New York Yearly Meeting
of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)


Recording Gifts
In Ministry



Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel


New York Yearly Meeting
of the Religious Society of Friends


Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Formal Guidelines from NYYM Faith & Practice
Recognizing Gifts
The Recording Process
Historical Background




This pamphlet has been prepared by the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel of New York Yearly Meeting to provide guidance for

  • local meetings deciding whether to recommend one of their members for recording in ministry
  • recording committees appointed by Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel
  • individual Friends seeking to understand the recording process.

At the time of this writing, there is no single, readily available resource on recording. We have gathered material from many other yearly meetings, consulted well-known Friends historical works, and drawn on the experience of past recording committee members.

Recording is a means of recognizing and supporting the ministry of gifted individual Friends. In a minute recording the gifts of a Friend, the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel invites Friends everywhere to benefit from those gifts, and challenges that Friend to exercise those gifts more fully.

Recording is a tradition which goes back to the earliest days of Friends. Many Quaker pastors are recorded, as are a number of other "weighty Friends." Because of Friends' strong emphasis on the equality of everyone in ministry, recording has often been misunderstood. Even recording committees have not always fully understood the purpose of recording, or the details of their charge. The concern for this pamphlet rose out of our desire to make sure that the practice is well understood.

We hope that this pamphlet will be of service to Friends.

Formal Guidelines from New York Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice

One of the reasons for the creation of this booklet has been that our book of Faith and Practice provides only a bare outline of the process and requirements for recording gifts in ministry. Faith and Practice however, remains the final word on the subject. The relevant sections follow:

Some meetings may wish to continue the practice of recording ministers. In such cases when a member has spoken in the public ministry to the edification and spiritual help of the congregation, and has rendered this service to such an extent as to afford a basis for judgment as to the nature of those gifts and calling, the meeting on ministry and counsel should carefully consider whether there is evidence of a gift in the ministry that should be officially recognized. While a spoken message may be helpful in its place and should be esteemed and encouraged accordingly, not every person who speaks in public should be given official recognition. It should be borne in mind that such recognition in ministry is not only a seal of approval of one who is locally helpful but that it also involves extension of service beyond the local community. Recorded ministers not only have opportunity for service among Friends generally, but, because of the increase in interdenominational activity, such recognition opens the way for contacts and associations with ministers and members of other religious bodies.

When the monthly meeting on ministry and counsel is satisfied that a member has a gift in the ministry that is considered of suitable character and aptitude, this should be reported to the monthly meeting. If the monthly meeting approves, the monthly meeting on ministry and counsel should prepare a minute for consideration of the yearly meeting on ministry and counsel or its coordinating committee, which in turn should refer the proposal to a designated committee for examination and recommendation. If, after due consideration, the way seems clear, the yearly meeting on ministry and counsel may approve the recording and furnish a copy of its minute to the monthly meeting of which the individual is a member. The action should also be reported to the Yearly Meeting for record. If a proposal to record is not approved, the originating meeting should be so informed.

In case a member who has been recorded as a minister appears to have lost the gift and usefulness in the ministry, a proposal to rescind the action recording the member as a minister may originate with the overseers or ministry and counsel of the monthly meeting of which the minister is a member, or in the yearly meeting on ministry and counsel. Final action rests with the yearly meeting on ministry and counsel. The individual concerned  and the monthly meeting to which that person belongs shall be notified before final action is taken, and care should be exercised that any rights involved are fully safeguarded.

The status of a minister is transferable with the certificate of membership from one monthly meeting to another and from one yearly meeting to another. It is expected, however, that a minister planning to engage in the pastoral ministry in another yearly meeting will endeavor to meet the requirements of the yearly meeting to which transfer is made.

Similar language is found in the Faith and Practice of most of the other yearly meetings in North America which practice recording.

Recognizing Gifts

Ministry takes many forms. Not to be overlooked or undervalued are those gifts that are not expressed vocally in meeting for worship. Ministry is teaching First Day school, writing and mailing a meeting newsletter, silently holding others in the Light, praying, attending to the care of the meeting house, washing the dishes. Other, more traditionally recognized, forms of ministry include the following:

  • speaking in worship in a way that is generally recognized as helpful to most people
  • active caring for members' and attenders' spiritual and practical needs
  • carrying concerns from worship out into the local community and the world
  • writing and other creative disciplines as outlets for spiritual leadings and insights.

Friends may well consider prayerfully whether it is desirable that these and other kinds of gifts be formally recognized in writing by Friends, and if so, by what body and by what process.

Our ideal is that we all be ministers one unto the other. Yet, there may be times when a meeting wants to bring to the attention of others that a Friend has served it powerfully and acceptably. Minutes of travel make reference to a Friend's desire to share a concern with others or to that person's helpfulness in ministry. Such minutes, as distinguished from letters of introduction, were at one time given only to recorded ministers and their traveling companions. This is no longer the case. A monthly meeting today may wish to recognize for itself and call to the attention of other meetings a person's gift in ministry, without conferring a lifetime status. Or, because the person's service has up to that time been local and not to the wider body of Friends, it may wish to commend a person to the notice of others without requesting recording at the Yearly Meeting level. A travel minute is the usual form of such a commendation, but a meeting need not limit its recognition of a person's gifts to a particular occasion of travel.

A meeting may also recommend a person for specified service among Friends: for example, Quaker Volunteer Service, work in missions, or peace and service concerns. Such a minute would be for a specified term and would normally be an action of a monthly meeting, although some minutes could be forwarded to the quarterly meeting and Yearly Meeting for endorsement.

Similar minutes with specified terms are those recommending to a nonFriends' group a person with a special gift and concern, such as in prison or hospital ministry. This would be understood to be an action of the monthly meeting, although it could be forwarded for endorsement to the quarterly meeting and Yearly Meeting in a few cases.

The traditional form of "recording in the ministry" requires initiation by the monthly meeting and approval by the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel. Such a minute has no specified term, is transferable to other meetings with transfer of membership, and is ordinarily for life, unless the minister is judged to have lost his or her usefulness in ministry.

If the local Ministry and Counsel feels that one of its meeting's members has a special calling, it may begin the process of granting formal recognition in one of the ways mentioned above. Even before that, Ministry and Counsel can be of great help to a member in discerning and encouraging true leadings. To those who are experiencing and testing an unusually deep calling to minister, it can suggest reading and workshops or other training, offer sensitive feedback about vocal ministry, explore fears and hesitations that the person may have, assist in reconciling any conflicts or grievances which are acting as barriers to greater growth, act as a sounding board for ideas and convictions, provide experienced Friends as companions for travel and visitation, and help other Friends understand the changes happening in the person's life.

The Recording Process

The remainder of this pamphlet is concerned with assisting in the process of determining when and how the "recording" of ministers (i.e. recording a special gift in ministry) by the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel should take place.

The recording process is initiated by the local Ministry and Counsel, not by the person to be recorded. If approved by the monthly meeting,  a minute is then forwarded for action to the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel of the Yearly Meeting. The person under consideration may be a pastor, but is not necessarily one. In fact, some pastors are not recorded ministers or even members of the Religious Society of Friends, and many recorded ministers are not pastors. The assumption, however, is that a recorded minister is recognized by the Yearly Meeting as having a calling and a service to perform that extends beyond local boundaries and is likely to continue in its spiritual depth throughout life. Such a person may very well be called to service outside the Yearly Meeting, and a recording of a gift by the Yearly Meeting therefore serves as its recommendation to Friends in other parts of the world that the person's ministry has been found generally helpful to large numbers of Friends throughout the Yearly Meeting, not just in the local meeting.

A number of questions are considered by the monthly meeting initiating the process of Yearly Meeting recording and by the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel. The Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel, after appointing a committee to examine the matter in detail and after considering its report, makes a recommendation to the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel. The Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel makes the final decision. A fundamental question throughout is this: Will this person be a guided and spirit-filled minister wherever he or she goes, under all circumstances and apart from any appointments or employment?  Does what we see of this person reveal a fundamental decision, a lifelong commitment to the work of God and the building of others' lives?

Specific questions to be considered by the committees of both the monthly meeting and the Yearly Meeting include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. What has been the person's spiritual journey, including struggles, openings, leadings?
  2. Is the person knowledgeable of New York Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice? To what degree does the person have unity with it?
  3. Is the person knowledgeable of the breadth of Friends' beliefs, history, and practices across the whole Quaker spectrum? Does the person have the ability to work with many different sorts of Friends, considering that the person is being recommended for service to Friends everywhere, not just in one locality?
  4. What knowledge and spiritual understanding does the person have concerning the Bible and other religious works? This is not to be judged strictly according to the beliefs of members of the committee. It is often helpful for the committee to see the person's own library or reading list.
  5. What knowledge and personal convictions does the person have concerning various social and spiritual testimonies of Friends? This is particularly critical for people whose ministry will include service among non-Friends, but is important for all.
  6. What is the extent of the person's travel among the wider family of Friends and participation in regional meetings and Yearly Meeting?
  7. What understanding does the person have of the principles of leadership? What ability does the person have to put them into practice?
  8. What is the depth of the person's prayer life and personal disciplines, both spiritual disciplines and other kinds?
  9. Does the person have the ability to listen, to receive and offer correction and criticism, and to forgive?
  10. What are the attitudes and perspectives of other family members on the person and his or her ministry?
  11. Is there consistency between the person's public life and private life?
  12. To what degree has the person received formal training in subjects pertaining to ministry?

For a person undergoing preparation for ministry through a formal course of training, the committee may be helpful throughout, offering counsel and assistance. It is understood that a calling to minister is not undertaken lightly or without the encouragement and spiritual support of a person's meeting.

Such preparation is a process taking years, and a person being encouraged to prepare in this way will expect the periodic guidance and counsel of his or her local Ministry and Counsel, prior to its initiation of a formal request to the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel for recording. Upon occasion, the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel may suggest ways, such as further education, which would be helpful in preparing for wider service among Friends as a recorded minister.

The process of recording is not a hasty one. It will certainly take a year to complete, and in many cases longer, as the Yearly Meeting's committee has a heavy responsibility to become thoroughly acquainted with the person under consideration and with those who know him or her best. The three or four Friends on this committee will hopefully be able to make several trips in doing this work. The committee may well include both those who have been on such committees before and those who have not. It may be helpful to include persons who do not know the candidate well, although it is assumed that a person to be recorded will not be entirely unknown to Friends who regularly participate in Yearly Meeting affairs. A person recorded by the Yearly Meeting is expected to make an ongoing contribution to the life of the whole Religious Society of Friends, not merely of a local meeting.

Specific guidelines for the committee appointed by the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel include the following:

  1. The clerk (or first person named, if a clerk has not yet been appointed) will acquire a copy of the letter sent by the local meeting to the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel and of the minute of appointment of the committee by the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel. This person will immediately write to the person being considered and to the local meeting on Ministry and Counsel, giving the names of the committee members, describing the process and asking for assistance in arranging interviews and gathering the necessary information.
  2. The committee may find the following documents helpful:
    • a long letter or resume from the person under consideration, giving education, history of memberships in meetings and other religious organizations, appointments to Friends' committees and positions, published writings if any, and a description of the person's spiritual journey.
    • references from Friends and other relevant persons such as those from each meeting of which the person under consideration has been a member. It is suggested that the committee solicit the letters of reference rather than having the letters provided by the person under consideration. Recommendations by telephone or in person may have the advantage of greater depth and expressiveness; letters have the advantage of being seen by all members of the committee.
    • transcripts from schools attended, with at least one reference from each, if the committee feels that a person's educational preparation is relevant to the recording, as in the case of someone who plans to serve as a pastor.

Unless otherwise arranged, all documents and references are of course to be kept strictly confidential and not shared with the person under consideration.

  1. It is to be expected that more than one meeting will be held with the person being considered. An initial meeting by one or two members of the committee can explain the process, go over the documents gathered, indicate what further information is needed (and the sorts of questions that might lie ahead), discuss what recording might mean to the individual, and prepare the way for a meeting with the entire committee.
  2. The committee will want to meet with members of the recommending monthly meeting (and of the meeting where the person lives if these are not the same), with the local Ministry and Counsel and other leaders, and perhaps with the meeting for business. Any reservations of members of the local meeting may be discussed. It may be appropriate at this point to explain the various kinds of recognition of gifts that can be made by the monthly meeting without Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel approval.
  3. If the person under consideration is ministering in a programmed setting or performing service such as workshop facilitation, and direct observation is possible, it is recommended that the committee make a visit for observation.

As soon as the committee has arrived at clearness either to recommend or not to recommend recording, the clerk sends its report to the clerk of the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel of the Yearly Meeting. In the case of a negative recommendation, all concerned should be particularly careful of the reputation of the person who has been under consideration, as well as of the confidentiality of any written or verbal statements.

If the committee feels that the answer is "not yet" instead of "never," this can be stated in an encouraging manner, together with suggestions about how further preparation might be accomplished, in order not to foreclose the possibility of the person's future service. It can be suggested to the monthly meeting that, if it feels so moved, it might further consider how the person's gifts can be recognized and encouraged by monthly meeting action. As with clearness committees generally, the members of a recording committee often maintain a special level of friendship and support with the person afterward, particularly in cases where the person is searching for channels of usefulness. Experienced Friends can be helpful in that regard.

Final action takes place at the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel. When a Friend has been recorded as having a gift in ministry, an appropriate certificate is issued. A copy is kept in the minutes of the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel. A copy of the minute is also sent for information to the Yearly Meeting, but no Yearly Meeting action is required.

When a Friend who has been recorded by another yearly meeting transfers membership to New York Yearly Meeting, a copy of the recording minute or the recording certificate is given to the clerk of the Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel, which body then records the transfer of recorded status in its minutes. No further action by Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel is ordinarily necessary.

Historical Background

Recording gifts in ministry is not a new practice. In the 1600's, Friends were largely built up by the efforts of "public Friends," who traveled, spoke, debated with non-Quakers both orally and in writing, visited families, set up new meetings and worship groups, and often suffered imprisonment, fines, and other hardships. Unpaid, they were nevertheless strongly supported by hospitality on their travels and, when they were imprisoned, by care for their families and even the running of their businesses. At one time in London Yearly Meeting a number of horses, called "Truth's horses," were kept for the use of traveling ministers. The special place of such Friends was acknowledged in Robert Barclay's Apology:
. . . we do believe and affirm that some are more particularly called to the work of the ministry, and therefore are fitted of the Lord for that purpose; whose work is more constantly and particularly to instruct, exhort, admonish, oversee and watch over their brethren; and that . . . there is something more incumbent upon them in that respect than upon every common believer. . . . (Proposition 10, section 26)

Friends have always held high moral and spiritual expectations for those who are recorded as ministers. The following quotation, from Samuel Bownas, A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister, makes this plain:

The Tree must be good, e'er the Fruit can be so; and right and true Ministers are to be known by their Fruits:. . .it follows, that none, without being thus qualified, can be called to the Work of the Ministry by a divine Inspiration of the holy Spirit. . . altho' some such may pretend, that either with their Learning, or by their Money, or both, they may have acquired, or made a Purchase of Orders for Liberty to Preach, and may on this Foundation undertake to expose what they have to Sale; but what they sell is no other than what they have bought. . .empty and vain, and cannot profit the Hearers. . . .

What happened to change this informal recognition of ministers into formal recognition is outlined in this quotation from John Punshon's book, Portrait in Grey,p. 141):

Since 1673, all ministering Friends who happened to be in London, were expected to attend the Second Day Morning meeting. . . .In 1722, one William Gibson arrived and entered his name, as was the custom, in the book provided to record those attending. He was unacceptable to the Meeting and the controversy that followed was resolved by Yearly Meeting deciding that it was only the properly constituted monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings that could disown a minister. No Friend was entitled thereafter to be entered in the book as a minister unless he or she produced a certificate from a monthly or quarterly meeting. . . . Ministry, then, was the recognition of a gift rather than the granting of an ecclesiastical status. . . . Many [ministers] felt a further call to travel in the ministry and this practice, universal in the Quaker world, provided the means whereby a unity of practice and profession was maintained. . . .

To be noted here is that the call to service began with the individual's call from God, that the call was confirmed by the monthly meeting, that the call often extended beyond local service, and that written recognition facilitated travel and acceptance by distant Friends.

Although there were no pastors in the 17th century or early 18th century, a large meeting might have a dozen or more recorded ministers. These Friends' concern for the spiritual vitality of the meeting led them to speak often at worship, to be concerned for newcomers, to voice the concerns of the less articulate, to make a great many visitations, and to attend (though not to officiate) at weddings and memorial meetings.

Though no formal educational requirements were set for recording, recorded Friends were expected to be deeply versed in the Scriptures and other works, both to assist in their own ministry and in answering the objections of outsiders to Friends' beliefs.

In the years after the Civil War in the United States, many new meetings were being set up, with the Friends meeting often being "the only church in town." Younger Friends and others, impressed by the spiritual depth of neighboring revivals, wanted such radical innovations as hymn singing and a prepared message rather than the "dead" silence into which many meetings had fallen. Out of this atmosphere, the first Friends pastors were called. These pastors, almost always recorded ministers and usually holding other employment, were at first not paid; but, gradually, Friends "released" them for fuller service by providing full-time support.

In New York Yearly Meeting, the first fulltime pastor was John Henry Douglas, called to serve the Glens Falls Meeting in 1875. After that, many other meetings among Orthodox Friends called either full-time or part-time pastors.


The following queries were prepared during a retreat of pastors from New York and New England Yearly Meetings at Powell House, in 1988, and may be useful to others.

  1. Is time given regularly for restoration of your soul each day? Do you find ways to deepen your spiritual life and keep you on the growing edge of your faith? Does your lifestyle demonstrate a true discipleship of Christ?
  2. As you consider the people of your meeting and their level of spirituality and needs, do you seek God's guidance as you minister to them and keep your inner heart attuned for God's words to be spoken through you, whether in personal conversation or in preaching?
  3. Realizing God's call on your life to minister, are you careful to present the whole Gospel in such a way that others are drawn into a personal relationship with Christ?
  4. Do you recognize spiritual gifts in the people of your meeting and encourage and enable them to use their gifts for the edification of the entire body?
  5. Do you assist in equipping the fellowship of believers to reach beyond the walls of your meeting and into the areas of need and neglect? Are you aware of the community where you minister and of those who have no church?
  6. Are visitors who worship with you warmly received? Do they sense the presence of God in worship? Do they feel informed about Quaker testimonies and our manner of worship?
  7. Are you sensitive to people within your meeting and your community who are hurting, for whatever reason? Do you visit the sick, shut-in and hospitalized cheerfully? Do you share words of comfort and love as you visit with each person? Do you challenge people to a fuller understanding of what discipleship means?
  8. When opportunities come to counsel couples preparing for marriage, do you exercise care in guiding the couple to consider the meaning of marriage, and the foundation upon which a solid marriage must be built?

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