from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel
Friends encourage one another to be open to leadings, to test them, and to follow them as guidance comes. The following excerpts from Britain Yearly Meeting’s Quaker Faith & Practice describe the spirit and process of concern. (See also Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice, pp. 65-7.)
The Quaker Understanding of Concern (Leading)
13.02 Throughout the history of the Religious Society of Friends we have recognised that to anyone may come, at any time, a special inward calling to carry out a particular service. It is characterized by a feeling of having been directly called by God and by an imperative to act.
The ministry which has been carried out “under concern” is a remarkable record of strength and perseverance in adversity. Many speak of the peace that came to them with the certainly that they were working with God. Recognising concern has also placed an obligation on the meeting which tests and supports it. Friends have on occasion been released from financial considerations and in some cases their families have been cared for whilst they carried out the service required of them.
A concern may arise unexpectedly out of an interest or may creep up on one out of worshipful search for the way forward. It may be in line with current desires and projects or it may cut across them; it may lead to action which is similar to that undertaken by others or it may require a brave striking out into the unknown.
Discernment in concern
13.05 Achieving clarity about a concern is a particular exercise in discernment. It is a process that begins with considerable private reflection and the asking of some tough questions. Is this a desire that someone else do something or is it really a call to act oneself? Is this concern in keeping with the testimonies of the Society? Is it genuinely from God?
The discernment process is not confined to solitary reflection. As a Religious Society we are more than a collection of people who meet together – we meet as we do because we believe that gathered together we are capable of greater clarity of vision. It is therefore the practice in our Society for a Friend who, after due consideration, believes that he or she has a concern, to bring it before the gathered community of Friends. This is both a further part of the testing process and an expression of our membership in a spiritual community. It is a recognition of mutual obligations: that of a Friend to test the concern against the counsel of the group and that of the group to exercise its judgment and to seek the guidance of God.
Responsibilities of individuals and meetings
To Friends with concerns
13.08 Friends with a concern should take counsel from experienced members of the meeting, particularly those who may have a different approach to the problem. Consider setting up, or asking for, a support group of trusted Friends. A meeting for clearness may also be part of the process of discernment. Allow the process to take time and do not rush yourself.
At each stage Friends will try to bring their insights to bear. Be prepared for their comments to cause some soul-searching and possible revisions. Be very clear what you are asking of each meeting….
The role of the meeting
13.09 The importance of the local worshipping group in fostering active concerns cannot be over-emphasised. Where Friends know and trust one another the gifts we all have can be used more fully in obedience to the Inward Light. This is the source from which concerns spring.
The atmosphere of mutual confidence and understanding that fosters concerns also leads naturally to sharing concerns with the meeting. A concern that is brought before a meeting should be considered with the greatest love, kindness and discipline. Much as we like to support our Friends in the things for which they have an unbounded enthusiasm, it is no kindness to recognise as a concern something which had not received the fullest attention possible.