Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I have accepted the clerk position for my Monthly Meeting's Ministry and Worship committee. Before I begin my service at the beginning of January, I want to get as much insight into the position as I can.
What makes a good clerk, of any stripe? What will I need to keep in mind to guard against burnout? What other advice can you share with me?
"Love the Lord your God with all your might, all your heart, all your mind, all your spirit"?
Or did you just want a few techniques? I believe that the people you're working with will assume you know what you're doing, better than you think you do... and will help, will somewhere in their minds want the same things -- so that the real "trick" will be to avoid letting them, and your own assumptions, divert you away from the "impractical" necessities of your deeper task...
"And love your neighbor as yourself."
Techniques are fine. This is a big leap of faith for me. My biggest pet peeve of all is being caught flat-footed.
Technique: Look solemn and don't admit that you're clueless. Alternately, admit that you're clueless!
Walter Wink had a nice word: "methodolatry". It's ubiquitous; everyone wants to know "how to". Far better to get around to constructing methods later, from whatever has worked for you in getting through actual situations. (I happen to believe you'll get through these fine!)
There's a nice Chogyam Trungpa piece in the November 2012 'The Sun' where he adds:
"As human beings, we are basically awake and we can understand reality. We are not enslaved by our lives; we are free. Being free, in this case, means simply that we have a body and a mind, and we can uplift ourselves in order to work with reality in a dignified and humorous way. If we begin to perk up, we will find that the whole universe -- including the seasons, the snowfall, the ice, and the mud -- is also powerfully working with us. Life is a humorous situation, but it is not mocking us. We find that, after all, we can handle our world; we can handle our universe properly and fully in an uplifted fashion."
This isn't specifically 'Quaker', but I think it's true and useful. What is Quaker (and Sufi, among probably other teachings) is that God is teaching us via our lives, through this very world we're wrestling with. It isn't our enemy!
The fact that you've been given this position means that other people have confidence in your talents. Again, the point is not to get distracted by worrying about how well you're doing -- but keep your mind on what you are doing, and for Whom.
(I'd be nervous too, but don't sweat it!)
Some random thoughts on clerking:
Quaker business is like creating a sculpture out of clay.
Each person contributes something that adds to the final creation.
The final creation is better than any individual could do alone.
The search for such creations is a religious activity.
The language we use to describe the search is not important.
We are searching for God's will and/or seeking eternal truths.
We should act in ways that will pass the test of time.
We must be willing to listen to all and appreciate their insights.
We must be willing to accept the possibility that we might be mistaken.
Many things are too difficult for a large meeting to handle.
These should be handled by committees that have diverse membership.
Committee recommendations are normally approved by the large meeting.
If this is not possible then they should be referred back to the committee.
The large meeting can make suggestions when referring.
It is the responsibility of the committee to prepare a next recommendation.
The suggestions of the large meeting are supposed to be helpful.
Considering them mandatory is a mistake.
The special knowledge of the committee members must be respected.
But the insights of the large meeting must also be respected.
Unity does not mean a unanimous vote or agreement.
Unity means a willingness to go forward with the action/proposal.
Unity means acceptance/confidence that the action/proposal will endure.
Quaker business requires advance preparation.
Matters being considered must be announced before the meeting.
Preliminary discussions and proposals must be circulated.
Controversial matters require advanced opportunities for input.
Quaker business succeeds when all are treated with love and respect.
I have done a little committee clerking and found that things work best when we avoid ping-pong discussions, remembering that this is not a town meeting but a place people come to arrive at guided decisions.
This requires allowing silence between speakers, sometimes just a half-minute or so, so that we can all take time to hear anything being given to us. When clerking, I found the silent pauses helpful in recognizing how whatever pieces each of us may have been given to speak may come together. I think of the clerk as a servant more than a director, and the service is to tune in to the developing sense of the meeting and present it, always with openness to something others present may see a need to refine. In the end, we can all tell when we have arrived at the best way to go forward, however cloudily we may have started out.
I recommend the book Where Shall I Stand? by Elizabeth Boardman. It's about being clerk of the meeting, but there's a lot of overlap.
A lot of good clerking is basic meeting management, of the secular variety. Have a regular meeting time and (have someone else?) send out reminders. Write out an agenda and share it in advance. Don't try to do too many things in one meeting. Think about what should come early and what should come late in the meeting. Who should know that a topic is coming up in order to have something useful to say about it? Make sure someone is taking notes and circulating them very soon afterwards. That can be you as clerk, but it doesn't have to be.
Quaker specifics: start with a few minutes of silence and/or a vocal prayer at the beginning to help people collect and settle themselves. Do you need a formal minute for each decision? If you do, make sure it is approved as you go along. Talk to the Clerk of Meeting every month before and your committee meetings to be sure you understand how the other is doing. And don't be afraid to ask for another period of silent worship in the middle of a committee meeting when things are hard.
Some great ideas here! I, as the new clerk of University Meeting in Seattle, was sent to a Clerking Workshop of Pacific Yearly Meeting folks at Ben Lomond last August. I didn't learn any specific techniques at all, but did come to more clearly appreciate the discipline of listening for God's voice. This strengthened me to cut through some wrangling in my first two Meetings for Business by calling for silent worship and also to realize that it's not my job to call on everyone who wants to speak--it's to discern when Meeting has come to Unity.