Workshop Number: 15
Leaders: Dorothy Henderson, Gordon Bishop
Who May Register?: Open to All

Who May Attend?
only full time attenders (participants should attend all week)

Join members of the Eldering Subcommittee of Pacific Yearly Meeting in interactive exercises designed to immerse and deepen our experience and understanding of Quaker eldering. Engage in eldering as prophetic Spirit-led Listening, as acts of nurture, accompaniment and accountability, and as a practice of decolonization through servant leadership.

Workshop Description

Since 2010 the Eldering Subcommittee of the Ministry Committee of Pacific Yearly Meeting has been wrestling, playing, and discerning our way forward with what it means to elder. The journey of this committee first began as recognition of the works of accompaniment and the gifts of nurturing within Pacific Yearly Meeting.

In earlier times Elders in a meeting were named and recognized as weighty friends who held the meeting in worship and were to looked for spiritual discernment, direction, and nurture. Later the role of elder was sometimes used to command authority and power and was later abandoned by many groups of Friends for its divisiveness.

Seeking to return to the practices which support gifts and ministry in monthly and yearly meetings, the eldering subcommittee has evolved over the past decade through practice, experimentation, reflection, and listening to guidance and discernment. We have all served as elders, for both individual ministers as well as for bodies of Friends and others in discernment. We have worked annually to provide ministers with accompanying elders to support their faithfulness and their ministry. We have grown to deliver workshops to monthly meetings, introducing the practices of eldering to support ministries within their Meetings. And we have met, monthly, for 8 years, seeking to understand the role of the elder and of eldering within the monthly meeting.

The response to the five eldering workshops we have offered over the past two years has affirmed the value of offering experiential, interactive programs. We have consistently heard from participants a desire for more depth, more practice and more challenge. This workshop is our response to those requests. While the workshop leaders remain the same, we see this as a communal offering of the entire committee.

The practice of eldering is not small enough to encompass within a few words. However, words such as accompaniment, encouragement, nurture, accountability, and spiritual formation all have their place in the elusive definition of eldering.

Accompaniment, to accompany, comes from the word companion, the root of which comes from the French compaignon: one who breaks bread with another. Eldering as accompaniment is to engage with another in a mutual relationship of love and service. Encouragement, nurturing, and accountability are all part of this relationship.

Encouragement and nurturing take place when one is held in the deep listening of eldering. God calls us to listen deeply and to go beyond mere listening to the other, to listening to that of God in the other. Further we are called to listen to that of God in ourselves, in our own hearts. This allows us to hold another or others with great love and care, and in communion with God.

In the practice of accountability as elders, we are called to truth and love in equal measure. Unfortunately, in the Society of Friends, this has too often been interpreted as needing to discipline, correct, call out another in a way that perpetuates the domination culture that has and continues to create oppression and great harm. True eldering calls on the elder to speak truth with love, to ask God to guide our words, our actions. When our words are grounded in Spirit, elders are building the beloved community and in turn the beloved community serves as the ground for eldering.

To practice eldering as channeling God’s will is to hold another accountable in the way that Kazu Haga describes in his book on Kingian Nonviolence (Haga, Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm, 2020): “When “holding people accountable, does that person feel held, or do they feel attacked and judged? Are they feeling opened up or are they getting defensive? When eldering comes from a place of love and service, when the eldered feels held, not judged and shamed, we are practicing a disruption of the dominant culture that has sometimes seeped into our Quaker practices. We are practicing eldering as a decolonizing act. This can mean surrendering ourselves, our own agendas, to be of service.

In this workshop we will offer worship and worship sharing, discussion and experiential, interactive exercises to practice eldering in the many ways that it is called for in the Society of Friends. We will use as our guide the newly published “An Invitation to Eldering: On Being Faithful to the Ministry of Spiritual Nurture among Friends, by Elaine Emily and Mary Kay Glazer (2022). As a group we will progress through the week with specific exercises designed to open the practices of eldering in our hearts and minds as we share our experiences with each other.

Exercises will focus on accompanying a minister, eldering a session, eldering within a meeting, eldering in non-Quaker environments, eldering as expectant waiting in opportunity, and others. Time frames are approximate: 30 minutes for opening and closing worships, 20 minutes for lecture including introduction to exercises and response to questions, 60 minutes for exercises, and 40 minutes for processing exercises. The methods for processing may include journaling, small group sharing, dyads and worship sharing with queries.
Throughout the workshop, the book, “An Invitation to Eldering will provide the foundation. Participants are not required to have the text, but it is recommended as helpful.

The goal of this workshop is to offer spiritual growth and formation to the participants and bring a renewed commitment to the vital practice of Quaker eldering. Quaker eldering calls us to Listen, so that we may live.

Leader Experience

Dorothy Henderson led Nonviolent Communication Workshops at four Gatherings of FGC as well as numerous workshops within quarterly, yearly and monthly meetings. She has eldered for two FGC workshops. Gordon Bishop has co-led two workshops at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, and one at FGC. He has also eldered for a workshop at FGC. Gordon and Dorothy have co-led five experiential and interactive eldering workshops in monthly meetings within Pacific Yearly Meeting over the past two years.

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