Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ministers and Money

We now come to the last of Barclay's pleadings for ministers.

The ministers we plead for are such as having freely received, freely give; who covet no man's silver, gold or garments; who seek no man's goods, but seek them, and the salvation of their souls; whose hands supply their own necessities, working honestly for bread to themselves and their families: and if at any time they be called of God so as the work of the Lord hinder them from the use of their trades, take what is freely given them by such to whom they have communicated spirituals; and having food and raiment are therewith content; such were the holy prophets and apostles, as appears from Matt. 10:8; Acts 20:33-35; 1 Tim. 6:8.


Part of the early Quaker opposition to the hireling ministry was that it was supported by the state and paid for by the church tax or tithe. This led to a situation in which the ministry was considered an occupation. A spiritual call was not a requirement. Appointments were often made on the basis of political connections. Ministers were often looking to move to parishes that would provide them with a better living. Quakers opposed paying tithes to support men who were not, in their eyes, true ministers. Their refusal to pay tithes often led them to have their goods seized or even to be sent to prison.

Until the advent of the pastoral system among Friends, there was always the expectation that Friends called to the ministry would support themselves by their trade. Famously John Woolman left of his work in merchandise and became a tailor and apple grower to allow himself more time to devote to his spiritual life. On the other hand, Joseph Hoag describes in his journal the difficulties that he encountered when he was led to travel in the ministry while he was struggling to get himself established and to clear himself of debt. His meeting was reluctant to allow him to travel because of his financial situation.

I have read other Friends from the early 19th century who encouraged Friends called to the ministry to establish a “competency” so that they would be free to travel. What they were suggesting was that a Friend should devote himself to business so that by the time they were 30 or so, they would have gained a sufficient fortune that they could live off of it for the rest of their life while they devoted themselves to the work of the Society of Friends. Of course some Friends ministers, such as Joseph John Gurney, came from wealthy families. Anna Braithwaite traveled in such a fine carriage that one contemporary commented, “however she may walk, she does not ride humbly, although she may do justly and love mercy.”

Early Friends said that training in Cambridge and Oxford did not prepare one to be a minister. So there is no little irony that many of the most respected Quaker authors of the 20th century, Rufus Jones, Thomas Kelly and Douglas Steere, Howard Brinton, Henry Cadbury and Hugh Barbour were all academics. This may partly reflect a more general shift among Friends, at least liberal Friends, from occupations in business towards occupations in academia and social services. It also is reflective that an academic career provides the time and flexibility to write books and to travel extensively.

Friends have not done well with resolving the tension between the ministry freely given and freely received and providing financial support for those engaged in such a ministry. In the middle part of the 20th century, much of the work of a meeting was handled by women who did not have paid employment outside of the home. Now there are fewer women who are not working outside of the home. At the same time, jobs seem to be requiring more time. For poor and working class people, things are often harder with people having to work multiple jobs to support themselves. This general decline in the American standard of living has had a serious impact on Friends Meetings. There are fewer and fewer people available to do the work of the meeting. I suspect that one of the reason for the prevalence of gray and white haired people who are active in Quaker organizations is that it is only when they retire from their jobs that they have time to give to Quaker activities.

When a meeting, or other Friends organization, does hire help, we have very low wage scales. Why do we expect that people who work for Friends organizations should earn less than they would elsewhere? One principle behind tithing is that ten families can support one family at the average level of the other ten. What voices do we not hear because we restrict leadership to those who can afford to donate their services to the Society of Friends? It has seemed to me at times that Friends often confuse Quaker simplicity with being cheap. Friends don't like to talk about money but unless we can adapt our structures to fit with current economic realities we will continue to have a difficult time maintaining the leadership we need.

Blessings to all,

Will T

2 Comments:

Anonymous Susanne K said...

Will, your series on ministry has been wonderful. As a liberal Quaker who feels called to full-time ministry and yet has bills to pay, each one of your posts has spoken to my condition.

I'd like to add in two dimensions of change that I think affect the issue of money for modern Friends: One is inreasing specialization of work and its cousin, certification. Specialization means, for instance, that a nurse's job no longer allows much time to talk to their patients. Nurses only have time to administer medications and see to the patient's medical needs (nurses' aides do bathing and cleaning). The patient's need for conversation about the meaning of illness/loss/death then needs to be met by the creation of a new position, that of "chaplain". This new position requires a specific education, training, and accountability. The ministry can no longer be done by someone just on the basis of calling. They need theological training (seven years) and an additional year's chaplaincy training, and everything else needed to meet the requirements for certification, which is a requirement for the job. All of this investment on the part of the chaplain makes it, in my mind, unreasonable to ask a person to do their chaplaincy as an unpaid hobby. A chaplain has student loans. S/he also has invested an enormous amount of time, which makes it hard/impossible to get another education on which basis to earn their actual living.

The second factor is that we no longer live in a non-monetary society. Earlier times' ministers could be cared for freely by the donation of in kind gifts or services such as free lodging, work on their farm when ther were away traveling, or donation of a chicken, for instance. Well, even if someone were to "pay me" a chicken today for doing a funeral, I would be required to report, pay taxes and social security/medicare for the monetary value of the chicken. In today's society, I can't free myself from the need for actual cash. And this changes the dynamics, too, in ways modern Friends need to address for our own spiritual health.

Unless we only want other denominations to have access to spiritual support...

April 07, 2008 2:03 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Susanne,
Thank you. I am glad you have found this series useful. There is a whole other aspect that I did not discuss which is the area of using Quaker recording as a way of meeting credentialing requirements for chaplains and such. Are we missing an opportunity to witness to the truth that God bestows gifts without regard to outward learning? Are we avoiding our responsibility as a Society to support our own ministers and so requiring people to seek employment where credentials are required?

I have way more questions than answers.

Will T

April 07, 2008 10:52 PM  

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