For Quakers, the word “elder” can mean several different things. As Elaine Emily explains, none of them have anything to do with age.
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I think Quakers travel in twos because that’s what we were told to do, biblically, to travel in twos. I think accompaniment helps the spirit have more access to the minister, and even sometimes where people trade the words piece back and forth, the other can provide that sacred grounding that allows the spirit to come through more fully.
The Quaker Practice of Traveling with an Elder
I’m Elaine Emily. I’m from Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley, California. I live in Berkeley, California and my Yearly Meeting is Pacific Yearly Meeting.
What is an Elder?
Elders are those who sense the movement of the spirit and can name that very early on, before it’s much evident to other people. They see that and nurture that and cocoon that and call it forward. So some of the metaphors that might be helpful to people might be the metaphor of a midwife. The ministry is not ours but we know something about allowing that to come forward. So, attending to the minister and to the ministry as it comes out.
Another metaphor would be a kindergarten teacher, the best kindergarten teacher you can imagine, that knows just how to set everything out and create the environment for people to grow and blossom.
Who Can Be an Elder?
Elders are whoever has that gift, and that can come at any age. I’ve often traveled with people 40 years younger than I am, and that’s been a delight. Many of us can do a passable job of ministering and eldering or recording or clerking or finances or any of those things, but some of us are more one than the other.
Accompanying Friends in the Ministry
I’ve had the good fortune and blessing of traveling with many people in the ministry. Often I’m the person that’s doing the accompanying. As I’m the person doing the accompaniment, there’s a lot of pieces to that.
There’s the before piece, preparing the minister. The more there is the resistance or more to be cleaned out, that often happens before. So it’s spiritually accompanying the person beforehand.
Then there’s the during, and often I’m sitting beside them, or in the audience, or something below the words. Sometimes I don’t have any idea about what they said, and some of that is the deepest, sweetest worship I have ever had. It is all beyond words. There isn’t words for that deep place.
Then there’s afterwards; and some people don’t have any problem afterwards, and for some people, there’s quite some recovery time.
Prayer for a Quaker Minister
If I’m accompanying somebody and I know I’m accompanying them for a long time, one of the practices that comes to me is imagining them finished with their ministry and the gathered people—both the minister and those gathered—are just thrilled. They have this deep peace and connection to each other.
- With regards to traveling ministry, “eldering” means providing grounding and spiritual accompaniment for someone who is doing something challenging and wants to be faithful. Have you ever provided this kind of accompaniment or had someone else provide it to you? What was the experience like?
- Elaine Emily says, “Elders are those who sense the movement of the spirit and can name that very early on… they see that and nurture it and cocoon it and call it forward.” Can you think of anyone in your meeting who plays this role?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.