Nurturing Others' Spiritual Gifts

The term eldering or eldership refers to a variety of Quaker practices designed to identify, nurture, and support the spiritual gifts of others within the faith community. In Conservative YMs today eldership is a formally recognized spiritual gift and elders are appointed, usually for life by the monthly meeting.  In FGC YMs if these gifts are recognized at all they are considered gifts carried out by a variety of meeting members in various ways including Worship & Ministry Committee, clearness committees, and support or anchoring committees for those carrying out various forms of ministry.

Eldership involves the following gifts:

·   Identifying women & men in the meeting with a gift of ministry

·   Nurturing & supporting the development of ministers' gifts

·   Holding ministers accountable for faithful exercise of their gifts

·   Prayerfully supporting & upholding deeply gathered silent communion with God & faithful Spirit-led vocal ministry during meeting for worship

·   Providing prayerful support & spiritual companionship to ministers during travel under religious concern & other forms of religious leadership such as leading retreats or giving talks

·    Helping individual meeting members discern God's intentions for them via clearness committees & support committees.

It is worth noting that eldership today is not usually conceived as encompassing the exercise of discipline over meeting members' lives in general (as in the visit of the meeting elders in the film Friendly Persuasion to investigate the rumor that the family had a musical instrument in the home.)

An introduction to Quaker eldership

Eldering as a Spiritual Gift is based on a talk on the subject given by Ken & Katherine Jacobsen at the first Quaker Spring in 2007.

On Faithfulness and Integrity is a 1992 article by Jan Hoffman, originally published in The Friendly Woman on the meaning of eldership and how it facilitates individual faithfulness.

A Plea for Strong Eldership by Seth Hinshaw, clerk of Ohio YM.

Some simple tables and handouts

The Work of the Elder  on discernment, spiritual nurturing & encouraging faithfulness.  Consists of two tables describing eldership on a variety of dimensions.

Typical Differences between Ministers & Elders is another table compiled by Susan Smith.

Elders' Work with Ministers summarizes the critical support that elders provide to those exercising the gift of ministry.

Here is a handout that Jan Hoffman developed in May 2009 on the many important roles that those exercising gifts of eldership play within the meeting community:

Eldering tasks chart.pdf

Historical background

A Historical Note about Elders in the Society of Friends by Brian Drayton of New England YM.

Reclaiming Eldering & Spiritual Nurturing is a collection of historical excerpts on this subject.

An Epistle to Friends Coming Forth in the Ministry by Charles Marshall, published in his Life in 1840.

Yearly meeting discipline excerpts & minutes on eldership

Two Excerpts from Wilburite Disciplines on Elders  The first is from the NEYM (Wilburite) 1930 Discipline and the 2nd from Ohio YM's discipline. Includes 3 reflection questions on the passages.

Draft section on eldership from the NEYM discipline currently being written

Insights into the Practice of Eldership is the summary minute of a meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Ministry & Oversight held in Eighth Month 2011.

A Minute on Eldership from Ohio YM annual sessions in 1989.

Personal experiences of eldership

Experiences of the Relationships of Ministers & Elders.  This was an account of Jan Hoffman written following New York YM sessions in 1991

Engaging with a Monthly Meeting about Ministry is a Friends Journal article by Debbie Humphries & Diane Randall about the several year process through which Hartford Meeting wrestled with Debbie's request for a minute supporting her leading to travel under religious concern.

A Deeper Service: Ministers & Elders Working Together by Jan Hoffman & Kenneth Sutton is a chapter from Walk Worthy of Your Calling: Quakers and the Traveling Ministry, edited by Margery Post Abbott and Peggy Senger Parsons. It describes in detail a trip Jan & Kenneth took together with Kenneth serving as Jan's elder as she carried out traveling ministry among Friends on the West Coast.

Midwives of Ministry: Reclaiming the Role of Elder by Bob Schmitt.  An account of his experiences of the dynamic between elders & ministers at a 1999 "Nurturing the Nurterers" retreat sponsored by FGC Traveling Ministries program held in St. Helena's SC.

The Gifts of Eldering by Susan Davies describes two powerful experiences: one of being eldered while she led a retreat at Woolman Hill, and another where she served as elder for a Quaker minister. This was written during a 2008 retreat at Pendle Hill.

Journal Entry on Eldering at Vassalboro QM Retreat by Susan Davies

Report to FGC Traveling Ministries Program on the 2002 Alaska Friends Conference by Cathy Walling.  This is a report on healing & forgiveness that occurred unexpectedly as a result of a traveling ministry visit. It discusses a value to using elders from the meeting being visited.

Some Things I Learned about Being an Elder While Doing So For Jan by Penny Yunuba.  Includes useful suggestions on practical and spiritual actions to take the day before, the day of, and after a workshop in which Penny served as elder for Jan Hoffman.

Thoughts on Eldering is a poetic meditation on the subject by Danelle Flower

Bibliography & links to other writings on eldership:

Other Resources on Eldering

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Quote that speaks to me

Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies

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They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  
Death cannot kill what never dies.  
Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  
For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
 - William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude, 1702.

Note: This passage was quoted by J.K.Rowling as the epigraph of her novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Braithwaite on Outreach

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Men & Women with a Message of Power

It is as a "religion of life" that Quakerism will be presented in the future and is being presented now.

Its distinguishing note will be its resolve to bring all this human life of ours under the transforming power of spiritual life.  It will stand out against all divisions and compartments that separate the sacred from the secular, the sanctuary from the outward world of nature, the sacrament from the days' common work, the clergy from the laity. 

It will tell of a Christian experience that makes all life sacred and all days holy, all nature a sanctuary, all work a sacrament, and gives to every man and woman in the body fit place and service.  Its concern will be to multiply men and women who will have a message of power because they are themselves the children of light.  It will claim the whole of man's life, and the whole of life, individual, social, national international, for the dominion of the will of God.

William C. Braithwaite and Henry T. Hodgkin, The Message and Mission of Quakerism (Philadelphia, Winston, 1912), 25-26.

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