Quaker A-Z: T is for Threshing

Threshing the crop, 1480

This post is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

T is for Threshing

Threshing is a rather arcane word, but its use dates back to the earliest Quaker publications and internal letters. Most people I’ve spoken to have never attended a threshing meeting – and yet a threshing meeting held to discuss the ideas and theories around an issue can be incredibly helpful in ensuring that everyone present understands and has a chance to explore the issues.

Rachel Muers and Rhiannon Grant have just finished some research into British Quaker understandings of Threshing Meetings. I took part in one of their meetings which contained a wide range of discussion and views. They’ve published their findings in a report you can download from the University of Leeds website, currently third document down.

We find it helpful to see a threshing meeting as a “threshold” or transitional space – usually, into Meeting for Worship for Business. Threshing an issue is one of the ways in which a meeting can work to bring “the whole of its… life under the ordering of the Spirit”. Threshing meetings themselves are usually held in a spirit of worship, but, unlike business meetings, they are not focussed on reaching a decision through discerning the will of God. Rather, they focus on exploring and understanding the complex, messy and multi-stranded nature of the “whole of life”. This includes, especially, strong emotions, rational arguments, and disputes about matters of fact – all aspects of our lives that might be set aside or downplayed as a Quaker business meeting reaches a decision, but which need to be heard and taken into account in the preparation for that decision. A threshing meeting is one way in which Quakers can respond collectively to the advice to come with heart and mind prepared.

Threshing meetings should still be a Quaker space – they are often described as spiritual, intense, emotional, grounded but have a more fluid arrangement than a Meeting for Worship for Business. They aren’t to be considered just a place for ‘blue-sky-thinking’ or similar secular management phrases, there should be relationships and the process is guided by the facilitator(s).

The report is a fascinating glimpse into current day practices while explaining the historical aspects of threshing. I do recommend it – especially the three fictional case studies, plus the specific recommendations and description of the processes that lead to a successful threshing meeting.

  • Have you even taken part in a Threshing Meeting?
  • Does your meeting use this tool?

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

Latest Posts