When Quakers make decisions together, we go through a process that often yields surprising results.
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- Dorsey Green discusses Quaker business process as finding the “sense of the Meeting” rather than coming to consensus. What is the difference between the two? What is “sense of the Meeting,” in your understanding?
- Dorsey talks about having the experience in Quaker Business Meeting that “the whole room shimmers.” What do you think she means? Have you had that experience?
It is radical to be more concerned with the process than outcome, especially in today’s culture, but I trust—I completely trust—that if our processes is on, if we’re really looking for the God Way or God’s will for our group, we’re going to to come to the right place. It’s like Abraham Lincoln was asked, “do you hope God’s on your side?” and Abraham Lincoln replied, “No, what I hope is that I’m on God’s side” and that’s what we’re looking for.
Why Quakers Value Process Over Outcome
I’m Dorsey Green. I live in Seattle, Washington. I go to University Meeting in North Pacific Yearly Meeting and I was the clerk of FCNL’s general committee and executive committee about seven years ago.
Finding the “Sense of the Meeting”
When we’re doing Quakerly business we are looking for the “sense of meeting.” Many people assume that’s the same thing as consensus. The sense of the meeting is looking for God’s way, God’s will for this group on this issue at this time. So everybody—or almost everybody in the room—is praying and looking for guidance: what are we led to do? And it’s like the space opens up and there’s God. Or Jesus. Or a sense of where we’re supposed to go. A door. Something.
And it’s like this, “whoa” and I can feel it in my chest, it’s like a “oh really! really!” It’s very… it’s most exciting when I didn’t expect it because it means that—well, certainly not I—but other people’s agenda probably, we’re not pushing agendas. We’re all looking around for each other and we find it! We may come in in the dark and we find it, and there it is.
So our job as Quakers is not to figure out, what does everybody think will work, it’s what we feel led to do as a group and what that means is we’re not doing a competitive voting system. We don’t vote with sense of the Meeting. We are looking for—you can tell when it happens in a way, people go, “oh. Right. That’s right.” Even if no one thought of it before we walked in the room.
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Composed of over 180 Quakers, the committee meets annually and conducts its sessions in the manner of Friends.
One of the highlights of my Quaker career was clerking FCNL. Somebody asked me once was it hard and I said it was like driving a Cadillac. It is the deepest spiritual experience I think I’ve ever had as an ongoing piece, and to be part of some of the decisions that FCNL made and to be blessed to have been clerk at the time is like a gift.
Serving As Clerk
Clerks are not like CEOs. We are there to help the group discern what the group is called to do, led to do, what God’s will for us is. I love clerking, and I love it because I’m more attached to process than outcome and that’s crucial with some of the issues that Quakers deal with.
We’re looking for, “what are we supposed to do here?” and I think you’re right. I think it’s pretty radical. And it’s doable! That’s the most exciting part about it, it’s really doable. And when you do it in a group as large as FCNL’s annual meeting, which is 180 to 200 people, it’s like the whole room shimmers. It’s pretty exciting.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
7 thoughts on “Why Quakers Value Process Over Outcome”
I don’t understand the use of “It’s like driving a Cadillac” in reference to clerking. It really struck me as somehow unfitting for describing such a key element in Quaker process. Could you explain? Thanks.
It was an interesting statement. I don’t know what Dorcey meant, but I heard what she said as a reference to clerking as a smooth and comfortable journey. Good clerking helps to create an opening for a whole new way of seeing an issue so that the figurative bumps that are always there are turned into the focus and energy of a well made decision.
I think she meant that she found the FCNL gathering especially well grounded in Quaker process, so she was gratified to engage as clerk with its depth and maturity. For me, the Cadillac image in this context suggested fine-tuning, responsiveness, and quiet power.
Since these wonderful videos are directed at the public as well as a wide range of fFriends, I think it would have been useful, somewhere, to identify what FCNL is.
Hi Rachel! Thanks for the suggestion. Added a link just below the video.
I found this video insightful and inspiring …. an excellent description of how this process works and feels. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to meet Dorsey digitally.
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