his day, that some people have come to the conclusion that he was simply, "anti-minister" However, this conclusion is not quite fair. Here's a quote from Fox: "...at the hearing of the speech of the true minister, there is a joy to all that seek and thirst after righteousness: for the preaching of the gospel is the glad tidings, the joyful news, and is a comfort to soul, body and spirit, to all that receive it."
Although George Fox has a well-deserved reputation for bashing ministers, it overstates things to say he was absolutely opposed to their existence. In fact, Fox helped to established the guidelines for ministers within the Society of Friends.
The peculiarly Quaker way of thinking about ministers comes more clearly into focus when one compares the Friends practice of 'recording' with the more common practice of 'ordination.' In many Christian denominations, one must first be ordained in order to become a minister. To be ordained, the potential minister must first meet a certain set of requirements. Usually, for example, there is a certain level of education one must attain. Some churches also exclude certain categories of people (e.g. women, divorced people, married people) from even entering the process.
As Friends, we reject the idea that some outward trait or experience could qualify someone to be a minister (remember what Fox said about Oxford and Cambridge!). Instead, we believe that anyone may be called to pastoral ministry. Rather than setting human-engineered prerequisites, Quakers have chosen simply to observe those who work as ministers. When it becomes clear that a person is indeed doing pastoral ministry, then we make an official record of what God seems to be doing. That person is "recorded" as a minister among Friends.
As Friends, we believe that all people are absolutely equal in worth. We also believe that God is directly present to any who open themselves to God's Spirit. So, whatever else can be said about ministers within the Friends tradition, it should be clear that being a minister does not give someone a higher "rank." Nor does it mean that the person is somehow closer to God than "ordinary people." We are equals, and God is available to all. In fact, Quakers have always emphasized the fact that we are all called to be ministers.
Robert Barclay, the preeminent theologian among the early Friends helps to clarify the Quaker position by making a useful distinction between the "gift" of ministry and a distinct "office" associated with that ministry. Someone with a gift for teaching is called to teach. Someone with a gift for hospitality is called to practice hospitality. The fruitful exercise of a person's gift should not depend on whether he or she holds a recognized "office" (or "title") in the church.
As Friends, we are all called to minister according to the gifts we have received. In addition, some may be called to take a role within the church, serving as ministers in that distinct sense.
After acknowledging a biblical pedigree for the role of "minister," Barclay goes on to say:
"That which we oppose is the distinction of laity and clergy, which in the scripture is not to be found, whereby none are admitted to the work of ministry, but such as are educated at schools on purpose, and instructed in logic and philosophy, etc., and so are at their apprenticeship to learn art and trade of preaching, even as a man learns any other art."
Here are some questions:
1. Can you think of any outward credential that should be required before a person can become a minister?
2. If ministry is a function rather than a status, how would you describe the function of minister?
3. Do you recognize any "gifts" for ministry in yourself?
4. Every now and then, someone raises the idea of "recording" ministers on the local level. What would you think about keeping a record of the ministers in our meeting?
5. If you had to make a "mental map," where would you place the following in relation to one another: recording, ordination, Clergy, gift and office?