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Spirit-Led Eldering

Spirit-Led Eldering

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Published by FriendsJournal
By Margery Mears Larrabee. Friends Journal, October 2005.
By Margery Mears Larrabee. Friends Journal, October 2005.

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Spirit-
Led
Eldering
E
y
Margery
Mears
Larr
ab
ee
ldering
is
amatter
th
at hasbeen the work
of
elderin
g.
Althoughreluctant much
on
my
mind in recent
years.
I
am
to define this process, not wantingto sug- referring to the eldering function
as
a gestanylimitations
to
themovement
of
process inwhichanyone with discern-
th
eSpirit,Iseethis function primarily
as
ment andleadingmight engagef
or
theaprocess
of
assisting oneanother, fromapurpose
of
helpingoneano
th
ermaintaincentered place, tostaytrue
and
faithful
to
faithfulnessto the Light.theSpiritin
all
aspects
of
our
lives.
This
In
the last decade,Friendshave begunassistance wouldinclude bothaffirming to reacha
fresh
andevolving understand-our faithfulnessand inviting
us
to
returning
of
elderi
ng
as
auniversal,Spirit-led
to
ourfaithfulness.Suchassistance
is
function, comparable
to
the universal,referredto
as
"spiritualleadership"in Spirit-ledvocalministry. Iusethe word
Faith
and
Practice
of
Ph
il
adelphia
Yearly
"function"
to
emph
as
ize
th
at
ot
hersMeetin
g.
b
es
idesappointedelders may carry out
The
attitudeandspirit
of
primitive
Margery Mears
Larrabee,
a
member
of
Mt.
HoUy
(NJ)
Meeting,
is
a
teacher,
leader;
and
facilitator
of
workshops
and
retreats.
Sheis
an
elder
and minister in
Friends General
Conference's
Traveling
Ministries
Program,
a
board
member
of
Friends Conference
on
Religion
and
Psychology,
a
graduate
of
he
School
of
he
Spirit
and
theShalem
Spiritual
Nurturer
Program,
and
an attender
and
teacher
at
the
Servant
Leadership
SchooL
She has served
on
worship
and
ministry
committees
of
New
York,
Baltimore,
and
Philadelphia yearly
meetings,
and
was
an
initiator
of
FriendsCounseling
Service
and
Friends
Servant
LeadershipInstitute.She
authored
Thereisa Hun
ger:
MutualSpiritual
Friendship.
Quakerism
as
capturedby theelders
of
Balbyclearly
expresses
theintention
of
Spirit-ledeldering:
Dearly
beloved
Friends,these
things
we
donot
lay
upon
yo
u
as
a
rule
or
form
to
walk
by,
but that
all
withthe
measure
of
thelight which
is
pure andholy
may be
guided, and
so
in
the lightwalking and abiding,
these
maybe
fulftlled
in the
Spirit-not
from the letter,
for
the letter killeth, but theSpirit
giveth
life.
-From
the
Meeting
of
Elders
he/.d
at
Balby,
England,
in1656
We
h
ave
tendedto
th
i
nk
of
theelderi
ng
function
as
the province
of
those for-
The
life of a
religious
societyconsists
in
something
more
than
the
bod
yof
principles
it
professes
and
the
outer garment
of
organization
which
it
wears
.
These
things have
their
own
importance:
they
embody
thesociety
to
the
world,
and protect
it
from
the chance
and
change
of
circumstance;
but
the springs
oflife lie
deeper,
and
often
escape
recognition
.
They
are
to
be found
in
the
vital
union
of
the
members
of
the
society
with
God
and
with
one
another
,a
union
which
allows
the
free
flowing
through
the
society of
the
spiritual
life
which
is its
strength.
-William
Charles
Braithwaite,
1905,
in
London
Year(y
Meeting's
Chr
istian Faith and Practicemally appointed to the role
of
elder
by
themonthlymeeting.From the beginning
of
Quakerism there have been fluctuationsin thewaytheelderingfunction has been carried
out
andbywhom.
In
the formative period
of
Quakerism,seasonedFriendswereinformally
refe
rred
to
as
elders.
In
thelate17
th
century, Friendsbeganappointingelders. In the 18thcen
tury,
eldersbecamecoerciveandvery powerful
as
protectors
of
the integrity
of
the ReligiousSociety
of
Friends. And inthe 19th
ce
ntury, Friends were affected bythespread
of
FrenchandAmerican revo lutionaryi
deas
of
ndividu
al
ism, freedom, andindependence. Quakersbrokewi
th
the authority
of
elders,
and
the
el
der
s'
influenceand power weakened,continu inginto the 20thcentury.Now,in the21stcentury,we
as
aReligiousSociety aremovingawayfrom the stereotypical
view
of
the elders'roleand functioning
as
rigidand punitive.Individuallyand
as
a faithcommunity,
we
may
not
yeth
ave
complete clarity aboutthe eldering function. But wedohavea freshopportunity to
give
our thoughtfulattentionto it,
so
wecanlearn what
is
required
of
us
to practice it well
and
inte-
October
2005
FRIENDSjOURNAL
 
grateit into the
lif
e
of
th
emeeting.
Th
e
imp
ortance
of
lear
nin
g what m
ay
bere
quir
ed
of
us
as
Quak
ers was vividly
br
oug
ht
home tome atarecentFriends GeneralC
onf
erence workshop
th
at Ifacilitated
on
thistopic.Aparticipant carneup tome at
th
eclose of
on
e
of
ourdaily
sess
ions
and
co
mm
ented longingl
y,
"
If
th
e
pr
actice
of
Spirit-led,layeldering thatwehavebeen learning a
bou
tthisweek had been alivein mymeetingnine yearsago,I doubtIwould havefelt I had toleave. Perhapsn
ow
Iw
ill
tryto beinvolved in a meeting again." Challenging
ex
perien
ces
of myown,
an
do
th
ersI have
kn
ow
n,have s
ho
wn
th
e
tr
eme
nd
ous value ofa
uth
enticaffirma tion
as
well
as
th
epositi
ve
power
of
Spiritled
truth
-telling
and
pl
ai
nspeaking. I would
li
keto
see
th
ese
kinds
of
elderingprac
ti
ces, which havebeen
esse
ntial tomy spiritual jo
urn
ey,
become
an
int
egralpart
of
my
fai
th
co
mmuni
ty.
Why
Elder
A Friends meetingis
int
e
nd
ed tobe so
mu
ch more
than
aloose
ass
ociation
of
individuals w
ho
are simply on aseparate and privatejo
urn
ey.
Rather,
we
are calledto be a
fai
th
co
mmuni
ty with me
mb
ers
see
king
to
know eacho
th
er"in
that
which
is
eternal"
as
wejo
urn
ey together.Ideally, we ac
know
led
ge
th
at
our
primaryrela tionship is
to
Go
dand to
th
at
of
God
ineacho
th
er.
We
l
et
go
of
th
eidea
that
weonlyhave aprivateli
fe,
and
holdours
el
ves
acco
unt
ableto
th
eautho
ri
ty
of
th
e S
pi
r
it
and
th
at Lifein
th
em
ee
ting.
We
grow
in
a sen
se
of
responsibilityforeacho
th
e
r.
It
wasreading about earlyFrie
nd
s'experience of
"Gospe
l Order" th
at
inspi
re
d me to consider
un
iversal,Spirit led
el
derin
g.
LloydLee W
tl
son,in his book
Essays
on
the
Virion
of
Go
spel Order,
describ
es
h
ow
early Frie
nd
smutually agreed
on
whatwas
re
quired tobe amem ber
of
a ga
th
ered co
mm
un
i
ty:
For
ear
ly
Fr
i
ends
to
admo
ni
shoneanother
to
k
ee
p
to
Gosp
el
Or
d
er
was
to
remind th
emselves
thatth
ey
we
re
ci
ri
ze
ns of
th
e
King
dom
of
God,not a worldlygo
ve
rnment,
an
dshould
ac
t
acco
rdin
gly.
In anyindividu
al
or
co
r
po
ratec
ir
cum
stance
,
th
erei
s,
amongthe
al
ternatives,
onechoi
ce
th
atisin k
eepin
gwith the
Gosp
el
an
d
all
i
ts
fulln
ess.
It
is
incumbent on
Fr
ie
n
ds
to
h
el
pone
ano
therdi
sce
rn that
(one)
choi
ce
among many and
carry
it out
fai
thfully.Thefo
und
ersof
th
eReligious Society
F
RIEND
Sj
OURNAL
October
2005
of Friendsof Truthsaw
th
e
tru
e C
hu
rch
as
spiritual,invisibl
e,
an
d bey
ond
form
and
s
tru
cture.Geor
ge
Fo
x's
teac
hin
gs,likeamagnet,
dr
ew
th
em
to
ge
th
er,and
th
eybecame s
tr
ongly
unit
ed in their
zeal
to
pr
each
and
teachwhat
th
ey
had fo
und
.From this ga
th
eredco
mmuni
ty,
ma
tur
e,
spiritually gro
und
ed pers
on
s emergedas gu
id
es
.Th
ese
discerning Friendsbeganto li
ve
o
ut
eldering w
ith
outbeingformally a
pp
o
int
edto
th
erole. They werereferred to
as
elders, ate
rm
thatdescribed
ho
w
th
ese
Friendsfunc
ti
oned,n
ot
a
po
sition
or
office
to
be
fill
ed.
A
Transfer
of
Membership
S
tuationsthat
occur
in the meetingmembership
process
present numerous
opportunities
to
practice
Spirit-led
eldering.Friends
do not
have
a
creed;
but
they
dohave beliefs
,
principles
,
estimonies
,
and
processes
to
consider
and explore
.
And
in
that
exploration
of
deep
listening,
spaciousawareness
,
plain speaking,
truth-telling
,
and
accountability
,
all
aspects
of
elderingmayreadily
have
a
part. Accountability
here
is
not simply
concerned
with
meeting
outward
expectations of behavior
and
belief
butwith
beginning
to
nurture
a
deep
connection, understanding
,
and
trust
to
the
Spirit
as
each
finds
a
right
relationship
to
the
meeting
community
.
This
has
been
borne
out
in an
experience
of my
own.
I
had
attended
Mt
.
Holly
(N
.
J)
Meeting
for
two
years
asa
sojourner
aft
er
moving
from Washington,
D.C
.,
where
I
attended
Friends
meeting
for
33
years.
A
Friend
,a
member
of
overseer
s,requested
a
visit
.
He
r
focus was
on
asking
what my
i
ntention
was
regard
i
ng
membership
in
Mt
.
Holly
Meeting
.
She
carried
the
eldering
function
.
After
she
greeted me
warmly
,
and
we
got
up
-
to
-
date
with
each
other
,
she
raised
somesearchingquestions
.
First
, s
he
pa
t
iently listened
and
le
a
rned
of
my
challenge
s
around
changing
my
membership
.
We
reached
a
mutual
understanding
of
what was
involved
in
my
s
ituation.
She
accepted
and
understood
.
After that
,
she
s
hared
theview
of
the
monthly
meeting
:
that
it
w
as
important,
as
soon
as
I
was
spiritu
a
ly
and
practically
ready
,
o move
my
membe
rs
hip
.
She
talkedof
the
ben
e
its
to th
e
meeting
and
of
committin
g
o
be apa
rt
of the corporatebody
.
We
then
went
on
to
reach
clarityabout
the
ne
xt step
s.
I
volunteered
that
,
God
willing
,I
would
c
hange
my
Inth
ebeg
innin
g,
th
ese
weigh
ty,
disce
rnin
g Frie
nd
s werereferred
to
as"Friends wellgrownin the Truth."Sandra Cro
nk
,in her p
amphl
et
G
ospe
l O
rder,
describ
es
thew
ays
thatth
ese
personslived
out th
eministry
of
th
eelderingfunc
ti
on:
"T
he a
dmoni
tory aspect
of
mutu
alacc
ount
ability(el
der
in
g)
in
volved all kinds
of
situationsincludinghelpingpeo ple
to
recogni
ze
and
exe
rci
se
theirgift
s,
to
see where
th
ebr
ok
en
and
unf
aithfulplaces werein
th
eir li
ves,
toovercomepar
al
yzingfears,todisce
rn
lea
din
gs,
andtokn
ow wh
en
th
eyhado
utrun
or
lagged
membershipin
a
year
or
less
as
I
concluded
my
responsibilities
in
my former
monthly
and
yearly meetings
.I
regretted
that
I
had
not
keptthemeeting
informed
about
my
situation
.I
encouraged her
to
stay
in
touch
about the matte
r.
I
wanted
to
be
accountable
.
After
a
ime
of
prayer
,
she
left
.I
wa
s
so grateful
for
her visit.
It
showed
that
the
meeting
was
aware and
caring
,
and
faithful
to
its
responsibilities
.
It
was
also
very
helpful
to
be
reminded
of
my
own
responsibilities
.I
valued
the
fact that
she
first
wanted
to
understand
my
presentrelationship
to
the
meeting
a
nd
what
my
situation
wa
s.
I
liked
that
she
spoke
clearly
and
forthrightly
about the
me
e
ing
's
exp
e
ctations
andmade
no
as
sumption
s
about what
I
did
or
didn
't
know
as an
experienced
Friend.
It
made
a
difference
to
me
that
we
had
madethe
effort to
find
a
mutually
good
time
and
place
apartfrom
oth
er
activities
to
do
what
was
requ
i
red
of
u
s.For
m
e,
showing
this
kind
of
re
s
pect
,
dignity
,
and
value
for
what
may
need
to
happen
in
a
critical
and
caring proces
s
is
es
sential.
Thi
s
ex
perience raise
s
he
following
queries
:
Do
we
take
appropriat
e
im
e a
nd
space
to
meetwith
one
another
for
ne
ed
ed
busine
ss,
respecting
the
p
ers
on
as
much
as
hebusines
s
o
be
accompli
she
d?
Dowe
ha
ve in
mind to
first
le
a
rn
fully
from
the
per
s
on
being
v
is
ited how
it
is
or
th
em,
a
nd
tofully
under
s
and
a
nd
ac
ceptth
e
r
s
ituation?
Ar
ewe
pr
e
par
ed
o
ex
plore the
situation
w
ith the
other,
once
we
ha
ve
presented
ourpointof view
?• Arewe
prep
a
ed
eith
er to
mutu
a
ly
ag
r
ee
or tomutuall
y
disa
gre
e?
25
 
behind
theirguide." Sondra
Cronk
emphasizedthat the purpose
of
eldering(mutual
admon
ition)
is
not
to
proveanotherwrong and ourselves right,inthe usualsense,
but
ratherandmostimportantly, to move towardgreater faithfulness
together.
Formally incorporating thelaymin istry
of
Spirit-led eldering(mutual admonition)
as
part
of
our
Friends cultureoffersanexpected wayfor individu
al
s sol
ed
toworkdirectlywith challeng ings
itu
ations
as
theyarise,
witho
ut
engagingin destructive,behind-the scenes criticism,invalidation,and nega tive
goss
ip.
What
theseearly "Friends wellgrownin Truth"didwas essential to
th
e spiritual health andvitality
of
meetinglife
as
a
who
l
e.
Early
Examples
of
Eldering
An
illustration
of
elderingcan befound in theapocryphalstory
of
George
Fox's
replytoWilliamPenn
s
query
as
to
whetherit
was
right for him (Penn,
who
waslearning toli
ve
out
his pacifism) tocontinue
to
wearasword.Fox
is
saidto have replied,"Wearit
as
long
as
thou
canst."Thiswas astate
ment
of
faith in the divinitywithinPenn,andadirection to Penn tosear
ch
inwardly.Foxis seen
as
releasingPe
nn
to
Godand
then lettingg
o.
Another illustration,discussed
in
Howard Brinton's
Friends
fo
r300
Yean-,
also
involv
es
Wi
lliam Penn,inameeting with anumber
of
leadingFriends.After the meeting,Pe
nn
spoketoay
oung
,unknown
man
by
th
ename
of
John
Richardson,whohad ministeredatlength in themeeting.
In
the conver
sa
tion,Penn
An
Application for
Membership
F
r
me,
the
process
of application
for
membership
can
be
a
un
i
que
opportunity to
explore,
indepth, hard
questionsabout faith,
love,money
,
violence
,
sex,
and
other
matters
that
are
germane
to
Quaker
faith
and
practice.
Deep
listening
and
other
aspects
of
eldering
give
applicants
the
opportunity
to
hearthemselves
and
discove
r
further
where
they
are
inrelationship
to
the
meeting,
and
where
themeeting
is
in
re
l
ationship
to
them
.
Then
a
choice
can
be
madeby
an
applicant
with
the
overseer(s)
as
to
whether
or
not
to continue. This
process is
for
the benefit ofthe applicant
as
well
as
the
meeting.
Fear
of
being
in
appropriate,going
too
deep,
or
appearing
exclusive
can
sometimes
keep
us
rom
offering
this
s
gnificant
gift
of
disclosure
and
discovery
to
the
applicant.
A
case
in
point
involved
an
attenderwho,
as
a
sc
ientist
,
elt
he
had
a
mission
to
prove there
wasno
God.
It
was
his
compulsion
to
prove
that
those who
believe
inGod
were wrong
and
he
was
right.
Per
so
ns
rom
Wor
s
hip
and
Ministry
sat
with
him
to
explore
how
it
was
for
him
in
me
e
ing
and
also
to
s
hare Friend
s'
expectations
of
m
ee
ting
for
worship
.
Nothing
changed.
He
ap
peared
to
feelthemeeting
for
worship
was
f
erti
le
ground
to
win
people
to
his perspective.
For
rea
so
ns
thatwere
unclear,
he
applied
for
membership.
After
his application
was
received,
overseers struggled
to
findthe
best way
for
him
to
have
a
right
relationship
to
themeeting
.
They
decided
to
invitehim,
along
with
fourof
the overseers,
to
dinner
at
the
clerk
's
home
.
They
accepted
him
wherehe
was
.
He
wasgiven
the
opportunity
to
talk
to
them
about
what
was
on
his
mind
:
his
wor1dview,
his
sense of humankind
and
theuniverse
,
and
how
he
found
his
salvation
in
science
.
Overseers
listened, accepted
,
and
understood.
Al
so,
he
was
eager
to
tell them
of
his
ear1y
trust
in
religion,
followed
by
betrayal,and,
ultimately
,
how
he
had
foundsalvation
in
science,
which
was
now
the
only
sound
basis
for
hi
s
ife.
Late
in
heevening,whenasked
a
second
time,
"
Wouldn't
you
like
to
know what
we
believ
e
as
Quakers?"
heagreed.
As
he
li
stene
d
o
the
clerk,
he
sputtered
with
disbelief
all the
time
at
thefaith
she
shared.
He
finally
sa
id,
"
That's
it"
and
unceremoniously
l
eft
the house.
There
was
no stoppinghim
.
Before
th
e
week was out,
he
had
withdrawn
his
app
licat
ion
.
When the
meeting tried
to
contact
him,
he
had
disappeared
altogether.
In
this
meeting
,
he
attender was
related
to
as
ap
erson,
not
a
problem,bothsubstance
and
shadow
.
Once
he
had
a
senseof
being
accepted
and
understood,
he
no
longer
needed
to
defend
his
viewpoint;
he
could
thenlisten
and
he
ar.
He
let hims
e
f
co
me
to
a
difficult
and
disconcerting
realization.
Out
of
hi
s
own freshly
gained
awareness
,
he
faced
commented, "
The
main part
of
the day'sworkwent
on
th
yside,andwesawitand were willingand easy togive wayto this Truth, though itwasthrough theewho appears bur likea shrub,and it
is
reasonablethe Lordshouldmake use
of
whomhe pleases."
Thi
s simplestory
of
affirmation
is
aprototype
of
twoadditionalmodes
of
eldering: mentoring, whichcanguide andencourage aperson
in
arightlyordered direction;
and
evoking gifts,whichcan bringone intoa closer
rela
tionship to
God
as
anindividual,and
as
apart
of
a
commun
i
ty,
as
gifts are unitedintheservice
of
the meetinglife.Another incidentcitedby
Ho
wardBrintontookplaceinthe early18thcen tury,
as
elderswe
re
beginning to be
nam
edtotherole.
In
this period themonthlymeetingwas
at
the center
of
all
aspects
of
Quaker
lif
e,
whetherbusiness,
the
simple
reality
of
his
difference
with
Friends,andmade
a
decision
.
Of
the
various options
he
had
of
exploring
further
with
Friends,
he
chosenone
and
left.
Overseers were
able
to
keep
theircommitment
to
stay
outside
of
anynegativity
or
reactiveness
and
really
listen
.
They
had
a
desire
for
right
order.
Later
the
overseers
notedthelove
and
compassion
they
had
for
this
person.
Whatwas
most
pervasive
and
powerful
in
this
clearness
process
was
a
sp
acious
awarenessthatallowed
for
a
sense
of
the
Spirit's
presence
and
an
entranceinto
another's
life.
Hereare
somequeries
s
urrounding
this
experience
:
Can
we
give
priority
to
findingtheenergy
an
d
ime
for
such
a
process
when
it
appears
appropriate?
Are
we
willing
to
live
with
the
consequences
of
our
not doing
so?
Are
we
growing
in
our capability
to
focu
s
on
and
actfromthat
clear,
centered,
caring
place
in
which
we
are
empowered
to
do
thi
s
kind
of
e
deri
ng?
Are
we
growing
in
ourability
to
be
aware
of ourfaith
and
practices
and
a
willingness
to
s
hare
that?
Are
we
r
ea
dy
to
trust
th
e
Spirit
an
d
giveup
expectations
as
to
outcome?
Hav
e
we
learned
to
practice
deep
li
st
en
ing
,
acceptance
,
and
understanding
?
Oc
tober
2005
FRIENDSJOURNAL