So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of  Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God  that is in your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5: 1-4 (RSV)

*   *   *

In Anabaptist practice – which would include Quakers as well as Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, and Hutterites – the elders or bishops are found within the congregation, rather than in a hierarchy somewhere outside of it. They lift the ministers or pastor, often silently in prayer, but sometimes in calm counsel. They also lend a hand to members in emotional or physical need.

As one Friend once said to me, “Jnana, thee see Burton there? He don’t say much. He’s an elder, a true elder.”

*   *   *

And now Friends, let me mind myself, and you, that we greatly love and esteem, and in Honour do prefer those that were in Truth before us; some of whom have been made as Trumpets, by the Breath of the Lord, to sound the everlasting Gospel in our Ears; and others, on whom the Gift of Utterance hath not been bestowed, yet have they taught us to fear God, and give Glory to him, by the Example which they have set before us; and thus respecting these as Elders, so shall Love regularly extend itself towards all others. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

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