Sunday, January 22, 2012

Questions on How Best to Meet for [Quaker] Business.

Margaret Jones & I were invited to lead an after-Meeting "worship-sharing" session this afternoon, which drifted quite a ways from normative "worship-sharing" forms-- but we believe that everyone involved found the session illuminating, encouraging, quite possibly useful. We hope other Meetings may find our handout helpful:

Questions on How Best to Meet for Business

We two members have recently felt called to raise a concern about how our Meeting’s business is being conducted. While changes in formal procedures may help in addressing that concern, the issue is one of spiritual orientation: whether our way of following such procedures is meeting their object.

That object, as we understand it, is to work together in harmony with what some people would call ‘God’s will’, or ‘the Tao’―or what Lloyd Lee Wilson here calls ‘gospel order’:
“The perception of gospel order is a spiritual exercise, rather than an intellectual one, and the intellectual processes or physical procedures by which we look for discernment are aids to the spiritual process, rather than the process itself. The fundamental means by which a meeting or an individual discerns gospel order is by centering down into waiting worship, to listen and receive what the Spirit will offer to enlighten the circumstance…

“As individuals or as a meeting community we should go about answering the question, ‘What is gospel order in this situation?’ by listening to the Inward Guide, and learning to set all things aside except that guidance. If we do, we will see over time that there is an internal consistency and pattern to our actions in gospel order, though seeking after consistency or intellectual logic would not have led us in the paths we have traveled with the Holy Spirit.”

We hope that worship sharing on the following questions will be worthwhile [Quotes are from (Pacific Yearly Meeting)Faith & Practice sections: ‘Friends Process for Making Decisions’ and 'Meeting for Worship for Business'] :

1) “Friends conduct business together in the faith that there is one Divine Spirit, which is accessible to all persons. When Friends wait upon, heed, and follow the Light of Truth within them, its spirit will lead to unity. This faith is the foundation for any corporate decision.”

Do we have sufficient confidence in that foundation to make it our first consideration, not an afterthought?

2) “Friends begin meetings in which decisions are to be made with a period of silent worship.
In the stillness, they realize that a business or committee meeting is in fact a Meeting for Worship to deal with certain matters of importance.”

Can we strive to maintain a spirit of worship throughout, treating business in a manner more like ‘worship sharing’? What would that be like?

3) “Friends who stand to speak find that their ministry is more faithful, concise, and better heard.”

Although our meetings are too small to require anyone to stand to speak— would that practice effectively remind members that anything said should be, essentially, a ‘message’?

4) “Although Friends study and discuss issues in advance, they should not come to Meeting for Business with minds made up. Seeking to be reverent to that of God in themselves and others, Friends should offer their personal perspectives and avoid taking fixed or adversarial positions.”

While no one can be expected to arrive at Meeting in a state of blank ignorance— can we hold our fixed ideas lightly, subject to revision, reframing, new inspirations? How can members best cultivate that readiness?


Bill Samuel said...

It is always good to re-examine the spiritual roots of how things are done. The qeries posed are good in that context, yet they seem to be presented in a limited context.

They seem to assume the basic structure of business meetings as it has developed. I would like to suggest that this structure does not seem to generally work well in larger meetings, although it may be suitable for quite small meetings.

The key is looking at the purpose of our process rather than making an idol of a particular method that has developed over time.

From my experience and what I have heard from many others, I conclude that there are serious problems with the process used in most larger meetings.

It is supposed to be corporate discernment of God's will on the matters of business. Yet it is common for the majority of members not to participate. The result is a decision making class of members, or sometimes a process that involves a quite different group of participants from month to month. This is often recognized as a problem, but the attempted solution is to try to shame those who do not attend business meetings regularly or to try to cram what is supposed to be a Spirit-led process into certain human constraints. Rarely, it seems, does a meeting really ask whether the process is appropriate.

Long meetings every month, I would suggest, are rarely a good way of corporate discernment. Having experienced a quite different model of corporate discernment outside Friends, I realize that there is nothing magic or essential about all the particularities of the Quaker process as it has developed in modern times (the modern process of all business items going before a monthly meeting of the whole only began to be used towards the end of the 19th century, if my understanding of the Quaker history is correct).

Some questions which might be asked:

How broad is participation in corporate meetings for business? What does this tell us about their effectiveness for their intended purpose?

What decisions really need to be settled in the context of a meeting of the whole, and which ones are more appropriately trusted to a smaller body or even an appointed individual?

What are the best ways to season important matters of business? Might most of this better occur outside the setting of a corporate meeting for business of theoretically the whole?

How often does the whole body really need to meet for business?

forrest said...

Bill, despite multiple long-term disagreements, I've come to look forward to your comments as particularly likely to generate/include key insights. This one too!

Making an idol of a process-- what Walter Wink once called "methodolatry"-- is so utterly human and so widespread... what Jacques Ellul was mainly writing about in his diatribe against "technology" (which in French meant something more like what we'd call 'technique.') It's a hard phenomenon for modern people to see because they're so immersed in the habit that it seems like the Only Right Way-- and so when we do see it happening, our first impulse is to seek an effective method for stopping it. :>)

If the Spirit is truly at work in our decision-making meetings, then we ought to be able to trust it to work without our personal oversight, with whichever particular people are led to attend at any particular time.

But speaking for myself, much of the time I haven't attended bm's because I didn't expect to find either the issues raised or their resolution to show much sign of spiritual relevance. Questions that didn't matter were being settled by means that didn't matter with results that didn't matter...

and that outlook was missing a lot!
(Because the Spirit does seem to be at work among us, just as it is elsewhere. Accomplishing far more than I'd expect, where it gets so little recognition...)

I'm curious about what you say about "all business going before a meeting of the whole" being a practice instituted in the late 19th Century. It's always felt a little suspect to me, smacking of the "Ten people are ten times as right as one" kind of thinking.

It isn't the items that need to be "seasoned"; it's the people!--

just as God has been at work on us, as individuals, all our lives-- often unobserved until it suddenly overwhelms us, how much our perspective has been changed out from under us. And we "didn't know God was in this place"!