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Reclaiming Eldership - EMES Annual Meeting 2010

What images come to mind when we talk about “Elders” in our Meetings? Do we think about stern old men in old-fashioned hats, looking judgementally over the Meeting? Do we imagine visitations from dour and solemn folk coming to make us aware of the error of our ways?

Think again. This is what we did in our Annual Meeting of Representatives from Yearly, Monthly and other Meetings in our Section of Friends World Committee for Consultation. In discussions, worship-sharing, ministry, acting, and even a sea-shanty, we explored, played and wrestled with the idea of “Eldership”. We discovered the many “ships” that go along with Elder-ship: worship, companionship, mentorship, Friendship, leadership and discipleship, which is at the root of “discipline”, a word that many Friends struggle with these days, with its intimations of authority and hierarchy. Yet, with nurture and spiritual accompaniment, discipline can be the gift of helping each other live faithful lives.

We thought of Elders as midwives of the spirit – birth attenders who guide us as we bring forth the creative, spiritual potential in each one of us, with patience, attentiveness, skill, and, most of all, in faith. Not interfering, but making safe processes that can sometimes go wrong. Not stern and disapproving individuals, but kindly, laughing souls who knit colourful, warm garments, with yarn they have gently teased from its knots.

We were inspired by the presence of Jenny Routledge, a Friend from Britain Yearly Meeting who is developing a concern around Eldership, and her accompanying elder, Elaine Emily, from Pendle Hill, the Quaker intentional community and study centre in Pennsylvania.

Jenny and Elaine, together with four other Friends, served as Elders for the Annual Meeting. They took turns in welcoming Friends to sessions, introducing a moment of silent thanks-giving during meals, upholding the Meeting during worship and business sessions, supporting the clerking team by meeting with them before every session. This discipline had a remarkable effect on the depth and quality of our worship and decision-making, and brought about an atmosphere of quiet and gathered purposefulness.

I hope that by reading Jenny’s address Meeting and the Epistle and looking at the pictures of the gathering, you will share in the experience of those who attended.

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