Larry Southard

When Friends consider ministry, they may think first of vocal contributions made during meeting for worship. But I would like to look at ministry in a broader context with a view to drawing a link, at least in some small way, between ministry in the whole of our lives and the ministry that takes place in meeting for worship.

I would like for us to consider ministry as "focused compassion". Compassion is the ability to sympathise with the plight of others coupled with a desire to help. When compassion is focused, it is concentrated, directed toward, and brought to bear on a particular problem or need in a practical way.

The form in which our ministry—our focused compassion—manifests depends on the nature of the problem or need. It may take the form of words, or actions, or even of silence, or maybe a combination of all three.

But compassion is focused at its best when it flows from the whole of our being—appropriate to what we are, who we are, and in light of what we know about these first two factors, what we feel led to do. What we are takes into account the roles of science and the environment in our make up along with philosophical investigations into the nature of our being. Through an evolutionary process, the earth’s clay has risen up in the guise of human beings to experience a felt sense of an eternal reality it calls Spirit. As we come to know more of what we are, we can experience the awesome context in which we minister.

Who we are is for each of us a unique blend of feelings, attitudes, beliefs, talents and disabilities that has evolved a selfhood that has come to experience the separate and integrated entity "I". As we come to realise who this "I" really is, we realise a power in our ministry that is based on our close kinship with the numinous, which one writer has described as "the Supreme Identity".

What we are led to do forms the content of our ministry. Our understanding of what we are and who we are will determine for each of us our own unique style and manner of focusing compassion.

My point is simply this—ministry is not a thing apart from our lives; not an isolated act performed by a Quaker standing up to speak on Sunday morning; but rather, a Friend speaking from his or her depth of understanding of their own life, the life around them, and their sense of the Spirit. When ministry flows from our being, we become more confident, less hesitant. We are clearer about the situations in which our brand of ministry may possibly help and when the ministry of others may be more useful. We come to see the need and experience the pleasure of helping to release the ministry latent in others. When we minister with the whole of our beings, our timing is better, our listening sharper, and our ability to intuit our inner Teacher increases. Pangs of self doubt and inadequacy result largely from lack of practice. Practice ministering. Practice focusing compassion. Practice on one another within your meeting and in that larger meeting we call the world.

Perhaps one of the keys to finding our true ministry lies in realising that we are acting within an Eternal Context as we act within this worldly dimension. Perhaps it was from this expanded knowledge of what he was and who he was that Jesus could minister and could say of his nature and context, "Before Abraham was, I am." Our own abilities to minister effectively in the world may be better enabled by unpacking the truths in the words, "Before our parents were, we are."