I am writing this from the annual gathering of SAYMA (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association), and in our evening sessions, we have talked much about discernment, but more so about community and our interaction with each other. There is often a reticence among liberal Friends to be more involved in each other's lives. I can understand the fear of living under a microscope, but when that fear is taken to an extreme, instead of living under a microscope, it feels like living in a cave. A Friend spoke of how no one in her meeting ever approached her about joining the meeting. Another spoke of some of his religious struggles and how no one in the meeting really knew about them because no one asked. These things all came to mind as I was looking over JJD's letter on elders. How can we encourage any form of elder, whether it is a recorded position or not, if we are afraid to talk deeply to one another? In your monthly meeting, if someone is spoken to about their ministry, how often is it a complaint? Is it rare to have one's gifts named, or to be encouraged to develop them?
In my time with Friends from North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, I have experienced eldering in a variety of ways, some so subtle that I didn't even notice until someone else pointed them out to me. They have encouraged me, invited me to participate in various ways, even sent me books. This year I was invited to lead the bible study. There are some in my monthly meeting that have also done things like this. What I think is important in JJD's writing on elders is not the issue of a lifetime appointment vs. a three-year one, but the importance that real Spirit-led eldering has in the naming and nurturing of spiritual gifts. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who lacks self-confidence and occasionally needs someone to affirm that I am doing the right thing.
There are times when I find JJD talking about things that have occurred to me, but which I wrestle with. The idea of a Quaker bible commentary is one of these. Since we have traditionally interpreted certain verses a little differently than mainstream Christianity, it would be nice to have a commentary that pointed these differences out. On the other hand, I worry that by codifying it in such a way, it would become the letter that kills the spirit, perhaps allowing us to just go look up the "right interpretation" without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
There was one particular section of letter 10 that I found particular jarring:
But where are our eminent preachers? To say nothing of the Spurgeons and the Moodys, where are the ministers amongst us so well-known and esteemed that their names placarded on the walls would draw together a public audience of a thousand persons?
When I read this, I immediately thought of Joseph Hoag's journal in which he sensed that the people in the meeting had come to hear him, rather than coming to hear what God might have to say, and he was given nothing to say. JJD also talks about people thinking that a minister can just preach or pray at will, rather than having to wait for Divine inspiration. I'm not sure this fits well with the idea of having a preacher's name posted outside that would draw a thousand people.