Spiritual Accompaniment: An Experience of Two Friends Traveling in the Ministry
by Cathy Walling and Elaine Emily
reviewed by Judith Favor
Spiritual accompaniment can be a very physical process. Shaking, sweating, rocking, and buzzing are just a few manifestations of the Spirit experienced by Cathy Walling and Elaine Emily as Elaine offered Eldering workshops and ministry with Australia Yearly Meeting in 2007-2008. Cathy’s call to this particular form of eldership took root many years earlier. She longed to know what Quaker elders experienced in previous centuries, but found their voices missing from historical journals.
Friends with an interest in the inner workings of an accompanying elder will find her point of view uniquely refreshing in this Pendle Hill Pamphlet (#428) published in 2014. I celebrate this valuable addition to Quaker literature as a clear guide for Friends who are led to the ministry of spiritual nurture.
This essay is a joint project. Its purpose is to shed light and transparency on the delicate relationship between elder and minister traveling together in the ministry. Perspectives on Spiritual Accompaniment are drawn from Cathy’s private journal and composed in her first-person voice, while representing the experience of both. The lessons, challenges, and gifts of two seasoned women are tenderly described in three phases: Preparation, Action, and Recovery.
Cathy Walling summarizes the complex process succinctly: “The minister tends to the message rising within, which needs to be liberated. The elder helps draw it out, supporting the birthing of it in the metaphorical role of midwife.” Cathy found herself “listening for Elaine’s words coming in the middle of the night for possible ministry the next day . . . affirming what sounded right for the situation, offering questions or cautions . . .”
Spiritual Accompaniment explores a whole range of issues that came up in these women’s joint ministry – from “big questions” like “Where is God in all this?” to practicalities like arranging for food and privacy, time for rest and prayer, and fresh air in the workshop space. Cathy even describes getting “the spiritual bends, coming up too quickly from the depths of spiritual grounding beneath the words in order to move into support mode to address issues with the venue.”
This pamphlet is a treasure of honesty, vulnerability, and intimacy between two “yokemates.” As Cathy describes it, “We were yoked together to do the work of the Divine. Elaine was the more visible and vocal part, and I was the spiritual grounding.” Quakers today are rediscovering Eldering as a vital ministry of spiritual nurture, but historic journals give little help. Spiritual
Accompaniment is a testimony to the purpose, power, and palpable presence of Eldering, while raising and responding to a range of important questions about this ministry. For example, it considers how an elder might: pray for and with a minister, give advice and support, hear complaints with spiritual ears, shift gears from internal work to assisting the minister, and how an elder might share hard truths with the minister. In short, this pamphlet considers what it is that the elder is doing while sitting next to the minister. As Elaine describes it, Cathy’s focused presence as an Elder “brings forth fuller, richer, truer liberation of the message for the community’s benefit.”
Judith Favor is a convinced Friend at home in Claremont Monthly Meeting (PYM).