The Spirit sometimes leads one or more people in a meeting to feel strongly that they should take action. We have learned that, both individually and together, we need to test whether these feelings are leadings of the Spirit. To do this we have special meetings for worship for business, which we also call “meetings for church affairs”.
The meeting begins with silence. We do not have a chairperson, but rather a “clerk”, and sometimes an assistant clerk. When the clerk judges the time is right, they summarise the agenda before the meeting, provide any necessary background information, and lay the first item before the meeting. People rise to speak, one at a time, with silence between contributions. The clerk tries to judge the “sense of the meeting”. When the sense seems clear, the clerk writes a proposed minute and reads it out. Friends then may suggest changes to the minute and the clerk alters it. The item concludes when the meeting agrees to the minute. After all the items of business there is another period of silence, which is ended by shaking hands.
It is this belief that God’s will can be recognised through the discipline of silent waiting which distinguishes our decision-making process from the secular idea of consensus.
We only make decisions when the way forward is clear, so we do not have votes. Sometimes a Friend who is seriously at odds with the minute on an important topic may say that they cannot unite with it. The clerk will ask if that person is willing to let the business proceed nevertheless. The Friend can agree to this, or agree but have the dissent minuted, or continue to oppose the minute. The clerk may in this last case conclude that “We are not of one mind” and the business may be postponed. Postponing until the meeting is clear means that we can avoid some divisive decisions.
Quaker business meetings can be time-consuming! However, reading out the final version of each minute in the meeting means that everyone present can be satisfied that the minutes are a true record of the meeting.
We hold business meetings at local, area, Scottish and British levels. Much Quaker business is about routine matters such as membership, finance and relations with other organisations. However, sometimes a Friend will bring a matter that is concerning them to the meeting, for example that we should be not investing our money in fossil fuels, or that we should support equal marriage. The meeting may agree that these are true concerns, and then take action on pursuing them.