Learning How to Travel in the Ministry: The Past Bears Weight on the Present
This is a post I’ve been wanting to write about my traveling in the ministry with Lloyd Lee Wilson, a member of Friendship Friends Meeting and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) this past June. It is about my first experience of traveling in ministry and what I learned in the process.
Lloyd Lee and I have gotten to know each other since we moved to Greensboro in 2015. With monthly lunches at a favorite local spot, he and I “talk shop,” swap ideas, and enjoy challenging ideas and imagining new ways to help revitalize Quaker community. One of the things I know about Lloyd Lee is he does a lot of what Quakers call, “Traveling in the Ministry,” and to be more specific to Lloyd Lee’s approach, “traveling in the ministry in the old style.”
What does it mean to travel in the ministry in the old style?
Most folks can guess what it means to travel in the ministry. You visit different churches and meetings and share gifts of ministry with the community there. “In the old style” is a reference to how many early Friends would travel, by sensing a call to go and worship with Friends in other parts of the country and world, with no clear outcome or goal, and only trusting that by showing up and worshiping with Friends “something divinely good would happen.”
This was the model that Lloyd Lee and I used. We felt called to travel among Friends in the Pacific Northwest, but we didn’t have an agenda or clear sense of why we were being asked to go.
I have not ever traveled in the ministry in this way. I have often been invited to come and speak to a meeting, a yearly meeting, or lead a retreat for folks, but have never felt called to go and then just showed up to see what would happen. This was a very new experience and a bit unnerving to say the least. As you can imagine then, I was delighted to be able to go with someone who has a lot of experience doing this.
Sensing the Call
One Sunday after meeting for worship, I approached Lloyd Lee to talk to him about the possibility of traveling in the ministry with him in the Northwest. I’d been feeling a tug that direction for some time and had been feeling the desire to work with Lloyd Lee because of his many years of experience in traveling and because of our friendship and shared ideas about Quaker ministry and renewal. I was a bit surprised when his answer was a pretty quick, yes: this is not someone known just to make off-handed commitments.
Later I learned this: About six months prior to my approaching Lloyd Lee, he felt the Holy Spirit tug on him to go to the Pacific Northwest, but with the strict condition that he was not to tell anyone about it until I approached him and asked him to travel in the ministry to the PNW with me.
There are many ways that someone will be called into a traveling ministry, it may come with clear instructions like Lloyd Lee’s call, or more like mine which was a sense that this was something useful to do and that it fit into my more general call to do renewal work among Friends everywhere.
Worship and Discussion
However your call is made known by God, it is something both to listen to and to be ready to act on. If you are able, it is important to share with a friend and listen together. A clearness committee or care committee may be the best venue for this.
The next step for Lloyd Lee and I was to spend some time together in worship. Sharing what rose for each of us around this call. Together, we were able to help affirm the urge to travel in the ministry that we were hearing in ourselves and seeing in each other.
Out of this time worship, we were able to talk about what we hoped for out of a trip like this, expectations, assumptions, biases we were bringing into this work, and begin to move towards alignment of mission. Looking back, this was a critical part of our initial work together.
As we got clear about what we felt led to, this helped give shape to the direction of our traveling ministry.
“Invitation” To Those Called To
It can be weird to invite yourself over to a friend’s house, even stranger to tell the friend that God has invited you over to their house and here’s the time your stopping by. This was more or less how I felt emailing Friends in the PNW. However, as you can imagine, everyone we reached out to was very gracious and understanding, even if the basic concept of what we were doing was a little out of the ordinary.
Here’s how we handled some of the logistics:
I wrote up an email that outlined the basic premise of what we were feeling called to do, with a very brief introduction to the idea of “traveling in the ministry,” and then suggested the dates we were able to come out.
Given our own time constraints, we were pretty limited in when we could go, and so we let that be one of the primary constraints of the trip. It meant we wouldn’t be able to work around everyone’s schedules and we would miss some critical people. You may have to do it this way, or you may have more freedom to arrange a time that works for better for everyone.
I sent out my initial email to as many pastors, clerks, elders, and friends I could think of who might have the interest and availability to put something together. And then we waited for responses.
We were looking for a) confirmation that others were open to this idea, b) people who would be willing and interested in acting as local coordinators, c) individuals and groups interested in sharing an Opportunity with us, and d) for people who could house and feed us.
One of the things I noticed initially was that I needed to do a better job of explaining what we were up to. It is unusual for people to show up, want to meet with people, and not have at least some agenda they’re working with.
This might have been one of the single most important pieces of our trip: we went because we believed that in going something good would happen. That something we were unaware of.
We had to do our own internal work to make sure that we could honestly say we didn’t have an agenda to push. We had to do a lot of explaining to people before and during the trip, that we really weren’t there to try and force some particular issue. It is unusual for Friends to travel in this manner, to show up just to listen and be present; this practice can be liberating and challenging for traveler and host.
Setting the Schedule
As emails came back with people interested in having us visit their meetings, I created a series of notes in my project folder “Visit the PNW” in Evernote. Some of those notes were specific emails with important information I needed to keep track of, some of them were of our bios and photos I could share easily, some of the notes were explanations and other “templates” that I could use more than once in response to information that people asked for or needed from us. I also created a chart in one document that had rows for each day we were there broken into four subsections – morning, afternoon, evening, and housing. There were columns for dates, location, local planner/contact person and their information, etc. As people responded back with “we’d like to have you here either Monday or Thursday” I could “pencil” them into those slots and then quickly move them around as other people got back to me. I really enjoyed doing this backend work.
Remaining Connected and Final Preparation
Lloyd Lee and I remained in conversation over email, and we met a couple more times before we left. Each time we talked about the plans for the trip, how things were developing, any particular issues that were capturing our attention, things we were looking forward to and more. Lloyd Lee encouraged me to keep a journal during my travels, which I did. We made other arrangements, housing, rental cars, and talked about how to deal with expenses. As far as expenses go, this is something we discussed in advance. All our costs would go on one person’s card, and then we could divide up the costs at the end of the trip. We knew that we would be paying for our plane tickets, rental car and gas, food, coffee, and other incidentals. Our lodging was all covered by local Friends, and at a few places we were fed, so that all helped keep our costs down. We also received some support from the “For Travel in Truth’s Service” fund of NCYM(C). What was left regarding out of pocket expense was supported by a very generous and thoughtful offering that was taken up on the last night of our trip by the last meeting we visited.
Traveling in the Ministry
Settling into traveling with a Travel Companion
One thing traveling in the ministry with a companion will do is it will put you in close contact with your companion for an extended period of time. Lloyd Lee and I went from eating Reubens over lunch semi-regularly to “being yoked together.” After 1000 miles in a rental car, basically living together, and doing the serious work of spiritual care-taking, I look back on this feeling like not only did we work very well together and compliment one another in a lot of ways, but we had a lot of fun together. You come out of an experience like this in a very different place with the person you traveled in the ministry with than where you entered. I remember one particular night, as we traveled 2.5 hours back to the place where we were staying, there was very little silence. We talked about theology, all-things Quaker, and really tried our best to solve the problems of the world. 🙂 On another long road trip, we envisioned a whole book project with sections, critical arguments, potential authors, etc. We also told stories from our life, listened to Rock ‘n Roll, and debriefed from our most recent meeting. I think the friendship we already had in place helped and was the groundwork we set out with, but I also believe that we both worked to be conscientious of each other during our travels: work that was very clearly covered with grace.
The Basic “program” and structure
For those of you unfamiliar with traveling in the ministry and what it looks like, you might be wondering what we did when we met with Friends. Each night was a little different. The basic idea is that we would gather with whoever showed up at the set time and follow this basic pla:
- Open with a moment of silence and then introduce the basic idea of why were there (what I shared about Lloyd Lee’s call and then my subsequent invitation).
- Explain the basic structure for the evening.
- Enter into expectant waiting worship that usually lasted between 45-60 minutes.
- Share a time of discussion and questions were those who there could talk about something that came up for them during the silence but didn’t get shared or could ask a more general question (30-45 mins).
- End worship by shaking hands.
Some evenings only one of us were led to share something out of the silence, other evenings both of us spoke, but there was no plan or preset arrangement, we just waited to see what the Spirit brought to us. Often others in the meeting would share out of the silence as well.
I think for both Lloyd Lee and me, we really enjoyed the discussion part of the evening. The questions and issues that people brought up. The conversation that followed was excellent, powerful, sincere, and also humorous.
People asked us great questions such as:
- what was bringing us hope?
- what did we hope our takeaways would be at the end of the trip?
- what has surprised us so far?
Some wanted to know more about our travels, how they came to be, the process. Others shared prophetic ministry. Some places were in need of healing. Some needed a space to process all that has been happening in the Northwest around the recent splitting. All in all, each place had its own work in the Spirit to do, and it was quite a gift to witness even just a small piece of that work.
The overall trip was deeply moving for us. I think we learned a lot in the process, made numerous connections with Friends, and we felt “the Good raised up” as past Friends have said. I learned a lot about an old practice and how to step into that stream in a way that not only stretched me, but helped me to grow in my relationship with God and Friends. I look forward to new opportunities where I might be used in similar ways.