Chapter 13 of Quaker faith & practice, Varieties of Religious Service, covers a bit of a mixed bag: concerns and the testing of concerns, writing minutes and financing work, travelling in the ministry, and some other forms of service – wardenship, librarians, treasurers, and chaplains for prisons and universities. Some of these situations need to be formalised – wardenship, for example, is often an employment arrangement, and as well as being clear for ourselves and in line with our ethical principles we need to be in line with employment law. Prison ministers are also formally appointed by government bodies as well as by us as Quakers, and treasurers have specific responsibilities so their role should be formalised (and they should be in membership).
However, some of the other forms of service in this chapter can meaningfully be offered which much less formality than is described here. Sometimes a concern needs testing through the channels described, but sometimes individuals report simply needing to act and can test this through less formal means. Even something which is tested using a Meeting for Clearness may not need other aspects of the support; I had a Meeting for Clearness before applying for funding for my ‘Or Whatever You Call It‘ workshops, but because the application was to another body, it never came before the Area Meeting as such. I think I can in some senses call that work undertaken under concern, but it didn’t automatically need the full weight of the processes described in chapter 13.
Similarly, the process of visiting other meetings can be ‘travelling in the ministry’ accompanied by a minute as described here, but I think it can also be fruitful without this. I suspect the clerk of my local meeting would be frustrated if I asked for a minute to take when I visit another meeting on holiday or when travelling to give a workshop or attend a committee meeting (perhaps the solution mentioned in 13.31, of giving a minute which lasts a year, would be easier – but we would still have to take the reports from all of our many well-travelled members…). I still find the process of visiting other meetings very enriching, though – both when it’s a one-off visit and when I have been able to participate fully in the life of several meetings as I’ve moved around the country over the years.
Other forms of service can also be usefully given informally. I am not now and never have been a Meeting librarian, but I recommend books to people as soon as look at them, and lend books if I have a chance. Do we need to think through which forms of service require formal support from a meeting, when it is optional, and when the service should be encouraged for everyone? Should we have a renaissance of travelling minutes? (Would my meeting be enriched or bored or both by an account of the other meetings I’ve visited over a year? I suspect they’d be bored, which is why I don’t ask for a minute, but I might be wrong.) Should we work harder to be ready and available to offer formal discernment processes, such as Meetings for Clearness, to people who are making decisions about their lives including their paid and unpaid work?