Ministry Cannot Be Untethered

Story author
Leslie Manning

Mind the light of God in your consciences which will show you all deceit; dwelling in it, guides out of the many things into one spirit, which cannot lie, nor deceive. Those who are guided by it, are one. (George Fox, 1624–1691)

Early Friends refer to the Inward Light, which, we are warned, will rip us open. And my conscience is troubled.

That searching Light serves as a beacon in the wandering of the desert that is our culture, our economy, our politics.

It is a pillar of fire and a still, small voice.

As I prepare for the completion of my time with the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and to graduate in June, I have made the decision to be ordained by that wisdom school in the Interfaith tradition. ChIME’s mission is to educate and ordain interfaith leaders who serve with integrity, spiritual presence, and prophetic voice.

And, I cannot do any of this without my Meeting. We Friends believe that the Spirit delivers a variety of gifts, but not equally. These gifts are given to an individual for the benefit and the greater good of the community. In our tradition, we name, claim, nurture and care for the gifts given to us all and hold those so gifted accountable for those gifts. So you, my community, have done for me.

My Meeting heard me when I came to you and asked, as a condition of my membership to become an open, inclusive and affirming community. 

My Meeting offered me leadership and teaching roles here and encouraged me to step out into our wider Society. 

My Meeting held me as I served with the Maine Council of Churches, and provided me with a travel minute when I was led to visit other FUM affiliated meetings nationally and many here in New England with a concern for unity among all Friends. 

My Meeting embraced me when I served as an openly lesbian member of the General Board of Friends United Meeting as a representative for New England, even as that association continues to discriminate against me.

My Meeting provided me with clearness committees and prayerful support, challenged me to remain faithful, and held me while I mourned for members of my family, our state and this world. And my Meeting will, I have no doubt, continue to do so.

Because my ministry cannot be untethered. It must have root in our faith community and be subject to the wisdom and discernment of our gathered body in order to flourish. Our Quaker history teaches us what happens to a ministry gone astray, what happens when a Friend seeks the support of a wider community and is refused. We are challenged by the James Naylors and Benjamin Lays of this world and it is our responsibility to take them under our care.

Leadings must be tested, within community.

Ministry must be supported with prayer and accountability, within community. Care must be exercised, so that Truth may prosper.

I have a young friend who speaks of the “many awfuls” of this world, the many awfuls—but believes, as I do, that we are here to help heal them. I have close friends who have been baptized in a Christian tradition which asks them, every year, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” And their promise is, “I will, with God’s help.”

And, so it goes. I commit to showing up and speaking up, here and in the wider world, not with all the answers, but hopefully asking some of the right questions.

And my conscience is troubled.

I ask this of us: How do we live together in peace, knowing all the sins and darkness of this world—embracing and celebrating our differences, if we continue to prize our comfort over our convictions?

In a time of deep uncertainty and turmoil, of climate catastrophe, increased militarization and commodification of the world’s resources, my hearts asks:

What would our conscience have us do?

I hold these questions for ourselves and for our wider Religious Society: 

Is capitalism compatible with Christianity? with Quakerism?

Is our capacity to commit to being an anti-racist faith community in direct proportion to our ability to live with difference?

How can we be living our testimonies if we remain conflict-averse and afraid of engaging in the work it takes to love our enemy and pray for those who would do us harm?

As I prepare to leave the ChIME community and take up my work in the greater world, I will need the love and challenging support of Friends more than ever. For you see, Friends, I am not content with our condition of seeking a world as articulated by Friends Committee on National Legislation, who say: “We seek a world free of war and the threat of war; We seek a society with equity and justice for all; We seek a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled; We seek an earth restored.”

I am not content with merely seeking that world, I am building it. And I invite you to join me.