Our First Experience in Traveling in Ministry

Al and Sheri Hendrix

Some time ago my wife and I were led to begin traveling among other congregations (Quakers use the term Meeting rather than congregation) within our denomination. This is certainly not a new idea among Quakers. Visiting ministers with a variety of messages have been traveling from Meeting to Meeting since the very beginning, delivering their intended messages, sharing news, doing church business, hosting training opportunities, and in general carrying on the business necessary to grow and maintain the health and connections that sustain the various parts of our faith.

Friends (What Quakers call each other) see ministry somewhat differently than most other denominations. We feel that any and all of us are ministers in some way, each with different gifts and different messages to share, and our experience has been that at the right time, God may call on any one of us to exercise our gift of ministry in whatever form that may take. Early Quaker ministers in route from England to the American colonies would often stop in the Barbados to receive training, grow in confidence through practice, and prepare for the work ahead of them when they reached the colonies. Among Quakers, the Barbados became known as the “Nursery of Truth”, and was a place where the truth, as the travelers saw it, was practiced. For my wife and I, this call has been for us to travel to some of the more far flung Quaker groups, share news, make friends, and try to shrink the gaps that exist between groups separated by distance, and in some cases, theology.

Our Call and Preparation

Right away, we recognized that just because we had a call to ministry did not mean that we had any of the skills necessary to be successful at that ministry, so we began putting infrastructure in place and getting appropriate training to help us prepare. This effort led us into attending numerous training classes, several retreats for in depth Spiritual training, and the reading and digesting of numerous books about the history and beliefs of Friends who have gone before us. We also attended some specialized training to bolster up our weaker areas.  In the first year, we attended a training session specifically designed for and aimed at future traveling ministers aptly named “The Nursery of Truth”, which was modeled after some of the work early Quakers were involved with in the Barbados in the early days.

In that first year, we also put together what Friends call a “Clearness Committee” that met periodically and helped us test and define our leadings, gave us a forum for asking questions, and provided sound spiritual guidance to help keep us focused and direct us towards our “next steps”.

For the following two years we attended the “Way of the Spirit” program offered through Good News Associates. For us, that training was tailor made to fit our preparatory needs. It provided the final spiritual deepening we needed to understand ourselves and our Spiritual gifts, and taught us many different techniques necessary for successfully working with groups. We also made many valuable contacts with other future travelers, all of whom have enriched our experience and encouraged us to continue. We feel that this two year course of study was essential to preparing us for our own work in ministry, and we recommend this course of study to all future traveling ministers.

In October of 2016 we completed our training and began some tentative traveling to other Meetings where we started to get some practical experience.

For a short time, we got sidetracked by my retirement, and a post-retirement move to the Washington coast. For a few months, real estate sales and purchases, and the physical moving of 15 years of accumulated stuff occupied our lives, but eventually everything settled down a bit and we began to consider how to get back on track.

Opportunity Opened

The answer came when we got a letter in February of 2017 from a Quaker committee responsible for outreach and visitation, and they were seeking Friends willing to travel to some far-flung Meetings, make friends, and try to pull them all closer together. The program was called “Knitting Us Together”, and the fit was perfect for what we had been preparing for, so we applied.

Quaker process is typically slow. Friends have a long-standing and deep commitment to the use of discernment in matters like this, and good discernment takes time, so we were thinking we might get a response sometime in the fall. To our amazement, we got an almost immediate response, and we were asked if we could leave immediately for a visit to several different Meetings in Montana, Washington, and potentially Wyoming. Leaving immediately was not possible, but we left for Missoula, Montana on Friday, March 24th after a whirlwind three- week preparation period.  We hoped that we were prepared for March 26th ,our very first presentation date. Initially we were asked to present at five meetings throughout Montana, and we recognized that potentially each Meeting might have different needs, so we sent each Meeting a list of potential topics we felt prepared to speak on.  What we did not take into account was that since we only had three weeks to prepare for this trip, the various Meetings also had only three weeks to prepare too, and each of them needed some time to discern their interests and needs. The result was that some Meetings were able to get back to us before we arrived there, but others were not, so we prepared for every possible topic on the road between presentations as new information became available. It was a lot of fun as we traveled, discussing what we might be presenting, and trying out different ideas.

On Sunday, March 26th at the Friends meeting in Missoula, Montana we presented a dramatization of the life of Elizabeth Hooton, an early Quaker and one of the first female Quaker preachers, and we performed it in full period costumes that we had fabricated before we left home.

We followed up the drama with two queries. Queries are questions Quakers use that are framed in a manner to encourage deeper thought and to foster useful conversation. The queries we used were: “How or where do you see yourself in this story?”, and “What similarities do you see between events in this story and conditions in our country right now?” There was much conversation and discussion around these queries, and we got to learn a lot about this group of Montana Friends from the discussion.

The following Wednesday, March 29th, we had the honor of giving the very same presentation to the Helena, Montana worship group, a small group of Friends that meet in a private residence. Though smaller, the discussion afterwards was just as meaningful and enlightening, and again, we learned a lot about this group from their discussions.

Sunday, April 2nd was an extremely busy day for us. We started off our day by presenting to the Great Falls, Montana worship group.  This was one of the groups that had responded to our request for topics of interest, which was helpful to us.  It all went very well again, and then we all adjourned to a prepared pot luck lunch where the discussion continued until almost 2:30 in the afternoon. And then we jumped in the car and made the nearly four-hour trip to Bozeman, Montana, where we repeated the same presentation again to a new group of Friends, answered questions, and enjoyed the time with this group. By the end of this day, we were both really tired. Long hours on the road, and the vast spaces between towns was starting to catch up with us, so we tried our best over the next couple of days to get some rest, change drivers often, and spend some time in private silence and reflection time.

Wednesday, April 5th found us in Sheridan, Wyoming presenting on a requested topic to another group of articulate, caring people in a private home. We are particularly drawn to the Quaker groups that meet in private residences as they tend to have an intimate and comfortable feel to them.  We felt very welcome among the Friends in Sheridan.

Our last stop on this journey was in Moscow, Idaho where two groups of Friends, one from Moscow, and one from Pullman, Washington meet together for joint Worship. One of the things we noted in general on this trip is the creativity Friends demonstrate when finding a location for their worship. A minority of the groups we visited actually had a dedicated building for worship. This group was no different, using excess space in an assisted living facility. It only served to confirm what we already knew about Quakers. It isn’t about the quality of the buildings, it’s the quality of the Worship.

What Did We Learn?

So what did we learn from travelling in ministry? We learned more than we taught, that’s for sure. Each group of friends we encountered were different in some ways, but in the ways that counted, they were all very similar. Time spent together in worship as well as all of the basic testimonies that define us as Quakers are consistent among groups wherever they might be. Whatever differences we might have noticed were small compared to the ideas and beliefs we all seem to hold in common. We are one in the Spirit.

We are grateful to all the different people who provided hospitality for us, helped us manage our schedules, or helped us find our way to them on unfamiliar roads in unfamiliar states. We are also grateful to all the people who have supported us in our calling by providing instruction, helping us maintain clarity of purpose, and sometimes providing us with opportunities for growth.

Did we forge any long term bonds? Time will decide that, but we are convinced that we adequately discharged our calling and did in fact aid in knitting together and maybe shrinking the gaps between some of the more far flung groups of Friends. Our lives were altered by this experience in very positive ways, and we would gladly go back for another visit. It’s easy to see why traveling in ministry has such a time-proven reputation. It’s valuable to all concerned.