This is Part 1 in a summary of a workshop on clerking Quaker Business Sessions offered by Kelly Kellum at Wilmington Yearly Meeting Sessions on July 28th, 2017
Kelly opened his workshop by reminding Friends that the work we do together as Friends is grounded in the work of God. The Quaker concept of Meeting for Business only makes sense when rooted in the real, corporate experience of Christ among us- and without that experience, what we have is just a decision-making process.
Kelly also connected this discussion to the broader conflict within Wilmington Yearly Meeting regarding marriage equality, saying:
This is the single question facing Wilmington Yearly Meeting this weekend: What is the presence in our midst saying to you, in this moment? I invite you to hold that question in prayerful silence for a moment, and then continue to hold it through the discussions this afternoon and the business sessions tomorrow.
Friends broke into small groups in order to consider a passage by Margaret Springer of Canadian Yearly Meeting:
The most important unit of our Quaker structure is the Monthly Meeting. This is a group of members in one locality who meet every week for worship, and every month for business. One person is chosen as Clerk, to preside over Business Meetings and to facilitate the work of the Meeting. There are other officers and subcommittees, depending on the size and interest of the Meeting. These may deal with Finance, Property, Ministry and Counsel (pastoral oversight of members), First Day School, Library or current social concerns.
No vote is taken at a Quaker Business Meeting. It is a religious meeting – a Meeting for Worship for Business. After a person has spoken, there is silence. We try not to interrupt each other, or jump in too quickly with our own ideas, or speak more than once on the same topic. We work towards agreeing on the ‘sense of the Meeting’, which the presiding Clerk formulates and which is written down as a Minute. On the surface, this is the conduct of business by consensus. But what we are really trying to do is listen together for God’s guidance.
What if we cannot reach agreement? Then the matter is either laid down or laid over to the next Meeting. Yes, this can be a slow way of doing things. But when we all know that this is the way, we feel our individual responsibility to help things go forward. To make things happen, we have to put in the effort of really listening to each other, and search for that of God within ourselves.
This is surprisingly hard work. Of course there are times when meetings drag on because we are not prepared, or not listening, or not centred on God’s will. But in a Meeting for Business at its best you can see our witness to Friends’ testimonies being translated into action, with love and care and humility. And that is an exciting spiritual experience.
Upon returning to the larger group, Kelly asked Friends to consider both the roles/responsibilities of members and the roles/responsibilities of the clerk. Suggested responsibilities of members included preparing for being in corporate worship and making oneself familiar with the issues at hand, actually showing up, expecting the Spirit of Christ to show up, participating prayerfully in the moment, and respecting the result of the process afterward rather than undermining the meeting.
When describing the roles and responsibilities of the clerk, Friends said that the clerk must be willing to set aside his or her own intentions. Clerks need to listen to what is being said by all Friends from all positions, and listen to the unifying voice of Christ within the body. Clerks also have the same responsibility as anyone else in the body to respect the process afterward.
One friend rose to highlight the end of the quote we were considering, where the writer speaks about the excitement of the process. She said that too often, we forget to look for this excitement:
“It’s amazing that we can work this way and that Christ’s presence is felt among us”
Kelly moved into the next part of his presentation by saying, “The primary work of each Friend is to bring his or her best or true self into the discerning work of the meeting or the community.” There is a shared responsibility among all members to maintain the order and the process, and to sustain the spiritual atmosphere that makes the work possible.
This shared responsibility means that our worshipful work takes place within a vulnerable system. This system can easily be run off course, intentionally or unintentionally, when we don’t bring our best selves into the work we are called to do.
Kelly offered several advices for participating in worshipful work:
> Be Prepared. This operates on two levels: both showing up with reports ready and having familiarized ourselves with the issues at hand, and also the spiritual preparation necessary for sitting together in business sessions.
> Be Aware of Contributing Spirits. Kelly illustrated this point with a story about attending a workshop on discernment which seemed, at first, to mostly be about demons and other evil spirits and how to expell them. But then, the presenter explained that she was not as interested in metaphysical spirits as in “domestic spirits,” the attitudes and motivations that we bring into our lives, our families, and our communities. Are we being led by spirits of fear, hopelessness, and anger, or by joy, hope, and love?
“We all come with spiritual gifts that we lend to the Quaker business process. It is helpful, then, to examine the spirits that we lend,” Kelly said. Self-examination helps us remember the fruit of the Spirit that guides our worshipful work: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
> Be Humble. Kelly offered a definition of humility as “knowing how much space we are to occupy at any given time.” Who in our meetings tend to occupy more space than necessary? Who needs to be encouraged to occupy more space?
Be Honest. So much good work is undone when Friends remain silent about their objections throughout the entire discernment process… until they get to the parking lot, where they can talk it over with their friends. One of the best gifts that we can bring to the worshipful work is our testimony of integrity. If there is a question or a concern, we need to name that openly, in worship. Kelly said,
“If we don’t name the concern, if we aren’t honest about it, it takes on it’s own unique life within our souls… and results in friction and factions that disrupt the unity and the sense of the meeting”
> Be Open Minded and Open hearted. Leave room for the Spirit to do transforming work within the community.
> Be Stewards. Spiritual gifts are resources to be spent wisely. Get the right people into the right tasks, so that the person best suited to recording isn’t repairing toilets while the best mechanic is preparing a children’s message and so on.
> Be Patient. This process can be sloooooooow. Let it work. It’s always more efficient, in the end, to do the work well then to do it poorly and quickly and need to undo and rebuild.
> Anchor the Meeting. Kelly described this with a story of his time as clerk of Friends United Meeting, at a time when the organization was going through challenges. One faithful Friend came to him and said that she was being called to be an anchor for the group as they labored together. She stepped aside from the discussion to simply hold the meeting in prayer. Kelly said, “I can’t tell you how meaningful that was to me.”