Ashley Wilcox

Ashley Wilcox is a member and recorded minister of Freedom Friends Church and a sojourning member of Atlanta Friends Meeting. She wrote these reflections after traveling to visit North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) annual sessions in 2012. This is a revised version of a post on her blog, www.questforadequacy.blogspot.com.

Traveling ministry is expensive.  I believe that Friends have misunderstood our tradition of "free gospel ministry" as ministry with no cost.  There is always a cost and, right now, most of that cost is falling on the traveling ministers.

I have been fortunate to receive many grants and scholarships from Friends in doing traveling ministry, as well as donations from individuals.  However, I have always lost money when I have done traveling ministry.

As I was preparing to visit North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), I was thinking about how many Friends do not know the true cost of traveling ministry.  I wrote to a Friend on the yearly meeting planning committee and said that I was considering writing a post about the cost of traveling ministry, and asked if I could use NCYM-C as an example.  She graciously said I could, so I kept track of my expenses for the trip.

First, an explanation of the expenses and financial aid:

When I first felt led to visit NCYM-C, I wrote to a Friend in the yearly meeting about my leading.  She said that they would be happy to have me visit, but did not have money to pay for me to come.  So I applied for a grant from FWCC Section of the Americas for travel to and from the yearly meeting.  NCYM-C gave me a scholarship that covered my registration fee.

Apart from the travel costs, the most expensive thing about traveling ministry is the time it takes me away from my paid work.  I am fortunate to be employed and to have paid time off for vacation days and sick leave, and I mostly used that time for this trip.  Because these are paid days off, they did not actually cost me the amounts listed, but I could be using them for other things if I did not do traveling ministry.  In addition, I only had three vacation days saved up and I needed four days off work for the trip, so I took one day of leave without pay.  I also used one day of sick leave for a recovery day after I returned.

I debated about including the expense for a massage, but I am trying to be as honest, accurate, and transparent as possible, and the truth is that traveling ministry is really hard on my body.  The combination of long hours traveling and spiritual work takes its toll, usually in my shoulders, back, and hips.  At various times, I have used acupuncture, physical therapy, and seen a chiropractor, but I have found that getting a massage right after traveling ministry is one of the best ways to readjust, so I include that in my budget when I travel.

Finally, even though I tried to include all of the expenses for the ministry here, there are some that I do not know.  While I was in North Carolina, Friends gave me rides to and from the airport and to annual sessions without accepting money for gas, gave me overnight hospitality, and fed me three meals outside of annual sessions.  I am grateful for their generosity.

Expense Amount Financial Aid Amount
Round-trip flight from Portland to Greensboro 581 Travel grant from FWCC Section of the Americas 620
Taxi to shuttle 10 Individual financial support from a Friend 200
Shuttle from Salem to Portland airport 36    
Gas for ride from Portland airport to Salem 20    
NCYM-C annual session registration fee 215 Scholarship from NCYM-C 215
Food while traveling 18    
Three paid vacation days 390    
One day of leave without pay 130    
One day of sick leave 130    
Pet sitter 40    
Massage 55    
Total Expenses $1,625 Total Financial Aid $1,035

Difference between expenses and financial aid: $590

I am posting these numbers in the hope that they will start a conversation.  I am not asking for money (at least, not right now).  I had a wonderful time visiting NCYM-C; my leading was clear and I felt well-used while I was there.  At the same time, I have cut way back on the amount of time I spend doing traveling ministry, in part because of how costly it is.

I recently spoke about this with a Friend who is in her forties.  She said, "I just don't understand why those young Friends are burning themselves out."  For me, that comment reflected the lack of connection between many of the young Friends doing traveling ministry and the wider Quaker community. Based on that conversation and others like it, I have some questions:

  • Are young Friends mishearing the call from God to traveling ministry?
  • Does the Religious Society of Friends feel led to have a vibrant traveling ministry? 
  • If so, how are Friends going to financially support that ministry?