Role of Quaker Clerk

In the Quaker Meeting for Business (MfB), and similarly in Quaker committee meetings, the clerk:

  • Guides the MfB agenda within the time allotted for the gathering;
  • After a report is given, the clerk asks for discussion and comments on the topic;
  • It is best for Friends to address the clerk when responding to a reported topic; it helps center the discussion in a broader context;
  • Addressing the clerk also gives Friends greater freedom to avoid personality likes/dislikes with the presenter and/or her or his idea(s);
  • The clerk Identifies who will speak next; promoting relatively equal opportunities for Friends to speak so that no one dominates the discussion or rambles on off topic;
  • Helps members re-focus the task at hand when things become confused;
  • Makes summarizing statements to help move the discussion forward (within an agenda item);
  • Asks questions of speakers to help draw out their meaning and intention/suggested action;
  • Keeps the MfB on its agenda by suggesting that members move on to the next item;
  • When necessary, the clerk calls for a period of silent worship and prayer to restore the group to its spiritual intention;
  • Encourages those who don’t share on a given topic to express their point of view;
  • Speakers to a topic should display an attitude of active listening to what has been said;
  • If a Friend wishes to address a topic a second time, the clerk asks if those who haven’t shared wish to do so before a second round is begun;
  • If a Friend wishes to speak a third time to a topic, the clerk asks if he or she is bringing something new to the proceedings;
  • Redirects the meeting’s attention to previously made decisions (minutes) about a subject under discussion;
  • Provides continuity within the historical narrative of the meeting’s decisions on a subject;
  • If the clerk is unfamiliar with the history of a topic, he or she may ask the group for guidance regarding the longer “story” of the topic;
  • If the meeting is being asked to deviate from a long-standing practice in its decision (changing a long-standing custom of the meeting or as suggested in our book of Faith & Practice) the clerk reminds the group of this proposed change with the past and articulates its impact for the future;
  • If the decision before the group reverse a decision made within recent memory, the clerk reminds the group of this fact and its impact, as well;
  • If the clerk becomes confused during the proceedings he or she may ask a weighty Friend (or the meeting itself) for help refocusing;
  • If the clerk is unsure of how to proceed, he can ask the meeting for guidance;
  • The clerk may also appoint a convening elder to hold the meeting in worship;
  • The clerk may turn to the convening elder during the meeting for advice on how to proceed;
  • The clerk gauges a felt “sense of the meeting” by stating what is forming within his Spirit;
  • The clerk identifies areas of agreement and disagreement on the topic;
  • The clerk guides the discernment as the meeting searches for unity in making a decision;
  • The clerk is guided by the understanding that when we are in unity we know truth; and that when we know truth we are in unity;
  • Asks if Friends feel comfortable (in unity) on a recommended decision;
  • When sense of the meeting is expressed, the clerk proposes (composes) a minute, with the help of the recording clerk, that states the meeting’s decision (intention) to act;
  • Reads the minute out loud and asking if it represents the group’s understanding of its decision/action;
  • Asks for approval of the “minute” (or acceptance of a report);
  • Articulates for the group what will happen next with the minute/action;
  • Discerns and addresses persons who may not be in unity with the decision and are acting without concern for the welfare of larger group;
  • Identifies who (person, committee, meeting) will take responsibility for the execution of the minute; however,
  • Ideas and solutions belong to the group; no names are recorded as providing these; only those responsible for taking the decision forward are noted, if need be;
  • Ends the meeting with a period of silent worship.

The Quaker “third way” of decision making, involves a kind of “Zen”, of moving out of the pragmatic and conceptual and into the spiritual and formative, “mind of Christ”, as early Friends would describe it.  This is where the creative solution to most of life problems is to be found.

Quaker process is not Robert’s Rules of Order, however much we make like the purported efficiency of these “rules!”  They are not our good process.

Quakers do not make motions to “table” or postpone a discussion we don’t like or personally feel unprepared to address; while the chairperson can table an agenda item, the clerk cannot; we don’t openly debate on the floor of MfB (or ask for debate!); speakers on a topic are asked to use constraint in the number of times they address a topic and to actively listen to others before speaking; we (members) don’t vote (or even call for a decision, that’s the clerk’s job); we don’t use emotional and/or rhetorical speech to try to persuade others to agree with us; MfB is not a “zero sum” winners vs. loser affair; we welcome diversity of opinion; the clerk is never a “decider” in the equation of how a decision is made (unlike a chairperson); and the dissenter’s (minority) positon is embraced in the process and the meeting only goes forward in unity when there is a decision which precludes a “majority and minority:” we are one in our decisions!

Closing advice for a clerk would be to “Mind the Oneness!”  This is an old Quaker expression that goes back to George Fox and it admonishes us to always look for the unity within us and between us!  Great advice for living, too!