Unity by Dr. Wendy Longo Flickr
2.89 In all our meetings for church affairs we need to listen together to the Holy Spirit. We are not seeking a consensus; we are seeking the will of God. The unity of the meeting lies more in the unity of the search than in the decision which is reached. We must not be distressed if our listening involves waiting, perhaps in confusion, until we feel clear what God wants done.
London Yearly Meeting, 1984
Today’s #AdventWord Unity is one that sounds so simple and yet is so hard to live up to. Quakers have a phrase, ‘way will open’ which is often applied to decision making as well as creating plans. You can read quite a good secular explanation in an unexpected place. Way Opening & Decision Making: a blog post on Quaker decision making – combined with martial arts, not the most common of companions.
However, the article, in common with many others has one aspect wrong. Quakers aren’t seeking community consensus, instead as the quote above says instead we are waiting for the will of God to be revealed. This can come from the oddest of places, you’ll have two very different agendas and then through silent loving waiting, other ways are pieced together. A word here, a suggestion there and you find yourself in a completely different place.
As a clerk I help to create the agenda, and will write draft minutes – setting down all the factual background bits that need to be in the minutes for them to make sense in a hundred years or so and then collecting phrases that might come in useful.
- “We agree to do xxxx”
- “We don’t agree to do xxxx”
- “We don’t accept the recommendation from the sub-committee and ask them to work with xxx and xxx to bring back an alternative at our next meeting”
Of course sometimes what emerges is something completely unexpected, but everyone there feels that the spirit is moving and it is quite astonishing how quickly things get agreed then.
My favourite quote about this is also from Qf&P, passage 2.92. It shows the power of this method and the unity that can be found by faithful listening.
The day was Friday, and we were mindful that within a few hours we
would be going in separate directions, never to be gathered under the
same circumstances again. As we met for worship that morning we were
faced with the decision, whether or not to approve the epistle. We had
laboured for several hours the day before, and it looked as though
preferences for wording and other concerns would make it impossible to
approve the final draft.
However, something happened which transformed the feeling of our
meeting… [A New England Friend] said something like ‘I know that the
blood of Christ and the Atonement are very important issues for some
Friends, and I don’t see anything in the epistle which addresses those
In the discussion that followed, [an] evangelical Friend expressed
his concern that the number of references to Christ might be difficult
for Friends not used to Christ-language. What had begun as an act of
loving concern for other Friends transformed the meeting into a unified
whole. The discussion had changed from persons wanting to ensure that
their concerns were heard to wanting to ensure that the concerns of
others were heard and that their needs were met. We had indeed
experienced the transforming power of God’s love.
Paul Anderson, Report of the World Gathering of Young Friends, 1985
The text of the epistle may be found at 29.17
email from Sean MacEntee on Flickr
What is a generic email address and why do I think they are important?
An example of a generic email address is which for a office or that office holder rather than a person. For Quaker Meetings’ Friends House offer the option to have a standard email address, firstname.lastname@example.org – which is actually a forwarding address which will send any email to whichever email or email addresses you tell it to. In practice these are usually set up to forward to the clerk or correspondence clerk of the meeting. In the case of co-clerks it would forward to both.
However – the new clerk(s) starts off with a clean slate, as all the old emails are in someone else’s personal account.
This is a bit like taking over a new job and discovering the last person took the contents of the desk and filing cabinet with them! Usually when you take over a job you are able to have a hand over period, or at least dig through the files to find out what x is or who y is.
A shared email account can be two people ‘email@example.com’ or it can be for an office or post.
If you send email to the clerk of London Quakers you write to ‘Clerk London Quakers at gmail dot com’ which is an email account shared by the clerking team. You can create similar accounts for Treasurers or any office post you feel might want to ease transitions and avoid memory loss.
This shared email account means
- the outgoing post holders don’t have people continuing to write to them, nor do they have to keep explaining that they’ve left that post
- you don’t have to notify everyone on your contact list to get them to change their email address books
- if the new office holder needs to find some information out they can do a search on the emails (and document folders – but that’s a different post) rather than asking you
- any existing conversations can continue as the new person able to ‘catch up’ by reading back and then replying to the existing thread.
- when you don’t want to deal with your role’s email you don’t have to – and can still read your own personal email.
However, it is fairly simple to set up a domain and have email attached – where you can then have firstname.lastname@example.org If your meeting already has a website it is worth asking the webmaster or hosting company to see if that is possible. A full POP3 email account means you can receive and send email from that address, and any email will be stored on their server so accessible for several people.
I set up or mange such email accounts for my clients, this ensures not only can I access their email remotely – so can they! Importantly they can continue to access it if things change. For example, if I’ve been supporting a meeting between wardens and they’ve now appointed, as it is simple to hand back control of their email account and have all the correspondence to enable a smooth handover to the new system.
- How does your meeting support transitions between office holders?
- Do you use generic email addresses?
This could be taken two ways – how do we ensure that the Meeting House is affordable for both the local community and the worshipping community that uses it. Not only financially, but also with reference back to an earlier post: Beacon or Burden.
Hopefully, all Quaker Meetings are a spirit-led, all-age faith community trying to create a vibrant worshipping community, based on their testimonies of equality, integrity/truth, peace, simplicity & sustainability. From that there is the expectation that this community should be able to support itself & its activities.
I’ve talked about how you can increase the visibility of and welcome to your building for both potential hirers and visitors. These actions can hopefully increase the numbers of hirers and enquirers who find you.
Now I’m widening this to the more intangible costs – I’ll cover ways of reducing utilities etc. later.
In this post instead I’m going to talk about the costs on the members of the Quaker community that uses the building.
- How can we find ways to empower all members of the meeting to take responsibility for their meeting?
- How can we decide each time a decision or suggestion is made if this a good use of our meeting’s energy and time?
- What is our Meeting’s Ministry and how can we work together to achieve it?
Obviously, I could talk about outsourcing some of the routine tasks – cleaning, gardening, bookkeeping, lettings administration but those are the easy ways to release energy.
Or I could mention that Clerking teams or combined Eldership & Oversight work well for many meetings. There needs to be a balance between keeping the jobs within a small ‘weighty friend’ circle and overburdening a new attender or member.
- What ways are there for ensuring the work is equally spread between new and more experienced Quakers?
- What ways are there to experiment with structures and ensure everyone feels able to contribute?
- What ways have you found in your Meeting to do this?