Monday, February 5, 2007

“Search and you will find”: eldering, ministry and our responsibility as teachers within the Religious Society of Friends

Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; nock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” This passage is the ultimate response to those who seek spiritually. God’s promise to all of us searching for a spiritual home and that one day we will find it. However God is not the only one in charge of caring for and maintaining a spiritual community. As Friends we function as a religious community through each of us taking on spiritual responsibilities for the business, care and ministry in our individual meeting and the wider religious community. Ministry is the calling most Friends find they are called to do most often within their meetings, even if it is simply speaking in their monthly meeting every few months. I am however concerned that we as community are loosing track of what it means when we are called, as we often are on Sunday to stand before out meeting and speak our messages. I would ask that we all take a minute to reflect on some points to the position and responsibility we take on when we speak in meeting. First it main not occur to us that when we speak in meeting we are taking on the role a minister holds in other churches. We have become a direct line to God and her grace, therefore we have a responsibility to speak only what we truly believe is God’s words not our own, and that we are doing God’s work. Therefore from the first time we give spoke ministry we have been called to be one of God’s chosen ministers, and have certain responsibilities toward our religious community because of this. By becoming ministers we have also agreed to become teachers and guidance towards those in our community who seek it. Therefore by taking on the responsibility to give ministry we are also taken on the responsibility to study theology and religious questions, to deeply question our own callings, believes and religious feelings, to constantly ask ourselves does this calling come from the Spirit or from our own thoughts. Importantly however, give guidance to seekers and the youth of the meeting if either should wish it. Although to some Friends this might seem like a lot to ask, I would like to point out that these are roles held by ministers under other religious denominations and I don’t really believe that Friends should be excluded from these responsibilities, if anything this should only mean that more of us must take on these callings.
Teaching of others is known as eldering although any age group can be so called. Eldering is an essential part of Quakerism that has fallen out of use among many meeting. Eldering is when a more spiritually centered Friend who has taken on the calling to ministry helps a seeker or less spiritually certain Friend to better understand Quakerism and their own relationship with God. Traditionally eldering is a one on one relationship between a religious seeker and a more spiritually stable Friend. I would argue however that eldering can also take the form of organizing and participating in Bible study, or Religious education for children and/or adults, in discussions on spiritual matters between generations within meetings, or organizing committees to address issues in the larger Quaker world on a monthly meeting level. Many Friends might feel that they are called to speak in meeting but do not have to time to dedicates to eldering, to them I would ask; are you really ready to take on ministry in the religious community? After all Jesus does ask his religious community, with regard to religious seekers, “Is there anyone among you who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” All of us who take on the responsibility of ministry but refuse to elder, or turn down a chance to talk to a seeker about Quakerism, or don’t take the time to answer question regarding the spirit, are like those who would give children stones.

9 comments:

Divine Joan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

I do see myself as a minister since I both speak in meeting and ministry through writing. I think of myself fully within the context of what I talk about here. I too did pass up an opportunity to elder a seeker and child of my meeting because I felt I did not have to time. However I also knew as soon as I made the decision that it had been the wrong one and I had passed up an important opportunity. This article actually came out of that experience. I don't capitalize minister because I feel capitalizing it makes it a honorific more of what some one is rather then a role someone takes on that anyone in the community can also hold. I don't capitalize the pronoun for God because I don't feel it's particularly necessary.
Also I believe an elder must, must be a Friend spiritually not just someone who follows the testimonies, but someone who both follows the testimonies and has a deep spiritual understanding of God as well.

Divine Joan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Micah Bales said...

Joan,

I would say that the fundamental doctrine of Quakerism is this: Christ is come to teach his people himself. God is actively working in our lives as individuals and as a community, and we are capable of hearing that guidance, and the Holy Spirit will empower us to obey that divine instruction. "All the rest," as they say, "is commentary."

Anna said...

Well said Micah. :~)

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