Quaker meeting. for worship. for business. The full name says it all…meeting for worship. For business. And, as Eden Grace so articulately reminds us in the video, we are in fact discerning and then working to be obedient to the will of God in ALL those things that affect our faith community; SPIRITUAL AND SECULAR; monumental and mundane, through the deliberate acts of corporate devotion and waiting and prayer together.
I have found that once a person realizes the power and legitimacy in this way of conducting the affairs of an organization, all other methods pale in comparison. Recently, in other meetings of community organizations I have longed for the periods of quiet, for the orderly conversation, for others who recognize God’s presence, like I find in Quaker business meetings.
The primary distinctive of a Quaker business meeting resides in what the goal is for our business gathering. We are not seeking to only make decisions based on the support of a particular action by the greatest number of attenders at the meeting. We are working to determine what God wants rather than collecting majority opinion… Many Quakers or Friends acknowledge this distinction by alluding to the fact that through a meeting for business, UNITY is achieved about any given issue or action. Unity is that condition in which all voices are joined harmoniously into one whole. All perspectives have been considered and a response has been melded together that reflects the input of every voice. This is NOT unanimity, where all the individual responses have been the same or made to become the same, thus resulting in a consensus decision. An example of unity could be found in the formation of a musical chord, which is the joining together of three or more distinct individual notes producing a whole new unique sound. This work takes effort, and the understanding that ultimately everyone is seeking to be aligned around what God’s perspective is on the topic or issue. Quaker Patricia Loring says that those who seek in this way find a “deep, interior unity which is a sign the members are consciously gathered in God and may therefore trust their corporate guidance.”
Integral to the good functioning of a business meeting is the ability of the clerk to competently fulfill their role. Although this position is roughly parallel to a chairperson or president, it does include a different focus. While a president or chairperson has hierarchical authority that allows that person to determine the agenda of the gathering, as well as control the flow and focus of business as the meeting unfolds, a clerk is primarily concerned with operating at two levels simultaneously, while maintaining group order in the proceedings. On one level, a clerk must be sensitive to the group—ensuring that all get opportunity to express their views, working to clarify and guide the discussion. Another level involves the ability to seek divine guidance regarding the business at hand. “Clerking requires considerable self-restraint; the clerk is to be obedient to the considered will of the meeting even when his or her personal judgment may be different. When the clerk senses unity is near, a minute may be proposed that embraces the sense of the meeting…and sometimes a clerk will frame a minute that is somewhat different from any view that has been expressed but incorporates all of them so well that all present unite with it.
Not all responsibility for productive business meetings lies on the clerk. EACH INDVIDUAL participant should work to contribute to a successful, productive gathering. Careful listening, respect and trust for one another are crucial. Decision-making can be time consuming, requiring those present to wait in silence occasionally, until a new direction emerges. Each individual speaking only once to each issue or topic is also a good discipline to follow. It is important for any and all meeting attenders to understand that every person has information, insight, and energy that is vital to the business process.
There are also a couple of other types of gatherings among friends that impact or contribute to decision making. These too are meetings for WORSHIP for whatever the issue at hand entails.
When a meeting encounters a decision that is complex or where they are likely to reveal major differences of feeling or understanding, preliminary meetings to air these differences and to hear from one another may be desirable and help the process of mutual understanding. Quakers designate such meetings as “threshing meetings or sessions”. The name is derived from the assumption that through them the chaff might be separated from the grain of truth, clearing the way for later action on the issue. However no corporate decisions are made at such meetings. My personal experience with threshing sessions includes a meeting at Wilmington Friends in Ohio, as the faith community struggled with the issue of having an American flag on the platform in the worship room. We sat together for between 2 and 3 hours one Sunday after our worship service in order to hear one another’s views and discern together in silence. This gathering did help the monthly meeting move through some emotional and hard places, creating the environment from which a proposal was created that was approved at a later meeting for business.
Meetings for clearness take place to help an individual member or attender of the meeting find clarity around a leading or concern in their life. Usually a clearness committee is formed from the monthly meeting to meet with the person desires guidance. These may be requested when an individual is considering a major life decision and would benefit from sitting in worship and answering discerning questions. This could include but would not be limited to when they are feeling called to some sort of ministry, or considering a job change, a move in location, or any significant transition or issue. Clearness committees are also part of the Quaker marriage process. I have asked for clearness committees in order to define what and where I might pursue a pastoral ministry position at a couple different times in my career. I have also been on clearness committees considering a person’s educational opportunities and options, as well as one that focused on how to arrange childcare and work so that all members of a family had their desires and needs taken care of.
At the core of each one of these decision-making processes among Quakers- meeting for worship for business, threshing sessions, and clearness commitees– is the truth and reality that we encountered in our scripture about the daughters of Zelophahad. Those 5 women challenged the assumptions of their culture that said that the Law was the ultimate answer for any of life’s issues. Their leader Moses, who had a relationship with the divine that included the ability to ask questions and seek responses, went to talk to God about this circumstance that would have led to the daughters losing their family’s land. When God responds to this inquiry, we can discern and understand that God desires this kind of connection with ALL humans. As Eden noted, God CARES: about anything and everything, and wants to communicate with us. While the issue at hand deeply concerns the daughters, their land is their life—in the same way that our concerns about carpet, and sound systems and the budget occupy and affect us and our faith communities—the bottom line is that God responds because ULTIMATELY, the transformation of the world is affected. Our actions, based on the response of a loving and gracious God promotes the spread of the reign of God, and shares the Good news in the places and people of our community and beyond. That is why God cares about the color of carpet in the meetinghouse.Our God is a God who desires and values relationship with humans that supports and nurtures and enables all facets of our lives, as well as the empowerment of the promotion and growth of the Kingdom of God. Our decision-making practices encourages and allows our relationship with God to prosper the whole world.
Come to business meeting and partner with God in creating a world based on love, peace, justice, equality. It really does start right here!