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This page explains in-depth about vocal ministry and eldering. If the language is new to you, we recommend visiting the Quaker Glossary first.

What makes up a vocal minister? What does an elder do? Many Friends could give different answers to these questions. Below is our perspective. We focus specifically on vocal ministry. The metaphors describe our experience, but they may not speak for every Friend.

Minister as receiver
receive content, and channel it
like a fire hose
may be hard to control the flow

Minister as filter
plankton-eater. a whale on the bottom
of the ocean. take in lots of extra water.

Minister as translator
hearing a series of words
or receiving pictures
and putting the feelings of them into human words

Minister as megaphone
broadcasting that which we need to hear... even if the voice is hoarse or off-key

Minister as listener
spending time listening is

For some people , extra content might come in that does not need to be shared.

Discretion is important. In early stages, a minister may be learning what is necessary to share, and learning how to hold the rest.

We believe that doing this work comes with the risk of speaking too much, or of overhearing too much.

Elder as rock

Elder as anchor
slow breath
a calm voice

Elder as tether
leash to pull on
knows where the line ends

Elder as guardrail
protection, boundaries
like the bumpers in the bowling lane

Elder as tent poles
holds the frame
holding the space, a structure

Elder as buffer
a shield from the wind. "Open the window, and block the wind."

Elder as filter
An elder holds the bigger picture. Not the details.

Elder as podium
A speaker can feel more solid with the presence of an elder.

In our experience, an elder can exist without a minister quite easily, but not vice-versa. A minister may need guidance and a guardrail.


In which do you see yourself on more often?

Are you interested in developing any of these qualities in yourself further?


intuition + love + space = empowerment

In our experience, vocal ministers may often be doing what feels like the “first part” of the work. They are taking in content, and sifting through it. They are listening for what is right to say. Elders may be doing the “second part” of the work. They are digesting the summary, and doing so in a deep way. For JT and me, we find that the person eldering often holds the bigger picture. As that process that unfolds, they stay with the process, but not with the details. Of course, these are not static roles. There are times when either gift can be called out of a person.

We are beginning to see eldering as a kind of spacious accompaniment:

Ideas for this page come from both Johanna and JT. We made this page with input and oversight from a seasoned Friend. If you have comments or reflections, please share them on our Feedback Page or email us. Thank you.


We are a network of Quakers who work for inner transformation and collective renewal. Our goal is to motivate one another toward revitalization, so that people of faith may become creative, relevant, and thriving for years to come.

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