Bev Polzin, Victoria Regional Meeting

Our Friend, Duncan Frewin, in December 2019, laid out in the Australian Friend some thoughtful comments on spoken ministry within our Meetings for Worship.  Duncan inferred that to be moved to speak in a Meeting for Worship is a serious call, and not to be taken lightly.

For me, one form of Ministry I find helpful as a “focus” within our Meetings for Worship, is the reading of our Advices and Queries, which is regularly read by a Friend appointed for this purpose. It is usually read when the Meeting is settled. These brief Advices offer a gentle reminder of why we are present, and sometimes lead to fuller ministry.

A lot of advice and inspiration is offered in our Books of Discipline, including passages about the matter of “vocal ministry”, and these passages offer rich and wise advice.

We read in Quaker Faith & Practice (QF&P) (2.56) in 1712 that young Jane Fenn heard an inner voice declare that she had been chosen for the ministry. She became in time a travelling Quaker Minister of note.

“Yet I must confess, this awful word of Divine command shocked me exceedingly, my soul and all within me trembled at the hearing of it; yea my outward tabernacle shook insomuch that many present observed the deep exercise I was under”

In 1734 John Churchman wrote (QF&P 2.61)

“Ministry should be of necessity, and not of choice, and there is no living by silence, or by preaching merely.”

Samuel Bownas in 1750 (QF&P2.59) wrote

“Some think, through a mistaken judgement, that they must be doing something every Meeting (like the preachers of the letter, who must either be singing, preaching or praying all the time) and by such conduct they lose their interest and place in the hearts of friends by too long and too frequent appearing in both preaching and prayer. For the avoiding of which, keep close to thy gift, intently waiting to know thy place, both when to speak and when to be silent; and when thou speakest, begin under a sense of divine influence, whether it be in preaching or praying; and without it, do not either preach or pray”.

Howard Brinton in his 20th century Guide to Quaker Practice describes the characteristics of an acceptable spoken message to include.

  • That the subject be conceived in a religious rather than a secular manner – “in a religious focus, one endeavours to see the matter as God would see it”
  • That the message is spontaneous – is not prepared in advance
  • That the message should be non-personal – the speaker should think of himself/herself as an instrument through which the Spirit speaks.
  • That the message be non-argumentative – that the speaker states simply and directly a message which he/she believes will be recognised as true by its very character.
  • That the message be brief – often a single sentence, spoken with reverence and conviction, carries more weight than do many words.
  • That the message be unified with itself and other messages – the speaker rises with a certain concern…he weakens the effect if he passes on to other matters.

A short poem on “Spoken Ministry in the Life” is also in QF&P (2.65), which I’ve always enjoyed.  It was written by Robert Hewison in 1965.

In the Life

My piece was pat and all ready to say,
She rose first. I threw my piece away.
My well-turned stuff
Was not so rough
As hers, but easy elegant and smooth.
Beginning middle end
It had and point
And aptly quoted prophet priest and poet.
Hers was uncouth
Wanting in art
Laboured scarce-audible and out of joint.
Three times she lost the thread
And sitting left her message half unsaid.
“Why then did thee throw it
Into the discard?”
It had head
(Like this). Hers oh had heart

So often, when one is moved to offer vocal ministry, one is uncertain how it has been received.    I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles to know whether what I have felt moved to offer has been appropriate.

I was very pleased to note Duncan’s acknowledgement that it is important that, if the message was heard and found helpful if, indeed it was, it could be acknowledged. Perhaps we can bring back the phrase he mentioned “Thee was highly favoured today” to encourage our ministers?



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