What is Eldership?
In previous generations, old age bought with it an invitation to Eldership. In the days when we still enjoyed coherent communities, the wisdom of age was called upon to contribute to the vitality and sustainability of a community. Elders were tasked with the role to serve their communities, to protect cherished values, and to do their best to ensure the next generation inherited a vibrant and healthy culture. Today, in most communities, the Elders amongst the elderly are mostly ignored and communities suffer as a result.
In late 2010, a small group of men, led by Chris Johnson (a former President of Mens Wellbeing), were drawn together with a desire to see the role of Eldership re-established in both Mens Wellbeing and the wider community. To that end, they organised a gathering of about 50 like-minded men, all aged over 50 and all with the experience, knowledge and awareness to contribute to this vision.
In March 2011, twelve men were chosen by the men at that gathering to take on the task of establishing an eldership tradition in the Mens Wellbeing community. They were chosen because in some way, they appeared to the men present to embody something of what they imagined an Elder might be.
Those men have since begun a conversation to explore the terrain of Eldership in the modern era. They took insight from the words of Richard Rohr (co-author of The Wildman’s Journey) in their search for the essence of Eldership:
"When we (as grandfathers / elders) can let go of our fear of failure and our fear of pain, we are free to trust life just as it comes…… we are free to relinquish the centre stage and to stand on the sidelines while we remain in solidarity with those who need our support.
"Grandfather energy is an energy that is quiet and secure. It has been tested and not found wanting. It does not need to prove itself any longer, and so it can approve the efforts of others who are yet not sure of themselves.”
In their conversations since, aspects of this Eldership terrain have begun to emerge. Below is a statement from the men of the Elder’s Circle that seeks to define and clarify this terrain and their intentions…
We, the men of the inaugural Elder’s circle, commit to serve the community of men of Mens Wellbeing in a way that opens hearts, brings presence through clarity and deepens the Spirit of all those we encounter. We intend to serve men in a way that benefits their partners, their children and the wider community.
We agree that…
Eldership involves a commitment to service, and with that comes a responsibility that is not always clear or easy to fulfil.
We do not see ourselves as holding a position of privilege or authority over any man. Quite the contrary, we commit to encourage each man to retain his own centre of authority, and to not surrender that to anyone.
Our ‘work’ is more about intention than any particular actions, and our intention is to serve the wellbeing of men in our men’s wellbeing community, in whatever obvious or bizarre way seems appropriate in the moment.
Eldership has an element of mystery. We all have a slightly different view of what it means to be an Elder in this community of men. Our culture has mostly forgotten its tradition of Eldership, so we are tasked with taking guidance from wherever we can find it, and with ‘remembering’ how to weave a new tradition that is relevant in the modern world.
We all agree there is a spiritual dimension to eldership … we each have a unique view of how that looks, and do not, as a group, advocate any particular view or imply that you should believe anything we say on such things. And you may find spiritual themes arising in our ramblings, so the invitation is to take what is useful, jettison the rest, and to remember we respect your right to believe or not whatever works for you.
Our offer to you is that if you seek any of these things, that we are available to engage with you. You are welcome to call upon us to engage us in search of your freedom or peace, to ask a gnarly question or pose a juicy conundrum.
You may find that we answer questions with questions, or talk in riddles, and usually avoid debates about the merits of one thing over another … our intention is to be useful, always respectful, and if we can manage it, joyful and bit mischievous too.