Sally Kingsland, Canberra Regional Meeting.
I have noticed a tendency among Australian Friends to use the word ‘Elder’ as a verb with strong negative connotations. It is often used in the form of “Person A was Eldered by Person B” by which the speaker means that Person A was admonished or rebuked by Person B. I have not been able to identify with this use of the term and was overjoyed to be able to connect with Elaine Emily, Cathy Walling and others in an exploration, practice and celebration of Eldering during the ‘Midwives of the Spirit’ course at Silver Wattle Quaker Centre in April 2012.
I started sporadically attending a small-to-medium sized Local Meeting in 2004. One of the members of the Meeting played a key role in helping me integrate into the group and Friends generally. One of my first memories of this Friend is of her standing next to me telling me over cup of tea to “say no when they ask you to do a job – you’re young and enthusiastic so they’ll ask you to do too much – just say no!” It was excellent advice and exactly what I needed to hear at the time.
However, giving advice is only one small part of what this Friend did, and has done, for me over many years since. She has consistently supported me in a broad range of ways including welcoming me, getting to know me, accepting me as I was, occasionally challenging me, guiding me as to the ways of Friends and supporting me at critical times. We have also had lots of fun and laughter together!
This Friend plays an important, and largely unseen, role in the life of her Local Meeting and our Quaker community more widely. She holds the Meeting collectively, and people individually, in the Light during the week. She puts time aside for practical and spiritual care of her community. She is very careful to only take on tasks that she feels are in Right Ordering for her and for which she has time to give.
This Friend is sometimes, but not always, on the Ministry Committee. In fact, she is for the most part not formally (or in most cases even informally!) recognised by Friends as being Gifted in Eldership. She lives in the way I have described because she is spiritually grounded and experienced enough to appreciate her skills and put them to good use.
I am more grateful to this Friend than I can ever put into words. The spiritual nurture she provided to me, directly and through her care of the Meeting, was a key factor in what enabled me to go through a massive personal transformation. I have little doubt that I would have left Friends at some point if it had not been for her respectful and thoughtful care in showing me what Friends have to offer. Although I now live in a different city, we stay in contact and our relationship has continued to mature as we grow and change.
My overwhelmingly positive association with the concept of Eldering grew largely from my experiences as I have attempted to describe them here. The intentional and diverse nurture that this Friend gave me was not guided by a prescribed process but was the natural consequence of a faithful Friend using her Gifts in response to the Light she saw in me as a genuine Seeker. I have learned a lot in the intervening years and have lived into a place of words in being able to name what happened to me as having ‘been Eldered’ in the best possible sense of the word. As with many other experiences in life, it has taken time for me to grow into new understanding through which I am now able to interpret and share this wondrous experience.
Elders have a broad scope of functions within our community relating to discernment, spiritual nurture and encouraging faithfulness. Among other things, it is the work of Elders to lead and assist others in prayer and worship; hold individuals and Meetings to account; teach; accompany; voice hard truths; recognise, name and call out spiritual gifts; and listen, listen, listen! It involves lots of paying attention, patience, intuition, focused attention and questioning. Different Elders have different strengths within this broad range of skills and tasks. Who do you know who plays this kind of role for you and/or your Meeting?
We all have different Gifts and callings. Some of us are called to be Elders, some as Ministers and others to play different roles in our community. It is the continual work of Friends to inwardly question what it is that we are called to be and do, and to not be afraid to leave alone anything we are not called to – even if we are unsure of how it may get done! I hope that as individuals, and as a community, we will find better ways of recognising and living out the Gifts we, and others, are blessed with. The Meeting for Learning and better use of Clearness Committees are just two avenues I see that are available to Australian Friends.
The potential for Friends to find personal fulfilment and achieve social change will be greatly enhanced when we better recognise and act in accordance with our Gifts, living from the place of Divine Love rather than fear of what is happening in the world. The power that comes from the right use of our Gifts cannot be underestimated. If you are not sure what your Gifts are, now is a great time to start working it out!