Quaker A-Z: C is for Clerk vs Chair

I’m often asked what is the difference between a Quaker Clerk and the Chair of a Committee. My usual rather tongue-in-cheek (and not strictly true) answer is that “A Quaker clerk is a servant of the meeting, and the Chair is the boss of their group”. 

Quakers in Britain have a good deal of information and advice on their website.

So, who are these Quakers, anyway?...

Clerk Chair
Photo by Allec Gomes on Unsplash

"A Quaker business meeting is very similar to a meeting for worship, in fact the proper name for one is a Meeting for Worship for Business. Where it differs is there will be the set agenda of items to get through, and there will be a Clerk to guide the process, who acts both as the chair of the meeting and also as the person who writes the minutes of the meeting. Usually the Clerk will be helped by an Assistant Clerk, or often two Co-Clerks will share the responsibility equally. Less so in Britain but often in the rest of the Quaker world a Clerk will chair the meeting and a Recording Clerk will write the minutes, the format the secular world will more easily recognise as the roles of a Chair and a Secretary."

In my clerk experience...

I have served on Quaker committees where there were good reasons why the clerk wasn’t the right person to write the minutes. Therefore the assistant clerk or minutes clerk was appointed. The main difference here is that the minute clerk only turned up and wrote minutes, they didn’t do any of the admin and preparation. 

When I’m in a clerk support or charity administrator role, I prepare agendas, draft minutes, or even attend and take notes/minutes. It largely depends on what the clerking team have decided they need support with. If you are using the Quaker practice of contemporaneous minutes (written in the meeting and agreed by everyone there) then the minutes are still an agreed reflection of the meeting’s discussion and discernment (even if that discernment is that no decision can be made right now). 

That decision is made by the meeting as a whole, not by the clerk. Though the clerk may help lead that decision by suggesting “I’m feeling that the meeting is xxxx”, or “I’m not seeing a decision being possible at this point – shall we come back to this at xxxx?” 

We will be exploring this topic throughout this A-Z series. 

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