As many congregations in the Episcopal Church struggle to pay a full-time or half-time priest and consider calling bivocational priests, in contrast, most American Quakers continue to understand their work as free gospel ministry. Micah Bales, a founder of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, describes the tension of being a Quaker in Washington, D.C. and practicing free gospel ministry:
At its best, our practice of ministry can be a demonstration of what a love economy looks like. Friends perform ministry as a gift, without asking for cash payment, and we are blessed in return by the ministry of others. In this way, we recognize that God’s gifts are not meant to be bought and sold, they are to be freely shared!
Yet, there is a wrinkle in our economy of love, a tension that often goes unnamed and unacknowledged: While we have largely de-commercialized religious service, most of the rest of our existence is still deeply marked by the logic of market economics. Those whose primary calling in life is to religious ministry are expected to give their gifts freely, yet this expectation may not hold true for those with other types of gifts, other ministries. For example, we might find it a bit odd if someone were to suggest that doctors, lawyers, or engineers should give their gifts freely without expecting any form of payment for their labor.
Yet, as we reflect on the underlying logic of our testimony, maybe this idea doesn’t sound so crazy after all. If gospel ministry is freely given by God, maybe everything else we are and do is a free gift, as well! How might our communities be affected if we embraced this reality?