Elders and Eldering in the PYM Spiritual Formation Program
Written by the Working Group to guide participants as they serve as elder in their Reading Groups. A work in progress… October 2009
In Spiritual Formation Program, we invite participants, including the facilitators, to create the experience of having someone serve as elder in our retreat sessions and in the reading groups. We have grappled with the terms elder and eldering, and have been discovering what may be of value in this particular Quaker spiritual practice. Patricia Loring writes that eldering is a service “born in the experience of God’s love and tenderness” (Vol. II, p 143). Isaac Pennington writes about our life being about bearing one another’s burdens and helping one another up with a tender hand. We have the sense that eldering carries this connotation of nurture.
Margery Larrabee, in her years as a member of our working group, guided us in exploring and implementing eldering. In her Pendle Hill pamphlet, Spirit Led Eldering, Margery Larrabee describes it as “…offering spiritual leadership, which is to support and encourage the life of the Spirit in an individual or group, or to raise questions and explore with another person or group, ways in which they may be more faithful to the Spirit, or it is simply being prayerfully present. No particular act of behavior in itself qualifies as Spirit-Led eldering. It is the well-grounded intention and attitude of a compassionate heart and mind, led by the Spirit that makes it so.” The elder holds each person in the Light. Although each person in the group attempts as best they can to discern the will of the Spirit, the elder is more focused in doing so.
Participants will observe and experience the facilitators in the Spiritual Formation Program’s opening retreat working with an elder. Participants may simply see a person seated beside the facilitator, and remaining in worship throughout the session. Perhaps the elder will speak at the end of the session. “As facilitator, I have found I can go deeper into my topic, in unanticipated ways, when I have the accompaniment of someone who has listened to me ahead of time, who is listening to those present, and, who is listening for the Eternal. It is like the admonition: No Swimming Alone. Use the buddy system” (Carolyn Schodt, personal communication, 2009).
We ask the Reading Group members to participate in this eldering experiment. The elder accompanies the reading group leader as well as the group members. Here is what we have generally have in mind. The elder:
- Gives a reminder a week ahead of time, learns who is coming and who needs assistance in getting there. Assistance could be practical or encouragement. This could be accomplished by email request or other ways.
- Communicates with the leader to learn his/her spiritual condition with respect to the reading and the task ahead, their intentions for the session, what challenges are present, what kind of support is needed, how do they want to be prayed for?
- Holds the group and the leader in the Light, before and during (and after?) the gathering.
- Reads the assignment but probably foregoes their own participation in favor of listening deeply and paying attention to the whole (…more than the sum of the parts).
- After, the elder and the leader might share their reflections on the experience.