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Charles Marshall Epistle

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An Epistle to Friends Coming Forth in Ministry

by Charles Marshall

Who in your assemblies sometimes feel a testimony for the Lord to spring to your hearts, keep your watch in the light, that so none stay behind, nor run before; but let all that open their mouths in the assemblies of the Lord's people, do it as the oracle of God, in the arising of the eternal power; for nothing can beget to God, but what comes from the word of life, that lives and abides forever; and nothing can refresh, strengthen or comfort that which is begotten by the word of life, but what springs from the same. Therefore, dear Friends, whom this concerns, wait diligently, not only to know and savour every motion, but also to know the appointed time when the motion should be brought forth; so shall what is ministered, if it be but few words, reach, and do its service. For this I have learned,, that though there may be a true motion of the power of the Lord, and a true operation thereof, yet where there is not a waiting for the perfecting of what is to be brought forth, but instead thereof, coming forth before the time, there is an untimely birth; which hurts the vessel through which it comes, and the hearers are burdened; and the life which first moved comes to be oppressed. .... 

And, Friends, when any through want of experience err,  in running before the power, be very tender; and although there may be a savour and judgment in yourselves, and you may be burthened,  yet beware how you speak to ease yourselves, but wait on the Lord therein, to be guided by his counsel; for some having such a sense, and not discerning wherein the miscarriage lay, have run forth in judgment, and have sometimes hurt, and even destroyed, or at least have become a stumbling-block to such an exercised Friend, and have also much hurt themselves. So that not having a true discerning, between the first moving cause, which is the power, they have judged both,  and so have brought a hurt over their own souls, through judging the power of the Lord; and this sometimes may extend to hurt others. Out of which snare God Almighty preserve all, that so one may be a strength to another, taking one another by the hand, and saying, "Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, who will teach us more and more his ways; and here, in God's holy mountain, is neither hurting nor destroying. " 

The Life of Charles Marshall. In: Evans, William and Evans, Thomas, eds. Friends' Library. Philadelphia: Printed by Joseph Rakestraw, 1840, Vol. IV, page 161. 

Eldership Resources

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Eldership Resources

Some important resources on this subject include:

A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Quaker Minister by Samuel Bownas.  This thin but powerful volume is the classic Quaker treatise on this subject.

A Few Passages Relating to Elders & Ministers prepared by Bob Schmitt, Jan Hoffman and Kenneth Sutton

Elders posted by West Hills Friends (in Portland OR)

Echoes from a Worship & Ministry Retreat Concerning Eldering from Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore

Eldering then & now by Liz Oppenheimer

Selected Bibliography on Ministry and Eldering prepared by the FGC Traveling Ministries Program

Three important pamphlets that are not currently available online include:

Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community by Sandra Cronk.

So That You Come Behind in No Gift: Papers from Ohio Yearly Meeting's Gathering on Eldering

Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry & Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, by Marty Grundy, Pendle Hill Pamphlet # 347, 1999.

We would welcome hearing from others regarding additional resources on this subject that you have found particularly helpful.

Insights into the Practice of Eldering

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Insights into the Practice of Eldering in Ohio Yearly Meeting

A summary minute from a session of the Ohio Yearly Meeting for Ministry and Oversight, held 8/10/2011

There is a natural gravitation to elders by people who are in need of eldering, including some who do not know why they are troubled. An elder can be seen as a Friend who gives trustworthy advice about our life following Christ. Not availing oneself of an elder's counsel is like ignoring advice from a qualified teacher in one's work place.

We find that elders have wisdom and discernment given them by God. Elders can listen well to people who come for advice or for clarification of some spiritual situation they find troubling. They often listen to their own spiritual leadings and are able to share helpfully with others how we can listen and respond to God. Elders need to be tender and sensitive in the timing and strength of their counsel, that tender spiritual buds not be bruised.

Some ministers among us today have noted that they may become overconfident in their gift or have difficulty dividing their own concerns from the message that comes from God. Elders have assisted them in not straying from what God gives them. Likewise, elders help hold ministers accountable and responsive to the meeting. One minister remembers an elder telling her when she was much younger, "I can feel the Spirit in thy spoken ministry, but I cannot hear thee. Speak up." Today that minister's speaking is clearly audible throughout the room. In addition, an elder can be a conduit for a concern an individual member has, without requiring that Friend to go directly to the minister.

Many of us sense that there is a cross in doing the Lord's work, as well as a vibrant joy. We need to feel the weight of that cross, and we need one another to help bear it. It is important for meetings at every organizational level to become aware of budding spiritual gifts and to encourage their growth. Then our meetings will continue to have leadership with that subtle touch which reminds us of the true and fundamental leadership of our Lord, Christ Jesus.

Elders Work with Ministers

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Elders' Work with Ministers

by Susan Smith

Embodying meeting's caring about his/her spiritual state

Conveying meeting's desire for faithful exercise of his/her gift

Affirming faithfulness in his/her ministry, specifically and in general

Listening to and reflecting on his/her spiritual joys and trials

Praying for and with minister

·      When meeting privately together

·      During minister's ministry

·      At other times, as prompted by the Lord

Encouragement of right spiritual state of minister

·      Lifting up from discouragement or fear

·      Guarding against pride and presumed self-sufficiency

·      Directing focus to Jesus Christ

Suggesting personal practices that could be helpful to present spiritual condition & work

·      Scripture reading - when, what

·      Prayer - when, how

·      Other reading - specific suggestions based on intimate knowledge of minister and of relevant literature

·      People to talk to - for minister's help or the other person's benefit

·      Lifestyle changes - more sleep, fewer committees, edifying recreation, etc.

Supporting minister in discernment of his/her own effectiveness and difficulties in exercise of his/her gift, and of ways to improve

Suggesting new or changed approaches to his/her ministry that the minister does not think of - for a particular situation and in general

Supporting both the minister's understanding of the meeting's traditionally held beliefs and his/her careful discernment about their Truthfulness

Helping resolve harmful differences between minister and other Friend(s)

And in everything, conveying Christ's love

Written 3/28/2010

A Plea for Strong Eldering

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A Plea for Stong Eldership

by Seth Hinshaw

"Then fourteen years after, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain." Galatians 2:1-2. 

In this passage, the Apostle makes a remarkable statement - after a time of ministry, he went to visit those "of reputation" to find out if he had run in vain. If such a visit was needed by Paul, how can any of us believe that we need any less?

In the Society of Friends, people named Elders provide feedback to ministers, guiding them around the pitfalls and nurturing them with the spiritual guidance wherein they appear lacking. Most groups of Friends scaled back the duties of Elders in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century because of a reticence that anyone else should "judge" the leadings of a minister. Now, in the early 21st century, the position is beginning to emerge again in various places. In some midwestern FGC yearly meetings, the role of Elder is played by people serving on what are called "anchoring committees." Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has recently started appointing Elders to serve as something of "silent observers" during business meetings, who attempt to foster the sense of worship during the deliberations. 

Although these varied interpretations of the office may not be consistent in their intent, some general principles appear to hold among all groups of Friends. 

Ministers need Elders. 

This statement is so obvious that it seems pointless to mention. No matter how much a minister attempts to be true to the Guide in speaking, mistakes are made. The problem is this: often, when someone speaks under a false leading during worship, there is a possibility that a hearer will be turned away - not from the speaker - but instead from Christ Jesus. Such an event is a major problem, particularly if it continues. One role of the Elder is to look out for anything that takes away from a person's ministry, emphasizing the strengths and guiding the minister away from shortcomings. Elders are not the enemies of ministers - in fact, Elders work to help ministers grow in their gift and improve their ability to follow the guidance of the Light of Christ even better. The two therefore have a

Joint exercise of gifts.

Meetings of ministers and elders were instituted over 300 years ago. Of course, in the 17th century, Friends understood there to be more of an overlap between the two offices, and Friends were not being specifically named to either office until the early 18th century. The overseers have participated in these meetings since 1958. When Friends with diverse gifts gather to discuss the things of the Spirit, individual gifts are sharpened as Friends grow in their yearning to help each part of the body to function at its best. Those in all three stations need to be good listeners, both to the Lord and to each other. To use an analogy from the world, they are all part of the same team, and not in competition with each other. 


It is a great irony that one of the most powerful words in the English language is also one of the shortest. The word "no" is a word that those who speak on the Lord's behalf need to hear sometimes. Most Elders are able to work around a direct "no" by saying something like "I wouldn't do that now," but the fact stands that ministers need to know when they are straying from the path. The relationship between a minister and an Elder must be well-nurtured and strong in order that the caution may be received in the right spirit. Ministers need to hear "What thee is doing is undermining thy ministry" if the Lord has shown that to an Elder. As someone who hardly ever hears "no," I can say without hesitation that when I hear it, I take notice. 

Last year, a woman was telling a story in a conversation among four Friends (including me). As part of the conversation, the woman said that if God told someone to do something but the Elders counseled against it, the person should go ahead and do it anyway. This really bothered me. To begin with, if the Lord gave a person direction, that person should be able to convey a sense of the gravity of the leading to the Elders. If rightly appointed Elders believe it not to be "of the Lord," I told her that I would definitely hesitate to do the thing. There is safety in the multitude of counselors, because whether we like it or not, each of us occasionally finds it difficult to discern between ego and God. Last, if it is a true leading, the Lord would grant the Elders strength to see His hand in the matter.

Seth is a member of Keystone Fellowship Monthly Meeting and (as of this post in 2011) clerk of Ohio YM.  This piece was first published on the Chronicler's Minutiae, "A sporadic blog on affairs relating to Wilburite Friends, primarily Ohio Yearly Meeting" in a post dated 3/28/2010.

Thoughts on Eldering

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Thoughts on Eldering

by Danelle LaFlower




Feeling god's pain--not necessarily in a negative sense


Willing to accept a constant state of grace.

The visible presence of god.

Willing to be lost, depressed, afraid and still act and still be faithful.

Continual remembering.  A channel, reflector, deflector, funnel.


My own humanness

Weakness, etc.


Makes compassion real.       Willing to feel.


Willing to not hold on to anything.  And willing to give everything available through you. 

Willing to fail, willing to continually try.


Understanding the human condition in the presence of pure love.....


Love is.




Centeredness again and again and again.

The continual exchange...diffusion....between existence and existence


It doesn't matter what I think, so much as......what I am

and what I am is not me, per se, but the light that travels through...


Willing to be blown away

To give up everything

Willing to understand

The implications

The difficulty

And also the knowledge that

I may not be faithful.


Willing to stop.

Willing to listen

To try

To fail

To be remorseful

To let go of remorse

To live

To love

To risk everything





Danelle is a member of of Mt Toby Monthly Meeting in NEYM.

History of Eldership

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A Brief History of Eldership

Beginnings.  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. The term derives from a traditional designated role in a local Friends meeting.  Beginning in the late 17th and early 18th century, local meetings began to officially recognize certain members as having gifts of ministry (the ability to provide spirit-inspired vocal ministry during worship). Eldering was considered a separate spiritual gift: involving the nurture and support of those with special gifts of vocal ministry in the local meeting as well as in "public ministry" (preaching to non-Friends and among distant meetings.)  Meetings at this time began to ormally recognize both women and men in the role meeting elder as a distinct role from recorded minister. 

Elders were recognized as having a number of gifts including:

·    Identifying women and men in the meeting with the gift of ministry

·    Nurturing & supporting the development of ministers' gift

·    Holding ministers accountable for faithfully exercising their gifts

·    Prayerfully supporting and upholding deeply gathered waiting worship

·    Accompanying ministers if they were led to travel under religious concern as their spiritual companions.

Ministers and elders met regularly both on the local meeting level and also on the quarterly and yearly meeting level..  Conservative Yearly Meetings continue to "record" gifts of ministry as a meeting and appoint elders. Ministers and elders meet with each other on the local monthl meeting level as well as the QM and YM level exercising prayerful responsibility over the quality of worship and spiritual life within the meeting community.

Reaction against Elders.  There was a strong reaction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Hicksite yearly meetings against both formally recognized elders and recorded ministers.  In part this was a response to what was viewed as an overly dominant role that elders had come to play within the life of many meetings.  These practices were also viewed as inconsistent with the value Friends placed on the giftedness of all members. There was also a strong movement in these yearly meetings towards individualism with an accompanying feeling that eldership represented an intrusion into individuals' and families' personal discernment of how they should live their lives.

As a result, most FGC yearly meetings have discontinued these practices. Meetings of ministers and elders have been replaced by committees of ministry and worship, whose members serve by meeting appointment rather than for life.

Rebirth of interest in eldership.  During the last few decades, however, there has been a significant rebirth of interest in eldership as a spiritual gift among many Friends in the large non-programmed yearly meetings.  This was due in part for the important work done by Bill Taber (1927-2005) was a recorded minister of Ohio YM who taught Quakerism at Pendle Hill for many years. Bill felt led to reach out widely beyond the circle of  the 3 Conservative Yearly Meetings to increase understanding of the unique Conservative Friends approaches to Quaker faith & practice.  Sandra Cronk (1942-2000)  of Philadelphia YM played a similar key role in spreading a fresh understanding of the meaning and value of eldership.

More and more Friends today are recognizing the importance of recognizing and nurturing a variety of spiritual gifts within the meeting community.  Many today recognize that the pendulum swung way too far towards individualism in many of our meetings today.  Many Friends are taking small steps towards being more open to others within their faith community holding them accountable in moving towards greater faithfulness.  Many realize that this can be done mutually and in love rather than some in a superior role telling others how they should live.

In most cases today eldership outside of the Conservative YMs is not seen primarily as associated with a formal life-long role but rather as a gift widely exercised within the meeting community (including, one hopes, by the meetings ministry and worship committee!).  Some Quaker retreat centers, gatherings and yearly meetings now regularly appoint elders to support those exercising spiritual leadership.

Ongoing work nurturing eldership.  Sandra Cronk's work is carried on by the School of the Spirit (which she cofounded) with its wonderful training program nurturing spiritual leadership gifts among Friends. The Deborah Fisch of Iowa YM (Conservative) has played a leading role in the FGC Traveling Ministries Program. This program facilitates travel under religious concern among Friends widely and holds regular retreats supporting those who feel a calling to this work.

Workshops at the Friends Center in Barnesville OH, Woolman Hill in Deerfield MA, Quaker Center Ben Lomond and elsewhere help Friends to discern their gifts of eldering and learn with others to exercise these gifts more effectively.  The School of the Spirit programs nurture these gifts. Quaker Spring is an annual gathering that introduces these ideas to many new Friends and also facilitate their ongoing exercise during the gatherings themselves.

Jan Hoffman of New England YM, Elaine Emily of Pacific YM, Lloyd Lee Wilson of North Carolina (Consevative) YM, and Susan Smith of Ohio Yearly Meeting are among the many other Friends carrying forward this work today.

Engaging with Meeting about Ministry

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Engaging with a Monthly Meeting about Ministry
by Debbie Humphries & Diane Randall

What does it mean to be called to public ministry within the Religious Society of Friends?
What does it mean to submit to the discipline of the corporate community?
What can monthly meetings do to respond to individual leadings of ministry?

The Call (Debbie)

As New England Yearly Meeting gathered for its 350th annual Sessions in August 1999, in a momentous visit to the historic Newport Meeting House, I found myself shaking and felt the Spirit moving, and this message coming through me: "As Quakers we have a powerful heritage, but today we are a pale shadow of who we are called to be. The world needs what we hold, and we need to come forward and live faithfully to the Spirit and to the Quaker tradition."

The experience was transformative. The call I felt began an internal struggle to understand the Spirit's work in my life. Over the last eight years, I have grown into a deeper understanding of Quakerism, ministry, and my own sense of call. The treasures in the Quaker tradition became alive to me: our rich history, space in my life to listen and practice the skills of discernment, to hear how the Spirit calls me. Another treasure in the Quaker tradition is the knowledge that, listening alone, we may misunderstand what the Spirit is asking--we need others from our spiritual community to listen with us so that we can be more confident that we are listening to that inner guide, and not our own egos.

Following yearly meeting Sessions, I continued to feel closer to the Spirit than I ever had, reading Quaker books, studying, and meditating. Books that told the lives and stories of historic Friends such as Daisy Newman's A Procession of Friends, John Punshon's Encounter with Silence, George Fox's Journal, John Woolman's autobiography, Rebecca Larson's Daughters of Light, and Samuel Bownas' Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister made me aware of a sense of power and truth in our faith tradition that I hadn't felt among contemporary Friends. I was moved by the stirrings of the Spirit in the lives and writings of so many Friends.

In the fall of 2000, I began a year of monthly personal retreats, usually for 24 hours of silence, reflection, journaling, reading, and worship. My purpose was to have time alone to come to know what the movings of the Spirit felt like outside of meeting for worship. That fall, I also sought guidance from three seasoned Friends in our meeting, who met with me on an ad hoc (but regular) basis. My request to them was to help me keep from running ahead or behind my leading. As the ad hoc committee's understanding of my ministry and the corporate accountability I was seeking for the ministry grew, the committee began to see itself more as a support committee.

Samuel Bownas' Description of the Qualifications of a Gospel Minister caused me ask my monthly meeting for help in living the ministry to which I felt called. Bownas described clearly the growth and changes I was experiencing. He called ed this ministry a gift not to the individual, but to the meeting.

I wanted my monthly meeting to accept and provide oversight for my ministry. I had a hunger to share the weight of the leading, and I sought help from the meeting as a whole. I learned about current practice among Friends who recognize the distinction between a support committee, which acknowledges the ministry of the individual, and an oversight committee, where the meeting accepts some responsibility for nurturing the ministry. I struggled with ego, not wanting to suggest my ministry was more important or special than the ministries of others. And yet, because of the leading to travel to other meetings, I needed my meeting to acknowledge and hold my ministry.

In October 2001, I wrote to the Worship and Ministry Committee of the monthly meeting I was attending, Hartford (Conn.) Meeting:

In August of this year while we were traveling . . . I was moved to speak [in meeting for worship], and now I feel the need to prepare for when it will be time to visit other meetings on an intentional basis, rather than just convenience. It's not yet time, but I am listening and waiting. And as I prepare for this, I am asking for the meeting to accept responsibility of oversight of my call to vocal ministry. I do not consider this a confidential matter, but rather a sacred matter to be discussed and shared in the Light.

I would describe my ministry/leading as follows: I am led to call others to a deepening of their faith. This necessitates a continual deepening of my own faith, as I strive to listen to the Presence I feel, and give myself over to it.

The Meeting's Response (Diane)

To determine the best way to respond to Debbie's request, Worship and Ministry contacted other meetings to ask about their support and oversight committees. In January 2002, after several months of consultation, research and discernment, it made the following recommendation to meeting for business:

. . . that a committee of oversight be appointed to help provide clarity and guidance to the faithful exercise of the gifts of ministry coming through Debbie Humphries. Debbie feels called by an acute awareness of historical strength and power provided by the witness of the Society of Friends, and by a corresponding sense that Friends are called to be more than we currently are in the world today. A clearness committee under Worship and Ministry finds Debbie clear to pursue this ministry.

The concept of a committee of oversight for an individual's ministry was unfamiliar to our Worship and Ministry Committee, to me as a new clerk, and to many in our unprogrammed meeting. At that business meeting, we did not find unity to support the request for oversight.

Over time, Debbie's request led Hartford Meeting to examine the idea of ministry as an individual call and to consider what our meeting's responsibility is to an individual's leading. We did this in structured gatherings to read and reflect together and in conversations with one another. We grappled with many questions such as: How do we define and understand Debbie's ministry? If the meeting has oversight, does that mean Debbie will be speaking for our meeting? Aren't we all ministers? If we recognize Debbie's gift of ministry as unique or needing special attention, what does that say about the rest of us as ministers? Will providing oversight mean we have financial responsibility for Debbie and her family? Isn't ministry usually what we call messages in worship from older, seasoned Friends?

Although Debbie had been worshiping with Friends for ten years and held membership in Charleston (W.Va.) Meeting, she had been attending Hartford Meeting for only two years when she asked for our meeting's oversight. Some people in the meeting simply didn't feel they knew Debbie well enough, nor did they understand how to define her ministry.

At our May 2002 meeting for business, our worship together resulted in a process minute:

The request for an oversight committee for Debbie Humphries' ministry, . . . has offered fertile ground for exploring gifts, leadings, and ministry within Hartford Monthly Meeting. Through structured discussion and worship, we have listened to one another and to God. These opportunities have included a Sunday morning Eleventh Hour and a Saturday morning Books and Bagels discussion; a workshop exploring gifts and leadings led by Charlotte Fardelman; in worship sharing with Charlotte on the topic of how the community supports leadings and with Brian Drayton on the topic of vocal ministry and deepening the life of the Meeting. Hartford Friends earnestly desire and actively work to support one another. This mutual support is borne out in countless ways. And yet, this request for oversight of ministry seems to engage us in a new way that is not yet clear; we have struggled with understanding what Debbie's ministry is and what "oversight" means. In June, the Committees of Pastoral Care and Worship and Ministry will continue their discussion on the role of the faith community in nurturing leadings and ministries and the role of the individual to the faith community.

In September 2002, at a specially called meeting for business, the meeting affirmed the gift of ministry.

Clerk Diane Randall opened the meeting with a statement of our purpose of Loving one another.

Friends wrestled deeply and prayerfully with questions of authority and the concept of meeting oversight, recognizing our own fears and doubts. We are clear that at any time any of us may be called to a particular form of ministry. Friends expressed concerns and had questions about what it means for a called minister to "go out" in the name of a particular meeting. We also prayerfully considered the meaning of ministry. How do we define ministry? We recognize that within the Society of Friends has been a long tradition of ministry--how does this relate to our own meeting--to our own calls? We recognize that none of us speaks in vocal ministry on behalf of our Meeting, but as one who has listened closely to that what the Spirit is asking.

We are clear that Debbie is felt [sic] called to her ministry. We want to support this. We recognize her reaching out to our Meeting, as she has stated, is a call for support and to help her "not outrun" her leadings. We wrestled with the issue of whether an oversight committee gives authority to Debbie to speak on behalf of the Meeting.

Such a committee would be a way for Debbie to test her leadings within its loving and safe community and help offer guidance to insure her outward work stays true and accountable to that to which she is called.

Friends entered into a period of silent worship. After deep and heartfelt comments were heard, recognizing the concerns of some around the balance of giving ministerial support to all of our members and our not having clarity on some issues around ministerial oversight, we were clear that we need to continue to support Debbie's leadings, though we are not clear at this time to support the appointment of an oversight committee. At this time, Debbie's support will come through her Support Committee, working with Worship and Ministry, which will continue to advise our Meeting and to further nurture her gifts.

Spiritual growth (Debbie)

Following the called meeting for business, people were concerned about my feelings. But in asking for the meeting to listen to the Spirit together, I had to trust the movement of the Spirit.  I didn't feel the decision was personal. The meeting was acting on faith--and was not prepared to accept corporate responsibility for the leadings of individual members. I had been faithful because the ministry I'm called to does not belong to me--it is the work of the Spirit. I am not responsible for removing the roadblocks in my path--I can express my willingness to the Spirit to continue the ministry, and ask to make the way clear.

I continued to have regular meetings with my support committee, which has seen a change in members over the years. They have been critical in challenging me, listening with me, and accompanying me on this journey. They encouraged me to write down the vocal ministry in the early years, and those messages are an important part of what I know. They encouraged me to say yes to New England Yearly Meeting committee service. They gently fed back my own foibles and helped me grow through them. This is, of course, an ongoing task! Writing monthly reports has been an important discipline, as I take the time to reflect on how the ministry is moving.

The Spiritual Formation through the Meeting's Labor (Diane)

Debbie's personal leading and engagement of our meeting's corporate support required us to consider how God calls us, and how we understand these calls as ministry. Through examining questions of ministry concerning Debbie, we began asking ourselves and each other, "Is all of our work 'ministry'?" Our meeting is filled with individuals who labor on behalf of a better world and exercise their spiritual gifts--in their homes, in their professional lives, and in our meeting. The variety of service we do--working to end homelessness, offering dignity and aid to people with mental illness and HIV/AIDS, teaching students of all ages, protecting the environment, promoting civil rights, organizing against U.S. engagement in torture, fighting racism and homophobia, volunteering in prisons, promoting peace education, creating art, caring for aging parents and older members of meeting, and nurturing children--is this all Spirit-led?

Over time, we began to lose the constraints of the words "minister" and "oversight." Debbie's regular interaction with people who served on her support committee led them to know her deeply. She met with anyone who didn't understand her leading. As Debbie became better known in our monthly and yearly meetings, contributing her time and skills in a way that demonstrated her commitment and leadership, Friends felt easier with the idea of Debbie "traveling in the ministry."

In October 2004, with the endorsement of her support committee, the meeting considered Debbie's letter of request for a travel minute. Grounded in historical practice and prayerful consideration of elders in the meeting, the letter explicitly states what our monthly meeting can expect.

The purpose of a travel minute is to indicate that the leading of the Friend who carries it has been recognized by the home meeting, and that she travels among Friends with our corporate support. Travel minutes are discussed in Faith and Practice (p. 264-265). . . . As my leading is to travel both within and outside of New England Yearly Meeting, if Hartford Meeting approves the minute, I will then take it to Connecticut Valley Quarterly Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting for their endorsement.

A travel minute is used to introduce an individual and their ministry to other communities of Friends. After a visit, a travel minute is endorsed by the visited meeting, and those comments can then be shared with the home meeting. I will make a yearly report to the meeting on the work done with this travel minute.

I feel led to travel both within New England Yearly Meeting and outside. I anticipate traveling with other Friends, as this ministry is best done with a companion.

At that meeting, Hartford Meeting approved providing a travel minute, which was signed by then-clerk Cynthia Reik.

To Friends in New England and elsewhere:

We commend to you our beloved Friend, Debbie Humphries, whose leading to travel in the ministry has been seasoned in Hartford Monthly Meeting. We recognize her call to travel among Friends as the Spirit leads, to join them in fellowship, worship, and prayer.

Her concern is to deepen the spiritual life of the Religious Society of Friends, to reawaken us to experience the vitality and power of the Spirit, and to remind Friends of the truths of our tradition. Her faithfulness to this call has been an ongoing source of spiritual nourishment for her, our Meeting, and beyond. Debbie has served on many committees within our meeting and also on several committees of New England Yearly Meeting. In all of these works Debbie's gifts of discernment, faithfulness to the traditions of Friends, as well as listening and counsel have increased.

We encourage her in this response to what we discern to be the promptings of love and truth, trusting that, under the Lord's hand, and with the prayers of Friends, her service among you will be faithful and fruitful.

With Debbie we send our loving greetings to all Friends whom she may encounter.

Ongoing Travels (Debbie)

In the last three years, I have visited more than 20 meetings, often experiencing a kind of grace that has given me words to speak to the condition of individuals and meetings. I believe that this grace is in part due to Hartford Meeting's support. When I visit a worshiping community, I come into the worship in a much deeper way because I am carrying my meeting's endorsement.

The process that I have used in traveling in the ministry is to write to monthly meetings, asking for an opportunity to visit. When possible, I gather with them in worship outside of their regularly scheduled meeting for worship, often meeting with a small group on a Saturday evening, and then attend meeting for worship on First Day. Spending worship-sharing time with a smaller group from the meeting deepens the regular worship the next morning.

As a way to share my travels and the accountability for the ministry, I write a report annually to Hartford Meeting, which is read in meeting for business, along with endorsements from visited meetings and sometimes a written report from my support committee.

In each of my visits the vocal ministry has varied, but the underlying theme always returns to attending to our Quaker heritage, listening to what it has to teach us, and learning to live more faithfully as Quakers today. The treasures of our faith tradition can help us respond to the world around us, if we practice our disciplines of listening and individual and corporate discernment.

Every day we make decisions about how we will act. Quaker faith and practice holds the hope of clarity in every aspect of our lives--from the small, daily decisions to the large life decisions. One of the promises of Quakerism is an answer to the question: "What am I called to do?" The emphasis on individual ministry and discernment is strengthened by the tradition of corporate listening, where we discern together how the Spirit is calling us. Each of us has a ministry, and our worshiping community can serve to strengthen us in carrying out our own.

© 2008 Friends Journal.  This article first appeared in the September 2008 issue of Friends Journal.  All rights are reserved. 

Debbie has traveled under the Traveling Ministries & Intervisiation Program of New England YM.  The program has a directory of 40 Friends available for travel among meetings in NEYM. For more info on Debbie see "About" on this site. 

Diane Randall is director of Partnership for Strong Communities, a Connecticut-based nonprofit dedicated to advocating solutions to homelessness, affordable housing, and community development. She is currently serving on the Board of Advisors of Earlham School of Religion.  Both authors are members of Hartford (Conn.) Meeting.

Davies Gifts of Eldering

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The Gifts of Eldering

by Susan Davies

I have experienced two instances of formal minister-elder relationship, one in which I served as the minister and one in which I served as the elder.  Both were overwhelming affirmations of the reality of God's grace experienced.  In April 2006 Tom Antonik and I were invited by New England Yearly Meeting to lead a retreat focused on intense experiences of the divine presence, to be held at Woolman Hill, the Quaker retreat center in Deerfield, MA.  Woolman Hill offered to cover the cost of an elder for each of us and I soon set about trying to find someone whom I knew and with whom I would feel comfortable, to serve as my elder.

Over the course of several months I asked four people, all of whom told me they had major, unavoidable conflicts with the date.  I was feeling desperate with just a couple of weeks to go before the retreat.  J.H. had been serving as a helpful advisor to Tom and me for the retreat and I called her to ask if she could suggest anyone else.  She offered the names D.L. and J.L., neither of whom I knew.  She assured me that she was clear that D. was deeply gifted and a good choice for me.  While I was relieved to finally have found an elder, I was very uneasy that I didn't know her and more worrisome- she didn't know me.  How, I wondered, could she fully give herself over to 'releasing' my ministry if she didn't even know me?  I decided to send her some things I had written about my own transformative spiritual experiences, mostly to reassure myself that she would be able to trust my leadings during the retreat. 

I arrived at the retreat a day early in order to meet privately with J. again and to meet with D., J., and Tom.  From the first moment I was in D.'s presence I had a feeling of deep calm and rightness.  Her words were very few but full of openness, welcome and clear-sighted perception.  Her presence during the retreat was astonishing to me in its capacity to ground me and deepen me.  She positioned herself in various locations during the 3-day retreat, always maximizing my ability to draw strength from her deep place of prayer--sometimes behind me and sometimes across the room, where I could easily see her.  The focus of her presence was unwavering, utterly peace and love and light-filled--it just poured out of her and washed over everyone in the room.  D. has described her understanding of what "eldering" is as:

"Eldering--to hold another person(s)--in grace and light-- ...the image of opening the window, but blocking the brunt of the wind.  (and like the wind over the airplane wing- the wing itself doesn't feel the brunt of the wind either)  and Eldering to absorb another's pain--completely different--willing....

And to hold you in the burning, soul searching, unquenchable light....

I experienced the effect of D.'s deep understanding of eldering and it was a gift I will never forget. A definition of ministry that I've heard J.H. offer is "making God's love more visible in the world".  The gift of eldering can, as D. says, throw open wide the window to the Divine so that we tangibly experience the immediacy of God's presence among us.

As powerful and intense has been my experience of serving as elder for a minister of enormous gifts.  In September 2007 J. asked if I would serve as her elder during a 3-day annual family retreat for the Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting at Friends Camp in China, Maine.  She was to give the keynote talk and guide us in our retreat theme on the 'Spiritual Wellsprings of Quaker Process'.  I had consulted J. for many years, seeking out her guidance at different points in my own spiritual journey, but always in a somewhat formal relationship.  The opportunity to partake of her process, in such an intimate way as serving as her elder, was a tremendous privilege and, I felt, a daunting responsibility.  I was not confident I was adequate to the task but figured I had to trust J. and the Holy Spirit.  J.'s clarity about what she needed from me as her elder was a great help to me.  She understood that her responsibility as minister was to honor and care for her message and that, as elder, I was to uphold, protect and draw out that message as well.  My support of her involved practical care of her person, as well as a more mystical care of an, as yet undefined, message.  She arrived early, to prepare herself with a solo retreat on Thursday at our Meeting house. I met with her at the end of that day and we spent Friday morning together, prior to the afternoon start of the retreat.  I had arranged a place for her to stay on Wednesday and Thursday night and also, at her request, arranged that she and I would have a cabin together, somewhat removed from the bustle of the rest of the camp.  Because of this arrangement she and I shared a sort of cloister-like intimacy during that four day period that remains a treasure to me.  My role was to hold an attentive, practical, as well as prayerful, focus on protecting and preserving her deepening journey into the message that she was to offer. 

The message evolved over the days until Saturday morning when she took her place in front of the gathered group of about 100 Friends from around central Maine. Humbly recalling the grace and power of  D.'s care for me, as my elder, I chose a chair at the front, but to the side where J. could see me, and where there were no obstructions between us.  I experienced a powerful bonded, resonance between us as we took our places and I settled into prayer.  During her talk I let her words wash over me without trying to capture them or even hear them with my mind.  I prayed that she would be given words.  At a certain point in her talk I felt a sense of knowing that something of great import was just ahead.  I had felt J. cycling to a deeper and deeper place and I prayed "Please, stand near her and whisper into her ear the words You would have her say".  I was astonished by the depth of what she said next, feeling a clear sense that I was hearing the Voice of the Friend of Friends speaking through her. 

Eldering is a mystery.  Many people who are clearly 'elders' have no idea that their humble, attentive and reverent presence affects the people around them, and serves to release the Voice of the Spirit.  To elder is not something you "do"-- it's something you are.  Perhaps you are an elder!  Think about it!

Susan Davies is a member of Vallsalboro (ME) Meeting. This was written homework at a Pendle Hill retreat on eldering held in March 2008.

Eldering at Vassalboro QM

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Journal Entry on Eldering

at Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting Fall Gathering Retreat

September 7-9, 2007 China, Maine

by Susan Davies

This is Tuesday, the same day of the week and the same earth-shattering, unhinged and awed feeling as after that Fall Gathering the weekend before September 11, 2001.  This time the awe and incapacitating gratitude is focused on JH.  When we were at NEYM in August she asked me to serve as her elder, for her work at Fall Gathering.  We spent some time in preparation on Thursday before the retreat. She is so clear, so full of deep quiet power.  She never discounts or minimizes herself.  She is completely attuned.  Her 'Yea' is Yea and her 'Nay' is Nay.  Such a well-led gift.  Friday and Saturday, exercised in the formation of a deep, powerful bond of prayer and support, all of my energy was intensely focused on serving her.  Her ability to receive such service humbly, and in a sense 'impersonally', is amazing to me and a true gift. It was sheer joy to serve her in unquestioning, absolute attentiveness to whatever would help to center her and draw out her message.  She has such a depth of experience with such relationships, she is completely unselfconscious, and so it all was perfectly natural.  But it was Life from a different plane. 

When it was time for the "keynote" I carried a chair over my head through the sea of people and chairs so I could sit up front, but off to one side.  She stood near the fireplace and spoke on her feet, with just a chair near her containing a few pages of notes.  A centering silence to begin, and then the words began to flow out of her, at first a well-organized and well-delivered flow of ideas to flood the expectant openness with a first calm lake of shared understanding. But the calm, quiet stream began to build in depth and power to a message of elegant, one-pointed coherence and wisdom and saving power, full of Life.  There was not one false or hesitant note.  I did not look at her, I was deeply submerged in prayer--she was the only person in the room for me.  I could feel her drawing energy from my prayer.  I could feel her making her way into deeper and deeper waters, surely, clearly, with complete trust. The words and quotes came to her exactly when they were needed.  I could feel something hugely important coming; it was just out of sight.  I felt her gather herself.  I "woke-up", intensely alert in my prayer, and found this prayer form in me: "Please Jesus, stand near her; hold her and whisper in her ear the words You would have her say."  And just then she paused for the briefest moment and turned her message in a new and far deeper direction saying "But these are just words, a lot of words, when what is really asked of us is communion, instead of communication--a communion that is beyond all words."

And I said "Why thank you Jesus for saying so clearly that you are here and this is what you want us to know."  This was maybe 2/3 of the way through the 40 minute talk.  I was so drawn in by hearing Jesus that my brain stopped working.  I couldn't imagine there was anything more to say.  But there was, and she went gracefully back to edifying us about the need for, and importance of the disciplines; about how it is open hearts and listening ears that draw out the Divine messages.  Towards the end I asked myself if there was anything more she had wanted to talk about and I realized she had not really explained 'elders'. So shortly after that she fully and beautifully expressed the elder's gift, the loneliness and missed opportunity of unrecognized, uncalled-out elders in a meeting; Friends who come with their natural gifts of eldering exercised every week but who are ignored and unrecognized in their meetings.

When she finished and sat down next to me I was moved to reach over and place my hand on her knee, firmly and squeeze.  She instantly clasped my hand and held it tightly for a long, deep moment until she just as decisively let go. We settled into a deep held silence until it was time to close the meeting.

Susan Davies is a member of Vassalboro (ME) Meeting in NEYM.


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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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