Clinic on Quaker Clerking

Last Sunday, I played hooky from San Francisco Friends Meeting (Quakers) and instead worshiped with Berkeley Friends. I think it may have been the first time I attended Sunday meeting at a Bay Area meeting that was not San Francisco.

Afterwards, I co-facilitated a workshop on clerking for about 20 Friends. It was organized by the meeting's Outreach and Nurture Committee (great name!). It was a good experience, and so I share the outline and talking points here.

Berkeley Friends Meeting:
Clinic on Clerking, 2/26/11

Opening Worship


Everyone said her or his name. To begin my remarks, I held up a copy of Elizabeth Boardman's Where Should I Stand? A field guide for monthly meeting clerks. I said Elizabeth was my predecessor but one as clerk of San Francisco Monthly Meeting. When she left, she wrote the book about clerking! So she left big shoes to fill, and we were all somewhat in awe of how omnipresent she was in the life of our meeting. Fortunately, the meeting understood I was going to be a different kind of clerk, because I'm a father of two youngish children, husband, and director of a small nonprofit. I was going to have a different manner and style of clerking, and that was okay. As Robin likes to say, "The water tastes of the jug it's poured from." So, each clerk will have her or his own personality and style, just as each committee or meeting will, too.

What is Meeting for Business?

> Purpose of meeting for business: Finding unity

oDefinition of unity from Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice: “the spiritual oneness and harmony whose realization is a primary objective of a Meeting for Worship for Business; within a gathered group of Friends, the state of finding and recognizing a unified sense (often referred to as God’s will) about a concern or item of business.”

o Friends seek, find, and then follow that spirit of goodness for the organization and the individuals who compose it; God’s will.

o Cf. Michael Sheeran’s book, Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decision Making in the Religious Society of Friends

> How do committees work in that structure?

> What is the role of individuals participating?

Committee Clerks

Role of clerks is more active than a meeting clerk

1) Administrative Support: set agenda, find minute-take and ensure there are minutes (at least action minutes),

2) Spiritual Support: create a worshipful space with opening & closing worship, hold silence when needed, make sure everyone gets a chance to talk, name the sense of the committee when needed & if appropriate state an action minute everyone can unite with

3) Active participation in the business of the committee – the “content”

Types of Committee Presentations at Meeting for Business

1) Purely informational: Written reports are helpful

2) Status report: Here’s where we are in our process on an issue

3) Recommendation for action; helpful to bring a proposed action minute


> Email is good for scheduling and logistics, and clarifying questions

> It is NOT a good medium for discernment.

> Phone calls and in person discussions are good for one-on-one communication.

> Decisions ordinarily need to be made by the committee in real time in person (or, sometimes, over phone/Skype)

> It is important not to second-guess unity found at a gathering where I was not present. If you want to be heard, you need to show up.

“Clerk Thyself!” Thoughts on Discipline

> Address the clerk, speak from your own experience, leave your ego or attachment to outcome aside as much as possible,

> Speak once; hold back if your point’s already been made, and trust it’s been heard.

> Wait to speak; see if your point is going to be made by someone else; if not, then speak if you feel clear to do so.

> “Weight” is shorthand for the respect earned by a Friend over time for her or his consistency, care, knowledge, compassion, insight, and the like. People usually have more or less “weight” on different issues because they may have more experience or wisdom to contribute in one area than in another.

What is Your Experience?

Each person said what committee and clerking experience, if any, she or he had.

There was time for questions, answers, and discussion.

Closing worship