Quakers - Not Business As Usual

The Quaker understanding that everyone can experience the leadings of the Spirit or God's guidance has a profound effect on the way that Quakers make decisions together.  A Quaker business meeting is held as a meeting for worship in which we seek the leadings of the Spirit on the particular matters on the agenda.  So as in any meeting we gather in stillness before turning to the agenda.  The person who leads the meeting through the agenda is called the clerk (often supported by an an assistant clerk or there may be two co-clerks).   The clerks will introduce a topic, and may perhaps ask another Friend to give a fuller introduction; and then other Friends will contribute. The clerks will guide the whole process but do not normally contribute their view of the matter (save maybe in an extremely small meeting).  If several Friends feel they have something to share then the clerks determine who shall speak and may at an appropriate moment encourage someone to speak who has relevant knowledge or an important perspective but is reluctant to come forward.  The clerks then have the role of discerning the 'sense of the meeting' and at an appropriate moment will offer to the meeting a minute recording the deliberation of the meeting and any decision by the meeting.  The meeting may then deliberate further on whether the minute adequately reflects where it has reached and this may lead to the clerks suggesting some amendments to the minute before it is agreed by the whole meeting.

There are no resolutions and no voting.  Friends do not accept that weight of numbers can determine what is the right or the wrong course of action, except in trivial matters or when arrangements such as the date of a meeting may depend on personal convenience and the numbers able to attend on different occasions. A decision of any importance will not be based on numbers.

The Friends present should be seeking the right way forward for the meeting.  It is a creative process involving everyone.  The spoken contributions within the meeting are considered to be ministry in a meeting for worship in which a person shares the leadings they have experienced.  A Friend may well have an opinion on what is the right course of action but in their words they are expected to explain why they feel that this action is appropriate in order to provide this  information but not seeking to persuade others to agree with them.  Friends should listen to the words of others upholding the Friend who is speaking.  There is a time of quite waiting between contributions during which Friends are encouraged to consider whether the words they might want to share are needed by the meeting and have come from a true leading.  The final decision involves everybody.  This does not necessarily mean that everybody agrees with the decision but everyone should recognize that this is the right decision for the meeting.  There is a sense in which how we address an issue is more important than the outcome.

Sometimes the nature of the topic and its consideration may not lead to a clear agreement on a way forward. In such a case, the clerks present a minute recording this and it may be necessary to return to the subject at a later meeting.  The Quaker way of decision making may sometimes seem be rather  time-consuming but one practical advantage is that the meeting has agreed the precise wording of each minute, and so the minutes are not dependent on the notes, or the memory, or even the personal bias, of someone writing the minutes up afterwards; so there is never any question about their accuracy.

Of course, much of the business in most meetings is quite straightforward and a decision and minute may be made quite quickly.  For routine business where the outcome is pretty clear the clerk my well have a draft minute ready to offer to the meeting.

There is a discipline about Quaker business meetings, and one can only learn this by taking part in them over quite a long period. Friends do not claim to be perfect: we get things wrong and we do things wrongly, some of us all too often. However, the awareness that we are sharing in this discipline and seeking together the leadings of the Spirit leads to a sense of satisfaction, which overrides the things that may have proved too difficult or even been mishandled. Rarely if ever do those taking part fail to give great support to the clerks in their work; it is widely agreed that the roles of clerk and assistant clerk are experienced as a privilege, and that the feeling they most often take away with them is one of quiet joy. The mood in our meetings is often serious, rarely solemn. They are almost invariably good-humoured, and there is often laughter.