FM Eldering Quotes

What Love Requires: Community and the Challenge of Diversity Friends Journal, September 2013, by George Shaefer

Today, the elders of a meeting, whether called by that name or not, are those Friends recognized as having a concern for the spiritual vitality of meeting for worship and the harmonious functioning of the community. They see to the good order of our life together with active discernment. They encourage gifts of ministry among members. They are often led to call to order those persons who disrupt worship or the rightly ordered conduct of our business. These last practices of the function of an elder are where most of us bristle. When elders work outside of the committee structure and function by self-appointment, the risk of estrangement becomes great. This I know experientially. It is especially risky when persons with behavioral or emotional differences are confronted in this way. For Liberal Friends, the loss of community cohesion through the alienation of anyone who has been more than a passing visitor is an agonizing situation to be avoided at all costs. Yet we are at a loss as to who to turn to when such estrangement occurs. How do we know who are our “elders?”

We recognize elders by the qualities of wisdom and care they display among us, including an on-going commitment to personal growth in the Spirit with the goal of helping others to grow as well; and also by the ability to talk about one’s spiritual journey and to help others amplify their understanding of how the events of their lives conform to a movement of Spirit which is meaningful and precious. To be willing to talk about darker spiritual matters and to be present in humility before the search of another, in both shadow and light, is where the weight of the elder is deepened. I would even say that therein lies the authority of the elder. It is found in the humility she brings before souls. Such humility has nothing to do with being a subservient doormat. It has everything to do with the connectedness and unity found in Spirit with others in loving relationship. It is a humility which befriends our own earthiness, our saltiness, and the salt of others.

From the book An Invitation to Quaker Eldering: On Being Faithful to the Ministry of Spiritual Nurture among Friends by Elaine Emily and Mary Kay Glazer

Eldering: Defining the Elusive

We define eldering as the ministry of deepening the spiritual grounding of individuals, a Quaker meeting, or other faith groups or gatherings. Elders are those who have a distinct and noticeable gift of spiritual groundedness that uplifts, deepens, and broadens the spiritual core of a meeting or gathering. When the gifts of eldering are present, Spirit often takes individuals and grousps to places they might not otherwise go. Quaker eldering is not connected with chronological age. Some come to the gift very young and others never develop the gift past a basic capacity.

The heart and soul of eldering is spiritual formation, nurture , encouragement, accompaniment, accountability, and to use an early Quaker word, rebuking. Quaker meetings and groups rely on people who have great spiritual grounding or depth, who have what might be called a charism in spiritual nurture. By charism, we mean a spiritual grace or gift laid upon an individual for the sake and benefit of their faith community and even beyond. Those steeped in the gift of eldering are typically spiritually grounded, wise in discernment, tender and brave when there are divisions and conflict, and willing to offer a course correction when needed. Eldering also includes the accompanying of individuals and groups going through rocky times as well as worshipfully holding groups and individuals during fruitful times to amplify what Spirit might be calling forth. Elders also hold sacred space into which vocal ministry may arise.

From the book Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly: Modern Quakers as Everyday Prophets by Margery Post Abbott

Some people are fortunate enough to be part of an engaged community that pays attention to those present, including the young people, and calls them to pay attention to their spiritual life and listening for the Inward Teacher. Such communities may see the Eternal at work in a person’s life well before the individual has any awareness of a calling. Arthur Roberts (Northwest Yearly Meeting) caught the attention of others in his meeting while still a teenager. He was guided into the work that allowed his gift of ministry to flourish then and that continued as he approached the later years of his life. As he put it,

When I was just a teenager, local elders sensed God’s call upon me and nurtured that gift, as did the yearly meeting in recording my gift of ministry. For me, a support group provides helpful fellowship and also capacity for discernment that prevents the self-deception that can so subtly tempt gifted individuals.

One of the regular complaints I hear, at least in unprogrammed meetings, is that we are poor in nurturing each other’s spiritual gifts and that we are especially poor in training our young people. My guess is that some of the problem stems from a lack of self-confidence as well as our not appointing people specifically to nurture the spiritual life of our meetings. The Bible is central for Arthur, but many Friends rely on other resources for primary guidance. 

When there is a pastor or appointed elders, responsibility often lies with them. In unprogrammed meetings, though, this work is left more to chance. Is there an individual or small group that has strong personal spiritual practices and is seeking to encourage this in others? Are there some who are good at working with young people and helping them find their way? Sharing responsibilities in these meetings has many advantages, and I find those advantages compelling. But there is also the challenge of mutual spiritual care and the naming of ministries that we need to integrate into our communities if we wish to grow the prophetic ministry in our midst.

From Listening Spirituality Volume II: Corporate Spiritual Practice Among Friends by Patricia Loring

At a deeper level, ministry refers to service as ways in which each of us brings to one another the measure of the Spirit we have received, in the particular manner we have received it. We minister the life-giving Spirit of God to one another in countless nameable and unnameable ways. To call one another to live more consciously and with more commitment into our gifts and their implications is to invite one another into more abundant life. Each person who opens himself to more abundant life, opens more abundant life for the community. In terms of listening attentiveness for and to God among us, the gifts of the Spirit may be thought of as the particular ways each organ of the body attends to and cares for the others and the whole.

Another dimension of our listening is attentiveness to the specific gifts of others. Discernment and nurture of gifts were traditional gifts of elders. It’s important to remember that some people really do have a special gift for it. We must remember, however, that all of us bear some measure of responsibility for discerning, evolving and encouraging one another in this way. If it is assumed to be “everyone’s task”, however, it is often treated as nobody’s responsibility.

Holding One Another in the Light Pendle Hill Pamphlet #382 by Marcelle Martin

As we grow in the spiritual life, we are called to deepen in our life of ongoing conversation and communion with the Divine. Prayer is one of the important ways we help the divine seed within ourselves, others, our culture, and the world to flourish and overcome the forces that oppress it. Some Friends have a growing awareness of being called to pray both for individuals and for the meeting community as a whole, often while also being called upon to help others grow in understanding of the ways of the Spirit. Early Friends sometimes referred to people with such gifts as “nursing” mothers or fathers. Later they were given the less evocative term, “elder.” Today it is becoming more common to call such Friends “spiritual nurturers.” By whatever name, people who exercise such fights on the behalf of our meetings and Quaker community are much needed for the health of our spiritual fellowship.

Spirit-Led Eldering: Integral or Our Faith and Practice Pendle Hill Pamphlet #392 by Margery Mears Larrabee

But what is Spirit-led eldering? It is offering spiritual leadership, which is to support and encourage the life of the Spirit in an individual or group, or to raise questions and explore, with another person or group, ways in which they may be more faithful to the Spirit, or it is simply being prayerfully present. No particular act or behavior in itself qualifies as Spirit-led eldering. It is the well-grounded intention and attitude of a compassionate heart and mind, led by Spirit, that makes it so. When correction or support is offered that is not so guided, I see it as something other than eldering.

Building the Life of the Meeting William & Frances Taber Michener Lecture 1994

Sometimes we Quakers say that we have no ministers, at least the ways other churches do, because we are all ministers, never knowing when any one of us may be called to speak in a meeting. And that is a precious truth about Quakerism. But there is another important truth—that, throughout Quaker history, we have always recognized that some of our members have a special gift and calling to ministry in a way that builds up the meeting community and deepens the power of our worship. These people still exist among us, although many are still waiting to grow into the fulness of their calling and gift. One of their important characteristics is that they are—or are becoming—deep listeners, for those who become gifted ministers almost always develop a special kind of listening skill. Perhaps you have been around an experienced engineer or mechanic who would suddenly stop in the midst of conversation to listen intently to a machine or to an automobile or to the ticking of a clock and quickly discern the need for some slight re-adjustment. Just so, these people learn how to keep one ear open—in the midst of conversation, or work, or commuting, or family life, or meeting for worship—they keep one ear open to any delicate leading from the Inward Teacher. They learn to be continually alert to detect the subtle inward motions of the Spirit.

But how do we grow these ministers? First of all, by encouraging the spiritual growth of everyone in the meeting, for we all have a part in the ministry, whether we speak in meeting or not. Second, by encouraging people who have begun to speak in meeting to find a spiritual friend, a spiritual nurturer, or a spiritual sharing group so that they are in regular communication with at least one other person about developments in their spiritual life. Third, by praying for them frequently, both during meeting and at other times, remembering that some of the most powerful forms of prayer are non-verbal, like, as we say, “holding someone in the Light.” fourth, by being aware that, just as there are special talents in music or in art or in science, so there can be special talents in paying attention to the inward motion of the Spirit, and that just as we recognize expertise or skill in sports medicine or business, so we can affirm special skill in discernment and ministry, even though such skill is available to all of us, at least in some measure. In other words, if we expect these gifts and affirm them, they are more likely to appear among us.

Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297 Sandra L. Cronk

[p.28] Friends saw mutual admonition as part of a larger process of spiritual guidance and nurture that went beyond the specific advice in Matthew 18 about confronting a person who had sinned. It meant helping each other hear and respond to God’s call. The admonitory aspect of mutual accountability involved all kinds of situations, including helping people to recognize and exercise their gifts, to see where the broken and unfaithful places were in their lives, to overcome paralyzing fears, to discern leadings, and to know when had outrun or lagged behind their Guide. Thus, admonition was not simply telling others when they were wrong, as least in the  way we usually interpret that idea. It was admonishing a person to be courageous in adversity or to undertake a much needed ministry or service. It was encouraging one another to take a risk in trusting God’s leading or letting go of a behavior that was blocking deeper commitment to God. In short, it was helping each other move toward greater faithfulness in all areas of living.

[p.32] The elders, while fully accepting and participating in the prophetic side of Quaker experience which emphasized the unmediated work of Christ, also understood Christ to work in priestly and mediated ways. Their special responsibilities reflect both dimensions of Quaker experience.

The elders had a vital role to play in each of the general oversight over worship and the spiritual life of the meeting, the daily life of the meeting community, and the practice of accountability. Each set of responsibilities opens up insights about eldering ministry and the way Friends historically tried to nurture life in gospel order.

The prophetic functions of elders is evident in the many ways they nurtured Friends community of listening. The communal pattern of listening to God was the heart of gospel order. To enter the communal discipline of listening (in worship or business meeting) was the first act of faithfulness for Friends; it also enabled all other parts of Quaker life to exist (since that life flowed from direct listening to the Inward Guide). It is not surprising, then, that one of the elders’ primary responsibilities was care of this process of listening.

The elders themselves rarely spoke in meeting for worship. That was the gift and calling of vocal ministers. Yet the elders had a significant role in worship. They helped create an inward space for Christ to enter. They were noted for their gift in centering, the ability to focus their attention toward a deep inward listening helped the meeting as a whole to center down in worship.

Because of this attentiveness to the movements of the spirit, elders were expected to know when the silence was living and when it was dead, when the speaking gave voice to the movement of the Spirit and when it outran the Guide or erred in other ways.

[p.34] The elders functioned as what, in contemporary language, might be called spiritual nurturers or guides for the ministers in particular and, by extension, for all Friends.

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