Faith Journeys of Our Elders
by Sue Tannehill
“Each time an elder dies, it is as if an entire library had burned to the ground.”
“You are a unique edition of the universal story.”
—James Finley, Christian Meditation
These two proverbs have shaped my thinking for the past few years, leading me to help elders preserve their stories. Many individuals and organizations help our elders with physical challenges, downsizing, loss, and diminishment. I felt called to seek out the stories of these elders before they were forgotten though I had no experience with video or recording people’s stories. Through an attender at our meeting, I found Jesse, a gifted videographer who works with me in people’s homes. I do the interviews, he does the video work, and we do the final editing together.
Despite the challenges of COVID, opportunities opened in ways I could not have envisioned. In July of 2020, my home meeting created a Stewardship Committee that, among other things, wanted to preserve the stories of our meeting’s elders for future generations. I leapt at the chance to videotape these faith journeys. First, we developed a list of questions we could ask and presented it to business meeting for additions and approval. Our interviewees could also add questions they wanted to be asked or delete questions they did not feel clear to answer. We also suggested that they might find photographs depicting the milestones in their lives that they wanted to talk about.
Jesse and I began filming, using COVID-19 protocols from our local PBS station. Friends in the meeting donated the funds for Jesse’s time (filming and editing), and the meeting created a budget line to pay for one film.
To date, we have completed and shared two of the films. Comments from our meeting, as well as other meetings and family members, have been universally positive. The comments that express delight and surprise at all the experiences that an elder has had are particularly satisfying. We are also excited that the films have caught the interest both of Rebecca Levi-Hamilton of QuakerSpeak and Friends in a neighboring meeting.
Many new attenders feel at sea when they come to meeting, not sure of what to do. Videos of our elders talking about how they came to Friends, how they followed a leading, the choices they made, their doubts, crises along the way, and most importantly how they found themselves sustained by the Inner Light can personalize the experience of being in meeting for worship. We ask about what each elder actually does during meeting for worship, and the answers offer ready-made experiments for others to try.
As the pandemic restrictions loosen, Jesse and I look forward to working with other individuals and/or meetings to create these films. If you are interested, contact me by email and I can send you a link to view the two completed videos we have done of our elders and discuss the process. We are open to travelling.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that work like ours is both important and urgent. One of our most cherished elders had a fall and passed away in August before we could film her. We will have a video booth at her memorial service and record others’ memories, but it won’t be the same. Truly, an entire library of wisdom and stories has been lost.