O is for… Oversight

Although we appoint Overseers to make sure that pastoral care is done, I prefer to think of it as a duty which is shared by everyone in a meeting. I think that even though I’m basically terribly bad at it and frequently feel like I’m neither supporting anyone in my meeting or being supported by them. (This is no critique of any meeting. It has nothing to do with reality; it’s just my wrong emotions coming to the fore.)

One trouble I see is that assigned oversight does not always make the best oversight. Some of the best oversight I’ve had had come from people who have never served as overseers or happened in meetings where nobody had been specifically appointed to the role – in fact, I suspect that the latter position makes it easier to do, in the sense that it isn’t ‘someone else’s job’. People’s tastes in oversight vary, too; I quite liked to be asked where I’ve been if I’ve been missing from Meeting for a week or two, but I know at least one meeting where some Friends are so allergic to being asked that not only do they not ask, if you happen to mention in conversation where you were last Sunday they hurry to assure you that you don’t need to explain your absence!

Similarly, I feel very supported by practical help – lifts, meals, hugs – and by explicit upholding, but struggle to feel supported by the silent meeting as a whole or by people who ask how I am and respond to honest answers with “oh dear, poor you” or “I’m so sorry you have to go through that” or other pitying noises (or “I hope you feel better soon” when the problem in question is caused by a chronic illness). Presumably some Friends find these things helpful, though, or nobody would say them.

(I find it especially difficult when I’m getting that a lot for whatever reason and it puts me off giving honest answers. If you can’t keep the Truth Testimony among Quakers, how are you ever going to manage in the ordinary world? And yet Meeting is one of those places where I find myself telling little lies like “I’m fine, thanks”.)

Oversight is obviously improved by really knowing one another, in the day to day things as well as the eternal things. Less obviously, it relies on people looking after themselves as well as others; especially knowing when they need to stop, and doing so, however much work there is left to be done. If you don’t love yourself at all, it’s not helpful to love your neighbour that much. This is one of the reasons why I am so bad at it.

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