Friday, December 28, 2012

The Need for Eldering

Last week I wrote about where I see hope among Quakers today. Let me be clear that was only a partial list of the good news and I was primarily focusing on YAFs because I have read and heard YAFs talk about their negative experiences of not being supportive. With the post I did not want to diminish these concerns, but I do not think that is the only storyline out there about the current state of YAFs. But that is the only storyline I see being repeated over and over.

With that being said, I do have a concern about the current state of Quakerism: Our lack of effective eldering (that is, eldering that is spiritual-led and not personal attacks).

We need eldering again. We need people to be elders. We need people who are willing to be eldered.

We need Quaker meetings/churches to be a guide for ministers and a nurturing place for them, but also a place for people in ministry to be challenged and held accountable. I do not see this happening a lot and I, for one, have ran away from eldering on several occasions.

I have held this concern for a while, but I have not written about it yet because I do not have any concrete ideas on how to get to that point. But I feel like I needed to write this post anyways.

Overall, I do not think ministry happens just because of one person or a small group. I do not believe if the one person or group does not act or is not adequately supported, that ministry will disappear forever into the abyss. I know this because I have seen this happen a couple times where people independently feel led towards a particular ministry. Sometimes they join together and work towards this common vision. Sometimes only one or two goes forward with the ministry while others find other callings.

I want to share a personal story about not following a leading. After the last YouthQuake in 2004 (a triennial event that bought together teens and younger young adults from all kinds of Quakerism), I was pumped to have an event for Young Adult Friends across the divide and hold it during the summer at Earlham College. I even gathered together some traveling Quakers in a room to talk about this idea and to gather their opinions about this kind of event. I had found someone else to join me in this work. But it never got off the ground.

But this event still happened about four years later in May 2008 and the people who ultimately organized the conference were not in that room when I shared my idea. I did not feel called or I was not ready to take on the leading, but that energy was not lost because I did not stand up to follow. I am glad others did. It was a great conference. In the future, I hope I can stand up and follow a leading that others had, but, for some reason, they couldn't follow through.

God works in mysterious ways and being in ministry is about being faithful to God and to your own self. But also ministry is also about the community and is larger than one person or a handful of people. I am wary of ministries being focused on the glorification of an individual or a small group. Ministries are a way to live out God's Kingdom here and to show people to see what is possible through God.

This lead me to offer some queries rather than solutions:
How can ministers ground themselves into monthly meetings/churches?
How can monthly meetings/churches hold ministers accountable and ask difficult questions?
How can ministers hear these difficult questions and not feel personally attacked?

I have more questions than answers on this subject, but I am clear that Quakers need eldering again.


  1. This is great, Greg, thanks. I have questions about this too.

    I think people can hear hard questions and not feel attacked in a few circumstances, and those are things we can practice. If we have confidence in God's commonwealth and the sufficiency of healing grace, we can take all the spiritual risks we need to. We are held and supported, accountable in community.

    I think this community, accountability emerges out of the depths of each person's faith. When we are grown in faith we are led into relationship with each other. Accountability is a relationship we can earn -- a bond of trust where we are supporting each other to trust the leadings of God.

    I think the first question is related. It is God who makes churches: I understand that we get drawn together with other people as part of heaven's work in us. It is more important to me that people are praying with each other, doing worship as a response to an awareness of God's presence, and sharing the struggles of life's journey than whether the group is known as a meeting. I have to follow the grace, the living truth, and trust that the appropriate forms will emerge around that.

  2. I believe you have to start with relationships. You have to be involved in another's life for good and bad in a way that they are secure in their relationship with you. There also has to be a respect for the other's walk or journey. It's not a "title" thing. When I am on the giving end I have to believe the receiver has the prayer life and ability to hear from God that will allow him to open up to what I share and make it his own. When I am on the receiving end, I have to know that the "giver" loves me as a person and is not trying to make me fit into a perceived "necessary" role.

  3. Two courses on spiritual accountability were offered a few years ago through Woolman Hill Quaker Study and Retreat Center in MA. One was a beginning course on spiritual accountability and the second was a follow-on intended for people who were in active groups regarding spiritual accountability. The latter used a peer group model taught in The Way of Ministry in which people rotate the focus person. Several of those groups continue to support their members today. They allow multiple ministries to be supported and the people involved to witness not only the ministers and their ministries but the ways we can offer eldering with each other. If you're interested to learn more, I welcome your inquiry.
    - Viv Hawkins, member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting carrying a minute of religious service for this work approved by the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings of which I am a member