Reclaiming Eldering & Spiritual Nurturing
Excerpts from Friends' Writings Relevant to Eldering
compiled by Susan Smirh
Eldering & the Meeting community:
"Friends - our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another...praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall. . . . wait to feel this spirit, and to be guided to walk in this spirit, that ye may enjoy the Lord in sweetness, and walk sweetly, meekly, tenderly, peaceably, and lovingly one with another. And then ye will be a praise to the Lord. . . . So watch your hearts and ways; and watch one over another, in that which is gentle and tender. . . . So, mind Truth, the service, enjoyment, and possession of it in your hearts; and so to walk, as ye. . . may be a good savour in the places where ye live - the meek, innocent, tender, righteous life reigning in you, governing over you, and shining through you, in the eyes of all with whom ye converse"
Isaac Penington (1616-1679)
The Meeting is "gathered by the Spirit into the life and power of God". (The Meeting is) "a people gathered by the life and Spirit of the Lord...abiding in the power (from God), acting in the power, worshipping in the power, keeping in the holy order and government of life (both inwardly in their own hearts, and outwardly in their assemblings and walkings) by the power."
Eldering as an example of a faithful life:
"A little child, who had seen the wonderful cathedral windows of England with their saints in glorious color, described a saint as 'a person who lets the light come through'. That is just what happens. The saint lets the light come through. But my 'saints' not only let the light through for me. . . but they were also always pulling me upward and forward by invisible cords, somewhat as the moon lifts the ocean."
Mary Penington (1625-1682) describes the influence on her life of Katherine Springett, who lived in the same household and was the mother of Mary's future husband.
"I lived in the house with her, from nine years of age till after I was married to her son. . . In all which time I do not remember ever to have seen or heard one immodest, indiscreet, or evil word or action by or from her. She spent her time very ingeniously, and in acts of bounty; bestowing great part of her fortune on the poor, in physic and surgery...She had excellent judgment in all these, and admirable success; which made her famous. . . She daily employed her servants in making oils, salves, balsams, drawing of spirits, distilling of waters, making syrups and conserves, lozenges and pills.
She was . . . famous for taking off spots and cataracts from the eyes. . . . She cured. . . many desperate burns, and cuts, and dangerous sores that came by them, and broken limbs. . . . Perhaps she would have twenty patients of a morning, to administer to. I have heard her say, she spent half her income after this sort; and never received a penny for any thing of that kind, but often returned valuable presents. . .
She lived a very virtuous life; constant in morning and evening prayer in private, and often with her children; and caused them to repeat what they remembered of sermons and scriptures. . .
She was a most tender and affectionate mother. . .and always showed great kindness to me.
Mary Penington (1623-82)
Eldering as spiritual anchor, a grounded person for the meeting & others:
"While I was too young to have any religion of my own, I had come to a home where religion kept its fires always burning. We had very few 'things', but we were rich in invisible wealth. I was not 'christened' in a church, but I was sprinkled from morning till night with the dew of religion. We never ate a meal which did not begin with a hush of thanksgiving; we never began a day without 'a family gathering' at which mother read a chapter of the Bible, after which there would follow a weighty silence. These silences, during which all the children of our family were hushed with a kind of awe, were very important features of my spiritual development. There was work inside and outside the house waiting to be done, and yet we sat there hushed and quiet, doing nothing. I very quickly discovered that something real was taking place. We were feeling our way down to that place from which living words come and very often they did come. Some one would bow and talk with God so simply and quietly that God never seemed far away. The words helped to explain the silence. We were now finding what we had been searching for. When I first began to think of God I did not think of God as very far off. At meeting some of the Friends who prayed shouted loud and strong when they called upon Him, but at home He always heard easily and He seemed to be there with us in the living silence. My first steps in religion were thus acted. It was a religion which we did together."
Rufus Jones in Finding the Trail of Life
Eldering as encourager of faithfulness of individuals & the Meeting:
"My father was a minister, and my mother an elder, of the Religious Society of Friends; and they were concerned to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord...The house and heart of my parents were always open for the reception of friends and strangers, and it was with true and genuine hospitality that the best it could afford was freely offered them. . . . My mother was an Elder. She was of a sound judgment, and exercised that judgment for the encouragement of right, and the discouragement of wrong things in her family and neighborhood, and in society at large. . . . She was careful neither to overrate nor underrate the gifts and services of ministers, and when she felt an uneasiness with any. . .she would go to the individual or individuals, and relieve her feelings in a Christian spirit, and in such an honest way as left no doubt of her heart-felt concern for the best welfare of those to whom she administered caution, reproof or whatsoever might be given her in this way to communicate. . . . My parents, both by example and precept, advised quietude and stillness, which we found tended to our settlement in the Truth as it is in Jesus.""
(At the Select Quarterly Meeting at Salem) - "In this meeting my mouth was opened, and my heart enlarged in the love of the gospel towards the little company then gathered, expressing the desire and necessity, that we might all deepen in the root of life. That elders might dwell where they could understand what to encourage, and what to discourage in the line of ministry, and be faithful to the openings of Truth upon their minds, so as to be helpful to the ministers. That the ministers might dwell so low and humble as to be willing to receive a word of counsel, or rebuke, coming from a baptized elder, esteeming it as a kindness, and as an excellent oil when and where the Master requires; and that all might be in a disposition to follow out the command of our Saviour, 'If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's feet' (John 13:14), thus are we instructed to watch over one another for good, willing to receive, as well as to give counsel."
Journal of Ann Branson
Eldering as discerner:
". . . went to the Boarding School (at Mount Pleasant). . .but on my going thither, felt that something crossed my path, and turned me another way. After getting there, I was informed of two individuals. . .who were in a desponding state of mind. Immediately a great exercise came upon me, and such a weight of concern, and sympathy for them, that I could neither eat nor sleep with any comfort, until I gave up to go and see them. . . after meeting, went to see B.H., a desponding young man. Had a religious opportunity with him, and there were those in that meeting amongst the youth who were, or would be called to the work of the ministry, with more that seemed pointed and encouraging."
Journal of Ann Branson
"Now the state I have considered this infant minister in is such as requires help by tender advice from faithful Friends of experience, so that I may compare him to a babe that wants both the breast and nursing, which should be tenderly and with great care administered. If he be corrected, let it be in love; if encouraged, let it be with prudence. Both may hurt him, if not well timed, and given discreetly."
Eldering as speaking the truth in love:
"In the afternoon of this day, I could feel no peace of mind without going to see a young man in the neighborhood, who I believed was one cause of my distress, he being a member of our religious Society. I had to deal very plainly with him, telling him, I knew not why I should feel thus exercised on his account, but perhaps he could tell: I told him that I believed if he pursued the course he was designing, that the cup of trembling would be given to him to drink. . . . He seemed much brought down and contrited for the present, weeping freely; but I had little hope of his amendment, but felt that I must be free of his blood. . . . Next morning I learned that he had the evening before my visit enlisted as a soldier in the army. . . . After this he was in great conflict of mind. . .but alas! the thirst for honor and military fame overcame his better feelings and judgment. . . . He had joined the army. . . . Very certain I am that he had many loud calls and warnings before he finally gave up to go counter to all his friend's advice, and stifle the convictions of Truth in his own mind."
Journal of Ann Branson
Addressing an offense from another person (Matthew 18):
Isaac Penington has some very practical advice when those in the Meeting are having disagreements with each other. In a letter written to a Friend who had a dispute with another Friend and stopped going to Meeting at the second Friend's house, Penington asks if the two Friends have actually discussed their grievances with each other to see if they can straighten them out (in the spirit of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18:15-17).
"Is the thing, or are the things, which thou has against him, fully so, as thou apprehends? Have you seen evil in him, or to break forth from him? and have you considered him therein, and dealt with him, as if it had been thy own case? Have you pitied him, mourned over him, cried to the Lord for him, and in tender love and meekness of spirit, laid the thing before him?""
In keeping with Matthew 18, Penington suggests that others help if a one-to-one meeting does not help:
"And if he has refused to hear thee, have you tenderly mentioned it to others, and desired them to go with thee to him?"
The whole purpose is to help that person causing a difficulty to come to a better place, in harmony with the Inward Light and with others: "that what is evil and offensive in him, might be more weightily and advantageously laid before him. . .for his recovery unto that (the Inward Light or Seed), which is a witness and strength against the evil. If thou has proceeded thus, thou has proceeded tenderly and orderly, according to the law of brotherly love. . . .But, if thou has let in any hardness of spirit, or hard reasonings against him, or hard resolutions as relating to him, the witness of God (the Inward Light) will not justify thee in that. . . . And, if, at any time hereafter, thou has anything against another, O learn, from that of God in thee, to show compassion towards them, even as the Lord has had pity on thee! And keep to . . . (God's) witness (the Seed) in thy heart. Wait to feel the Seed, and to deepen thy dwelling therein, that thou may abide in the peace and rest thereof."
A minister reports being eldered:
"Twenty-seventh, we were at Mamaroneck meeting, Here, finding my mind led into different subjects, I was thoughtful to close in good season; but after sitting down, I did not feel that clear quiet which I commonly feel when I time it right; but being unwilling to rise again, or kneel - for my mind was arrested with both - I sat until it wore off, and then broke the meeting. After I got out, an Elder came and took me by the hand and said: 'Joseph, thou hast been preaching to others to be faithful to their gifts; has thou been faithful to thine? I confess I did not expect the meeting to end so,' and turned away. Though I did not expect to be found out in that way, I was glad to met with such honesty from the Friend."
From the Journal of Joseph Hoag (1762-1853) (1909, p. 152.)
Note in text itself: [The following interesting and instructive narrative concerning some conversations which occurred during Joseph Hoag's visit to this place, has been kindly furnished by a Friend who resided there at that time.]
"Our aged Friend, Joseph Hoag, with his companion, --- Battey, in the course of a religious visit, was at my house, and I remember a remark having been made, that there was some danger even to rightly annointed ministers, of preaching too much; and an instance was related of that valuable Friend, Daniel Haviland, in illustration of this danger, as follows:
A minister is eldered by a child:
"Daniel having felt a concern to attend a neighboring meeting, took his daughter, the late Hannah Wanzer, with him, who was then a child of about nine years of age. In this meeting he was largely engaged in the ministry, and apparently to his own satisfaction; but on their way home, he observed that his child seemed deeply and sorrowfully affected, and as she sighed heavily, and shed many tears, Daniel asked her what affected her so much. She looked up into his face and said, 'Oh, father, I do fear thee preached too much this morning!' Her father in surprise, exclaimed, 'Why, Hannah, what dost thou mean?' To which the child replied, 'I was very much comforted with what thou told us in the first part of thy discourse; my heart went along with thee, and I seemed even to know what thee was going to say, and I was very glad I went to meeting with thee; but when thee changed the subject, I could not go with thee, my heart became dark and sad, and the more thee preached the more sad I felt, and my mind became so troubled that I could not help weeping, and could scarcely keep my seat on the bench, and Oh! father, it does seem to me that thee ought to have stopped when thee got through that first subject.' Daniel rode on in solemn silence, beside the sorrowing child, for a long time, and then laying his hand on the little girl's head, he said, 'My daughter, flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven! I am now favored to see that I missed my Guide, and that I ought to have stopped where thou pointed out.'" ..
From the Journal of Joseph Hoag (1762-1853) (1909, pp 332-335)