Why we renamed our Eldership and Oversight course

Helen Chambers shares why she and her fellow tutors changed the name of one of our courses.

Why we renamed our Eldership and Oversight course Woodbrooke
multicolored handprints on a white wall

For many years now Woodbrooke has been running a course for Elders and Overseers. It’s had various names, but last year Woodbrooke decided to change the name more radically to Pastoral Care and Spiritual Nurture. We wanted to share with you why the course has changed its name.

The traditional terms of “elder” and “overseer” trouble many Friends who associate the latter with colonialism, slavery and oppressive working practices. “Elder” encourages an age-related hierarchy; both terms challenge our testimony to equality. Meeting for Sufferings asked Quaker Life Central Committee to consider other words that might be used for the roles. Following consultation with Meetings across Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) in 2020, it was clear that there was general support for a change to the term ‘overseer’, and meetings were encouraged to use different terms as soon as possible. From the responses received the words ‘pastoral care group’ or similar were common. Another suggestion from the survey is ‘Quaker community support’. We were encouraged to experiment with roles to enable our community to be loving, supportive, inclusive and all-age.

As course tutors, wanting to encourage all Friends to use their gifts and talents as called on to contribute to our Quaker community locally and nationally, we felt that we should reflect this advice. Our hope is that the Spiritual Nurture and Pastoral Care course provides opportunity for Friends in BYM, and other Yearly Meetings, to work as an online learning community, discovering and practising how we can nurture and care for each other, and take that experience into our area and local meetings. Traditionally, there are specific responsibilities for each role. As BYM considers how we simplify our church, should we think how we share responsibility for nurturing the spiritual life of Friends of all ages to provide a “future where Meeting for Worship is the bedrock of living as a Quaker”? How do we “ensure our communities are “loving, inclusive and all age”, where “all are heard, valued and supported, both in our needs and our leadings”?

The six week online course provided by three Woodbrooke associate tutors, with the support of Woodbrooke staff, invites all participants to consider our own experiences of Meeting for Worship, building all-age, inclusive community, giving and receiving care, styles of communication, and how our Quaker faith leads us to serve Friends. We hope that Friends who join us will enjoy being together on Zoom, have many questions to ask, much to share, and know there will be no simple answers!

See our courses supporting Quaker communities

Read more about ‘Our Faith in the Future by Britain Yearly Meeting

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