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Elders, Overseers, Pastoral Care



6.1.1 In any community there is need to watch over the well-being of the group and the individuals within it.  In a Quaker community there is also a need to nurture the spiritual growth of those associated with the Meeting.  Some Meetings prefer to appoint a Pastoral Care Committee or Committee on Oversight which will fill both roles. But although there are natural overlaps, these roles are separate and distinct. All Friends should know what responsibilities are covered by these offices.

Elders and Overseers are usually appointed for a period of three years and a maximum of two terms.  They are responsible to their Monthly Meeting.  When a Monthly Meeting also appoints other committees to undertake specific tasks, it is still the responsibility of Elders and Overseers to ensure that the work is being adequately carried out.

6.1.2 The responsibilities of Elders and Overseers are partly personal and confidential, to be discharged quietly in love, as the spirit may lead.  Much of their work is advisory.   It calls for wisdom and insight, and meticulous respect for its confidential nature.   It may sometimes be right that information received should not be shared even with other elders and overseers.

6.1.3 Overseers' responsibility is pastoral care in its widest sense (see 6.3)The sphere of Elders' work is the spiritual life of the Meeting and of its individual members (see 6.2).

Since the tasks of Elders and Overseers are closely linked, communication between them is necessary, and cooperation on some decisions advisable. The two groups will sometimes meet together, to consider wider needs.

As with all committees, no one Friend is expected to carry out every one of the tasks: it is up to the whole committee to ensure that all tasks are covered.

6.1.4 An informal link exists between Elders and Overseers on a national level, with a special joint meeting usually during Yearly Meeting.


6.2.1   Elders are primarily concerned with nurturing the spiritual life of the group as a whole and of its individual members, so that all may become more responsive to the Light and therefore closer to one another.  

6.2.2   Elders will be concerned with:

(a) the right holding of meetings for worship.  This includes practical matters such as attending to seating; encouraging punctuality; the quiet gathering of the meeting with order and reverence; and the closing of the meeting (usually with the shaking of hands).  On occasion an Elder may take a disturbed or disruptive person aside for a quiet talk and perhaps referral to appropriate assistance;

(b) encouraging and advising sympathetically those who may feel called to give spoken or other ministry within the meeting for worship, especially any who are hesitant;

(c) giving thought to the ministry for special occasions such as marriages, funerals and memorial meetings;  and on these occasions guiding non-members so that they may participate more fully;

(d)  ensuring that there is provision for Friends and attenders to deepen their experience and knowledge of Quakerism and its roots, in the form of study groups, quiet days, seminars etc.;

(e) caring for the spiritual needs of individual Friends and attenders, remembering those unable to attend our meetings through age, illness or other reasons and, where helpful, arranging occasional meetings for worship in their homes; taking special responsibility for ministry to the dying;

(f) seeing that provision is made to help the children of the Meeting to an understanding of the Quaker message, and to enter into the experience of worship;

(g)  ensuring that provision is made for religious education and opportunities for spiritual growth, for all in the Meeting;

(h) organising Monthly Meeting weekends or days for worship, study and social activities, sometimes in conjunction with other Meetings, and sometimes as regional gatherings;

(i) seeing that the Meeting makes regular use of Questions & Counsel.

(j)  providing assistance where there may be a difficulty between members, or between a member and the Meeting;

(k)  giving advice and information about applying for membership; encouraging any who may be hesitant;  and encouraging young people when they reach an age when they might signify a desire for membership;

(l)  giving advice and information to those wishing to have a Quaker wedding, and referring them to the Registering Officer of the Meeting;

(m) generally watching over the Meeting and its members and attenders as a community founded on love.


6.3.1 The essence of pastoral caring is Christian concern and understanding love.   In our pastoral care we share in one another's joys as well as sorrows, support parents in the care of their children, visit the sick and others prevented from attending meeting for worship, meet the enquiries of seekers, and exercise a sympathetic understanding towards those facing new experiences or struggling to overcome difficulties.

6.3.2 Overseers are especially concerned with pastoral care, watching that we build a fellowship in which all members find acceptance, loving care, and opportunity for service, so that all may grow in grace, and, liberated from pre-occupation with self, are enabled to serve others creatively.

6.3.3 Overseers, jointly or sometimes individually, will be concerned with:

(a)  sharing in the joys and sorrows of those associated with the Meeting;  visiting the sick and others prevented from attending meetings for worship (contacting Elders if a meeting for worship is needed by a bedside or at home); supporting parents, making friendly relationships with their children;

(b)  creating a climate of acceptance and encouragement particularly of newcomers and new attenders, so that all associated with the Meeting may feel part of the group, growing into the fellowship and being given the opportunity to make their contribution by joining in the worship and work of the Meeting;

(c)  encouraging support between individuals and small groups living near each other or who would find each other congenial;

(d) encouraging Friends to attend business meetings and to accept a share of responsibility for the work of the Meeting; encouraging regular attenders to attend business meetings, to gain a deeper understanding of Quaker procedure and to begin to participate;

(e) encouraging Friends and attenders to go to yearly meetings, summer gatherings, seminars and other events; and advising on financial assistance available.

(f) exercising a care over the children and young people; fostering activities which bring Friends together, being mindful of the all-age nature of the Quaker community; ensuring that activities for children are arranged as well as all-age events; encouraging adults to recognise children as individuals; ensuring that Friends expecting babies are well supported, and informing them that, if desired, a meeting can be held to welcome the infant into its community;

(g)  arranging for the sick and elderly to be visited and helping Friends in special need, bearing in mind the existence of special funds and services, within Meetings and beyond. (see 5.6.12 , 5.6.13 etc );

(h) keeping in touch with Friends or attenders who are unable through sickness or infirmity to come to meeting for worship; and with members' children who are residing elsewhere for work or study, ensuring that their nearest Meeting is aware of them;

(i) welcoming recently admitted members and Friends who come into the Meeting area;

(j)  establishing communication with any Friend who appears to be out of fellowship or not finding spiritual help within the Society;

(k)  notifying other Monthly Meetings promptly when Friends move into their districts, even for a few months, whether or not transfer of membership is involved, maintaining contact with these Friends if they so wish;

(l)   notifying the clerk of removal of Friends, marriages and deaths, so that these may be recorded in the MM minutes and by the Recording Officer;

(m)  reading over the list of members and attenders at least once a year in order to consider the needs of each person associated with the Meeting.  They should check the list for accuracy of addresses etc., ensure that the names of children in the Meeting are added to the list; and consider whether to send recommendations to MM for terminations of membership, after consultation with the members concerned if that is possible. (see 4.9.18 ).

6.3.4  Overseers aim to ensure that the Meeting is a safe community in which people of all ages and genders respect one another.

The procedures for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment and sexual abuse are in the appendices.  Other forms of disrespectful behaviour, physical or verbal, could require similar procedures.

A knowledge of resource people for trained advice, counselling and community services is desirable .

6.4.1  Clearness Meetings

In clearness meetings, a small number of Friends meet to discern the way forward in a particular matter. The idea springs from the Quaker understanding that the Meeting can provide individuals with a resource of wisdom and strength.

It seems that the first clearness meetings among Quakers were intended to ascertain whether applicants for marriage were "clear" of conflicting obligations. Soon the term was used to indicate a search for clearness about whether the decision to marry was the right one.

More recently, the use of clearness meetings has broadened to encompass various other occasions when clarity is being sought.  Some possibilities are:

— to test a concern,

— to consider new forms of service,

— to seek guidance in difficult choices or turning points (for example changing employment or crises in relationships),

— when there is a personal dispute between individual Friends,

— when there is a conflict within the Meeting,

— when some Friend has a concern about a public issue or crisis.

The proceedings are carried out in the spirit of worship. Clearness meetings provide, under the guidance of the Spirit, a loving environment where non-judgemental listening and respect offer an opportunity for the talking-out of feelings and fears, and contribute towards clarity of thinking. They may help to avoid the necessity of individuals making major decisions alone, in haste, in fear, or under pressure.

The above list of "possibilities" is not meant to imply that a clearness meeting is always the option to choose — in some cases, skilled help from outside may be needed.

6.4.2 A clearness meeting to assist with an individual's personal decision-making is a small private one.  It may be appropriate for all to agree at the outset that confidentiality will be observed.  Those invited to attend are normally selected by the person(s) seeking clearness. These will usually be trusted personal friends and members of the Meeting with appropriate experience.

Sometimes the Monthly Meeting, or the Elders, will make a clearness meeting a necessary precondition for a Quaker wedding. In other cases it is entirely a voluntary arrangement.

6.4.3 There are also clearness meetings of a more open kind, which may be called by the Monthly Meeting in response to a public crisis or an important situation involving all the Meeting.