The Changing Role of Ministry and Oversight
in a New Century
Gordon Pearson, Monkstown Meeting
I have been asked to speak to the theme "The Changing Role of Ministry and Oversight in a New Century", with particular relevance to recent changes in the procedures for pastoral care within Dublin Monthly Meeting. This I do, from a personal view.
Ministry and Oversight is composed of Elders and Overseers. Elders as I understand it are responsible for the spiritual well-being of a meeting whilst Overseers are responsible for the pastoral care of the meeting. The spiritual and practical needs being combined in Ministry and Oversight.
In 1997 Dublin Monthly Meeting was feeling that the impact of its Ministry and Oversight was receding and not answering the needs of Friends: many Elders were becoming frail in body (but not in mind) whilst the monthly Overseers' meetings were only having a 42% attendance rate. The burden thus was falling on too few and not many Friends were willing to take on such a heavy burden. In any case M&O meetings were too far apart to enable quick reaction to needs. To meet the situation a sub-committee with representation from all preparative meetings was formed and the result was the present procedures.
For the current position I must speak as a member of Monkstown Preparative Meeting.
Each Preparative Meeting is asked to form its own Congregational Meeting and the only direction given by Monthly Meeting on the formation of such a group is that all the Elders and Overseers of that meeting be members. That Congregational Meeting is responsible for the spiritual and pastoral care of the Preparative Meeting. In Monkstown the four Elders, the four Overseers, and ex-Elder, two very active Attenders and one Young Friend form the Congregational meeting and meet each month. It arranges to meet the needs of members and Attenders, not necessarily physical shortcomings, and can ask someone not of their number to assist as they feel appropriate. The reaction rate is now almost immediate and the load of casing is spread much more widely. Special attention is also given to the welfare of the Junior Meeting.
Elders are nominated by Monthly Meeting to Quarterly Meeting for appointment as heretofore, and Overseers by Monthly Meeting likewise.
We find that an important and integral part of the Ministry and Oversight in the meeting is the coffee (tea) served after meeting for worship. This enables Attenders to meet and discuss with Friends ministry that has taken place during meeting for worship, to ask questions of Friends' practices, Friends' history and the structure of our Society. It is also a social time to enable us to get to know one another better.
An extra spin-off has been the holding of a discussion group about every six weeks: held after coffee after meeting for worship and lasting only for thirty minutes. Subjects have included "meeting for worship", "speaking in meeting", "on being and Attender", "Friends and the Bible", and our next topic will be given by John Goodbody on "Quakerspeak"--something which has been requested by new Friends and Attenders who are confused at our use of so many names with which they have no comprehension. These discussion groups have spoken to the condition of many in the meeting. One topic which we will tackle is why some of those Friends who have joined the Society feel they do not want to do anything other than attend Sunday meeting.
Monthly Meeting-wise there may be some shortcomings in the new practices such as the loss of cross fertilisation between Preparative Meetings and some Friends see a growing insulation of meetings within the monthly Meeting--this might be measured in the lack of interest and attendance at Monthly Meeting.
Of importance however is that, in Monkstown Meeting, a realisation has emerged in the recognition that the weekly meeting for worship is the central vital core factor, that the increased awareness of the individual contribution to the meeting of its members is enhancing the spiritual and practical elements to our well being.
Jesus on his final journey from Capernaum to Jerusalem taught through his life and his parables the importance of the duality "love God" and "love thy neighbour", be they friend or enemy. Personally I feel that we are moving much more toward that duality with our new arrangement for spiritual and pastoral care.
Joyce Neill, South Belfast Meeting
South Belfast has 54 adult members and 9 children. Regular attenders to the meeting number around 30 with about 20 children. The average attendance on any one Sunday (excluding the summer months) would be in the region of 60 persons, and visitors can be well into double figures.
At present we have 3 Elders and 5 Overseers. (Previously we had had 5 Elders and 7 Overseers). Elders and Overseers at South Belfast meet together, usually every 4 to 6 weeks, and occasionally over lunch. Each Elder and Overseer has assigned to them up to 10 people from the body of the meeting to which they have special responsibility for care and consideration.
Perhaps one unusual aspect amongst the Elders and Overseers is that they also serve as the Nominations Committee. There are various pros and cons to this situation. On the plus side this arrangement cuts down on the number of committee meetings. Another positive factor is that the community is well know to Elders and Overseers. On the minus side, it might be asked if too much has been put into the hands of too few.
I would like to make several observations. Elders and Overseers need to avoid creating a them-and-us situation with respect to their office and the rest of the meeting. Care must be taken not to perpetuate a hierarchy. Not everything needs to go through M&O; authority and responsibility can be delegated throughout the meeting in seeing that things get done. And lastly, there is the continuing need to explain our administrative structures, procedures, and terms so that they are intelligible to everyone in the meeting, especially newer members and attenders.
Sue Pim, Waterford Meeting
In Munster there have been some problems in our Meetings over the last few months.
Problems are caused by: -
….Friends acting on their own without the Meeting's "blessing".
….Loose talk--Friends talking about things that are confidential, or gossiping.
….Friends doing things when they have no authority to do so.
….Friends not listening to what the other person is saying.
….Business Meetings which are not held in a worshipful way, where the Sense of the Meeting is not the main objective.
….Clash of personalities--Friends by their very nature are strong minded.
….Friends thinking that their beliefs are right and everyone else's are wrong.
….Friends taking sides.
….Friends expecting too much of other Friends--unfortunately, or fortunately we are all human!
The new Organisation and Christian Discipline is well worth reading and full of good sense and advice. If we followed the guidelines there would be fewer problems.
As I have said there have been problems and Elders have met on several occasions. We have met as Waterford Elders, Waterford MM Elders and Munster Elders.
We have met in various ways:-
….Sometimes to talk and pray about a problem and collectively to trash out the solutions, if there are any.
….Sometimes we have had to "elder" someone by gently talking to them and explaining what their actions are doing to others.
….Always listening to what others are saying and listening to what is not said, and by gentle probing finding out what the other person is really feeling.
….Listening to the hurt of others, acknowledging that hurt and exploring ways to lessen it.
….Speaking the truth with love.
All this takes a lot of time, sometimes time that we haven't really got to spend. It takes a lot of prayerful waiting to know what it is that we should do both individually as an elder and also as part of the M & O.
Fewer Friends have the time and commitment to take on the responsibility of becoming an elder or overseer.
Elders are needed more now than ever before, in a world where the pace of life is getting busier and busier and where no one has time for anyone else anymore. Elders need to be there to listen to Friends in need. As Elders we need to be able to listen beyond the words we hear, acknowledge the hurt that a person feels, even if we feel that it isn't justified.
Growth can be painful, and I feel that in Munster we are going through a growing period, which will hopefully lead to a growing in our spirituality and a commitment to our Quaker community.
Emma Lamb, Richhill Meeting
At the Ministry and Oversight session, Emma Lamb told how Richhill Meeting had run an extremely successful series of studies appertaining to "Quaker Faith and Practice". The meetings were of great value and were well attended.
These meetings constitute a good example of how Ministry and Oversight can respond to a perceived need within a meeting. What follows is a copy of the flier advertising the events. Following that are the introductory notes of the March 9th Session, giving an indication of the types of topics Friends and Attenders found interesting.
QUAKER FAITH & PRACTICE
TO MEMBERS AND ATTENDERS
This is an invitation to a series of studies during March on each Thursday evening at 8pm in Richhill Meeting on the topic "Quaker Faith & Practice". References will be the Books of Christian Experience and Christian Discipline with passages of Scriptures supporting Friends' views.
"Always my dear Friends, dwell in the life and love and power, and wisdom of God, in unity with one another, and with God; and the peace and wisdom of God fill all your hearts, that nothing may rule in you but the life, which stands in the Lord God."
William Edmundson (1654)
We would wish to encourage questions and discussion on the following.
March Thurs 2nd…The origins of the "Religious Society of Friends"
Thurs 9th………….Christian Doctrine and Experience
Thurs 16th………...Public Worship & Ministry of the Gospel
Thurs 23rd………...The role of Business Meetings and Clerks
Thurs 30th………....Studies Continued
"Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all with the measure of Light which is pure and holy may be guided, and so in the light walking and abiding these may be fulfilled in the Spirit -- not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life".
Postscript by Elders assembled at Balby in 1656.
Those attending please bring copies of Book of Christian Experience and Christian Discipline to share.
CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE & EXPERIENCE
All of life is sacramental
The Church is divided on these outward signs
Our outward and inward lives must match
Biblical references -
Christ never ordained water baptism (Matthew 28:18-20 & Mark 16:16)
John the Baptist said that Christ's Baptism was not water (Mark 1:6-9, John 1:23-34, Acts 1:4-5)
Paul said there was only one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Biblical references -
Christ's command to remember him should be put in context (Luke 22:19-22)
The church no longer washes feet. Why? (John 13:1-17)
Only 3 other places where the Lord's supper is mentioned (1 Cor 11:20-29)
The Inner Light (The light of Christ)
Biblical references - (John 1:1-16)
That of God or the Light of Christ in everyone (including those who have never heard of Jesus). How does this affect our attitude to other people?
How can a God that is outside reach us inwardly?
This Light is what prompts us towards salvation. (It reveals our sin)
A product of our environment
Can be used by God
The Holy Spirit
Biblical references - (John 16:5-14)
It prompts Christians to live uprightly (the fruits of the Spirit)
It came only after the return of Jesus to heaven
Women in the Ministry
The argument against women (1 Cor 14:29-34, 1 Cor 11:5)
Priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9)
All Christians are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)
Women prophesised in the early church (Acts 21:9, Acts 2:17)
The proof is in our own experience (Samuel Bownes)