Some of the organizing tasks of a clerk among Friends

I wrote up the following as a handout for a workshop for staff and board committee clerks that I'm leading on 11/24/08 at the San Francisco Friends School. The board of trustees of this particular school is very well organized and well run, in my experience. They need some time to grapple with the spiritual nature of Friends decision-making, and how to apply it in a school context, so that will be a focus of what I address. Nonetheless, every committee clerk should be mindful of good organizational practices, so I created these two lists.

In my experience, unprogrammed Friends meetings have a great need for lists like this, especially because most of us don't have staff. Does your monthly, quarterly or yearly meeting have anything like this? I assume Philadelphia Yearly Meeting does, because of the work Arthur Larrabee has done through the years on teaching clerking. Feel free to add links to other resources in the comments. It wasn't meant to be comprehensive; rather, I was trying to fit it all onto a one-page handout.


  1. Set an agenda, preferably in writing; if feasible, distribute in advance.
  2. Begin and end the meeting with a moment of silent reflection or worship.
  3. Facilitate the meeting.
      • Create the opportunity for all views to be heard.
      • If it is a large group or if it is a contentious discussion, ask people to be recognized before speaking.
      • If necessary, allow for a short period of silence between speakers.
      • If someone hasn’t spoken, ask if he or she has something to add before the discussion concludes.
  4. Take minutes, or assign someone else to take minutes.
      • If there are “action minutes” recording a decision by the committee, consider reading back the wording of that minute to be sure everyone agrees about what was decided and how it is recorded.
      • Distribute the minutes soon after the meeting, or have them available at the next meeting.
  5. Check in with committee members between meetings as needed to remind them of assignments and learn about progress.
  6. As needed, consult with the board clerk or other committee clerks who may have relevant information about the matters your committee is addressing.
  7. Find outside resources to help with the work of your committee, or ask for help from the committee to find the resources or to follow up on your leads.
  8. Find or develop queries as needed.
  9. Publicity and communications:
      • Give enough advance notice for meetings, especially to people who weren’t at the last meeting.
      • Send a meeting reminder by email; leaving a phone message can be even more persuasive.
      • If a meeting will be open to the rest of the community, provide enough advance notice for everyone to hear about it.
Some Printed Resources for Clerking Among Friends
  1. Beyond Majority Rule, Michael Sheeran. The classic text on Quaker unity decision-making, written by a Jesuit.
  2. Growing into Goodness: Essays on Quaker Education, Paul Lacey. See especially Chapter 3, “Roots and Fruits: Quaker Decision Making.”
  3. Faith and Practice, Pacific Yearly meeting: See www.pacificyearlymeeting.org.
  4. Beyond Consensus by Barry Morley; Pendle Hill Pamphlet. Discussion of the distinction between consensus in decision-making and a “sense of the meeting,” reached through discernment of a greater wisdom or continuing revelation of truth.
  5. Friends Council on Education: See www.friendscouncil.org. Publications for sale include:
      • Governance Handbook for Friends Schools, with a section on decision making;
      • Principles of Good Practice for Friends School Boards & Trustees.
      • The Quaker Decision-Making Process: What is it? How do we use it in a Quaker school?
Finally, in the context of a Quaker meeting, rather than a school, I would also highly recommend San Francisco Meeting Member Elizabeth Boardman's Where Should I Stand? A Field Guide for Monthly Meeting Clerks, published by Quaker Books of Friends General Conference. Elizabeth also has a blog for it at whereshouldistand.blogspot.com.


Liz Opp said...

Out of curiosity, I did a search of clerking resources within FGC's website and found a list of articles titled Friends & Clerking.

Recently, every other year FGC has offered a weekend-long "consultation" dedicated for clerks of unprogrammed yearly meetings, usually ones that are affiliated with FGC. (I think of a consultation as a small workshop with a loose structure that allows participants to "consult" with one another.) I suspect the next consultation will be either in 2009 or 2010 (I've lost track!).

My own hope is that FGC pulls together and offers an annual workshop on clerking, open to anyone, perhaps similar to what Arthur Larrabee has done at Pendle Hill, but preferably one that moves about the Canada and the U.S. to support meetings all over North America.

Which reminds me: early in 2009, two Conservative Friends are offering a Pendle Hill workshop on clerking...

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Chris M. said...

@Liz: Thanks for the references! I appreciate knowing about the resources.