I wonder if there would be interest in establishing a space on QuakerQuaker for the discussion of eldering.  I realize this is a bit tricky since eldering ("spiritual nurturing" may be a descriptive phrase liberal Friends might feel more comfortable with) concerns very personal issues.  Since this is the case discussing these in a public forum raises grave issues of confidentiality.    Consequently for something like this to work I think what people post should NOT carry any information which would allow readers to trace the comment back to any individual.    Not only would names have to be changed but I also feel that the stories should not be traceable back to any monthly meeting.   It may be that Friends feel that such levels of confidentiality cannot be achieved on a public forum like QuakerQuaker and so we should just not try.  However  I think there is real value in having those of us who have been placed on Care and Counsel Committees or have been named as Elders and so have a responsibility to try to help others with their spiritual challenges to share our stories and help each other to do this more effectively.

What do other Friends think?

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I think we are hitting on some differences.  My concern is to see if it is helpful to create a forum where those who elder can learn from each other and so improve.  I don't care so much whether the meeting has formally named someone as elder and still less than the formal recognition use the term "elder."   I think some liberal meetings do recognize elders but shy away from the name or even the recognition that this is in fact what they are doing when they say "Friend X really needs to be on that clearness committee."  Why does Friend X need to be on that committee?  Because she has the appropriate gift and other people don't.  My sense is that the Holy Spirit dispenses gifts to communities and that one of these gifts is a gift of listening and guiding people.  I am not at all democratic about this.  I don't think everyone is equally good at listening.  I don't think that any randomly selected two or three Friends would make a good clearness committee nor is it simply a matter of how long someone has been a Quaker.  I also don't think that everyone is gifted in the vocal ministry.  (Another digression.)

So this isn't the discussion I had in mind but it is probably helpful in some small way.  Thanks for moving it along.

Howard Brod said:

My liberal meeting fills Clearness committees with Friends who the Friend needing clearness has requested, plus at least one seasoned Friend to clerk the committee. The Friends on the Clearness committee may or may not be members of the meeting. I don't know if this process for selecting Clearness committee members is common within other liberal meetings or not.

The thought is that where two or three are gathered in silence, there the Spirit will be. At my meeting the Clearness committee is not permitted to provide guidance or judgements regarding the situation at hand. They are only allowed to ask non-judgmental questions that help the Friend gain their own clearness. There is faith, I suppose, that the Holy Spirit is in charge and is able to use anyone as a tool if the process is spiritual. Again, I'm not sure if all or most liberal meetings follow this same process. But it seems to work very well and helps a number of Friends who have a leading, are seeking membership, or are experiencing a life situation.

I think we may be hitting ingrained, but subtle differences between conservative and liberal Friends. So, I would not conclude your idea is not a good one. It might be very helpful for those Friends who are part of a meeting that has a strong Elder arrangement and where clearness is provided through the wisdom of respected Friends who are led by the Spirit.

Now that I understand more where you are coming from, perhaps I shouldn't have commented. I apologize if I distracted you from your original purpose. It seems like you want to provide a vehicle for sharing and help among Elders. And that is probably a worthy goal for those meetings that have recognized Elders.
Sharing is always helpful and productive. I think you should pursue this great idea if there are others who would also benefit. Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my digressions.


Richard B. Miller said:

I think we are hitting on some differences.  My concern is to see if it is helpful to create a forum where those who elder can learn from each other and so improve.  I don't care so much whether the meeting has formally named someone as elder and still less than the formal recognition use the term "elder."   I think some liberal meetings do recognize elders but shy away from the name or even the recognition that this is in fact what they are doing when they say "Friend X really needs to be on that clearness committee."  Why does Friend X need to be on that committee?  Because she has the appropriate gift and other people don't.  My sense is that the Holy Spirit dispenses gifts to communities and that one of these gifts is a gift of listening and guiding people.  I am not at all democratic about this.  I don't think everyone is equally good at listening.  I don't think that any randomly selected two or three Friends would make a good clearness committee nor is it simply a matter of how long someone has been a Quaker.  I also don't think that everyone is gifted in the vocal ministry.  (Another digression.)

So this isn't the discussion I had in mind but it is probably helpful in some small way.  Thanks for moving it along.

Howard Brod said:

My liberal meeting fills Clearness committees with Friends who the Friend needing clearness has requested, plus at least one seasoned Friend to clerk the committee. The Friends on the Clearness committee may or may not be members of the meeting. I don't know if this process for selecting Clearness committee members is common within other liberal meetings or not.

The thought is that where two or three are gathered in silence, there the Spirit will be. At my meeting the Clearness committee is not permitted to provide guidance or judgements regarding the situation at hand. They are only allowed to ask non-judgmental questions that help the Friend gain their own clearness. There is faith, I suppose, that the Holy Spirit is in charge and is able to use anyone as a tool if the process is spiritual. Again, I'm not sure if all or most liberal meetings follow this same process. But it seems to work very well and helps a number of Friends who have a leading, are seeking membership, or are experiencing a life situation.

I think we may be hitting ingrained, but subtle differences between conservative and liberal Friends. So, I would not conclude your idea is not a good one. It might be very helpful for those Friends who are part of a meeting that has a strong Elder arrangement and where clearness is provided through the wisdom of respected Friends who are led by the Spirit.

Now that I understand more where you are coming from, perhaps I shouldn't have commented. I apologize if I distracted you from your original purpose. It seems like you want to provide a vehicle for sharing and help among Elders. And that is probably a worthy goal for those meetings that have recognized Elders.

I'm late coming into this discussion, but still want to weigh in.

There is a definite  difference between liberal's and conservative's approach to the term elder.

Among liberals, elder is a verb with negative connotations. Basically, it's liberal quakerese for scolded.

I'd like to discussion on the other side of eldering: I've heard people speak of elders as people who deepen the spiritual bowl of the meeting through prayer. I've heard that an elder recognizes and nurtures the gift of ministry in others. One Friend has told me that eldering is spiritual accompaniment.

I would love to see a forum for these aspects of being an elder.

@stephanie   As I was sayiung earlier in this discussion I don't think anyone should let themselves get hung up on a label.  Call these people "elders" or "spiritual nurturers" or "seasoned Friends" or whatever you like.   For the discussion to be productive people should set aside second-hand information which they have gotten from books or from what they heard from someone about how other meetings have done things.   I think the discussion could move forward if people only talk about eldering that they have actually witnessed first hand.  As I mentioned at the outset this becomes a little tricky since eldering often involves personal issues that are of a confidential nature.  Obviously this puts certain limits on what can be reported.  So I was just throwing this out there to see what other Friends thought about whether or not a good substantive discussion could take place without running afoul of these confidentiality issues.  I'm still wondering.

 

Yes!

At the very least, let us share what resources are used when eldering.

I'm guessing that many modern Meetings may not know much about eldering these days.

I'd love to hear discussion about some of the following:

What is eldering (past & present)?

What types of behaviors need/suggest eldering?

What is the process you follow? (any guidelines to share?)

What has NOT worked? (caveats,  potential pitfalls, etc)

What successes (if possible to describe the situation without violating confidentiality).

These discussions would all be very helpful...

If this discussion area were a restricted site we could be more open.  It is really very important to err on the side of protecting people's feelings/confidentiality.  

I had the advantage of becoming part of NCYMC at a time when there were still a significant number of Friends who grew up in conservative tradition.  In the past thirty years I've seen a slow transition as these birthright conservative Friends die off and are replaced by people like me who are convinced Friends struggling to keep the best of the conservative tradition alive.  

Unlike many Friends I'm not a history buff.  I won't reach further back than my own experience goes.  If more history than that is helpful others will have to supply it.

I'll tell a couple storied about a dear elder, Janie Sams, who died about ten years ago.  My wife and I had recently come to North Carolina from the liberal meeting we attended in Princeton NJ.  We felt we liked conservative YM very much but still felt a little different and unsure of ourselves.  Janie apparantly decided that I was holding back and was too comfortable on the back bench and it would be good for me if I got my courage up and got more involved.  The way she chose to bring this up was brilliantly adapted to her read of my personality.  She didn't say anything directly to me.  Instead, within my hearing, she said in her sing-song high-pitched voice: "Mary, when are we going to start hearing more of your husband's lovely voice at meeting?"  She knew that going to me directly would cause me to resist and make excuses and as stubborn as I am probably lead me to clam up even tighter.  Instead by playing her shot off my wife--like a skillful billiards player-- she was able to make the shot.

And you can't attribute this to her personality.  She did not approach everyone indirectly.  My wife tells a story of Janie at barely five foot tall pulling David Martin (I know David wouldn't mind this story being retold) and giving him some advice rather pointedly.  This was amusing because David was at that time a stone mason six foot tall with massive arms and shoulders being eldered about the need to be more gentle with people by this tiny dynamo of a woman.

What doesn't work?  I haven't been successful in trying to help people who come to meeting who have real psychological problems.  Elders are not psychiatrists and sometimes the problem is psychiatric rather than spiritual.

Ramona said:

Yes!

At the very least, let us share what resources are used when eldering.

I'm guessing that many modern Meetings may not know much about eldering these days.

I'd love to hear discussion about some of the following:

What is eldering (past & present)?

What types of behaviors need/suggest eldering?

What is the process you follow? (any guidelines to share?)

What has NOT worked? (caveats,  potential pitfalls, etc)

What successes (if possible to describe the situation without violating confidentiality).

These discussions would all be very helpful...

Probably this means that my idea of a site where these issues could be discussed was not a good one.  If it had been good we would not be digressing.

 


Or simply the digressions means that its being responsibly explored?  

 

You are all speaking from a position of much experience in Quakerism and its clear the difficulties and contradictions that such a proposition could create and I understand that, but I did want to present an opinion from the 'fledgling' perspective.  

 

For many (including myself) it can be difficult logistically to have opportunities to socialise and meet with Quakers.  I imagine that within those settings newer people would over time organically develop more confidential relationships with elder quakers and in doing so learn much to assist their own inner journeys.

 

I read this thread and was heartened by the thought that this could somehow reach into online communities too ...

 

 

I just feel an overwhelming urge to write that I agree wholeheartedly with everything that Becki said.

Richard -- I've been away, so have not looked in on this discussion.

Like you, I learned about the role of elders from Conservative Friends (in Canada and Ohio).  In the context of my own meeting (and quarter), however, there are Friends who can and do serve as guides and sounding boards -- offering corrections as may be required.  Ideally, elders should arise from the monthly meetings, and then be recognized in larger bodies of Friends, not necessarily being named by a yearly meeting nominating committee.

I was asked to serve as an elder for Yearly Meeting/Interim Meeting... but because I was also on the nominating committee, had a "stop" about whether that was rightly ordered. I consulted some North Carolina Friends, who agreed with the "stop".

One difficulty that you raised is that many of the conservative Friends who held that tradition are no longer available as guides... One effect is that the role elders once played is diminishing among conservative Friends. 



Richard B. Miller said:

It seems that you must have some experience of what other YMs are doing with eldering and you find it to be negative.  I haven't traveled much so I haven't seen what other YMs are doing.  Would you care to share what you have seen?



Christine Manville Greenland said:

I prefer one-on-one guidance, or in the setting of smaller groups.  However, some yearly meetings seem to be re-inventing elders along the lines of correction rather than loving nurture ... which raises other cautions. 

The best guides have been those who cared enough to steer me into a course that was better for me and for the community.

I think someone has to define the term or take a stab at it.  It seems to have many facets.  For starters are "weighty" or "seasoned" quakers considered Elders?  How many say "sometimes" vs. "yes" vs. "no"?  For purposes of this discussion think of all the quakers you know who are considered as "weighty" or "seasoned" quakers and ask yourself if you consider them Elders.  Just a suggestion.

My feeling is that liberal Friends still have people in that position, but now it's some otherwise-named committee. At Friends Meeting of Washington, I'd consider everyone on the Ministry and Worship committee to be holding the position of an Elder, even if the Meeting doesn't use that term anymore. 

However, I wouldn't limit elders to people on those committee. There is another Friend who has taken to explaining to me the finer points of Quaker history and f&p and where things have been corrupted over time. She's also made me aware of instances where there are multiple interpretations of a particular Bible passage. I regard her as an elder. Maybe others would as well, since she clerked a small Meeting in a nearby town, but she no longer holds a position on that Meeting's ministry committee.


James C Schultz said:

I think someone has to define the term or take a stab at it.  It seems to have many facets.  For starters are "weighty" or "seasoned" quakers considered Elders?  How many say "sometimes" vs. "yes" vs. "no"?  For purposes of this discussion think of all the quakers you know who are considered as "weighty" or "seasoned" quakers and ask yourself if you consider them Elders.  Just a suggestion.

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