By Dawn Joyce, Queensland Regional Meeting
It was a privilege to spend five days at Silver Wattle Quaker Centre at a time which coincided with the visit of Elaine Emily of Strawberry Creek Meeting in California. Elaine is a gifted elder who teaches at Pendle Hill Quaker Centre in the US. Her message is of a return to the deep listening and accompanying that was practised by early Friends.
Pendle Hill Pamphlet 392, ‘Spirit-Led Eldering – Integral to our Faith and Practice’, describes the eldering role in some detail. Margery Mears Larrabee writes:
A period of time came when specific individuals were assigned responsibility for maintaining Friends’ values and the distinctive Quaker way of life. In order to protect Friends from corrupting influences of the society at large, these individuals became over-vigilant, caught up in hierarchy, criticalness and heavy-handedness to the detriment of our Society’s health and growth (p. 8).
Margery’s statement describes how eldering became associated with scolding.
Elaine Emily’s message to us integrates a call for a return to nurturing and upholding of individual leadings throughout the long and difficult phases of a call cycle. These phases include: registering a call; resisting; testing; accepting; flourishing; and, lastly, the laying down, or handing on, of a task.
Seven years ago I felt called to work in the very unfashionable arena of mental health reform. Today the subject is at least mentionable, but I was initially reluctant to be identified with the work. A synthesis of a number of my early personal articles was republished in the WFSAD (World Fellowship of Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders) Quarterly. Looking back, this was one of a number of signs that there were few pioneers writing in this area and that my contribution was needed.
Quakers have a history of supporting social reforms; especially in the early stages, when the issues are not widely recognised or understood.
Prior to the call, I was working in the area of individual needs and challenging behaviours. I was parenting three apparently healthy adolescents. When one of them began exhibiting alarming signs of prodromal schizophrenia, my expectation was that all I needed to do was to gain access for him to the mental health system – and all would be well. Little did I know that the system in which I placed my trust was both disjointed and dysfunctional.
The schizophrenia fellowship includes families from across the socioeconomic spectrum, all of whom have unhappy stories. Wealth and power are of little use if a family member develops a serious mental illness. A cloak of silence surrounding mental illness has helped to perpetuate the myths and to maintain a lack of understanding of the issues.
Much of my early work involved writing articles for a general readership to communicate the information embedded in mental health journals. These tasks informed my emerging role as an advocate for systems reform. I am thankful that angels of various faiths, or none, have ministered to my dismay in the messy times.
Many new relationships have flourished and amazing synchronicities have carried the work forward. It has evolved into partnerships with other faith-based and secular reform initiatives. The networks are extensive and complex. I am still astonished when yet another tiny piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle falls into place. I am beginning to sense that my call cycle is nearing completion. I ask that Quaker meetings throughout Australia and beyond will hold this work in the Light. I ask that a return to early Quaker practices will extend nurturing and accompaniment to those who feel called to further this work in the coming decade.
‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’
Martin Luther King
Elaine Emily is a West Coast of USA Friend, who has taught courses on eldering, healing and discernment at Pendle Hill Quaker Centre and at Silver Wattle Quaker Centre in Australia. She has trained with Friends General Conference for travelling in the ministry on the subject of eldering. She gave workshops on this and discerning gifts at many Australian Meetings in 2007 and has conducted courses on eldering .