Quaker Business Method

How do we do Meetings for Worship for Business?

This is a guide that really everyone should read. At YFGM we typically do an introduction to how this works at every event, but of course that doesn’t mean that everyone will have heard it – and, naturally, it will miss things, and some people will find it easier to take in by reading or want to get a reminder. This is not only useful to those who haven’t experienced such a Meeting before, but also to remind those of us who do have experience but might have got into bad habits, or who might be used to a different size of Meeting where some of the practice may vary.

In our meetings for worship we seek through the stillness to know God’s will for ourselves and for the gathered group. Our meetings for church affairs, in which we conduct our business, are also meetings for worship based on silence, and they carry the same expectation that God’s guidance can be discerned if we are truly listening together and to each other, and are not blinkered by preconceived opinions. 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 have a common purpose in seeking God’s will through waiting and listening, believing that every activity of life should be subject to divine guidance.

This does not mean that laughter and a sense of humour should be absent from our meetings for church affairs. It does mean that at all times there should be an inward recollection: out of this will spring a right dignity, flexible and free from pomp and formality. We meet together for common worship, for the pastoral care of our membership, for needful administration, for unhurried deliberation on matters of common concern, for testing personal concerns that are brought before us, and to get to know one another better in things that are eternal as in things that are temporal.

Quaker Faith and Practice 3.02

The Principles

  • We do business in Meetings for Worship, and like in our usual Meetings our contributions should be ministry and we should be testing it before giving it
  • We’re looking for leadings of the Spirit (or God or whatever you want to call it) to guide us to the right way forward as a Meeting. This doesn’t mean voting, or necessarily consensus, but finding the sense of the Meeting of where we are being led.
  • As always, new light may come through anyone present.

Phases of an Item

There are approximately 3 phases we will typically go through when considering an item.

1. Introduction

Here the clerks will explain what we are going to consider, and usually they will invite someone to give a short prepared introduction. There may have been material people will have been given to read in advance which the introducer will add background to and/or summarise. At YFGM we typically end this with an explicit opportunity to ask factual questions or for clarifications – if you have one, then indicate when asked in the same way as you would to minister.

2. Discernment

This is the main and most important phase. Here the clerks will put the relevant matter “before the Meeting”, asking us to consider it, and will be looking for ministry that helps us form a sense of the Meeting on the topic. You are asked to test your ministry before giving it (more on this below). 

For some topics there may not be a substantial discernment stage, where there are merely factual points to record rather than a substantive decision to be made.

3. Agreeing a Minute

Clerks will write a minute during the Meeting once they think they have heard enough to know the sense of the Meeting, stopping calling for ministry and instead asking the body of the Meeting to uphold them as they draft. Depending on the topic, the minute may just record a decision, or include various amounts of background, context, or reasoning – despite clerks taking notes throughout it won’t be a play-by-play of what’s been said or by who, although the introducer may be named.

The draft minute will be read out and put before the Meeting. At this point, we are looking for anything that means the minute may be inaccurate or not reflect the feeling of the Meeting that has been reached – it is not the time for new substantive points to be raised. When the clerks ask if the minute is acceptable, the usual response if you think that it is is to say “Hope So” – this is a Quaker tradition, because we don’t know the future so we can only hope! If not, then indicate that you wish to minister.

Giving Ministry

Practicalities

YFGM is a big enough Meeting that we need to be relatively formal with our discipline around ministry during business Meetings (compared to a typical local Meeting, for example).

This means that clerks will always call people to speak rather than leaving it open for people to jump in as we do in open worship. If you wish to minister, please stand or raise your hand and wait to be acknowledged by the clerks before speaking – this may be a verbal acknowledgement, or may be a nod.

Clerks will be ensuring that there is space between contributions to keep us in worship and allow for previous ministry to be absorbed, as well as to allow people a little time to test if they have ministry to give and to allow clerks time to consider where the Meeting has got to and how close they might be to a minute. This means they won’t always call someone immediately – please wait patiently and continue testing your ministry. 

There also may be times when multiple people wish to minister. If you are not called, please sit down / put your hand down and listen to the ministry that is given. Afterwards, test if the ministry you were planning to give is still relevant and necessary – if it is, do indicate again, but be aware that this isn’t a queue and clerks will call whoever they feel led to each time. We hope that there will be sufficient time to hear all contributions, but this isn’t always the case.

If you are called, please;

  • Start by saying your name – as we don’t all know each other, this is useful for everyone to hear (this is typically in larger/less frequent meetings like YFGM, while a local meeting typically wouldn’t ask for this)
  • Speak loudly and clearly so that all those in the room can hear you
  • Keep your ministry to the point – you don’t need to worry about finding the perfect wording to make it really short, but do avoid going on tangents

Testing Your Ministry

We say a lot about testing your ministry. This means checking that what you want to say really is relevant ministry, asking yourself questions like;

  • Is this coming from the Spirit?
  • Is this a prompting to be shared with the whole Meeting, or is it just for me?
  • Is it right to give at this time? 
  • Is it the right time to give ministry? E.g. are we at the right point in the meeting for it? Has it been long enough since the last spoken ministry?

This testing is important in all Meetings for Worship. What is meant by “the right point in the meeting” might vary though – e.g. for a typical Meeting for Worship that might mean “not too shortly before the end”, but when doing business it’ll be about what phase we’re in.

In a Meeting for Worship for Business we’re particularly asked to consider;

  • Has the point I’m trying to make already been heard?
  • Is it relevant to the question that’s before us?

You don’t need to give spoken ministry on an item to have been an important part of the discernment – the practice of listening in worship, and upholding, is a necessary part of finding the sense of the Meeting. Everyone present is contributing to the discernment process.

With all that said, don’t be too afraid of doing something wrong to say anything at all! First of all, it is ok to get things wrong sometimes – and very experienced Friends will sometimes do so. Secondly, if you’ve read this you’ve clearly been getting prepared, so are unlikely to be that wrong. Thirdly, it might well be through you that the Spirit is trying to work, and your contributions will enrich the Meeting.

Advice/Etiquette on Ministry in Meeting for Worship for Business

  • Keep ministry short and to the point
  • If people have been asked to do so (typical in large / less frequent meetings like YFGM, unusual in e.g. a local meeting), start by giving your name
  • Don’t respond directly to other people, although you may have been prompted by them you should be framing your offering as insights addressed to the Meeting rather than as a direct response to a specific person. If you need to refer back, ideally this would be to the content rather than to the person.
  • Try not to minister more than once on the same item (at least in the main discernment phase – points on the minute and factual questions can be considered separate). The hope is that if you feel the need to someone else would find themselves prompted to make the point. As you might imagine, there is a spectrum from “but it commonly happens anyway because it has to” in very small meetings to “you won’t have the opportunity to” in very big meetings. YFGM typically falls in the “if you really have to it’s ok, but you should test it particularly carefully” level.
  • Don’t try and score debating points – similarly, when listening to ministry, try and see through any rhetoric to the leading behind it
  • Avoid audible interjections while others are giving ministry or when they finish – this includes verbal expressions of agreement like “Friend speaks my mind”
  • If you were indicating you wished to speak and the clerks call someone else, sit down / put your hand down and listen to their ministry. Afterwards, test your ministry again – you may find that it no longer needs to be given.

What we ask of you

Come with hearts and minds prepared. This means having looked at anything in documents in advance about the items in the session – we will introduce all items, but this means we spend less time answering factual questions and more on discernment. It also means coming ready to listen to ministry and possibly be led in an unexpected direction.

Be fully present in worship – this means not carrying on whispered or online conversations, and not being distracted by emails or other things if you’ve got your phone in front of you.

Keep disturbances to a minimum. Any concrete rule I could give here would have exceptions – for example crawling around the room is fine when done by a baby, but not for everyone. Remember that this is a Meeting for Worship, and you should treat it as such in terms of what allows you and others to settle.

To flag up a few specifics for YFGM business meetings;

  • It’s fine, and encouraged where relevant, to look at documents for the session on your phone – it’s not fine to be answering your emails or audibly receiving messages
  • If you need to fidget in order to concentrate, please use something quiet and if possible sit towards the back so that anyone likely to be distracted by movement can choose a seat that will let them avoid that
  • If you need to leave for any reason, ideally wait for a break between items (e.g. for a session with multiple short items) when there should be a moment for letting people in and out, otherwise if possible wait until no one is speaking to avoid interrupting ministry. If it is an emergency though, please just go!
  • We won’t let people enter the Meeting during a business item. There should be an opportunity between items for people to come in, although this will be brief so you need to be ready if you plan on doing this – alert the elder outside the door and hang around nearby so that they can signal at the right time.
    • The main reason for this is that everyone present in a Meeting for Worship for Business is part of the discernment, and you will have missed part of the process of reaching a sense of the Meeting on that item. This can harm the discernment process as a whole by preventing it from moving forward properly, particularly if you have missed important ministry.

As a further point, please be forgiving of others around all of this, particularly when you may not be aware of another person’s needs. If you have any questions or concerns about business practice and process in general, or about a specific occurrence in a business session, Elders will be happy to talk with you about it.