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Invisible Ministry: Spiritual Accompaniment in Two Voices

by Christine Betz Hall and Becky Wood

Becky Wood & June Thomasson

Becky Wood & June Thomasson

W hat Else is God Doing Among Us? —Chris

Not the people whose words flow easily and often in worship. Not the teachers who open hearts to new ideas and ways of living faithfully. Not the prophets who beckon us forward into scary places, and offer hopeful promise of God’s inbreaking newness. There are invisible ministers among us.

Nurturing Spirit-led service over months and years in the Way of the Spirit program, I’ve noticed that folks with quieter and more hidden leadings in ministry are at a disadvantage. The wider Western culture values the folks up front, the bold leaders and cutting edge social critics. Our communities of faith could miss the chance to celebrate what else God is doing among us. And faithful people moved toward secret prayer for others or spontaneous spiritual accompaniment may discount or dismiss how the Life and Power of the Holy is working through them.

Doing Something — Becky
This kind of ministry is like the body’s capillaries. Nobody talks about capillaries. But as a RN, I’m pretty aware of them. No one talks about capillaries succeeding or failing. They are the generally unspoken, invisible place of exchange in the body. It is a permeable place, small enough for tiny cooperations and transfers to take place. This is my image for the everyday goodnesses–the hidden ministries– the decisions that create space for the Holy to maneuver.

Many motions of God are often one on one encounters with people. There is no one else to report it, notice it, praise or remember it. But the one who ministers knows how freedom, playfulness, relaxation, insight has been brought forward because of their lived out God-partnership. A life lived in a stance of God-partnership spills over multiple times a day, the joy of which is difficult to put into words.

I had known for many years that I was “doing something” in the world–on the earth. I wouldn’t have named it ministry. Though, I did know it was a partnership between God and me. I knew it showed itself as a calming, encouraging, confidence-building and sometimes healing force. That dynamic had been named and recognized in my profession and in my relationships.   It was “nice” but “what I did” rarely amounted to anything visible. And even when it was visible, I could discount it by thinking “Isn’t that what everybody does–or strives to do?”   The answer is “no”. That is what I do. What I enjoy. That is the look of God through me. (Me and a whole host of others!)

Silent Radiating Souls —Chris
The invisible ways God weaves our faith communities are so vital that the Way of the Spirit program dedicates an entire four-day retreat to the topic, Spiritual Accompaniment or Quaker Eldering. What does this invisible ministry look like? …because of course, if we have eyes to see, the workings of God are everywhere. I’ve seen silent spiritual accompaniment that radiates God’s love toward the group, as William Taber wrote. I’ve also enjoyed energetic, verbal and companionable spiritual accompaniment that soothes scared souls and opens them to Holy possibilities. Perhaps this article will help you look for the invisible ministers in your congregations and meetings.

Quakers who worship without pastors have sought in recent years to reclaim the concept of Quaker “elders” by exploring the inner “motions” or functions of spiritual accompaniment. Elders (as spiritual accompaniers) listen, affirm, question to aid reflection, caution, encourage people toward faithful use of God’s gifts rising through them, they may be “yoked” with a public minister in action, and they pray for others. These naturally inviting people are sensitive and responsive to the weather of the soul in individuals and groups. Their presence and prayer anchors others in God.

Other Christian groups might name the clusters of spiritual giftedness expressed through the invisible ministers, including: “coming alongside” (exhortation), mercy, empathy, and spiritual discernment. It’s been deeply satisfying to me to find helpful language for what I’ve seen Becky “do” with people. It might look from the outside like “working a room,” but the Truth is clearer in the line: “she weaves a room for God/Good.”

Naming and Nurturing Accompaniment —Chris
You probably already know someone who fits into this “invisible ministry” category. Or maybe you recognize yourself in these words. Let’s articulate what could happen if you’re like me and want to join what God is doing through these folks. First you notice the flow of Life and Love through a person’s actions toward others. God’s generous care and ever-pouring compassion aren’t invisible anymore. It’s a personal opportunity to give thanks inwardly. Then, you have a chance to shine some Light for others: “I’m so thankful for your listening ear with so-and-so. I see God’s loving care in your attentiveness.” We don’t affirm each other often enough. I’ve learned how powerful it can be to share in the Spirit’s joy in the underlying God-reality.

Saying it out loud also helps the invisible minister pay more attention, and gives the hidden giftedness solidity. Next, what I’ve done is ask questions that encourage reflection and Holy experimentation: “When does it work in you?” “For whom?” “What is it like?” “How does it stretch you?” “How do you pray about it?” And finally, “What do you need to be more faithful to this expression of God’s love flowing through you?” The conversations can open into delightful recognition and full-on “Yes!” to collaboration with God through a “hidden” ministry.

Experiments and Growth — Becky
It was during my time as a participant in the Way of the Spirit program that I was encouraged in what I coined “Becky-style” accompaniment since I had no other frame of reference at that time. The closest thing I could read about and envision for myself was a Traveling Elder. I was encouraged to take the opportunity to do just that, officially! It was wonderful! It rested easily on me. And surprisingly to me, it was valued, highly. It was a life changing surprise that I was received with the same respect as the speaker I was accompanying.

In my mind, all I’m doing is creating an open space in my interactions with people/groups so that the Holy has room to maneuver. I keep people relaxed enough so that fresh things can occur. A new thought. A confidence. A bit of humor. A perspective shift. An elongation of gratitude. A celebration. A truth to let unfold.

Chris is correct. Naming, valuing gives the giftedness of the hidden minister solidity… and the ability to be called upon by the Body. Unless someone else names it, appreciating the task of the capillary will not likely become a “something”. A capillary will think their service to the world is too silly to mention or boastful because they know how Life-giving this ministry is. Without knowing how much fun the capillaries are having, the Body has untapped awareness. It misses out on how frequently God is at work. Quakers are skilled in looking for God in others. It is our heritage. It is fun to let our heritage appreciate the hidden ministers. They are no longer invisible!

Invitation to All Godly Collaborators – Chris
In Way of the Spirit, participants explore both visible and the more hidden ways God is working through them. If an experiential approach like ours draws you, if you’d like to dive into what God is doing with your life, if committed study, focus and supportive prayerful community sound helpful … please join us for the first program module, Spiritual Discernment, February 17-20, 2017 in Mt. Angel, Oregon.

More information online here: https://goodnewsassoc.org/spirit/
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1  in Drayton, Brian. On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry. Philadelphia: Quaker Books of Friends General Conference, 2006, Print, 55-56.
2  Taber, Frances, Susan Smith, and Faye Chapman. So That You Come Behind in No Gift: Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Gathering on Eldering, 6/20-22/1996. unknown: Ohio Yearly Meeting, 1996. Print, 8-11.
3  Larrabee, Margery. Spirit-led eldering: integral to our faith and practice. Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill Publications, 2007. Print.
4  Walling, Cathy, and Elaine Emily. Spiritual Accompaniment: An Experience of Two Friends Traveling in the Ministry. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 428. Wallingford: Pendle Hill Publications, 2014. Print.