Quaker A-Z: T is for Timekeeping

an hourglass with sand running
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
One of the questions which comes up frequently during MBS clerk support & training is agenda timekeeping, especially how to keep to time while still allowing time during the meeting for the spirit to move.
Anyone who has attended a Yearly Meeting will be familiar with the way those clerks handle it – giving plenty of warning that this period is for open ministry, discernment on a specific matter, and then that we only have time for x number of people or comments.
Holding items over – as happened this year with the extra session being on July 1st – can be done at any meeting. But with clear expectations, the clerking team and elders can keep things moving in a spirit-led way.

I always start by putting in worship. This is a Meeting for Worship for Business, after all!

If you know the time period you’re expecting to meet then create a timeline with those starting/finishing times top and bottom.

Add in the worship periods to help people settle before the first item, and then to settle and prepare to take the results of the meeting into the rest of their day.

If you feel more silence might be needed make a note on your agenda too.

Think timekeeping when creating the agenda...

an overview of an agenda with timings and annotations

Once you’ve filled in all the agenda items you have a high-level overview, and can start to see where there may be too much listening to you read draft minutes (that you hope others have read) on the expectation that the item will be nodded through, or that the number of items requiring careful discernment is just too much for the time available. If an item doesn’t have a time-critical action point, and you know it will need additional time and consideration, don’t be afraid to postpone it until the following meeting. This doesn’t work indefinitely, of course!

Also, consider the “flow” of the meeting. I find it useful to group similar items together. While the meeting may expect things in a certain format “because that’s how it has always been done”, you can change things if you find the current system doesn’t work well.

For example, if everyone has received the report of an event in advance you don’t have to have someone stand at the front and read it; instead you might ask if there are any points for clarification and then try a draft minute recording the event/report. Or you may want to ask someone to read part of their report, as it can help set the mood for the discernment ahead.

An experienced clerk once advised me to

"remember the motivation of a promised cup of tea or lunch..."

By which they meant that if you know something might inspire quite a bit of input, especially if that input mainly repeats what has already been said, it’s good to put that just before a break or the end of the meeting.
The example used was the Junior Yearly Meeting epistle and report from their representative.
Which could be done on draft minute, but there was a firm feeling from the meeting that instead anyone who had ever been a rep, or knew one, felt they should stand and explain that in detail and at least one person would want to comment on how nice it was to see a young person at…
So the clerk learned to suggest they did that with the current rep over tea!

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