Joyous Bubbles

Monday, March 27, 2006

Serving as an Elder

I just got back from a workshop on serving as an elder.

Eldering, I have found, although a very old Quaker tradition, has taken on a new meaning lately. An elder is someone who acts as a spiritual guide/ teacher for a minister. An elder also works to help with discernment, practices deep spiritual listening, and is exceptionally good at holding an individual or a meeting (or group) in the light. Although Elders certainly work within the meeting (they are the older Friend who never misses a business meeting, or the Friend who comes in early to worship to prepare the room), they also do a lot of traveling with a minister or acting to support a minister in their work. Traditionally a minister would never travel on their own (or do their ministry) without an elder coming along. An elder sits (and by sits I mean they open themselves to the light and practice discernment and hold the minister and/or the group in the light) with a minister before, during and after they do their work.

A couple of things were very obvious to me during the course of this workshop. The first was that we were dealing with very heavy stuff indeed, and another thing was that we were a VERY weighty bunch of Friends. I felt very small, very inexperienced and very young in comparison to the other Friends who graced the workshop.

I must say that although there was a number of things that I found very meaningful, and I experience wonderful, deep worship, I did spend a large part of the conference feeling uncomfortable. I found that I really liked being eldered but I found myself getting frustrated or feeling like I was, "doing it wrong," when I tried to elder others. I found that I was very good at the holding another (or the meeting) in the light, or the deep, open listening, but I was becoming exhausted when I tried to do some of the other things. I am sitting with these feelings about my weekend, and I have spoken ( or will shortly speak) to those folks who serve as my elders, and I will see what comes of it.

Something positive that I also got from the workshop was the sense that eldering is growing within the Religious Society of Friends, and with this growth comes spiritual renewal. As the number of elders grows so does the number of ministers, and with the elders and the ministers come spiritual renewal. The eldering workshop seemed to me to be another sign that Quakerism is heading towards a huge, and exciting rebirth.

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