Clerk's Letter 01/09

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We often hear it asserted that Meeting for Business is a Meeting for Worship, but many of us find it difficult to keep that thought in mind as we actually participate in Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business. I want to let you know of some things I plan to try that I hope will help us with that.

Acknowledging that when we are conducting business our worship must, of necessity, be more programmed than it is at other times, I am planning to begin by relabeling the agenda as the “order of worship.” I am also planning to use edited versions of the new draft queries, advices and voices recently prepared by the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice Committee, see, at the beginning of that monthly order of worship.

The order of worship will also indicate a period of continued silent worship between each item. Each presenter will be asked to rise and speak out of the silence from where they are seated as happens with ministry in our other Meetings for Worship. Silent worship between items will be for one to two minutes. If it continues much beyond that the clerk will call on the next presenter.

Because this approach will involve some Friends being behind the person who is speaking, it will be helpful if all Friends are seated no more than four benches from the front. I appreciate some Friends like to sit toward the back because they may need to leave for other commitments by a set time that may be before the end of Meeting for Worship. By sitting on the ends of that fourth bench back, however, those Friends should still be able to leave without creating a stir.

Any Friends willing to hold the Meeting in the Light will be invited to sit with the clerks facing the other worshippers.

For a Meeting of our size and complexity, it is very helpful if committees or other bringing matters to the Meeting for Business that may be controversial seek out those who may hold differing opinions and include them in their deliberations before bring the matter to Meeting for Business. One good way to do this is to place notices in the newsletter, the bulletin or the listservs letting Friends know what is being considered and inviting their participation if they have views on the matter they would like to have considered. Interested Friends could be invited to attend committee meetings, participate in worship sharing or threshing sessions, or simply share their views online either by posting on a listserv or by sending email to the committee. Friends with views they want to be considered will be able to have those views considered more carefully if they raise them in one of these ways rather than raising them for the first time in Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business.

The principal function of the Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business is to discern whether unity exists on an issue. If disunity is discerned then the first thing we will do is listen carefully to understand each different perspective. Sometimes that listening will lead us easily to unity. At other times the Spirit may not work so quickly. In those instances the matter will be laid over and those who have expressed differing views will be asked to work together to try to achieve unity before the matter is returned to Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business.

I am hoping Friends will not see laying an item over as a failure. Instead, it can be seen as a sign of progress toward unity since Friends will have listened to each other so that unity in the future is more likely. Although not always possible, it will be helpful if possibly controversial matters come to Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business early enough so that laying an item over does not effectively decide a matter.

David Etheridge