Spark, January 2011

Submitted on 01/01/2011
SPARK
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
New York Yearly Meeting News
Volume 42
Number 1
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) January 2011
Editor, Paul Busby

Contents


Getting Down to Business

Helen Garay Toppins, Morningside Meeting

The idea for this issue’s theme—Getting Down to Business—came to me one First Day on my way home from Morningside Meeting. Out of a sense of personal obligation, I had attended a discussion group on meeting for worship with a concern for business. Morningside Meeting is my bedrock, and I try to support all its endeavors. Wow am I glad I went! The discussion was invigorating, inspiring, and complex. Friends really opened up as we shared the joys and challenges of participating in meetings for business. Newcomers told us of their trepidations. Others told of how participation in business meetings gave them a sense of belonging to community. Still others shared how they spiritually prepared themselves, what they took away, and what inspired them. There was vibrancy in the room. As associate secretary for NYYM I wanted to share this vibrancy with Spark readers.

Soon after the Communications Committee approved the theme, Ernestine Buscemi and Linda Chidsey volunteered to help me coordinate the issue. Linda spoke for all three of us when she said that the issue should “lift up and emphasize the spiritual basis of the meeting; the importance of both inward and outward preparation (on everyone’s part); the role of the clerk in feeling the rhythm of the Spirit; the role of elders or people who are praying for and upholding the meeting; the use of silence.” Her articles, which are in the Web site edition, illustrate this. I was more concerned about the nuts and bolts of meetings for worship with a concern for business, hence the inclusion of a resource list on the Web site.

“When I First Met My Guide” by Karen Tibbals, a well-researched piece informing us of historic Quaker commercial business practices and challenging us to apply them in today’s modern world, is also posted on the Web. Please continue to Get Down to Business on our Web site.

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Ten Commandments of Monthly Meetings for Business

Johan Maurer, Moscow Meeting, Russia

1. If you know that you have business to bring before the meeting, be diligent in your advance preparation. Tell the clerk in advance that you want to be on the agenda. Speak with others who might be affected or whose names you might need to mention; gather the information that others are likely to want to know; be prepared to tell the God story (thanks, Jan Wood) of how you came to be seized by this concern. (If the matter is not important enough to do this advance work, is it important enough to occupy your friends’ time and attention?)

2. Weave prayer and spiritual attentiveness throughout the meeting, not just at the beginning. (Thanks to Bruce Bishop for this succinct formulation.) My favorite memories of several occasions at Ohio Yearly Meeting sessions include hearing prayers and devotional readings of the Bible at (outwardly) random times during the meetings. (Remember always who is Lord of that time and place.)

3. Uphold the clerks and the whole meeting in prayer. (Friends’ business process is one of corporate discernment. We are not seeking a group consensus or individual intellectual gratification, much less a majority vote. Instead, we are praying to be corporately given the language from which the clerks can trace and record God’s will.)

4. When you wish to speak, stand or signal clearly to the clerks, but do not speak until given permission by the presiding clerk. (Clerks, if you don’t consistently require this permission, you will soon lose the ability to clerk evenhandedly. Participants, if you find that your clerk habitually permits those who are more aggressive to obtain air time, please speak directly to the clerk about this matter.)

5. When you speak, try to put your contribution in words that could be used in a minute. (In the best business meetings I’ve seen, the presiding clerk, with the help of the assistant—or recording—clerk, states his or her understanding of the way forward, and that language is recorded and approved before proceeding to the next item of business. Approving minutes one by one at the very time of decisionmaking helps prevent later arguments as to whether a decision was correctly recorded. I remember an argument that took most of a morning at Canadian Yearly Meeting: was a disputed minute factually incorrect but correctly recorded, or was it just incorrectly recorded?)

6. If someone has already made your point well, do not repeat it unless you have a genuine leading to add evidence, modify the wording, or (in a tense situation) reveal clarifying or reconciling aspects of the recommendation.

7. If an item of business does not have an advocate present at the meeting (someone who is able to explain how the item relates to the will of God for the community or mutual accountability within the community), it should be simply circulated in written form or deferred to a later time when such an advocate can be present. (Meetings that degenerate into verbal knitting through the endless repetition of routine report items will attract only those who enjoy that activity for its own sake.)

8. If participants cannot unite on a minute, the concern should be deferred. However, if after significant effort at study and consultation throughout the meeting, the matter returns to a subsequent business meeting, and unity still evades the participants, the clerks should weigh the concerns of those whose objections stand in the way of unity. Clerks may recognize the adoption of a minute if objections arise solely among those who have not made an effort to engage with the issues in the interim, or who have little or no experience with the group. (This is where “weight” becomes important—but clerks should also weigh the possibility that the Holy Spirit may be speaking through a complete newcomer.) (A clerk who becomes known for overruling objectors and adopting minutes despite evidence of significant disunity will soon lose the trust of the community.)

9. If you are not in unity with an action that seems headed for approval despite your clear expressions of dissent or caution, and if upon careful reflection and a check upon your own ego, you are unable to grant that you might be in error, you must pray and think carefully about your next step. Consider deferring to the group if at all possible. If that is not possible in good conscience, consider informing the group that you will stand aside from the community in this decision. (This is not a step to be taken lightly; overuse of “standing aside” threatens the integrity of the process and the fabric of community and can imply that there is no such thing as individual deference to corporate wisdom. Asking to be recorded in the minutes as objecting is also an extreme device; the clerk is not required to accede to this request but may do so if it seems the wisest course. When this happens, elders should speak to the person in question to assure themselves that the ties of community have not been damaged and that the person truly wishes to remain in membership.)

Mexican weaving
Photo by Paul Busby

10. Refrain from politicking after the meeting for business has been concluded. Cynical commentaries and corrosive gossip have no useful role to play. If you believe that a business meeting has gone seriously astray, put your concerns in writing and share them with the clerk, but beware of using copies and blind copies to conduct a campaign that might undermine the integrity of the group.

(My 11th commandment would be to read the book.)

Is it necessary to observe ten wordy commandments to experience successful meetings for worship for business? Not really; I collected these ideas mostly from observation of good practices in my time among Friends, but no single meeting ever dutifully and perfectly trudged along the narrow path of all of them. If someone were to challenge me to boil them down to one or two principles, they would be, “Try to speak the prophetic word of God to the community as best you’re able to discern it. Don’t attribute your own personal preferences to God—never bear false witness to God’s word. And when others try to speak God’s prophetic word, quiet your own spirit so that it can be ready to respond when prophecy does arise. And in all things, remember to exercise common trust and common sense.”

Johan Maurer joined Friends in Canada while studying Russian at Carleton University, Ottawa. He served on the staff of Friends World Committee for Consultation (198393) and Friends United Meeting (19932000). Since then he has been a Friends pastor, a freelance writer, and an English teacher. He and his wife, Judy, live in Elektrostal, Russia.

 

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Lessons from Clerking

Linda Chidsey, Housatonic Meeting

Cultivate an inner life. Listen deeply—inwardly, to others, to events in the world.

Spend time in silence and solitude. Spend time in nature, living into the deep rhythms of life.

Commit to deepening your relationship with God/Spirit/Christ/the Divine. Take up spiritual disciplines that nurture and assist you in your intention.

Take time for holy leisure. Cultivate a sense of humor. Laugh uproariously.

Use your time, and the time of others, wisely.

Cultivate your gifts and offer them with a generous heart. Acknowledge your limitations while you anticipate growth.

Be patient, loving, and forgiving—with yourself and others.

Allow room for surprise; cultivate wonder and awe; be open to joy.

Stand firm in your truth. Speak prophetically when called. Dream boldly.

Honor your longings and your deep knowings. Be honest, be real, be tender.

Listen and befriend those who see things differently than you. Learn from them.

Practice humility.

Cultivate consistency of intention, word, and action. Be responsible.

Take up your part in the healing of the world. Heal yourself.

Have the courage to sit with uncertainty.

Release cynicism. Practice surrender and letting go.

Trust the goodness of the Universe, the presence of the Holy One within and among us.

Love without reservation.

Know when your work is done. Let go into the Mystery.

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Know When Your Work Is Done

Linda Chidsey, Housatonic Meeting

So much wonderful material has been written about Friends’ distinctive manner of conducting business and the role of the clerk. When asked if I would contribute to this issue of Spark, I wondered what I would write that might be additionally helpful. Over the years I have served Friends as clerk in a variety of venues—committees and task groups, two monthly meetings, the School of the Spirit Ministry Board, and our own Yearly Meeting. I decided to write from that perspective.

Orange flowers against violet wall
Photo by Paul Busby

I was surprised to find it a struggle to get going, to write from my own experience something that might be helpful to others. I pushed on, writing about my responses when asked serve in this way; the prayerful and practical support I have received from Friends, family, God, and so many others; the calling out and affirmation of gifts I never knew existed in me; and finally, a listing of teachings and learnings gleaned from the experience of clerking.

Not bad, but why was the writing so laborious? And why, when I read over it, did it feel fragmented and forced—a rehash of things I had written and spoken about before? I slept on it and spoke with a couple of dear Friends. Finally I realized it was the final sentences of what I’d written that needed to be fleshed out—Know when your work is done. Let go into the Mystery. I believe I needed to write the first piece in order to “blow out the cylinders” and get to what really needed writing.

For me, clerking has been one of the greatest gifts, as well as one of the most strenuous spiritual disciplines, I could ever have imagined. I have matured and grown enormously, and I know that I have been well used. And yet there comes a time when we know a particular piece of our work is finished. We feel a growing sense of release and relief. It is time to step aside and make room for another to take up the work. Now our role is to mentor and assist others who are coming along. We do not impose our way; we simply provide what we can that may be of help. And sometimes we may fill in for a while.

Along with an exhilarating sense of freedom from the responsibility of nurturing, leading, motivating, communicating, there is a sadness that accompanies the letting go. How could it be otherwise when the experience has been so fulfilling, so sweet, caused us to become someone we’d not been before, was done in such faithfulness and love? So grieve we must.

And we wonder: What next? Where is my place? Who am I now that I no longer serve in this way? For what will I be remembered? What is my usefulness? Is God finished with me? Am I being called in to a time of Sabbath? Can I accept this gracious gift of time? Can I learn to sit with uncertainty and unknowing? All these wonderings, even as we know that nothing of great value and deep meaning is ever lost. What we have received and what we have given lives on in us and in others. We become the gift.

In this season of life I am learning anew that it is a gift to be called and a gift to be released from a call. The most important thing to remember is that the central call is to God and to faithfulness in all things.

Know when your work is done. Let go into the Mystery.

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When I First Met My Guide

Karen Tibbals, Rahway & Plainfield Meeting

When Quakers do business, they do it with integrity.

Integrity is the essential Quaker testimony, undergirding all other testimonies, claims Wilmer Cooper, in his pamphlet The Testimony of Integrity. Early Quakers found conflicts between business practices and the integrity demanded by the Quaker practice of obedience to conscience illumined by the Light. In an era of no regulation, no Pure Food & Drug Act, and no one checking the accuracy of scales, merchants routinely sold adulterated and spoiled goods and used inaccurate scales or placed hidden weights on their scales to defraud their customers. Churchgoers of Puritan England would profess faith on Sunday and then, during the week, put Christian beliefs aside, carrying out their trade by cheating, lying, and swearing. In contrast, early Friends resolved to live their conscience, “let their lives speak” of the faith they professed, even if it might lead to loss, and asking each other, “how has the Truth prospered in you?” And in doing so, those Friends created new standards of conduct and changed the course of business.

One of the first recorded instances of the application of Truth or Integrity to the business world by a Quaker was in a sermon given in York in 1721, by Luke Cock, a butcher:

I remember when I first met with my Guide. He led me into a very large and cross [place], where I was to speak the truth from my heart—and before I used to swear and lie too for gain. “Nay, then” said I to my Guide, “I mun leave Thee here: if Thou leads me up that lane, I can never follow: I’se be ruined of this butchering trade, if I mun’t lie for a gain.” Here I left my Guide, and was filled with sorrow ... So I found my Guide again, and began to follow Him up this lane and tell the truth from my heart. I had been nought but beggary and poverty before; and now I began to thrive at my trade, and got to the end of this lane, though with some difficulty. (Quaker Faith & Practice, 20.22, British Yearly Meeting)

Luke’s experience was repeated over and over again by Quaker merchants. When Quaker tradesmen treated their customers fairly and honestly, customers flocked to Quaker merchants.

Friends’ business practices also changed the way goods were priced. Common practice among merchants at that time was to “higgle” with customers, with different customers paying different amounts. Quaker merchants saw this as an issue of integrity, that setting a high price was lying about what the real price was, and began to set fixed prices. This was so popular that it was adopted by their competitors.

Quakers also prospered and changed business practices in the areas of trading, banking and insurance. Barclays, Lloyd’s and PricewaterhouseCoopers were all founded by Friends and thrived because they were perceived as trustworthy. In an era of high barriers to trade (no protections against loss, slow communications, and no way to transmit payment), trust between Quakers in the Old and New Worlds enabled trade, increasing prosperity of buyers and sellers, traders and customers, and leading the way to the opening of the New World.

Another instance of Quaker impact was the passage in Britain of the Adulteration of Food Acts in 1872 and 1875. George Cadbury (of the famous chocolate company) developed the first pure cocoa but struggled against competitors who adulterated the cocoa with various additives and mislabeled it as “Pure”. While his was a profit motive, his lobbying of the British government was a key factor leading to the passages of these acts and improved the food stock in Britain.

In fact, Friends were so central to the business world and the business world so central to the Quaker community that in the past, many yearly meetings included advice to members on their business dealings. Quakers didn’t set out to reform the world of trade, but changed it from within, because they were part of that world.

While Quaker business people once set a standard on integrity in the business world, the world has changed since then, incorporating the changes that Quakers introduced. Today, there are fixed prices for many goods, regulations ensuring pure food and drink and honest weights, but lack of trust in business and need for integrity in business is still there. Today’s integrity problems are shown by the headlines on the financial crisis and insider trading, among others.

But Friends and business are no longer intertwined they way they once were, and Friends are no longer setting the standard for integrity in business from within it. Instead, the center of Quaker working life has shifted to the nonprofit area and Quakers with a desire to reform business have been known to condemn it. Hidden among us are Friends who have gifts in the area of business but who are not vocal about their involvement.

Today, the need is great for new applications of integrity in the workplace. Quakers have a rich history in this area. So my query is: How can Quakers with a gift for business draw on this rich history and once again lead the way in applying the Testimony of Integrity to business life?

Karen Tibbals has been studying Quakers in Business and the applications of the testimonies in business. She is an attender at Rahway-Plainfield and a business executive.

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Roots

Thomas Swain, Middletown Meeting, PYM

The Quaker business dynamic emerged out of a simple necessity to deal with practical matters—Friends suffering from property loss for fines, marriage arrangements needed some validity since there were no clergy, the needs of poor Friends, records of birth, marriage and death. The problem, as Howard Brinton described it, was “how can a free fellowship based on divine guidance from within set up any form of church government providing direction from without.”

As early as 1652, general meetings were set up to receive “the word of the living God to his Church.” In 1656 a letter from Friends in Balby gave advice and outlined underlying principles of Quaker government.

“That the power of the God-head may be known in the body, in that perfect freedom which every member hath in Christ Jesus; that none may exercise lordship or dominion over another, nor the person of any be set apart, but as they continue in the power of truth… that truth itself in the body may reign, not persons nor forms: and that all such may be honored as stand in the life of the truth wherein is the power not over, but in the body.”

The Balby letter ends with the well know lines:

“Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by; but that all, with a measure of the light, which is pure and holy, may be guided; and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter; for the letter killeth but the Spirit giveth life.” (extracted from Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years.)

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The Discipline of Preparation

Heather Cook, clerk, NYYM

Praise God in all things! May our hearts be open and our minds calm as we seek unity with the Source of Love and Truth.

Increasingly I experience preparing for a meeting for worship or committee meeting as a critical—and joyful!—dimension of the spiritual journey. My understanding and practice of that preparation continues to evolve and grow. When I first started attending a Meeting in Southern California in 1995, my preparation consisted of trying to show up on time and packing a snack for my older son. These days I try to take time daily for activities that nourish and challenge me—quiet study and reflection, worship, deep sharing with a spiritual companion. I don’t always succeed. And each day I try again.

Ants carrying leaves

Coming into corporate worship and work unprepared is like showing up for a foot race without having gotten off the couch, or stepping out on stage without having read the script or met the rest of the cast. How surprised can we be when things don’t go the way we think they should?

My preparation for worship and work has been profoundly changed by my having come to understand that everything keeps coming back to relationship. This understanding informs how I prepare for worship, for a committee meeting, for a meeting for worship with attention to the affairs of the meeting. I find myself being asked the following questions:

How am I moving into right relationship with God? Have I spent time in prayer, or before Sessions or facilitating a gathering, in retreat? Have I been intentional about the Sabbath? On Sundays I try not to turn on the computer or take in the news (I have come to know some of my present limits), and I try to spend time writing letters. Have I spent time in ways that nurture me and strengthen my awareness of connection with the Divine—time in solitude, in nature, in creativity?

How am I moving into right relationship with others, particularly those with whom I am likely to be worshipping? Am I willing to be remade in relationship with the other to come to a place of love, a place closer to God? Have I asked for Divine assistance in doing the hard inner work required to restore torn relationships? And when I find that I haven’t done that work, let me pray for the courage to roll up my sleeves and wade in, and let me give thanks for the humility that comes, for getting knocked off the rickety ladder of pride and self-reliance. In being brought low, we are able to be more tender with others when they stumble just as we have.

How am I moving into right relationship with the work and those connected with the work? Have I done the work I agreed to do? Have I read and reflected on advance materials? If serving as clerk of a group, have I followed up with Friends doing particular work, and have I helped those bringing forward items in anticipating questions and concerns? Do I have whatever background materials might be useful in our time together?

For me, moving into right relationship is a process—a journey, not a destination, with lots of distractions and stumbles and choices along the way, as well as grace and renewal. I give Jesus plenty of opportunities to roll his eyes and shake his head, but the good news is that he never lets go of my hand.

Sometimes the gap between intention and action is uncomfortably wide. As someone who has no concept of time passing, I need to adopt strategies to help—tools like lists and deadlines. Spiritual friendships, a spiritual nurture group, committee work, study groups, and an anchor committee are on my list of what has been vital to me at different times for accountability, companionship, and new Light. What’s on your list?

One of my favorite stories about preparation concerns a friend whose child was born years ago in mid-January. After a few weeks she decided it was time for the baby’s first outing. She loaded up the diaper bag with what she later realized would have been enough supplies for twins on an Arctic trek. She fed the little one and gave her a clean diaper, and dressed her with layer after careful layer of warm clothes—even extra oil on her cheeks to protect from the wind. Finally everything was ready, and they headed out. As my friend opened the front door, the cold air hit her, and she knew instantly that something was very wrong. Looking down, she saw that she had neglected to dress herself; she was wearing only her bra and panties.

It’s fair to say that she was well prepared in part. By focusing on one aspect of what needed doing, the part in which she was deeply emotionally involved, she lost sight of the whole picture.

We need to recognize that we go through different phases in life, that change will happen in both our inner and outer lives. We need to foster kindness and patience with ourselves as well as with others when our expectations aren’t met, while at the same time holding ourselves accountable for living a life of integrity: Are we focusing on the whole picture that we’ve been given? Are we walking the walk with God? We know we are on the right path when we feel that peace and joy as we come round right.

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When Quakers Disagree

Arthur Meyer Boyd, Stony Run Meeting, Baltimore YM

Guess what? Quakers have disagreements among themselves and in their monthly meetings for business. Nothing unusual about that—we’re human, after all. What is unusual is how Friends address disagreements. In hard decisions where there are seemingly intractable conflicting positions held by members of a meeting, there are several Quaker process “tools” that could be used. Over the years I have observed these being utilized in both large and small monthly meetings, watched as seasoned clerks at Friends Committee on National Legislation used these with amazing results, and used each of these myself in several periods of service as clerk of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

1. In the midst of discussion when the way is not clear, or is blurred by tense feelings, pause for a period of worship. This provides an opening for reflection on all that has been said, reconsideration of one’s own position, and discernment of a new way forward. Sometimes that is a third way that wasn’t apparent before. Often it is someone other than the clerk who suggests that “we settle into a period of worship,” much to the relief of the clerk who is trying mightily to see a way forward.

2. Lay the matter over. This also allows for reflection, and for what Friends call “seasoning.” It allows time for conversations among those with differing views, so greater understanding can emerge.

3. Ask the proposing person or committee to reshape the proposal to incorporate as many of the suggestions, and address as many of the objections, as possible, and to bring the proposal back to a future monthly meeting.

4. Have some of the people with concerns, together with some of the people who support the proposal, form a small group to reshape the proposal, and bring a revision back to a future monthly meeting.

A Friends monthly meeting, having done those things, might nearly be in agreement to accept the proposal. Yet still some Friends may not agree. They may say that they do not think sense of the meeting on this issue has been reached, or they may state that they are “led to stand in the way.” This is their right and moral responsibility to do if they see their hesitation as a deep spiritual conviction. The Meeting should then listen to the concerns of the individual and prayerfully consider whether that person’s sense of the Truth (or elements of it) might be closer to the Truth than what had previously been proposed. Sometimes it is, and that person’s statement becomes the fully embraced sense of the meeting. But sometimes it is not. So, what does a meeting do?

5. Between sessions, have some people visit individually with, and “sit with the concerns” of, those who are not ready to accede to what the rest of the meeting seems ready to agree upon. This may result in a way opening for agreement, or possibly a third way, which had not been apparent before, to emerge at a future meeting for worship with a concern for business.

6. Have a “threshing session,” a meeting at a separate time that is specifically not for decisionmaking. Normal practices of a Quaker meeting for business are relaxed so that Friends can speak more than once to an issue, can speak to a point just made, or can ask a question of a previous speaker. The clerk might even ask for a “straw poll” of opinions at “this point in our discussion so far,” or go around the circle giving each person an opportunity to speak in turn. The special role of a threshing session is that it allows everyone to say what they think without the burden of needing to make a decision. It enables folks to speak strongly yet be able to change their position and not merely defend their point of view in anticipation of a decision about to be made. So, what if agreement still cannot be reached?

7. Friends operate by “sense of the meeting,” not consensus. This is not the same as unity or “everyone has agreed.” So, the clerk might state that “we appear to have reached a sense of the meeting to do X, would [address by name the objecting person or persons] be willing to stand aside?”

8a. If the objecting persons are not willing to stand aside, the clerk could test with the meeting whether the sense of the meeting is to do X, and “knowing that some Friends are not in unity with this decision, are Friends ready to approve this as the sense of the meeting?” If the meeting so decides, the objecting persons might ask to be recorded as not being in unity with the decision, or if they do not ask to be recorded, the minutes would note that “two [or whatever number] Friends were not in unity with this decision.” To do this tears at the fabric of the meeting community, and is done only as a last option when the rest of the meeting is clear that adherence to Truth calls for making the proposed decision. The decision would need to be one of clear spiritual necessity for the meeting and not merely convenience, and it needs to be recognized that subsequent healing will be necessary. Similarly for the individual, the objection would need to be a matter of clear spiritual calling for that person and not merely convenience. In other words, all persons of whatever position on the matter must ask themselves: “Is my sense of what God or Divine Will or the Spirit or Truth calls our meeting to do in this moment based on my sense of that transcendent calling, or is it based only on my preferences, prejudices, or convenience?”

8b. Or, if the objecting persons are not willing to stand aside, the clerk could judge that the objection is significant enough that the meeting should not proceed on this matter, and test that “sense of the meeting” with those present and suggest that the meeting approve laying aside the matter indefinitely. Much like the benefit of a threshing session, laying the matter aside indefinitely removes the pressure to work the matter, and opens space for reflection and new thinking, the magic Friends call “seasoning.” The matter could return to a future (indeterminate) meeting for business—if appropriate—after further seasoning. Again, it needs to be recognized that subsequent healing will be needed. Stony Run has made such decisions, and in some cases the matter was brought forward by concerned persons months later and satisfactorily resolved, and on other occasions never arose again.

There is Quaker lore that any individual can stand in the way of a decision and prevent the decision from being taken. This is not entirely true. “Standing in the way” is a mutual responsibility between the individual and meeting to test our sense of the Truth as we are imperfectly able to sense it at the time. But no one, after prayerful consideration by the meeting, can “stand in the way of a decision” without the meeting’s permission. The meeting can proceed, in loving tenderness to those who cannot join in the decision.

Arthur Meyer Boyd is associate executive secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation.
This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Friends Journal. Reprinted by permission.

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Structure Committee Time as Worship

Christopher Sammond, NYYM general secreatary

Editor’s Note: Christopher Sammond shared the following guidelines at a workshop/retreat he facilitated for Brooklyn Meeting. Christopher welcomes invitations to facilitate retreats and workshops.

It’s my conviction that in our time together on committees, it is more important to use that time to build community than any work that we might get done. That bears repeating: using our committee time to build community is more important than any work that we might get done. Paradoxically, if we hold to this view, we actually get more work done than if we put the tasks at hand before the process of building community.

Here are some guidelines that will help make committee time both more spiritually grounded and more fruitful:

Structure committee time as worship.

If we structure our committee time as worship, and keep it grounded in worship, we will be refreshed by our work together, rather than drained by it. And by grounding it in worship I don’t mean the perfunctory two or three minutes of looking down at the carpet that frequently precede a committee session, before we get down to the “real work.” I mean entering into, and seeking to maintain, a sense of the Gathered Presence.

For more than two years I served on a committee called the Visioning Committee at Twin Cities Friends Meeting. One of the things we sought to do was to experiment with how we conducted our committee business to see how we might better ground our work in worship. Our meetings were frequently on a Friday evening, when we had all had a full week’s work and were quite tired. What we learned was that if we spent our time together in worship, we actually left those meetings feeling refreshed and energized. When we did not, we left feeling drained. This was excellent bio-spiritual feedback as to how we were doing.

Here are some things we learned about making the gift of worship more of a reality as we did our work together:

  • Start with a meaningful amount of time in worship, at least fifteen minutes. Wait until you have a sense of being gathered before you begin.
  • Invite Friends to share their spiritual condition, in a two- to three-minute check- in. We will each share it anyway, one way or another, and the work goes better if we share it directly instead of its coming out sideways in the course of our work together. Sharing our spiritual condition creates a caring spiritual community out of which the committee work arises.
  • Check in periodically during the meeting as to whether Friends feel a sense of God’s presence. If not, then return to worship.
  • Maintain an attitude of being unattached to outcomes, and even a willingness to be surprised by what emerges. If we think we know where we are headed, we will carry an unconscious agenda to try to get there, and this will get in the way of finding a genuine leading in the work.

We also found that it was easier to maintain a felt sense of God’s presence when we were doing discernment or process-oriented work than when we were doing more concrete, task-oriented work, such as the details of scheduling. We did not find a good solution to this, but awareness of this may be helpful.

God doesn’t care about our particular decisions, but our process does influence how much we are in God’s flow or presence.

Let’s face it, most of the decisions we make as a community are not matters of cosmic importance. God doesn’t care, it won’t alter the flow of the universe, if our carpeting is blue or green. But how we treat each other determines how we build up the Kingdom of God, or not, in our community. Whether or not we are still in unity when we are done is more important than any decision we will make together.

Genuine listening precludes repetition.

If we give each other the gift of deeply listening to each other when we speak, others on the committee will not feel the need to make the same point, nor will the first speaker feel the need to repeat themselves.

Honor differing views.

The one view which seems at odds with everyone else’s may in fact be the Light that the rest of the committee needs.

Delegate discrete tasks to smaller subcommittees, rather than doing them as a committee of the whole.

Many committees get bogged down doing work that is better done by a smaller group, such as drafting documents. After this work is brought back to the whole committee, the committee needs to trust the work that has been done, within reason, and not micromanage it. Otherwise the committee ends up redoing the work done by the few, which is inefficient and alienating for those who worked hard on it.

Serving on committees can be energizing and spiritually nurturing. Doing committee work well can also build up the fabric of our meetings. These things are the natural outgrowth of doing our work in a way that is grounded and connected to our life in the Spirit.

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Committee Service

Naceo Giles, Brooklyn Meeting, for the NYYM Nominating Committee

Committee service is a form of worship. It is the vehicle we Quakers use to manage the business and worship of our meetings and our Society. Our business meetings are “meetings for worship with a concern for business” where we open ourselves to the guidance of the Spirit. Yet many of us seem to be intimidated or put off by invitations to committee service.

There are, of course, legitimate reasons for not serving on committees: poor health, need to be available for work, family responsibilities, or personal awareness of one’s own incompatibility with certain types of work can all preclude committee service. On the other hand, committee service can enrich one’s spiritual life and the spiritual life of the meeting. Each of us has the opportunity to minister to one another through committee service on several levels: monthly meeting, regional meeting, and yearly meeting.

Spiral sculpture

No one knows what will develop when committee members gather to proceed with their charge. It is safe to conclude, however, that at the very least several members will gain a better appreciation of how some aspect of meeting worship or business is conducted, and the work of a committee can have a transformative effect on the meeting.

So how does one become a candidate for committee work? People may be invited to join by members of a particular committee or the Nominating Committee, or they approach a committee and inquire about membership. But how does one know which committee is a good fit?

Each of us has talents and skills that lie close to the surface for all to see. We also have attributes that are visible to others but not to ourselves which experienced Quakers may recognize as qualifying us for service in a particular position. I know of one member who, when approached about serving as clerk of the monthly meeting, broke out in laughter that lasted several long minutes. The discerning Quaker who had made the suggestion calmly waited for the laughter to subside and remarked, “When you’re done laughing, I’d like to know what you think.” That Quaker went on to do an admirable job as clerk of the monthly meeting.

On the other hand one new member of my meeting enthusiastically became involved with a committee with weighty responsibilities that almost overwhelmed him, although he is an articulate individual and an accomplished professional.

So, what are some of the considerations for selecting or accepting committee membership? A major consideration is time. No matter how prodigious your talent, no good will come to your committee or meeting if you do not have the time to apply that talent. Some factors that may determine the limits of your time are:

  • How often the committee meets
  • How long meetings last
  • Where the meetings take place
  • Whether committee work is accomplished at the committee meeting or requires that substantial amounts of work be done outside of the committee meeting.

There are other factors as well and one should speak with committee members and/or ask to sit in on meetings to see what the time commitment is. These other factors include:

  • Your assessment of the way you experience the meeting. For example: Are there meeting activities or functions that have special appeal for you or that annoy you? Are you drawn to participating in enhancing or improving them?
  • How much of yourself (time, talent, resources) can you afford to devote to this endeavor?
  • Will your family situation encourage or support your commitment?
  • Do you work and play well with others or do you do your best work in solitude?
  • Whatever your talents or disposition, are you one of the most qualified for committee service in your meeting? If you are, you will likely be asked frequently to serve. How do you feel about that?

Whether or not you choose to serve on a committee, please consider the importance of cooperating with and supporting the work of the committees of our Society. A committee-service questionnaire is posted here. The NYYM Nominating Committee invites you to visit the site and give us the benefit of your thoughts and experience.

You are also invited to send your questions and comments to: Deborah Dickinson, debdickinson2 [at] gmail.com; Deborah Wood, dnbwood [at] aol.com; Jill P. McLellan, mclellan [at] frontiernet.net; Naceo Giles, ngiles1 [at] verizon.net.

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Clearing Impediments to the Work of the Spirit

Steve Mohlke, clerk, Ithaca Meeting

A well-prepared agenda strengthens meeting for worship with attention to business

When preparing for meeting for business I hold a purpose and intent to create the space and conditions in which the Spirit can work. Impediments to the work of the Spirit abound; simply expecting the Spirit to transcend all barriers promptly at 12:45 on the second Sunday of the month is rarely sufficient. My preparations consist of removing these impediments to the extent that this is possible. I envision the individuals gathered for the meeting, each with a good understanding of the information being presented, each knowing what is expected of the group, each with an attitude of sincere desire to understand others, and each with a willingness to change.

What impedes the Spirit? If we don’t understand the information being presented, it is hard to listen for the Spirit. If we have significant questions about the information being presented, we find our listening distracted until the questions have been addressed. If we feel that our previously expressed views have been ignored, it is hard to listen for the Spirit at least until we express it again and maybe longer. If the presentation has a significant impact on us emotionally, we find it hard to listen for the small voice deep inside us that may have the truth for all gathered.

A significant tool available to the clerk for removing these impediments is the process of creating the agenda. I try to finish the phrase “We will be asked to…” for each item on the agenda. If this isn’t clear to me then it probably won’t be clear to many others and we can spend a lot of time meandering with no useful outcome. Our attention shifts away from the content of the matter at hand to wondering what we are being asked to do. I typically use the verbs receive, accept, and approve. I use receive for straightforward reports for which there isn’t much we can do. Do we receive the treasurer’s report? Accept is fairly close to receive, but there may be some room for disagreement. A committee may be reporting that it is following a certain course of action and it really isn’t a significant issue for the entire meeting but there could be an objection. When I use approve, I try to be clear about what we are being asked to approve. As I prepare the agenda, I decide which verb to use. If I choose approve, I write down what we are being asked to approve. This may change when we get to the meeting, but it helps to have a starting point.

Snow-covered sidewalk with fence on left and trees on right

Once we know what is being asked of us, I try to determine if we have the information we need to make a decision. Sometimes people submit reports with missing information and I need to follow up with committees in advance of the business meeting to fill in the gaps so that the missing information doesn’t distract us from our center. If we wait until we are in the meeting for business to fill in these gaps we lose valuable group discernment time and sometimes get so far out of our centered places that we can’t get back. Sometimes a report doesn’t acknowledge a view expressed at an earlier meeting for business or privately to the committee. This can leave us wondering whether we’ve been heard and whether anything else is missing. When previously expressed views are included in the committee report, we can relax, because we know that everyone else has at least seen them.

If an item on the agenda has a great deal of significance, someone—and maybe several people—will have an emotional response. Sometimes there is an important message for the group in these responses and sometimes it is just a personal issue for that person. These are hard to predict in myself, let alone in others. By publishing the agenda in advance, we help allow the unimportant responses to fall away and hold on to the important responses. I distribute the agenda through our meeting’s e-mail list on the Friday, two days before the meeting for business. People then have a chance to process reactions privately. If something significant still holds at the time of the meeting, they can raise it before the group. It is important to make explicit time for this, or people will dismiss significant emotional responses and not share them.

With experience I’ve learned that some issues are too complex to handle in one meeting; some issues are just too complex to handle, period. For the former, we might try to answer informational questions in one meeting, ask for responses in a second meeting, and then try for real discernment in a third. When issues are just plain too complex, we try to separate out a piece of it that we can handle. It is hoped that this leads to another piece that we can handle, and eventually to resolution of the whole issue.

We cannot and do not give much time in our business meetings to items that have not been seasoned and prepared by a committee or group. Some individuals feel that anyone should be allowed to share anything at meeting for business as the Spirit moves them. While this is true at the core, if there is any weight or complexity to such a leading, it is rare for the group to be able to respond satisfactorily without some further preparation. As a safety against a regimented agenda with no room for immediate leadings, the last item on our agenda is always Other Concerns. Anyone can raise any issue at this time. We hear it and often refer it to a committee for further consideration, but we do not discuss it at that time. Some rich and rewarding ideas that later came back as full agenda items have come to light in this way.

Besides distributing the agenda in advance of the meeting, it appears on an easel during the meeting where everyone can see it. This way everyone knows where we are in the sequence of events and don’t have to distract themselves looking for a paper to find out. I put a time estimate next to each agenda item. I base this on what I know of the issue. My guess is often wrong, but my attempt gives people some sense of proportion about the issues.

I schedule weightiest issues first on the agenda. Items requiring action come before items that are simply to be received. This gives us a generous amount of time with the items that need our best work. If an item needs to be deferred at the end of the meeting, it will thus be something of lesser importance. In our meeting, the treasurer’s report is almost always last, because it is predictable and rarely generates significant discussion. If necessary, the treasurer’s report and any other reports to be received can be deferred or else presented in written form only.

Occasionally, despite all my best planning, situations arise when I need to completely release the prepared agenda. When the agenda and other details are only in my head and not fully developed, I find myself hanging on to something that I can’t always name. It takes me away from the present and makes it hard for me to know what the Spirit is asking me to release. I fear I will lose something important if I heed the call to change course. When I am fully prepared, I can quickly look over my plan and evaluate it against the new direction. Since I don’t have to give much of my attention to rehearsing the mechanics of the meeting, I am freer to listen to what the Spirit is saying through the group. It takes a good deal of effort to remove these barriers to the Spirit but the satisfaction we receive from a Spirit-filled meeting for business runs deep.

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Shut Out the Drama
Quiet Our Hearts.

Ernestine Buscemi, Morningside Meeting

As someone who is actively engaged on various committees and currently serving as clerk of Friends General Conference Nominating Committee, I find my starting point to be no different in my committee work than in my personal life. What is most real for me is to continue to learn to listen to the voice of the Divine. And what works for me is my asking the “simple questions”: What would you have us do? What is the life you want us to live into as we do this work? What came before? How does this committee or my clerking feed into God’s will?

Sitting with these questions helps to build a foundation grounded in Spirit that moves through the work while keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground yearning for guidance from the Source and opening me to hearing from others on the committee. My sense and experience of committee work or clerking is that when we begin our work with huge and desperate questions, rarely does that enable the committee to hear the voice of the Divine or each other, as we come at things having way too much emotional involvement and too much swirling around in our heads. As Friends to hear the voice of the Divine, we must be willing to find that place of quiet surrender. Starting and sitting with “small questions” helps us learn the practice of surrender.

Listening for a gentle whisper, that still small voice, means we have to settle down. Shut out the drama. Quiet our hearts. Growing spiritually as individuals, we will notice how our work as a committee flows freely and guidance is readily available to everyone. This does take time and patience, with a willingness to let go and let God do.

Friends, it is our practice to sit with questions before God in our personal lives; why not as we do our committee work? Settle down and be present to God and each other. Pause and really listen to what the stillness is whispering and the stirring of the heart of the committee members. And while I’m centering into that deep listening I will notice my own heart’s settling on the matter at hand. Am I willing to hear whatever it is Spirit wants to say? If I can only hear an answer that agrees with what I want to hear, then I am not in a place of surrender to Spirit’s will and it will be hard for me to hear others as well—or even trust what I do hear, especially if it is an outcome I want.

So for me, there is no more decisive issue when it comes to hearing the voice of the Divine and working in community as a committee than the issue of surrendering. It is amazing when we are drawn to Spirit’s guidance and come away with a deeper wholeness as a community because we are learning to trust.

So while clerking or being engaged as a member of a committee doing the work, the basics that stay on my heart and work well are: settling with the “small questions”—collectively praying together, quietly inviting the will of God to join with us on the matter at hand—and learning to sit in quiet surrender.

Our committee work and clerking rhythms may change; our souls and fruits of the work will benefit the community being served and stay firmly in alignment with the will of the Divine. We are being asked to enter into an adventure filled with joy and risk, transformation and more clarity than we ever thought possible. Open our souls, our minds, our very being, and fill us with your Spirit.

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It’s a Miracle!

Greta Mickey, clerk, Central Finger Lakes Meeting

I  had been a Friend for many years when I finally attended meeting for worship with a concern for business of the Yearly Meeting. It was an incredible experience! There were many, many Friends sitting in deep, centered, Spirit-filled worship—perhaps gathered. As Friends rose to address the clerk it was with a measured and prayerful sense. The clerk was deeply engaged. I remember that there were times we were called back to worship and times that the clerk, from within the silence, reflected back what she had heard. The memory of that experience is powerful enough that even now it brings tears to my eyes. I longed for more.

Watching, listening with mind and heart to the spoken and unspoken words, calling back, reflecting back, and doing all in your power to keep the Power of the Spirit central in the midst: For me, this is the essence of clerking.

A well-clerked meeting feels something like a well-choreographed dance between the clerk and the body and Spirit in the midst. The clerk has the incredible privilege of carefully listening to the threads given to the body by Spirit from within that place of worship. He or she watches and listens, holding each thread as they begin to come together—working, with God’s help, to discern the sense of the meeting, waiting for the words to reflect back to the body. In my experience, this does not just happen. It means that the clerk and the body will do well to take time in waiting and holding to reach spiritual clarity. It requires spiritual and mental preparation by both the clerk and the body so that each is centered in the Spirit and has a sense of the business that will be brought to the meeting. Each person has a sense of how much time they need, and what they need to do, to reach that place of centeredness.

As clerk I do my best to stay in touch with committees and committee clerks so that I have a sense of the work that each committee is doing, and so I can bring to that committee a sense of the joys or concerns that have come to me from other members and other committees of the meeting. In this way the clerk serves as a link. The image that comes to mind is of a May pole (not particularly Quakerly, I know…) with the clerk being the pole and the various threads and individuals of the meeting dancing seemingly independent but all joined at that one point. It comes back, again, to the listening and reflecting back. I consistently remind myself and others that a clerk is but one among many—an equal in all matters: simultaneously servant and leader. The work is not to bend the will of the meeting, only to listen deeply and to reflect back the sense of the meeting.

Preparation for business meeting is both essential and multidimensional. It means not only preparing myself but giving Friends the information that they may need to be prepared. That means preparing and providing a business agenda (and background materials if deemed helpful) well beforehand so that everyone has an opportunity to know the business that will be before us. This gives Friends an opportunity to inform themselves and to worship on the matters that will come before the meeting.

Friends can often be heard quietly grumbling that we really don’t want to go to business meeting but “I guess I really ought to” or the oft-heard “I’m going to sneak out before business.” I have been one of those Friends. I would like to posit that meeting for worship with a concern for business is potentially an incredibly exciting place to be. We each have a responsibility to prepare our hearts and spirits; remaining open to the movements of the Spirit—without a prepared message to share, rather, to be part of the dance.

There is often work for the clerk to do following meeting for worship with a concern for business. I am incredibly grateful for our practice of naming recording clerks and, in larger meetings, often assistant clerks. While it is the clerk’s responsibility to listen and name the outcome of business and to make sure that the minutes accurately reflect what has transpired, frequently the recording clerk will have already heard and crafted marvelous minutes. This makes the follow-up work of a business session (writing letters, making calls, etc.) fairly straightforward. My practice has been to keep blank paper at hand so that I can jot notes to myself in an attempt not to forget things that I may need to follow up on with a committee or an individual or that may need to be included as agenda items during subsequent meetings.

I have often heard it said that there are only two ways in which we can “spoil” a meeting: by being prepared to speak and by not being prepared to speak. The preparation of our spirit helps us to open our hearts to receive a Message from God to be shared with the meeting, being clear that it is not our personal message that we seek to share. I believe this is every bit as important within meeting for worship with a concern for business as it is within meetings for worship. Our hope and belief is that our business meetings are indeed done from a place of centered worship. Within that, God, not we humans, guides our affairs. This requires that we have prepared ourselves with deep worship and reflection and that we remain open to whatever direction Spirit may take us. We understand and accept that our final direction may be very different from where we thought we would go. There is something miraculous in a room full of people relying on God to direct them and receiving that guidance. It is a powerful, exciting, and transformative and utterly miraculous process.

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Joyous/Arduous

Gay Norton Edelman, clerk, Shrewsbury Meeting

Clerking a business meeting is one of the most joyous, most arduous tasks in my life. When I announce an upcoming meeting for worship with a concern for business, I often mention that it’s an awesome opportunity to see faith in action. And it is quite miraculous, and an education in many things, including how to move, decide and discern in the secular world where speed and winning are often the highest values. The clerking task is joyous because what could be more faith-filled than being charged with the responsibility of discerning the will of God as it manifests through the assembled Friends? The task is arduous because Friends often disagree, and as ordinary mortals occasionally fall prey to ordinary human foibles. Emotions—anger, excitement, frustration, disappointment, etc.—soar and Friends fall out of worship. People talk fast, hands are raised before a speaker is done—meaning that listening has fallen away in favor of asserting will—and people talk back and forth, over each other. Yet we always regroup, often during a time of silent worship called for by a friend in the moment. Some days there may be many calls for silence. We move ahead with the business at hand, or not, as we see our way. All throughout I stay deeply tuned to those personal inner signals I have developed over the years that tell me what’s true, or as true as I can know, in any given situation. When a sense of the meeting emerges, I try to remember to check with the recorder that what’s been discerned is as accurately noted as possible. Ideally, s/he will read it back. After we close, I leave business meeting uplifted, fulfilled and exhausted from my part in all the heavy lifting. Lest this all seem like drudgery, though, there are many, many light moments as well. At our November meeting, for example, we spontaneously broke into song at the beginning, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing....”

Ice climber

To prepare, the week before meeting for worship with a concern for business I make sure to spend extra time in prayer and meditation. I review the minutes and any reports and pray with them. I rarely attend our 9:15 discussion group that day, because I need time to prepare by meditating in solitude, at home. I always have lunch before business meeting so I have as much strength as possible. We start with a period of silence, of course, and I find that the longer we sit, the smoother the meeting seems to go. We also always have at least one anchor or elder who sits with us, holding us in the light, as we deliberate. This too seems to smooth the way toward harmony. As a practical matter, Friends are encouraged to submit reports and actionable items in advance of the meeting, so an agenda can be prioritized and set. Regrettably, it’s rare that there’s an agenda to distribute before the meeting; that’s a goal I’m striving for.

As I write this, it’s uncertain whether I’ll be invited back to clerk for a third year. This is a role I accepted, after six weeks of prayer, talk and contemplation, because, paradoxically, it was not a job I sought. I like to say it’s a job you should have only if you don’t want it. Because for me, wanting it would be about ego. And humility is the most important trait, I think, of any clerk. I’m blessed with many mentors in our meeting; one in particular has shared abundant information about servant leadership. Clerking has for me been an opportunity to learn about practical peacemaking and the miracle of surrendering to God’s will in community, with the goal of creating the greatest good. I’m very grateful I’ve had the opportunity to serve, letting spirit move through me, in this way.

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What Do They Do?

Todd Tilton, clerk; Paula McClure, treasurer, NYYM Trustees

At the clerks’ table

Who are the NYYM trustees and what do they do? The Trustees are members of a board under the General Services Coordinating Committee who are charged with protecting the legal and financial aspects of NYYM and all its member entities. Trustees are the legal entity of NYYM, which is a religious corporation under NYS since 1901 and a registered 501(c)(3) charity since 1960. The clerk of the Trustees serves as the president of the corporation for legal purposes.

Trustees maintain a Directors and Officers insurance policy, which protects NYYM as an organization as well as all members who are acting in their capacities as officers, staff, and appointed committee members of NYYM. They also oversee other insurance requirements and legal and financial responsibilities of NYYM.

Trustees manage the money that has been left to NYYM in trust since the early 18th century by many Friends for various purposes. This money is invested with the Friends Fiduciary Corporation according to Friends’ principles, and the dividends are paid to many groups and committees twice yearly as determined by their donors and/or by NYYM sessions upon the recommendation of the Trustees. Some funds are available on application for requests as needed according to the wishes of the donor. More information about the various trust funds and their beneficiaries may be found in the Trustees’ report in the NYYM Yearbook.

In accordance with procedures outlined in Faith and Practice for discontinuance of meetings, NYYM and the Board of Trustees assume responsibility for any property or trusts that exist after a meeting has been laid down by its quarter or region with the understanding that “such funds or property shall be used solely to advance the general interests and purposes of the Religious Society of Friends.”

Trustees strongly urge regional/quarterly/half-yearly meetings to be acutely aware of the vitality of monthly meetings in their care and to consider the advice in Faith and Practice for assuming responsibility for a meeting that is experiencing difficulties. Trustees stand ready to provide assistance as needed to regional meetings concerning the proper disposition of the physical and financial assets of monthly meetings that are in the process of being discontinued.

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Business in Two Languages
Acuerdos en Dos Idiomas

Judith Inskeep, Purchase Meeting

Business sessions in two languages? But that would take so much longer! Well, that can be a blessing as well as, or instead of, a burden. One has time to reflect on and absorb what’s been said (and hear it a second time if familiar with both languages).

Latina woman with hat and bright sweater

Sessions of the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) Section of the Americas are conducted in English and Spanish, with sequential interpretation for business and discussion and simultaneous translation for prepared talks (earphones—“audífonos”—are issued to those who want to hear both languages). Yearly meeting representatives gather as meeting for business usually does, but with a sense of the presence of not only unprogrammed Friends, but also members of churches belonging to Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International. It’s an opportunity to reach out inwardly, so to speak, to understand other points of view. Of course, the way is at least in part prepared by our having met and greeted each other informally.

Translators come from both the U.S. and Latin America, and there has even been one from Denmark. I marvel at the absolute focus required to listen to one thought while rendering the previous one into the other language. At the 1994 Triennial, additional languages were needed; the French and Spanish interpreters sat side by side, sometimes working from the same document, and whispered Japanese was supplied by a member of the body who sat with other Japanese Friends.

At world gatherings, business sessions focus on some of the same problems as yearly meetings, like budget and deficit. In other ways they are like yearly meeting sessions writ large. The 2007 Triennial discussed concerns brought by yearly meetings: the environment, civil liberties and human rights (including indigenous peoples, racism, and slavery), outreach and growth, violence, HIV/AIDS, and the International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World. Minutes on sovereignty for indigenous peoples, violence, and sustainability were adopted. We are encouraged to take approved minutes back to our yearly meetings and “do it.”

FWCC business sessions are treated to some mind-stretching reports. At the Section of the Americas annual meeting in Guatemala in 2006, we heard about the World Council of Churches gathering in Brazil, whose business sessions considered poverty from biblical and ethical perspectives and heard the archbishop of Canterbury speak about the difference for Christians who live as a minority in their society, rather than as the majority. The Friend reporting spoke of the visual delight of seeing, and participating in worship with, delegates in indigenous dress from Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. I’ve heard descriptions of FWCC meetings in India, Africa, NewZealand, the Dominican Republic, and small groups in eastern Europe. (The Maori word for Friends means “church that moves with the wind of the spirit.”)

I feel fortunate to have had this kind of experience that stirs the senses and the emotions, and creates space in which the spirit of inclusion can move.

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To Find the Way Back to the Spirit

Gretchen Haynes, Westbury Meeting

Long ago, we Quakers devised a system of governance like no other that I’m aware of. It demands a high degree of trust in each other and in the Spirit to lead us through love, not pride. It asks Friends to hold the clerk in the Light, and to remind ourselves of the responsibility of all for the outcome that truly reflects the alignment with God’s principles.

Person walking through a tunnel

I have been clerk of many committees and two monthly meetings; the hardest part for me is to keep my own “agenda” out of the mix. There are so many opportunities for a clerk to influence an outcome—by the timing, reflection, and phrasing of the sense of the meeting.

When I know that I have an opinion on a topic, it’s easier for me to hold myself back. It’s when I’m unaware of my bias that the real danger arises. I could call on those who I know share my bias, give extra weight to those messages. I could suggest that we hold over a discernment that seems to be moving away from my bias. I could reflect the direction with a slight skew that in fact changes the direction.

Instead, I could ask another Friend to be my elder and let me know when my bias is influencing the outcome. Or I could step away from the clerk’s table and ask someone else to clerk that portion of the meeting so that I could speak “from the floor.”

I know I am supposed to listen for the movement of the Spirit in the discernment. But sometimes my emotion’s clamor drowns out that still, small voice. That’s when I should call for silent worship to find the way back to the Spirit.

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How Do We Want to Do Business?

Karen Reixach, Rochester Meeting

Karen Reixach submitted this list generated by Rochester Meeting at a brainstorming session. They review it from time to time. She suggests that meetings not simply copy and distribute it, but rather engage in the same process of sitting as a meeting and asking, “How do we want to do business?”

  • Seeing the agenda in advance.
  • Careful preparation of business items.
  • Written reports whenever possible.
  • All should come with hearts and minds prepared for the work of making love visible. The work/preparation happens all week long.
  • Open to letting agenda be Spirit led in business meeting.
  • Coming from a place of deep worship, seen in its patience, love, and humility.
  • Recognizing the opportunity to practice these disciplines (love, patience, mindfulness) and forbearance toward our practicing.
  • Allowing silence between messages.
  • Rising to offer ministry .
  • Waiting for clerk to recognize speaker and self-clerking.
  • Friends address the clerk.
  • To hear many voices and not repetitions; that we may trust we’ve been heard.
  • Mindful of speaking once to an issue.
  • Hearing and responding to each other with respect and kindness.
  • Trusting our discernment and the prayerful work of others.
  • Be present in worship when the meeting for business begins.
  • Be willing to be reminded and remind others of our shortcomings so that the whole community may grow.
  • Committee clerks should be prepared to address all their business.
  • Be aware that asking for additional information about a topic may help to clear up concerns. The committee may have done lots of thinking beyond what is presented.
  • When we bring reports to the meeting, be willing to offer them up/let them go, as the meeting may reshape them as Spirit provides additional truths.
  • Part of discernment is making decisions.
  • Hope for meaningful business, depth.
  • Paying careful attention to precision of language in minutes, including roles and responsibilities.
  • To know when we have not come to clearness—be willing to carry things over, to wait.
  • We are in relationship with one another. There are no hard-and-fast rules or easy certainty, except the law of Love.

 

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Around Our Yearly Meeting

Compiled by Robin Whitely, Chatham-Summit Meeting

Bicycle covered with new-fallen snow
Photo by Paul Busby

Brooklyn Meeting to Host AFSC Program on Haiti. Brooklyn Friends will host an American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) program, “Enhancing Urban Peace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti,” on Sunday, February 27, 2011, at 1:00 p.m. at the Brooklyn meetinghouse. The featured speakers will be Jorge Laffitte, the AFSC regional director for the Latin America & Caribbean International Division, and Carmen Ortiz, the AFSC country representative for Haiti. The subject will be the current AFSC efforts to build the capacity among the people living in the camps to overcome emotional trauma and to prevent violent conflict. January 12 marked the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. During this past year the reconstruction process has been slow because of the internal complications in Haiti, and their people continue to suffer daily. The AFSC continues its humanitarian efforts in this desperate country, and our speakers will inform us of their current concerns and accomplishments.

Meeting for worship is from 11 to 12, followed by the social hour with refreshments. The AFSC program will begin at 1:00 p.m. The Brooklyn Friends meetinghouse is at 110 Schermerhorn Street. Everyone is welcome.

Buffalo Meeting Blessed by a Congolese Family. One Sunday last August a family of nine Quakers from the eastern Congo walked through the doors of Buffalo Meeting, and things haven’t been the same since. Ndanga (a Friends pastor), his wife, Feza Ramazani, and their seven children, ages from 16 to twin 4-year old girls (only the 11-year old is a boy) are refugees from the conflict in the Congo and had spent nearly eight years in a refugee camp in Kenya before Catholic Charities brought them to the US. “Truly, we have been blessed by their presence among us,” says Rodney Pierce, clerk of Buffalo Meeting. “When they come into meeting, they are all smiles—and the moment they cross the threshold, the average age of our small meeting plummets!” Along with the joy of getting to know this big Quaker family from the Congo, come concerns for the family’s future, and the Meeting is working to do everything it can to help out. “There are immediate economic challenges, like unemployment,” says Rodney, “but also serious long-range challenges like education. We are beginning to work on ways to introduce the family to our region and to the larger Yearly Meeting and hope to gain meaningful support that way.” The second Sunday in January, the Ramazanis shared their story during the Quaker Conversation series at Buffalo Meeting. Buffalo Friends welcome the inquiries and support of Friends from throughout NYYM. Contact Rodney Pierce, 716-992-3302. sparce7 [at] verizon.net.

Bulls Head Member’s Special Ministry. Barbara Spring, co-coordinator of ARCH (Aging Resources Consultation and Help), spoke at Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting. When Vonn New heard Barbara say, “Do what you love when you can,” Vonn’s heart opened to one thought—soup! “I love to make soup,” says Vonn. Since that time, she has been exercising a “ministry of soup,” preparing it at home and bringing large pots to meeting every First Day when she can. People bring containers, take what is needed, then bring the containers back the following week. But then, “People started asking me for recipes,” says Vonn, “and I don’t do recipes!” But she did create a blog, ministryofsoup.blogspot.com, where each week she shares her free-form, unprogrammed soups with the world. Be prepared to find what is in season featured each week. Vonn emphasizes what helped lead her to her ministry of soup—Barbara Spring’s words: “Do what you love when you can.”

Fifteenth Street Meeting Film Series: Courage Transforming Violence. The Arts and Peace Committees of 15th Street Meeting are hosting a film and discussion series from December 1, 2010, to March 24, 2011. The 13 films are about courage confronting and transforming violence. Details on days, times, and locations are at quakerarts.blogspot.com. The February 24 showing is HarlanCounty, U.S.A, winner of the Best Documentary Oscar, which highlights the struggles of Kentucky coalminers determined to join a union.

Poughkeepsie Meeting: Serious, Simple Advancement Steps. Don Badgley reports the meeting is working on several outreach efforts under the care of the meeting’s Advancement Committee. Already completed and approved is a simple one-page statement of Friends’ history and basic beliefs entitled “Experience Faith among Friends,” to be distributed to local colleges, the press, and other media. It will be coupled with Fox’s 1660 Peace Testimony to Charles II. Don explains that Friends have been worshiping in Poughkeepsie since 1927 and yet “we have become nearly invisible in the wider Poughkeepsie community. We seek to change that by publishing statements to the media and local community and by expanding our Web site. We do not advertise or promote but rather seek to celebrate our testimonies and truth as publicly as possible.” The meeting is also working on an “inclusion statement” directed to same-gender couples with the intention of publicizing it for outreach purposes.

Hamilton Meeting Taking Action to Heighten Visibility. Like Poughkeepsie Meeting, Hamilton Friends are undertaking advancement and outreach steps. Currently under thoughtful preparation is a statement about Friends and what they believe with a particular focus on Friends’ testimonies. “We got interested in this,” says Marjory Clark, “because we were encountering so many people who had never met a Quaker. We are eager to be more visible and better understood.”

Unadilla Meeting Welcomes New Pastor. As of June 1 last year, Unadilla Friends have a new pastor, Benjamin Shaw, who came to them as a retired United Methodist Church minister. Coming to Unadilla “felt like God’s call,” says Ben, “even though I had never been to a Quaker church. Now, of course, I’m doing a crash course in Quakerism, using lots of materials that Friends have given me. The November issue of Spark, about Quakers and Celebration, was especially helpful.”

Friends can contact him at benjamin.shaw47 [at] yahoo.com.

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Albany meetinghouse
Albany meetinghouse

Albany Meeting Seeks Resident Caretaker

Albany Friends Meeting is seeking an individual, couple, or family to serve as our resident caretaker. In exchange for coverage of rent and utilities in our third-floor apartment, the resident caretaker cares for the meetinghouse and grounds and provides security for the building. In addition, the resident caretaker is the contact point for those seeking information about AFM and maintains the meetinghouse calendar. Applicants need not be Quakers but must be sympathetic to Quaker values. The resident caretaker works closely with the trustees of the meeting. If you are interested, please send a letter of inquiry to Trustees, Albany Friends Meeting, 727 Madison Ave., Albany NY 12208 by February 15, 2011.

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Meeting for Discernment

Because of space considerations, information and the registration form for the February 26, 2011, Meeting for Discernment is posted on the Web site.

 

March Spark:
Sexuality and Spirituality

No, this isn’t the “plain brown wrapper” issue of Spark, but hopefully a spirit-filled and honest look at the intersection of spirituality and sexuality in Friends’ lives. How does sexuality inform your experience of spirit? How does spirituality inform your experience of sex? How have Friends’ attitudes toward sex and intimate relationships changed over the years? Are you willing to talk about it? Articles should be 750–1,200 words in length. Deadline for submission is February 4, 2011. Please submit to vonn.new [at] gmail.com (the coordinator for this issue) and to paul [at] nyym.org.

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An Invitation to Send Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor are presented when space is available. Letters raise and explore topics of concern to NYYM Friends. As in any Quaker forum, views here are uncensored, should be expressed briefly and gently, and may discomfort some Friends. The Communications Committee welcomes unsolicited manuscripts of opinion or reporting and will publish material that seems provocative and timely.

Please send your letters to paul [at] nyym.org.

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Upcoming NYYM Sessions

  • Spring Sessions 2011 will be April 1–3 at Oakwood Friends School, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
  • Summer Sessions 2011 will be July 17–23 at Silver Bay.

 

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.

—NYYM Faith & Practice

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Notices

This column is prepared from information about membership received from the local meeting recorders.

New Members
Tracy Crandall—Unadilla
Veronica Crandall—Unadilla
Anne Dalton —Poplar Ridge
Jennifer Parker—Poplar Ridge

Transfers
Hugh and Sirkka Barbour, to Chappaqua from Cambridge (NEYM).
Esme June Ingledew, to Chappaqua from Stamford-Greenwich.

Deaths
John Worrall Bristow, member of Rockland, November 19, 2010
Christopher J. Cadbury, member of Bulls Head-Oswego, October 1, 2010.
Evelyn Kah, member of Poplar Ridge, November 11, 2010.
Adam Pinsker, member of Bulls Head-Oswego, October 29, 2010
Elizabeth Robinson, member of Chatham-Summit, December 2, 2010.
John Robinson, member of Chatham-Summit, October 5, 2010.
Miriam Sternat, Member of Shrewsbury, October 27, 2010.

Birth/Adoption
Madeleine Laurel Bailey Savory, on December 30, 2010, to Gabrielle Savory Bailey, member of Chatham-Summit, and Jon Bailey Savory.
Cazimer George Schillenback, on December 10, 2010, to Rebecca Schillenback, member of Poplar Ridge, and George Schillenback.

Erratum: Please note that Greg Gallina’s name was misspelled in November Spark. Greg is a new member of Rockland Friends Meeting.

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