January 2022: Qualifications for Ministry

by Mary Linda McKinney

When I have introduced Friends to Faithful Meetings through the public information sessions, the question of “Who are you?” has been asked once but otherwise has hung unspoken in the air. Behind this, I think, is the question, “What qualifies you for this work?” These are both important questions that deserve an honest response but I’ll focus on the second one right now.

When I think about it from a worldly perspective, I don’t feel at all qualified for this. You see, I have almost no secular authority. My background is working class. I could fill pages with all the things I am not. I have no M.Div. or background in teaching, theology, or leadership; I haven’t written books, lectures or pamphlets; I don’t even have an undergrad degree. Aside from spiritual direction training, on paper I have little in common with the founders of The School of the Spirit or others who have created and led programs like this. Because of a learning disability, I read very slowly, retain little of what I read, make copious notes which slows my reading even further, and then struggle to make sense of the notes to use them later. I only know secondhand what Samuel Bownas says about the qualifications for Gospel Minister because I’ve tried reading his book several times and have given it up within the first few pages as beyond my ability of concentration.

But I don’t believe that the qualifications for ministry are about how the world sees me. To be qualified for ministry is to be called by God (however you conceive of the Divine) to do God’s work. To be qualified is to allow the Divine to use who and what I am…and not just the parts of me that look acceptable to others but the very parts of me that I want to keep hidden, the parts that have caused me embarrassment or shame and make me feel like a misfit or outsider, the parts that the world sees as unqualified and lacking. Submitting my feelings of inadequacy to God first required being willing to be present to the shame and defensiveness and grief and hurt and all the other emotions tied into it before I could truly give it over. To prepare myself, I talked through the emotional layers in many conversations with my spiritual director, therapist, elders, and spiritual companions. The process of being qualified for ministry has meant that I have had to be fully present with the parts of me that make me feel most vulnerable, most hurt, most unacceptable so I can bring them into the Light and say, “Are you sure about this, Beloved? Ok, here is the real me. I don’t see how it can possibly be of use to you but it is available if you want it.” And shetheyhe has responded by saying that those are the very things that make me the person called to bring forth this ministry.

In accepting this, I’ve been given the understanding that my flaws are my strengths. What this means is that God wanted me to create the program from the orientation of being a misfit rather than someone who holds power and authority among Friends. Any power and any authority I carry comes through me from the Divine, it does not originate in me. I’m the weird kid eating my lunch in the corner. If you join me, we won’t make much small talk but you’ll find that often the Holy Spirit is our dining companion.

This, of course, turned my understanding of Faithful Meetings inside out. Instead of beginning with the premise “What should Friends be taught?”, my starting point shifted to considering what I needed at various points in my relationship with the Religious Society of Friends and, in particular, the monthly meeting to which I belong. What have I needed that I received? What have I needed that I was supported to find or create for myself? What have I needed that was simply unavailable?

From there, I explored some of the core elements of Friends beliefs and traditions, not to establish a doctrine to teach but to collect a variety of voices telling about their own experiences and understandings. What I have been given is that there is no standard we must all follow, no correct way to believe or interpret or act that will make us Officially Good Quakers. The Spirit gives each of us our own Light and living up to it is the right way to be a good Quaker, even when the Light one is given makes one’s understanding different from others in the meeting. (I wasn’t going to get into my own theology but it seems fitting to say that I believe we are all created unique in God’s image and because of that, we each have our own unique way of relating to God. In God’s eyes, it truly is “all good”.)

Faithful Meetings will be a different program with each meeting that engages with it because each meeting will have it’s own needs, concerns, and strengths. Over the course of the program, I will introduce a core set of topics important to Friends and offer some historical and contemporary perspectives about them but what a meeting community brings to each topic, how they want to engage with it, and what they take from it will grow out of the Light given them.

This is where some of my gifts come in. My role in Faithful Meetings is not that of teacher but facilitator. With each community, I will co-create a space in which Friends can share themselves with one another, explore and sometimes wrestle with spiritual concepts, and find new ways of connecting with one another and with the Inward Teacher. My work is to act as host for all of this–to arrange, invite, welcome, introduce, provide, and refresh. Like the host of a good party, I will keep my finger on the pulse of things: “They seem enthusiastic about the topic. Is this a good time for a question that might help them go deeper?”; “This person has spoken at length and that one hasn’t spoken at all; how does Christ want to guide me in navigating this dynamic?”; “The energy in the group feels a little flat; maybe it is time for a playful activity.”; “The group as a whole is doing well but that person seems to be struggling. I think it would be useful to meet in small groups so they can process what they’re learning with one another.”

So…the qualifications I bring to Faithful Meetings are my gifts of creating emotionally safe spaces, meeting people where they are, and the kind of deep listening that one gains from training in spiritual direction and in facilitation. I bring an abiding sense of Christ’s inward presence and absolute trust that everything we need is available to us in God’s time. I bring a willingness to submit myself–all the parts of me, even the ones I think are unworthy–for the Holy Recycler to use and work through. I bring openness, curiosity, humor, integrity, reverence (and a fair-sized dollop of irreverence), vulnerability, my love of expectant waiting worship and Quaker process, and my faith that God has qualified me-is qualifying me-to carry this ministry.

I know there will be people who reject this program because I am not credentialed in the ways they expect and value. I’m sorry for that but all I can be is who I am given by my Creator to be. I trust that our Divine Guide will connect Faithful Meetings with the communities that are ready for it.

If you would like to learn more about Faithful Meetings, register here to join one of the 4 information sessions scheduled for February. If those dates don’t fit your needs, feel free to contact me to set up a time to talk or to bring an information session to your meeting or worship group. faithfulmeetings@schoolofthespirit.org


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13 thoughts on “January 2022: Qualifications for Ministry”

  1. Mary Linda,

    Thanks for this ministry to all of us.
    The School of the Spirit Ministry began with the founders’ call to divine faithfulness. I hear that same call here. Thanks for saying yes to it.
    You have everything you need ….AND more will be granted to thee!


  2. Mary Linda, I applaud your insight, eloquence and faithfulness, and agree with you totally. Growing up as a young white male, very privileged but in a dysfunctional alcoholic household, I took on the role of hero very early, and only decades later, when I had milked the “successful” image I thought I needed to overcome my inner insecurities, I found by grace that paying attention to God’s inner message and being who he/they/she (I love that, thank you!) wanted and created me to be, was a much more healthy and fun path. I am trying not to feel bad about all the years I may have wasted, and who I may have hurt along the way. We used to say in the sixties: “When you see it is soon enough.” And I appreciate all the folks who taught me along the way to help me undo the toxic training our culture gives to all of us… So bless you and thank you. I will be sharing your invitation with Lancaster Meeting, and I hope we can become involved in the program.

    1. Yes, yes, yes, Wade! “When you see it is soon enough”! Exactly. I really appreciate Richard Rohr’s take on it in his book “Falling Upward”. He talks about the first half of life being about us growing our ego to a point at which we don’t need to identify with it any longer and can then turn it over to the Divine. We need the first half in order to have something that God can use when we’re ready to discover who we truly are.

      You are welcome to share the link to register for the February information sessions with folk in your meeting. I’d be happy to talk with you or any Lancaster Friends about it!

      With love,
      Mary Linda

  3. Roger Dreisbach-Williams

    It is who you are that matters, and Child of God is an appropriate place to start. My meeting needs more than a few new regular attenders before I would put it on the agenda (a ‘good day’ means that we have 3 worshippers in the Meetinghouse and 4 on-line, including a faithful member who lives in Austria).

    1. Hi Roger, mmmyes, we are all beloved children of God. Thank you.

      Faithful Meetings was created to be flexible and I feel no limits about the size of a meeting so I’d be very happy to work with a community of 7, half of whom are at-a-distance Friends. If you are interested, don’t feel you need to wait for more people before considering participating.

      With love,
      Mary Linda

  4. Thank you, Mary Linda. From my necessarily limited perspective, I think God knows exactly what God is doing in asking you to take on this ministry. There is a certain snobbery among some of us that is antithetical and unhelpful to God’s purposes as I understand them. Ministers are not qualified by pieces of paper offering the world’s credentials. May your work be blessed. What we and our meetings need is not more intellectual stimulation but deep engagement of our hearts, in community.

    1. Thank you for your affirmation, Marty. Yes, more than anything, I think Friends need opportunities to feel Spirit’s presence with one another. We need to remain open to all the ways God wants to use us to create space for Friends to experience and explore and expand.

      With love,
      Mary Linda

  5. Mary Linda thank you for sharing honestly from your core. It is inspiring. I am so hoping that my monthly meeting will engage in the Faithful Meetings adventure! Brightest blessings, Laura

    1. Courageous words, Mary Linda! Thank you for your faithfulness to this Message to the Quaker world. There’s “no official way,” except to live up to the Light we’ve been given… May your humility continue to shine with Grace.

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