On Being Accompanied
by Callie Janoff
Over the years that I’ve been working for NYYM and the ARCH (Aging Resources, Consultation, and Help) Program I’ve always worked closely with the Committee on Aging Concerns (CAC). Before I started this job the CAC had sorted out that they wanted the relationship between committee members and staff members to follow an “eldership model” which I don’t think I fully understood at the time, but I’ve grown to appreciate.
Over the years the CAC has rotated through some incredible Friends that I’ve had the good fortune to count as elders in the work I have done to support older Friends in New York Yearly Meeting. My first experience of being accompanied by a spiritual elder was while I was acting as a co-facilitator for the ARCH Visitor Trainings. We have usually offered this training several times a year since I started working for ARCH in 2012. Each time one or two members of the CAC has served as an elder for the retreat training. One of the things I have loved about this is that each time the elder brings their own spiritual gifts to the experience.
Sometimes that looks like hospitality, like making sure the temperature is comfortable or that everyone has a pen. Sometimes it looks like deep worship in the back of the room that feels like an intentional and embodied divine connection and presence with us. Sometimes it is someone sitting right beside me when I’m anxious or ungrounded, reminding me with their presence that I’m not alone. Other times it is a whispered noticing of something I’ve missed, or a debrief afterward of a dynamic they saw or felt in the experience of the participants. Sometimes my elder has left chocolates on my pillow after a long day of work, or an encouraging note for me in the morning before facilitating begins.
All of this feels very connected to how we think about what we “do” as ARCH Visitors. We can’t always fix the problems we encounter, or remove the pain from those who are suffering in something related to their journey with growing older. So instead we focus on what we can do, and how we can be with each other. We can make sure people are comfortable, or that they have a pen when it is time to fill out an important form. We can worship together, to bring our experience of the light to each other when our bodies can’t do what they used to. We can go together into challenging medical situations or when we are anxious or ungrounded. We can tell each other true things about what we see happening in one another and in our relationships. We can send encouragement and affection to each other to celebrate important milestones along our paths. No two ARCH Visitors do this accompaniment thing the same way, because we each carry different spiritual gifts to share.
One of my favorite things about being a Quaker is that we have a way of practicing ministry that is reciprocal. I receive accompaniment, and as I do, I find that I’m able to offer it too. The ministry I experience of eldership is never a one way street.