I recently went through and changed most of my online profiles, email signatures, and even our bulletin for Sunday morning it from “pastor” to “released minister” as that language seems to fit where I am at better. So now, at least on paper, that’s the language I use to describe my work. But in day-to-day language I move between these two labels depending on who I am talking to and the context in which the discussion takes place. I have been getting a lot of questions about what it means so I thought I’d share it here. I am going to write more from a place of what it means to me, rather than here’s the history. If you are a person who knows some of the history or other details behind this I would love for you to leave a comment below.
I have never felt all that comfortable with calling myself a pastor. I am comfortable with the fact that I do pastoral care, teach scripture, and help guide and accompany a Quaker congregation in the movements of the Spirit and our tradition, but there are times when the word “pastor” gets me hung up. I think part of it is that people assume automatically assume this or that about my work. For me language is very important, even language that is a bit cumbersome to use at points if it means that the words I am using a more exact and have a chance to challenge common assumptions. For these reasons, as well as other ones, I have been in a holding pattern for different language to describe what I do.
Then Brent Bill posted his “Modest Proposals” and in part 6B he wrote about what he calls the rise of “clergyism” among Friends and what it means to be a released minister within the Quaker tradition (see his post here: http://goo.gl/IYEv). This idea of being “released” is traditional Quaker language that we still use in some of our in-house documents but the language isn’t always carried over into the more public documents that we use.
Anyways for me there’s a couple things it means (building on Brent’s ideas):
- It means “minister among ministers,” rather than the only minister in our church. I am a minister who has been released to tend to certain things within our church but it embraces the the idea of the priesthood of all believers found in Hebrews.
- By “released” it means, at least in part, released from the financial responsibilities of sustaining one’s family (earlier Quaker ministers often lived in someone’s home from the church and were supported that way!).
- Finally, I take it to mean “released” as in appointed to take care of certain things that the Quaker meeting wished him or her to bring to the community. For many, “Pastor” has become more of a generic or universal job description that applies to all denominations regardless of whether they are Quaker, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, etc. But to be a “pastor” within a Quaker tradition takes certain skills and practices that may (or may not) be needed in another community. In other words, I see being a released minister as not so much a universal job description but a very contextual one, depending on the meeting/church that releases you. Thus, a Quaker meeting is a community of ministers that calls and releases one (or more) person(s) to come and tend to certain needs or other tasks in that particular community that the community itself feels is missing (or could be added to) from the community. The church/meeting then looks for certain people who can add to their community in particular ways, and who exhibit a gifting and call to the work, and seeks to release people for service and leadership in the Body rather than hire people to take care of ministry.
Does that make any sense to the rest of you? I’m still working this out. But I think it basically means minister among ministers, and released within a particular context for particular things needed within that context. I also like it because it is rooted within the more traditional language of Quakerism.