On Being Recorded

On Being Recorded
Recording Certificate made by my sister, Catrina Cowart

It finally happened!

I was recorded as a Quaker minister on May 19, 2024 at First Friends Meeting in Greensboro, NC. It was a true gift of affirmation and something I'd hoped would happen for a very long time.

To be recorded in the Quaker tradition, is our version of what other denominations call ordination (I will explain more of that in a moment, but first I want to share a little background to my journey in ministry).

I have been in ministry among Quakers since 2000. I started working at Barberton Evangelical Friends as a part-time youth pastor while I was still in college. It was while I was working there that I began reading Quaker history and theology, and finally became convinced of the Quaker way for myself. Gratefully, Emily Miller, who I was engaged to and married in 2001, not only was supportive of this move, but also, independently of me, became convinced herself.

My ministry among Friends led us to California where I did my graduate work on how contemporary culture impacts faith communities, and what faith communities and traditions can learn from current contexts and changes (that resulted in my book the Convergent Model of Renewal). I have felt for some time that my academic work is a big part of my ministry and should be used to help strengthen and revitalize the Quaker tradition in our cultural contexts. Emily once put it this way to me: no matter what you do (pastor or professor), you will be either a professorial pastor or a pastoral professor.

Much of my writing (whether on the blog or more traditional publishing routes), my teaching, speaking, workshop leading, and rowdy conversations over a good meal or a favorite beverage have focused on my own searching, questions I hear others asking, spiritual insights, and discoveries made within community that needed to be shared around renewal. This is the work I have felt called to do, and I have tried to be faithful whether wearing my academic hat or my pastoral hat at sharing what I am learning.

While working on my dissertation, we were led to the Pacific Northwest where I pastored a small Quaker congregation from 2009-2015. There is nothing better than learning about renewal within the dynamic realities of a small, struggling Quaker congregation. But our ministry was fruitful there and it stands as core part of my experience and story up to this point of my life.

Then in 2015, we felt the call once again to come to Greensboro, and take on the work of the spiritual shepherding of Guilford College, a small Quaker founded college that has existed in this area since 1837. The last nine years of my work at Guilford have been tremendously rewarding and at times, incredibly trying. Many of the things I learned while in seminary, and working in a congregation have suited me well for the work I do at the college; while plenty I had to learn the hard way, and by getting help where I could. During this stretch, I have had to revisit my sense of call and ministry time and time again, digging deep into the roots of who I believe God has called me to be, while facing my own doubts and insecurities.

In each phase of my ministry, I sought to listen and answer to God's guidance, even when it has put me at odds with folks, often in my own community. Emily has been an anchor for me, a true partner in my ongoing discernment to live faithfully, joyfully, and with kindness and love for all things. My kids have helped me. And so have so many of you reading this.

Even though I have been in ministry all these years, people often find it surprising to learn that I am not recorded or "ordained" as many often think. While, I have had many individual f/Friends, and communities who have supported me, I have long wished to have my ministry grounded in a community through recording. A minister and a ministry without the backing, support, and accountability of a community can be a hard thing.

That is why I am so pleased to share that I have now been recorded.

Background to recording

If you already know about Quaker recording you can skip this part!

Quakers believe that all those within our meetings are ministers and during our meetings for worship each week, it is on each of us to listen to the voice of God and if called upon to offer "vocal ministry" to the meeting. There has also been since the early parts of the tradition a way to recognize individuals' whose service and ministry within the community is reliable and consistent. When that individual has a clear call upon their life the community recognizes (or records in our minutes) their consistent faithfulness in following that call. It is an organic, bottom-up process not meant to deem someone extra special, but rather recognize what God is doing within that person. Quakers do not believe that people can ordain other people, only God ordains. When Friends are clear that someone is to be recorded: We approve a minute in the record of our Monthly Meeting, recognizing their gifts in ministry and their willingness to use them as God leads.

The recording process is a little different everywhere, but like earlier generations of Friends, First Friends Meeting is itself responsible for the recording of ministers. Here is some of our process, which is new and developing, as it was laid out for me:

  1. A candidate is identified (either by someone in the meeting or they, themselves).
  2. The candidate speaks with Ministry and Council, and M&C brings it to Monthly Meeting for discernment.
  3. If affirmed by Monthly Meeting, the candidate writes a paper about their spiritual journey and leadings. When M&C receives and reads that paper, a clearness committee is set for the candidate. 
  4. The clearness committee then brings a recommendation to M&C, and M&C discerns whether to bring the candidate to Monthly Meeting for discernment.
  5. Monthly Meeting will discern if said candidate should be recorded.

As of May 19, 2024 all of these steps were completed. On May 24, 2024, during our meeting for worship there was an opportunity to celebrate and affirm the recording, which gave me an opportunity to invite some of my community outside of our meeting to come and join in the celebration.

Affirming the Recording

Photo during May 26, 2024 Meeting for Worship - Taken by Corey Easterday

This past Sunday, we had a celebration and affirmation of my recording that was better than I could have asked for. It was a lovely event where many friends, family, and our worshipping came to together in the joyous occasion.

What a gift it is to have so many of the people I love all in one place. How often does something like that happen before we die?

Among the many special parts of the worship service was music from my dear friends and talented musicians, Liz Nicholson and Nathan Sebens who sang "Simple Gifts," and "How Can I Keep From Singing," two of my favorites. Then there was a message to the congregation from our pastor, Lia Scholl about the giftedness of every member of our meeting and a "charge" to the congregation to recognize these gifts in each other and see their role in this specific recording as well.

I asked my good friend and musician Seth Martin, who I've shared plenty about in the past, if he would send a long some music for the occasion because his music continues to be both a source of inspiration and comfort (and sometimes much needed agitation), but it has grounded my understanding of God since I have met him.

This is the video he sent along for the service. (Thank you, Seth!).

Seth Patrick Martin - Listen to his music on Band Camp

Then, Camas Friends, the meeting I served in the Pacific Northwest from 2009-2015 sent a beautiful "Minute of Support," that I want to share with you all here.

Next, I asked my close friend, fellow conspirator of many years, and my neighbor (she and her husband live 2 blocks away from us), Ashley Wilcox, if she would bring the message for our time together. Ashley brought a beautiful and powerful message titled, "A Live Coal."

You should read it when you have a moment. It is powerful.

A Live Coal — Ashley M. Wilcox
By recording Wess, you are saying that you have observed his ministry and found it to be fruitful. And you are declaring the kind of people you want to be: people who support and blow on the coals of ministry.

Then there was the matter of a certificate of recording. It is common to have something in writing that speaks to one's recording. I have seen certificates plain and I have seen ones more like a Quaker wedding certificate where everyone at the meeting signs it. I wanted the latter partly because of what the recording means to me (something that takes place within a community) and partly because I think the practice of the Quaker wedding certificate is a beautiful practice that is easily extended into other aspects where we ask the worshipping community to give witness to.

As I thought about who to ask to make the certificate, I reached out my sister Catrina who is a very talented artist. I pitched the idea to her and she was down almost instantly. Even though she is not a Quaker, she picked up on the idea quickly and started sending me mock-ups.

An early mock-up of the recording certificate

I talked to her about some of the elements of the certificate that I wanted. I wanted Fireweed Flowers( obviously!), butterflies which are symbolic to me of my Grandma Daniels, and some design elements from Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Catrina did an absolutely outstanding job with it.

Here is the finished certificate signed and framed.

Lastly, besides being a skilled pastor Lia, she is also an amazing seamstress and made something very special for me: a marching stole that has rainbow colors on one side and "grass" on the other (as symbol of my love of Malvina Reynolds' "God Bless the Grass", a song we listened to during worship). A "marching stole" is shorter than your typical stoles and is made for, well, marching and other times when a minister wants to, or needs to, look like a minister. Stoles are often made and given to newly ordained clergy on that special occasion.*

A stole made by Lia Scholl on the occasion of my recording

Besides these things, the entire congregation laid hands on me and many shared during our period of open worship. It was so incredibly beautiful and I definately cried tears of joy thoughout the morning. When one friend asked how I felt, I said, "I feel loved." What a wonderful feeling.

Thanks for reading and for all your support,

C. Wess Daniels

Haw River Watershed (Greensboro, NC)

Footnote about stoles for those who want to know more:

It is not customary for recorded Quakers to wear stoles or anything else specific for that matter. This is a great disappointment to me as someone who doesn't mind getting fancy from time to time. I remember my friend Aaron Scott who said he loves to "dress up for Jesus." For Quakers, clothing can be both a hinderance and an access point for people. The outward form is less important than one's inward spiritual obedience, and yet we also understand that outward symbols used in appropriate ways can be powerful. For an inward-focused faith, we can easily get caught in debates about outward forms. That said, I've never been led to fully adopt or reject outwardly pastoral garments or "plain dress." My tendency has typically been more to be plain by blending in rather than to standing out in the way I look.

Year ago, when I was still pastoring in Camas, I adopted a black vest that I would wear when I needed to show up somewhere as a representative of my faith community (various meetings in the city, actions, protests, rallies, and marches to name a few). In other words, I would wear it when I needed to/wanted to look like a minister. This all came about as I became more active in the city with other clergy mostly at protests in the city around Black Lives Matter, union organizing of hotel works and grocery store workers, and Occupy Wall Street marches, and hospital chaplaincy work. Often, though not always, I would find myself with Episcopal priests, Unitarian Universalists, Reformed Jewish Rabbis, Catholic Priests, and Muslim faith leaders who all showed up clearly looking like faith leaders, and there I stood in jeans and a button-down shirt, looking like Fred from down the street.

I realized overtime the usefulness of uniforms in certain moments, and here was one: in actions and protests where clergy are standing with the oppressed. I wanted members in the community I lived in to know that I am not only with them as an individual, but that I am standing there as leader of a Quaker faith community that is also standing with them. I wanted the people there to know were ministers of the Gospel were standing in solidarity with them. In a world where there has been so much harm done in the name of God, any way I can show up to help repair that is important. And so, now, along with my very warm, wool vest that makes less sense now that I live in the South, I have a marching stole hanging in my sstudio for those times when I know I want to look and show up as a minister from my Quaker community.