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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As a rather recently convinced Quaker (maybe 6 years), I'd be interested to know how many Quakers actually find themselves in either an "Eldering" or "Eldered" role, and whether they consider it an "offiical" or "unofficial" relationship.

I could see that be of use, though I know people can get touchy about such things--what's seems sufficiently cloaked and private to the poster sometimes seems brazenly public to others (though in reality I suspect few readers ever really make the connections). As site administrator, I've tried to keep the groups to a set number, mostly because I don't want to dilute conversation. Some of this discussion could potentially happen in theMinistry group but I'm not adverse to a new Eldering-specific group.

Martin, as QQ admin.

I think the activity of 'eldering' varies greatly between meetings, all the way from utilizing it in a very formal attempt to control the practice/spirituality of Quakerism within a meeting through eldering - to an outright disdain within a meeting for the practice of 'eldering' or even using the terms 'elder' and 'eldering'.

In the most liberal Quaker meetings where the term 'elder' or 'eldering' might never be used, generally a Friend needing guidance is more informally approached by any Friend in the meeting when a difficult situation arises. Usually, it is an approach first grounded on mutual respect and friendship.  It is often offered in a non-threatening form; for example, sharing information about Quaker norms during worship so all are informed.  The one offering guidance is also listening to the one they are approaching so both are able to grow in the Spirit.

The more traditional approach of 'eldering' is dependent on a perceived group (committee?) that's somewhat in control.  The more liberal approach is dependent on a equalitarian culture within the meeting where all Friends take responsibility for each other - for the eternal good of the entire community.

I prefer the more liberal approach because it does not assume that one party is in 'the know' or in 'the right', and the other party is 'errant'.  All are able to learn and grow in love - even if that takes time as Friends listen to each other and join in some mutual soul-searching.  It assumes a recognition that we all come from different places, and an environment of loving Spirit can unite all in what truly matters over time.  A meeting where this liberal approach is able to thrive well, is truly blessed.

 

Martin,  I'm just floating this idea to see what the response is.    If the response is limited or negative there's no point doing this.  I would like to wait a few days and see how this trial balloon works.



QuakerQuaker said:

I could see that be of use, though I know people can get touchy about such things--what's seems sufficiently cloaked and private to the poster sometimes seems brazenly public to others (though in reality I suspect few readers ever really make the connections). As site administrator, I've tried to keep the groups to a set number, mostly because I don't want to dilute conversation. Some of this discussion could potentially happen in theMinistry group but I'm not adverse to a new Eldering-specific group.

Martin, as QQ admin.

Have you had negative experience with "a very formal attempt to control" you.  It's sounds as if you do.  Would you like to tell us more?

Howard Brod said:

I think the activity of 'eldering' varies greatly between meetings, all the way from utilizing it in a very formal attempt to control the practice/spirituality of Quakerism within a meeting through eldering - to an outright disdain within a meeting for the practice of 'eldering' or even using the terms 'elder' and 'eldering'.

In the most liberal Quaker meetings where the term 'elder' or 'eldering' might never be used, generally a Friend needing guidance is more informally approached by any Friend in the meeting when a difficult situation arises. Usually, it is an approach first grounded on mutual respect and friendship.  It is often offered in a non-threatening form; for example, sharing information about Quaker norms during worship so all are informed.  The one offering guidance is also listening to the one they are approaching so both are able to grow in the Spirit.

The more traditional approach of 'eldering' is dependent on a perceived group (committee?) that's somewhat in control.  The more liberal approach is dependent on a equalitarian culture within the meeting where all Friends take responsibility for each other - for the eternal good of the entire community.

I prefer the more liberal approach because it does not assume that one party is in 'the know' or in 'the right', and the other party is 'errant'.  All are able to learn and grow in love - even if that takes time as Friends listen to each other and join in some mutual soul-searching.  It assumes a recognition that we all come from different places, and an environment of loving Spirit can unite all in what truly matters over time.  A meeting where this liberal approach is able to thrive well, is truly blessed.

 

No, I haven't had any negative experiences, really. I have experienced both extremes, and in both have been the one doing the eldering/guidance, as well as the one receiving the eldering/guidance.

I just happen to find the culture of more informal guidance that is naturally present from many different Friends, a much more spiritual experience. In those environments, when doing the guidance it has been more natural and loving. When receiving the guidance, it was a real growth experience spiritually for me because I could feel the love of God for me in the experience.

I think this is because, the Spirit actually does prefer to nudge us in love along the right path when we are ready to take its leadings to heart. Whereas, I find a formal eldering environment somewhat artificial and forced; a very human response in order to keep things as we (read "our egos") think they should be.

I'm 62 now, and that formal approach is just not where I'm at now. Thank goodness, my meeting isn't either. I've grown so much more under this more spiritually natural environment because its more of a two-way (back and forth) experience.

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.

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 need to understand the distinction you are making between eldering done right and eldering done wrong.  Of course I agree that it can be done well or badly.   Most of the eldering I've witnessed or been a part of has been informal.  There is sometimes the formality of actually setting up a clearness or anchoring committee but that doesn't mean that what goes on when the people meet to discuss spiritual guidance is formalized to any significant degree.  I keep hearing about bad eldering but only in a generic sort of way and I'm having trouble understanding exactly what people have seen that has struck them as wrong.  

Howard Brod said:

No, I haven't had any negative experiences, really. I have experienced both extremes, and in both have been the one doing the eldering/guidance, as well as the one receiving the eldering/guidance.

I just happen to find the culture of more informal guidance that is naturally present from many different Friends, a much more spiritual experience. In those environments, when doing the guidance it has been more natural and loving. When receiving the guidance, it was a real growth experience spiritually for me because I could feel the love of God for me in the experience.

I think this is because, the Spirit actually does prefer to nudge us in love along the right path when we are ready to take its leadings to heart. Whereas, I find a formal eldering environment somewhat artificial and forced; a very human response in order to keep things as we (read "our egos") think they should be.

I'm 62 now, and that formal approach is just not where I'm at now. Thank goodness, my meeting isn't either. I've grown so much more under this more spiritually natural environment because its more of a two-way (back and forth) experience.
It's one of those subtle things that one just picks up when experiencing it.

'Eldering' carries with it the connotation of someone from a position of being in the know or being in the right, providing correction or adjustment to another. The assumption is that the receiver is ignorant or in the wrong. It is offered from a positon of superiority due to position or experience.

It might just be that it is one of those odd Quakerees terms that is outdated and carries negative connotations that may or may not be valid. Quakers ought to stop using the word if it can be so misunderstood (which is why many liberal Quaker meetings don't use the term 'elder' or 'eldering').

At the other end of the spectrum, 'sharing a concern' or 'offering guidance' (in the context I'm referring to it) originates from a desire to unite with another in order to come to a common understanding in order to resolve a perceived issue, or help someone who WANTS the help. There is no sense that the one sharing the concern is coming from a position of authority or superiority. Rather, they want to resolve a situation or help someone, and in the process are willing to listen and learn also. There is a sense of humility with the realization that the initiator may be themselves incorrect, off base, or in error.

Of course the truth of the matter is that no matter what it is termed, the important thing is the spirit in which it is approached and presented.

I think a good first step to loving, humble, helpful eldering is to stop calling it 'eldering' which has so many negative connotations for so many.

Quakers have unfortunately made an idol out of many traditional speech patterns and outward traditions. If we hope to reach a modern audience, we need to put nothing in the way of the message of Jesus and the love of God. And this is coming from someone (me) who used to be very into Quakerees and our traditional patterns. But I digress.

I agree that we should drop the word if it tends to get in the way.  Perhaps it does for some people.  I don't know really.  

Here's a thought experiment.  Imagine you felt that you might have a leading but you were really conflicted about it and felt you needed a clearness or support committee.  Now imagine filling that committee at random like jury duty.  Are there some Friends you definitely would not want on the committee?  Are there others you would want?  If there are people you would want on that committee, and if most others in the meeting agree about who they are, then you have identified those people in your meeting who have the gift needed for this role.  

Does it help or hurt to have the Meeting identify these people and name their gift?  I agree that naming their gift does have a downside but for me the positive aspects of naming gifts outweigh the negatives.  But as you say we are digressing.  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.

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.

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