Thursday, January 29, 2009


From early days the Society of Friends has greatly valued those leadings of the Spirit which result in individual and corporate concerns. It has learned, however, that concerns vary in merit, depending on the validity of the inspiration and the care with which it is carried out.

(Faith & Practice, NPYM, 1993, p.78.)

To weigh concerns and discover how a concern may be carried forward, Friends have come to value discernment: individually, by the individual within the community, and by the community. Some leadings may be meant for an individual; while at other times the Meeting community finds itself ready to unite with a concern after a process of testing. The testing process may include consulting with trusted and wise Friends, a clearness committee, referral to a committee of the Meeting, and consideration in Meeting for Business. The Monthly Meeting may agree to recognize the particular ministry of a member.

In earlier times, a Meeting may have offered practical support, such as caring for a farm or for children, releasing a Friend led to travel in the ministry. Now, a Meeting may agree to receive financial contributions to support the work. The discernment process begins with attention to what we as individuals or as a Meeting are spiritually led to be and do now. Then, we may identify resources and gifts available for carrying forward a concern.

Accepting new concerns and activities often requires choices and may result in laying down other work; this is hard. But experience teaches that a healthy worshiping community is best engaged in ways that strengthen both the meeting and good works in the wider community.

As Thomas Kelly wrote in his essay "The Eternal Now and Social Concern" (A Testament of Devotion, 1941),

I wish I might emphasize how a life becomes simplified when dominated by faithfulness to a few concerns. Too many of us have too many irons in the fire … the concern-oriented life is ordered and organized from within and we learn to say No as well as Yes by attending to the guidance of inner responsibility.

UFM is engaged in a corporate process of "attending to the guidance of inner responsibility." Our Year of Discernment offers rich opportunities for participation in this work. Retreats, committee discussions, clearness committees, a threshing session on finances, a blog site, and a wonderful collection of Friendly writing contribute to the depth of our shared experience. I warmly recommend that everyone in our beloved community explore these offerings.

-- Asia B, member of The Year of Discernment Steering Committee