Thoughts on Eldering
by Mary Foster Cadbury
Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting
I grew up when elders were formally appointed, although that was changing because eldering had become very judgmental and harsh. We realize now the need for eldering as gentle counsel.
Two instances of eldering stick in my mind. As a child I attended my grandparents' meeting when we were visiting in Ohio. It was a big old meeting house with the ministers and elders sitting on the raised facing benches. I watched a pleasant looking old woman sitting there in the Quaker plain dress, similar to my grandmother's. After a while she took off her bonnet, laid it on the bench, and rose to speak. Immediately her manner changed. Her face became red and contorted. Her voice was loud and harsh. It was frightening. I learned later that elders had spoken to her; she had been eldered. Her reply was always, "That's the way the message is given to me." How does an elder handle that!
The most excellent piece of eldering I've encountered took place decades later in our small meeting house in New York State. On this Sunday morning the building felt full—30 or 35 people, children and adults. Friends had gathered and were settled for worship. Soon a little 2-year-old began chattering. It began to appear that she was not going to stop. Finally her older brother, 6 or 7 years old, said to her, in a kindly and friendly voice, “Katherine, the Meeting needs silence." And she gave it to us. It was the sort of quiet we always aspire to, comfortable, expectant, grateful, healing.
May appointed elders, or any of us who act in counsel to another, speak out of God's love.