Meeting for Reading is a quarterly column from the Friends General Conference “Book Musings” newsletter. It will review new and forthcoming books intended to nurture spiritual deepening among Friends. The books selected are particularly useful to Meeting book discussion groups.
On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry by Brian Drayton. Foreword by Fran Taber. Second edition. Quaker Press, 2019.
Review by Ellen Michaud
In this newly revised and expanded edition, the richness of a life touched by the Spirit and called to ministry ripples over every page of Brian Drayton’s classic On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry.
His words are formed by the grace and experience gained from a life in which he has faithfully listened for that moment of awareness, that inward sense of Spirit rising in which he knows he is being held in love and led to one particular task or another. The task could be to offer vocal ministry, a discerning ear, a moment of comfort, a word of concern, a message that “opens the Scriptures in fresh ways,” or a bridge that spans a meeting’s divisiveness and offers a way forward in peace and harmony.
Yet wherever he’s led and whatever he’s tasked to do, each visit Brian makes pulls Friends together, opens their hearts, and points to the loving Light within each of us.
He is true to his calling.
As he writes in the introduction,
Gospel ministry is service whose goal is to encourage, support, push, or invite people to seek and respond to the guidance, teaching, and activity of that Light and Life at work in all...
It’s just that simple. And just that complex.
In some cases, giving yourself to a life in service of gospel ministry means traveling to a meetinghouse or Quaker gathering as you’ve been led—often, as Brian points out, without knowing why—to worship with Friends and wait to see how Way opens.
Other times it means having lunch with a co-worker who denies the existence of God, or the Light of Christ, while other times it’s to sing a rousing chorus of the George Fox song with a meeting full of 5 year-olds, invade the nation’s capital with a phalanx of loving but determined Quaker lobbyists, or buy a hot dinner for a homeless man sitting in the filthy parking lot of an urban restaurant.
Unfortunately, however, gospel ministry is something that is not often talked about—much less understood—in many if not most of our meetings. And the unintended side effect of our silence, Brian suggests, is often isolation for those called to follow a leading.
Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry is the gift that breaks through that isolation. It provides support, nurtures the seed within, and offers practical information that helps both those living with a leading for ministry and their meeting so that each can support and nurture the other.
Of particular use is Brian’s offering of a lifetime’s worth of practical advice on how those who are following a leading—who are “under concern” in Quakerspeak— can work with oversight or care committees, and how they can be accountable to their home meeting whether it’s comprised of a couple of seasoned Friends or a few well-meaning Friends who don’t have a clue about an oversight committee’s responsibilities to both meeting members and the individual who is carrying a concern.
Fortunately, Brian also offers the same type of practical advice to oversight committees as he does to ministering Friends. As he points out in one chapter, for example, “It’s too easy to talk about logistics, or about the Friend’s experiences to date, or his or her emotional condition or perplexities in a way that is humanly warm and supportive, but disconnected from the concern itself.”
Praise for the second edition of On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry:
“A must-read for all Quakers. Not since Samuel Bownas has a Quaker author written as helpfully and as feelingly about the inward and outward life of one who feels a “chronic” call to the services of the Gospel—a vocational call that becomes the purpose around which the rest of one’s life is organized. Whether the call involves a gift in vocal ministry, in radical hospitality, or any other religious service, both the individual carrying the gift and the meeting community which has been gifted face particular opportunities and challenges.” —Lloyd Lee Wilson, author of Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order and Radical Hospitality.
That type of support isn’t useful in helping the ministering Friend stay focused on what he or she has been led to do, Brian writes. Instead, the oversight committee should continually maintain a context in which its care and stewardship is always for the concern itself: “Has it changed?” asks Brian. “Do the difficulties or opportunities that the Friend relates look different if the original concern is recounted? Is there something being overlooked?”
This kind of practical advice for both those who are following a leading and those in meetings who want to support such Friends is what makes On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry a must-read for every Friend on the bench.
In the introduction, Brian speaks to us directly as he quotes the words of John Griffith as Griffith addressed Friends in 1779:
Thou deep wader for the good of souls, this is wrote principally for thy sake, that thou mayest see others [who] have gone the same way before thee, and be encouraged so as not to sink under thy burden. I found in the Lord’s time (as thou wilt, if thou patiently holds on thy way) that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope.
A study guide that will stimulate a rich discussion among Friends in a meeting book discussion group—a “Meeting for Reading”— is included in On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry.