Arthur Larrabee teaches a popular workshop on how to facilitate Quaker decision making. In this week’s video, we asked him what advice he has for future clerks.
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- Have you experienced a well-clerked business Meeting? What did the clerk do that brought the Meeting together into a “new place”?
- What is valuable to you about the way that Quakers run our business meetings?
- Have you ever clerked a business meeting? What was the experience like for you? What were the challenges and the joys?
Early on, and perhaps from the very beginning, Quakers have had a concern to live their lives in alignment with the Spirit, I think because lives lived in that alignment are more meaningful, more exciting, more dynamic, more joyful than any other way we could choose to live our lives.
And it’s not because the Bible says so, it’s not because our Quaker forbearers say so, it’s because that’s the experience. Our experience is that living our lives in as close to alignment with the Spirit as possible is what gives life meaning and energy and joy. And what’s not to like about that?
How to Clerk a Quaker Business Meeting
A Quaker business meeting has two distinguishing characteristics that are foremost in my mind. One is that it’s a non-voting process, and the second distinguishing characteristic is that it’s a spiritual process. It’s both non-voting and spiritual.
The spiritual part of it is that a group which meets to do the business of the community consciously invites spiritual awareness and spiritual guidance in the doing of its work. Another is to avoid the divisiveness of a majority-rule process, the majority-rule process which we experience in our wider culture produces winners and losers and it’s divisive.
Quakers thrive in community. Community is one of the ways that Quakers have the experience of God, and so Quakers are very careful about community and not creating disharmony or divisiveness in the community, and Quakers are willing to take a long time to preserve the unity of community, because community is so important to the experience of worship.
“Clerking” a Quaker Business Process
A clerk is the person who presides, the presiding clerk is the person who presides at that Meeting. Probably the best synonym for clerk is facilitator, “spiritual facilitator”, facilitating the work of the Meeting with consciousness about Spirit, presence of Spirit in the mix.
One of my first clerking assignments was as clerk of my Monthly Meeting, and when I finished six years of being clerk, there was a moment to invite appreciation for my service, and one of the most meaningful things that’s ever been said to me was somebody in that Meeting for appreciation said, “Arthur, thank you for cooperating with your gifts.” “Thank you for cooperating with your gifts.”
And it began to dawn on me that there was some energy that I had that corresponded to the idea of gift, and that when I acted in that mode, I came alive. I felt energy and buoyancy and spirit.
I will say to clerks, “Don’t be a clerk – don’t say yes to being a clerk – unless you can understand or expect that you’re going to get something out of it. Don’t be a clerk as a cross to bear. Do not be a clerk as a cross to bear. Don’t be a clerk unless you understand that being clerk, there’s an exchange of energy between you and the Meeting, and the energy goes from you to the Meeting, and you need to expect energy from the Meeting to you.
A Well-Clerked Business Meeting
A well-clerked business Meeting is a Meeting in which we are all brought together into some new place, and as a clerk, if I can facilitate the possibility that we will all be brought together into some new place that lifts us all up or points us all in a single direction, or deals with the issues of the community, there is joy for me there. There is joy.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.