In the transaction of business the same reverent waiting upon the Lord should prevail as in meetings for worship. Friends should give patient and sympathetic consideration to all proposals and expression of opinion. We reach decisions through a sense of the meeting rather than by vote.
The meeting for worship with a concern for business provides an opportunity for consideration of individual concerns. The meeting may choose to act corporately on such concerns.
However, if the meeting does not feel that it can adopt a concern as part of the corporate policy of the meeting, it may authorize the person who has proposed it to proceed as an individual, with the clear understanding that the name of the meeting is not to be involved. In this case the meeting will usually offer prayerful support and provide guidance or counsel. Where circumstances warrant, it may provide financial assistance for the individual or the individual’s family.
When an individual lays a concern before a meeting, much depends upon the degree of the concern and the care that Friend takes in advance to develop the idea by prayerful consideration and by testing it in conversation with other Friends. Much depends too upon the openness and sensitivity of the group and its willingness to accept new ideas that have merit, once they have been properly proposed and weighed in the meeting for business. The Quaker business procedure rests on faith that God is giving a measure of Light to everyone. It follows that people may come to know God’s leading through others’ experience as well as their own. One of the deeply spiritual experiences of Quakerism comes when a meeting for business responds to the essential goodness and truth in a well-proposed concern with an awesome silence and then messages of approval.
There should be a willingness to speak or be silent as led. Friends should rely on the power of the spirit of truth and seek to keep their speech simple and straightforward. If the meeting is to reach a group decision, participants need considerable personal discipline and an allowance for humble or tentative conclusions.
Such a method is not without tensions, but these can be creative if partisanship and self-interest are subordinated to the authority of God’s Spirit. What may seem to be minority positions at first, if taken into account with humility and loving patience, often lead to completely unforeseen conclusions. Friends may differ in their judgement of the suitability of an action, some favoring caution, others wishing to move forward more adventurously, but with perseverance a decision satisfactory to the entire group will be arrived at.
In deliberations of this kind, tradition has no value merely for its own sake, and Friends should not allow it to become a dead weight. But tradition may represent the judgement and testing of time, and it is well to evaluate thoroughly and carefully any radically new departure.
There needs to be constant reference to the standard of the witness and teaching of Jesus and the relevance of this for our time. A meeting for business should remain close to divine guidance, and, if Friends show no clear direction on a matter or lose their leading and wander off into argument, a period of silent waiting on God can show the way. The words of those who speak after prayerful consideration have a different quality and purpose from words uttered in dispute. It is Quaker custom, too, for persons who have once expressed their views clearly and adequately not to address the meeting again.
Friends should not allow the meeting for business to become entangled in minor or trivial decisions. These can divert the meeting from dealing adequately with matters of greater spiritual import. Minor matters are often more divisive, too, than major decisions and can well be delegated to an appropriate person or committee for disposition.
The meeting for business names a clerk who convenes and conducts its sessions. As with any Friends’ appointment, this office carries no arbitrary authority. The clerk is the servant of the meeting attempting to record the collective will of the business session. The clerk will find it easier to execute this task and prepare the agenda if committee clerks and others with business to bring before the meeting consult the clerk in advance.
In conducting the business meeting, the clerk’s concern should be to facilitate worshipful consideration of matters before Friends. The clerk needs to remain objective and neutral, listening carefully to all who speak and being sensitive to those who may keep silent. If Friends should fall into dispute or fail to keep to the point, it is the responsibility of the clerk to remind them, corporately or individually, of their proper focus. The clerk should keep Friends mindful of the time without “rushing the spirit.” Most importantly, the clerk must be alert to when unity has been reached, suggesting a minute to express the sense of the meeting. When approved in its original or modified form, it becomes a part of the permanent record of the meeting and is accepted by the members as final unless called up for reconsideration.
It is the privilege of any member to offer a substitute for the clerk’s minute. The meeting may approve, modify, or reject it in exactly the same manner as if the clerk had submitted it.
When a meeting cannot unite upon a minute, the old policy remains unchanged, and the subject is dropped or deferred.
Although Friends’ business procedure frequently requires more time and patience than voting, the results are generally more satisfactory to all concerned. One may not find it easy to give way to someone else or another point of view, but when the Spirit of God is moving in a meeting, Friends are awakened to a new revelation of truth.
From the New York Yearly publication “Faith and Practice” (1998).