Friends, in a recent quarterly meeting in a presentation on Quaker Leadership we assembled were asked for an example of something that would be considered a "rule" in our meeting for discussion of how Friends and attenders learn what is OK and what is not in meeting and in Quaker practice. I suggested "Friends should speak only once to a matter under discussion." A weighty Friend among us stated that was just an assumption peculiar to some meetings (not his) and not part of our practice. So, as the discussion of this "rule" proceeded I looked into F&P on my smart phone.

In the Practice section I found an entry titled 'General Business Procedures'. In the last sentence in the 8th paragraph of that section I found and read to the group the following: "It is Quaker custom, too, for persons who have once expressed their views clearly and adequately not to address the meeting again." I explained that the text previous to that covered very sensitively the approach to and carrying out of Friends business, that this sentence was in the context of a dignified and spiritual approach to the conduct of our business.

One friend responded that stating that it is Quaker custom doesn't say it should be done. "Well it isn't a rule".

Well, we don't have rules. We have advices and queries and statements like the one I read that serve as guides to Friends, essentially meaning "this is how we usually do it". I was remembering an old humorous Quaker glossary that quoted things Friends say and interpreted them into stark English. e.g. "that is not a name that would have occurred to me" meaning "over my dead body!" Can't find the glossary, but i think my own context is probably understood by now.

Well, this has been a long road to ask what Friends understand when a Friend says, or we read: "It is Quaker custom . . . "

Tags: Friends, Quaker, business, conduct, custom, meeting, of, practice, rules

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Anne, unfortunately, many Friends' faith is privately, at least, "over my dead body" as opposed to the customary/primitive Quaker belief of "over His dead body". Therein lies both the challenge to die to (one)self and the super-natural power to hear and live the Spirit of Christ/the everlasting gospel.

This discussion is another indicator that some friends, and meetings, are not aware of what is customary in meeting for worship with concern for business.   It is true that proceedings need not be ponderous, nevertheless they should be conducive to discernment. 

Clem, In my Christian growing up I learned that we don't live over or in the dead body of Jesus, we live in the body of the risen Christ. Thanks for responding to my question. 

Clem Gerdelmann said:

Anne, unfortunately, many Friends' faith is privately, at least, "over my dead body" as opposed to the customary/primitive Quaker belief of "over His dead body". Therein lies both the challenge to die to (one)self and the super-natural power to hear and live the Spirit of Christ/the everlasting gospel.

I think a Quaker custom stated in Faith and Practice should carry a lot of weight, simply because Friends have put in lots of time and experience to arrive at that place. So there must have been a good reason for writing it down. This makes it worth considering deeply - especially before we determine it no longer has relevance.

On the other hand, if experience with a Quaker custom leads a meeting to abandon it or replace it, that abandonment/replacement is proper if it is led by the Spirit and undergoes scrutiny by the meeting community. At one time the custom of "plain speech" was deemed essential to the Quaker religious experience. Eventually, it was experienced, though, as an unnecessary weight for most Friends (not all), and was laid down as an advisable custom. This laying down took several generations of transitions. First, Friends started using regular speech when transacting business, while still using the plain speech within the Quaker community. Then, Friends started only using the plain speech with family members and in official documents of the meeting. Finally, regular speech patterns were used everywhere. And the transition from plain speech is still continuing, as meetings are now substituting the word "Sunday" for "First Day" in their official writings and announcements.

A more recent trending away from Faith and Practice recommendations, has to do with membership. My meeting had a three year discernment process regarding membership. The outcome was a formal recognition that we did not want to make a distinction between members and non-members by requiring membership for any meeting positions (even clerk of meeting). Nor did we want to use membership as an indicator of one's commitment to our meeting or Quakerism. This was a deliberate and intentional movement away from the recommendations of BYM's Faith and Practice, due to our experience with the Spirit. More and more meetings are going down this same road regarding formal membership. I believe our meeting is in transition regarding this because we maintain formal membership for those Friends that want it or find it helpful to their spiritual journey, but we do not place a corporate importance on it. I believe that the next generation of Friends at my meeting may simply abandon the practice. We'll see.

Quakers trust in progressive revelation of Truth. The Spirit - the source of love, joy, peace, gentleness, etc., is constant however. Yet application of it in a world that is constantly changing, is an evolving process. That evolution within the Society of Friends begins with one meeting at a time until a critical mass occurs. Then it is a watershed.

This built-in change process is a wonderful dynamic for us that makes our religious practice a living, relevant spiritual experience.

My experience in Meeting for Business would support the statement in F & P (of which YM?) "It is Quaker custom, too, for persons who have once expressed their views clearly and adequately not to address the meeting again."

However, my experience also gives rise to the concern with what happens if it becomes very clear that the hearers did not listen well. Two situations, at least, come to mind in which speaking again "on topic" might be appropriate.

1) Apparent misunderstanding, either through inattentiveness or "my mind is made up, don't confuse me with the facts" mentality. This should clearly be answered by the Clerk and/or other members present, but often this does not happen and it may thus be up to the first speaker to offer clarification.

2) Subsequent speakers raise aspects of the issue which had not been addressed earlier. The Spirit may lead "further revelation" even within a given "hour."

So how might a clerk respond to a Friend honoring this practice in the breach?

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