Doing it yourself (October 2017)

Quakers practice a “do-it-yourself” religion. To a degree which is absolutely amazing to outside observers, Friends get along without professionals, without priests, without people to tell us what to do, what to think, and what to say.

One of the key ideas of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s was “the priesthood of all believers”. Over the centuries, the idea had grown that only people who were “special” could teach, preach, bring comfort, forgive, bring God closer, and perform ceremonies. The reformers said that all Christians had the ability to do these things.

The early Friends pushed this idea farther than any of the other reformers. They did away with paid clergy, with prepared messages, with sacraments, with everything which suggested inequality between followers of Christ. Because of this, Friends often seemed like anarchists to other Christians!

But behind it all was the idea that every Friend is a minister. Some were led to travel and preach. Others cared for prisoners. Some wrote letters and pamphlets, while others organized Meeting activities. The possibilities for ministry seemed limitless, since there was a whole world to be changed.

This idea is still true of Friends today. All of us have work to do in the Meeting. All of us are ministers. If our Meeting isn’t as strong as it should be, one of the most important reasons is that we’re neglecting to invite everyone to be a minister.

Some Friends meetings (including Springfield) find it helpful to have a pastor. A pastor isn’t someone who takes over the ministry of other people in the meeting. There are always many more tasks to be done than what the pastor alone can do – and any pastor who tries to “do it all” is a fool.

But even with a pastor, think how many activities in our meeting simply wouldn’t happen if somebody didn’t step in and do them. Most things take place because some Friend took it upon himself or herself to make them happen. A Quaker meeting is really a “do-it-yourself” church.

When you do something yourself, you put a special care into the work. There is a sense of love, satisfaction, and craftsmanship. A Quaker meeting has that same flavor – it’s a gathering of “do-it-yourself-ers” whose project is to become closer to God, to love and serve each other, and to learn from each others’ successes and mistakes.

To put it another way, A Quaker meeting is a gathering of ministers. Friends find that it helps to “do it yourself” together. Because we’re usually learning as we go along, Quakers don’t always have the “polish” of church professionals. On the other hand, most people who are drawn to Friends like it that way.

One last thought: if things aren’t going the way you feel is best, ask, “What have I done to change them?” “Doing it yourself” always begins with you.

– Josh Brown

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