The night before I went to preach at Camas Friends Church
, I had a dream. I dreamed that I was sitting in the Camas Friends meeting room, waiting to give the message. In my dream, the announcements and introductions went on and on, and I began to get anxious that there would not be space for me to speak. To my horror, I saw people standing to leave. One by one, they quietly walked out of the room. But when I looked to my right, I saw a small girl sitting on the bench next to me. She looked up at me, her eyes wide, and said, "Are you
going to be the preacher today?" Then I woke up.
I have been in Atlanta for a month now, and it has been a bit of a bumpy landing. There are things that I love about studying at Candler School of Theology: my classes are interesting, the professors are brilliant and entertaining, and my classmates are caring and thoughtful. But I have also experienced a fair amount of culture shock. I am adjusting to living in the South and being a full-time student again after several years of working as a lawyer. I am also the only Quaker in a Methodist seminary, which has its own challenges.
One thing I did not anticipate was how big of a deal my recording would be here.
Because it is the beginning of the year, I often find myself in classrooms where we go around the room and introduce ourselves. For many of my classmates, the introduction goes like this: "My name is Jessie and I am United Methodist, on the ordination track in the North Georgia Conference."
When it's my turn to introduce myself, I usually say, "My name is Ashley and I am a Quaker (a member of the Religious Society of Friends). I am a recorded Quaker minister (the Quaker version of ordination)."
When I say that, people's eyebrows go up. They shift in their chairs. Last week, a professor said to me, "So, you're just here for the education."
It's true. For many of my classmates, they need to go to seminary in order to be ordained in their denominations. As a Friend, I do not need the degree to be a minister (in fact, several Friends tried to talk me out of it before I came here).
I am grateful for my recording
, and it is still new enough that I am trying to figure out what it means to me and for my ministry. I sometimes think it means more to non-Friends than it does to Friends.
A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend who should be recorded. She has a clear call to ministry and has been deeply involved in public ministry among Friends, which is bearing fruit. But her yearly meeting does not record ministers.
She said that, in a conversation with another minister, she blurted out, "I wish they would just record me!" The other (recorded) minister reminded her that recording is not something to take lightly.
While I agree on one level, I also think that, when someone is doing public ministry, eventually the lack of recording can become a burden, and it is a burden that the meeting should take up. It is the responsibility of the meeting to provide support and accountability for public ministers, and recording is the way that Friends traditionally have shown their intention to provide that support and accountability.
I also think this weighs heavier on women than men. It is true that yearly meetings that do not record ministers do not discriminate between women and men (neither are recorded). However, that does not take into account all of the voices that women hear telling them that they cannot do ministry. There are entire denominations that will not allow women to preach or even teach men. It is still unusual for a little girl to hear a woman preach. And when Friends say that they will not record ministers, that is one more voice telling women that they cannot be ministers.
Recording is important, Friends. Especially the recording of women. We need to take a look around and recognize the gifts that God has given to our meetings and find ways to support the Friends who are sharing those gifts with us.