The term eldering or eldership refers to a variety of Quaker practices designed to identify, nurture, and support the spiritual gifts of others within the faith community. In Conservative YMs today eldership is a formally recognized spiritual gift and elders are appointed, usually for life by the monthly meeting. In FGC YMs if these gifts are recognized at all they are considered gifts carried out by a variety of meeting members in various ways including Worship & Ministry Committee, clearness committees, and support or anchoring committees for those carrying out various forms of ministry.
Eldership involves the following gifts:
- Identifying women & men in the meeting with a gift of ministry
- Nurturing & supporting the development of ministers’ gifts
- Holding ministers accountable for faithful exercise of their gifts
- Prayerfully supporting & upholding deeply gathered silent communion with God & faithful Spirit-led vocal ministry during meeting for worship
- Providing prayerful support & spiritual companionship to ministers during travel under religious concern & other forms of religious leadership such as leading retreats or giving talks
- Helping individual meeting members discern God’s intentions for them via clearness committees & support committees.
It is worth noting that eldership today is not usually conceived as encompassing the exercise of discipline over meeting members’ lives in general (as in the visit of the meeting elders in the film Friendly Persuasion to investigate the rumor that the family had a musical instrument in the home.)
An introduction to Quaker eldership
Eldering as a Spiritual Gift is based on a talk on the subject given by Ken & Katherine Jacobsen at the first Quaker Spring in 2007.
On Faithfulness and Integrity is a 1992 article by Jan Hoffman, originally published in The Friendly Woman on the meaning of eldership and how it facilitates individual faithfulness.
A Plea for Strong Eldership by Seth Hinshaw, clerk of Ohio YM.
Some simple tables and handouts
The Work of the Elder by Susan Smith. Consists of two tables describing eldership on a variety of dimensions. On discernment, spiritual nurturing & encouraging faithfulness.
Typical Differences between Ministers & Elders is another table compiled by Susan Smith.
Elders’ Work with Ministers summarizes the critical support that elders provide to those exercising the gift of ministry.
Here is a handout, Chart of Eldering Tasks, that Jan Hoffman developed in May 2009 on the many important roles that those exercising gifts of eldership play within the meeting community.
A Few Passages Relating to Elders & Ministers by Bob Schmitt, Jan Hoffman & Kenneth Sutton. This draws on both historical accounts and more recent documents.
A Historical Note about Elders in the Society of Friends by Brian Drayton of New England YM.
The Role of Elders in a Friends Meeting provides an historical overview of the practice in different branches of Quakers. A blog from West Hills Friends Meeting, in Portland, Oregon.
Reclaiming Eldering & Spiritual Nurturing is a collection of historical excerpts on this subject.
An Epistle to Friends Coming Forth in the Ministry by Charles Marshall, published in his Life in 1840. He urges Friends to be tender in giving advice or correction to those who are new to their gift of ministry.
Yearly meeting discipline excerpts, minutes & reports
Two Excerpts from Wilburite Disciplines on Elders The first is from the NEYM (Wilburite) 1930 Discipline and the 2nd from Ohio YM’s discipline. Includes 3 reflection questions on the passages.
Draft section on eldership from the NEYM discipline currently being written
Insights into the Practice of Eldership is the summary minute of a meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Ministry & Oversight held in Eighth Month 2011.
A Minute on Eldership from Ohio YM annual sessions in 1989.
So That You Come Behind in No Gift is a valuable report of an Ohio Yearly Meeting Gathering on Eldering held in Sixth Month, 1996.
Personal experiences of eldership
Experiences of the Relationships of Ministers & Elders. This was an account of Jan Hoffman written following New York YM sessions in 1991
A Deeper Service: Ministers & Elders Working Together by Jan Hoffman & Kenneth Sutton is a chapter from Walk Worthy of Your Calling: Quakers and the Traveling Ministry, edited by Margery Post Abbott & Peggy Senger Parsons. It describes in detail a trip Jan & Kenneth took together with Kenneth serving as Jan’s elder as she carried out traveling ministry among Friends on the West Coast.
Midwives of Ministry: Reclaiming the Role of Elder by Bob Schmitt. An account of his experiences of the dynamic between elders & ministers at a 1999 “Nurturing the NurtUrers” retreat sponsored by FGC Traveling Ministries program held in St. Helena’s SC.
The Gifts of Eldering by Susan Davies describes two powerful experiences: one of being eldered while she led a retreat at Woolman Hill, and another where she served as elder for a Quaker minister. This was written during a 2008 retreat at Pendle Hill.
Journal Entry on Eldering at Vassalboro QM Retreat by Susan Davies
Report to FGC Traveling Ministries Program on the 2002 Alaska Friends Conference by Cathy Walling. This is a report on healing & forgiveness that occurred unexpectedly as a result of a traveling ministry visit. It discusses a value to using elders from the meeting being visited.
Some Things I Learned about Being an Elder While Doing So For Jan by Penny Yunuba. Includes useful suggestions on practical and spiritual actions to take the day before, the day of, and after a workshop in which Penny served as elder for Jan Hoffman.
Thoughts on Eldering is a poetic meditation on the subject by Danelle Flower
Bibliography & links to other writings on eldership:
An Invitation to Quaker Eldering:: On Being Faithful to the Ministry of Spiritual Nurture among Friends, by Elaine Emily and Mary Kay Glazer, Inner Light Books, 2022, 225pp. This is an excellent resource! It is available at this point as a paperback and as a Kindle e-book.
Eldering then & now on Liz Oppenheimer’s The Good Raised Up blog (“A Quaker woman’s journey to be faithful in the face of her & others’ humanness”)
Echoes from a Retreat concerning Eldering are notes taken from a 1992 retreat of the Worship & Ministry Committee of Stony Run Monthly Meeting.
Selected Bibliography on Ministry and Eldering was prepared by the FGC Traveling Ministries Program. (Note: most of these books can be bought from FGC’s QuakerBooks service.)
Three helpful Pendle Hill Pamphlets are:
Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community by Sandra Cronk, Pamphlet #297, 1991.
Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry & Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, by Marty Grundy, Pamphlet # 347, 1999.
Spiritual Accompaniment: An Experience of Two Friends Traveling in the Ministry by Cathy Walling & Elaine Emily, Pamphlet #428, 2014.
We would welcome hearing from others regarding additional resources on this subject that you have found particularly helpful.