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Decision making

Index to Section 3: DECISION MAKING

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In our meetings for worship for the conduct of business we worship together, care for one another, attend to necessary administration, seek for guidance sincerely and openly on matters of common concern, test personal concerns that are brought before us, and get to know one another in 'things that are eternal' as in 'things that are temporal'.

Friends’ business method builds the community, strengthens relationships, and encourages each of us to grow. When our corporate decisions are faithful to the Spirit, they hold the seeds that change the world.

3.1.1 The development of our way

When Friends come together to consider business and to make decisions, we are seeking in a spirit of worship to find the way forward. In silent worship we trust that through the centred attention of all present the group will move deeply inwards, so, in meetings for worship for the conduct of business, we trust that the group will be guided by the Spirit.

Quaker decision-making is based on two major insights of George Fox and other early Friends: that each of us is directly open to the power of the Spirit, the spirit of Christ within as teacher, friend and guide; and that we need the gathered community to support and encourage us when testing our leadings and ideas. From these insights arose the meeting for business where together we seek the sense of the meeting. This can transcend individual preferences.

This gathered experience of the Spirit goes beyond consensus, and means that neither an individual nor a majority has authority. Decisions are not made by the ruling of an office-bearer, or by vote. We seek unity in the Spirit for our decision making.

3.1.2 Evolving decisions

Early Friends established a procedure based on broadening geographical location. Discernment made by local groups could be communicated to the wider Quaker community. Worship Groups and Recognised Meetings seek for and follow guidance in their own affairs. The matters affecting Friends over a wider area are brought to a Monthly Meeting of Friends in that region. The insights and leadings of individuals can be brought to and evaluated by their own group or committee, and as they are brought to broader groups the discernment is carried further. Each Monthly Meeting sends its minutes to all other Monthly Meetings and to the Yearly Meeting clerk who then draws Friends’ attention to those minutes that require broader consideration. Decisions on these matters are made by all Friends, either in their Monthly Meetings or at the Yearly Meeting in session. The matters on the agenda at Yearly Meeting are normally first discussed by all Monthly Meetings.

3.1.3 Value of Friends' practice

Friends' practice of decision-making is used in all meetings, including regular Worship Groups, Recognised Meetings, Monthly Meetings, Yearly Meetings, and committees and other working groups. To wait together for guidance and unity is essential even when the business is urgent or seems minor or practical. Friends' experience is that patient trust leads to guidance, and the direction can sometimes be quite unexpected.

At its best, Friends business practice carries a sense of spaciousness. The search for the right outcome will take as long as it needs. There is adequate opportunity for individuals to bring and share their opinions, hesitations, and concerns. Because they will not be criticised for their perspectives, or challenged directly and personally, there is potential for the group to share in the vocal ministry to help find the sense of the meeting.

3.1.4 Content and process

As with all decision-making, in meetings for worship for the conduct of business there are two components: the content and the process or methods used. The content is the subject matter of the decision, and the process comprises the methods or ways that the decision is reached including the way participants listen and communicate. The process is particularly important because it influences the quality of decisions by ensuring that a diversity of perspectives are encouraged, heard, and properly considered. In addition, the process enhances relationships because when diverse views are truly heard, people feel acknowledged and valued as members of the community. The methods and processes are therefore as important as the decisions.




3.2.1 General

A meeting for business may take place after a regular meeting for worship, or on a separate occasion. It may be held electronically, or with some Friends taking part electronically and others face to face. Friends attend the business meeting as for meeting for worship, 'with heart and mind prepared' (Advices & Queries C1). The meeting opens in silent worship then the business proceeds as a continuation of this worship. The meeting returns to silence at various times during the meeting and when business is concluded.

The length of the opening and closing periods of silence depends on circumstances. They are always more than a brief moment, to enable the quieting of mind and centring on the Spirit. Vocal ministry may occur, and the clerk may offer a suitable reading.

3.2.2 Introducing business

Items of business are introduced by the clerk or by another Friend invited to do so. Those responsible for introducing an item need to provide sufficient information to set the meeting purposefully on its course (3.4.3).

3.2.3 Approaches

Lightness and humour are gifts of the spirit and in the right place can help the work progress. Equally, the matters before Friends may require a business-like attention so that necessary detail is not missed or overlooked in a rush or at a time of high sentiment.

3.2.4 Use of silent worship

If the meeting is experiencing difficulties in finding the right way forward, or the spirit of worship has been lost, the clerk or any Friend may invite the meeting to join in a time of silence; this often leads to new insights.

Such silent support is particularly helpful when the clerk is drafting a minute; this is not the time for either private conversations, or expressing further opinions on the topic, making it difficult for the clerk.

3.2.5 Representatives

Friends appointed as representatives by their Meeting, are not delegated to hold to a particular viewpoint. Explaining the thoughts and feelings of their own meeting may be helpful, but their prime responsibility is to join with others present in seeking the way forward under the guidance of the Spirit.

3.2.6 Participation of Friends who are not local members

People not in membership and those in membership of other meetings are welcome to take part in meetings for business with the consent of the meeting, usually obtained by consulting the clerk. On some occasions people not in membership will be asked to leave. Committees, trusts and groups are entitled to hold meetings limited to those appointed to the group.



3.3.1 What does 'sense of the meeting' mean?

When Friends join together in seeking the “sense of the meeting”, each brings their own background, experiences, preconceptions and gifts. These are used in the search for unity under the guidance of the Spirit. It may take time, but when different views are stated honestly and simply, and listened to with care, a leading of the Spirit can be experienced from which the sense of the meeting becomes clear. Some Friends may not have experienced the same leading, but nevertheless may accept the meeting’s sense of the way forward.

In meeting for worship for business we make decisions about what is right for the group. One of the assumptions is that something more than the best wisdom of the individuals is required: those present seek for communal discernment. This does not mean that all must be in agreement. Rather, a “sense of the meeting” can emerge that points to the right way forward for the group at that time.

3.3.2 Evolving a minute

The work of the clerk is to discern what sense is emerging and, when it seems clear, to embody it in a draft minute. The minute is then offered to the meeting. Friends may then be ready to accept the minute, or feel that it expresses the sense of the meeting but needs some alteration, or that it does not express the sense of the meeting.

The minute can then be altered to meet the concerns or, if it is evident that it is not the sense of the meeting, the seeking continues until the meeting is united in accepting a minute.

Once a minute is accepted, it is a record of that meeting, and cannot subsequently be altered, except for minor editorial work and correction of factual errors when the final copy is prepared.

3.3.3 Unity and difference

If, after considerable work, one or more Friends in a meeting find themselves not at unity with a proposed minute, they may find themselves able to trust the leadings of the meeting and allow the minute to go forward.

On the other hand they may feel obliged to declare their unwillingness to agree. Standing in the way of a decision is rare and needs careful reflection and humility and a sense of strong obligation to an individual leading, in the face of the leadings of others.

When careful consideration has not led to unity, any Friend may ask for a period of silence during which a way forward may open. Usually, if unity cannot be reached, the clerk offers a minute to that effect which either proposes a way for the meeting to deal with the matter, or that the business is left undecided. The topic may be adjourned to a later meeting. During the intervening time a group of Friends, including those with different views, may meet to see if a way to unity can be found.

If, after consideration in a worshipful and loving spirit, a Friend's opposition appears to lack substance, the meeting may agree to the minute as drafted by the clerk. Such a course is adopted very rarely and needs to be approached with extreme care and caution.

3.3.4 Owning the sense of the meeting

This way of conducting business rests on the insights of the light of God in each of us, and on the increase in understanding and discernment which grows within the worshipping community. Decisions reached in this way are owned by the whole group, and have a spiritual authority derived from the process of seeking together. This does not mean that error is impossible; a meeting may, at a later date, be led to alter its course of action, following a

similar process of seeking a clear sense of leading.

The value of Friends' business procedure has stood the test of experience over the years. A sense of unity can be felt when a meeting has worked faithfully and lovingly. A course of action which was originally not accepted, or even envisaged, may eventually emerge as the sense of the meeting, and can be seen to be truly guided. Joyful surprise can illuminate our conduct of business.




3.4.1 The clerk as servant

Friends appoint a clerk to guide and give focus to the process of seeking the leading of the Spirit. The clerk is the servant of the meeting and accountable to it. The meeting entrusts heavy responsibilities to its clerk, but is itself responsible for conducting its business in good order and in a spirit of worship, and for supporting the clerk.

3.4.2 Clerking arrangements

Meetings have evolved different patterns of clerking, depending on size and need. There may be a single clerk, co-clerks, or a clerk with one or more assistant clerks.

3.4.3 Setting the agenda

It is the clerk's responsibility to prepare the agenda for a meeting, if appropriate in consultation with assistant clerks or other Friends.

The meeting entrusts to its clerk the responsibility for guiding Friends through the business and deciding on procedure; the clerk should be ready to consult Friends and ask for help and advice as necessary.

To help the meeting, a clerk is encouraged to prepare beforehand partial drafts of minutes; but such drafts are usually limited to factual and background matters, and do not pre-empt the decision on the issue under consideration. Draft minutes from committees who are giving a report can be helpful and supportive to aid the clerk. The drafts only become minutes once approved by the meeting.

3.4.4 Minutes

The meeting trusts the clerk's spiritual discernment and places on the clerk the responsibility of watching the growth of the meeting towards unity and of judging the right time to submit a draft minute that contains the sense of the meeting for those present to respond to. It also trusts the clerk to lay aside personal preferences in order to be open to the sense of the meeting.

The minutes are offered to the meeting as part of the exercise of discernment. Minutes are agreed to in all details at the time, and when finally accepted become the meeting's own. A subsequent meeting may come to a different decision, but may not alter a minute correctly recorded from an earlier meeting. It is helpful to have within the draft of a minute the previous minute’s number and at what meeting with the date when discernment on this topic took place.

3.4.5 Background work

The clerk’s work includes visible and invisible tasks. The visible tasks include preparing the agenda and providing background information, calling on people to speak, and drafting possible minutes.

The clerk's role involves significant background, behind the scenes, work of preparation, and follow-up which may not be readily visible to all Friends.

These include the ongoing concern for the business between meetings, the discernment that goes into preparing the agenda, doing the background work in preparation for the meeting, listening carefully to the vocal ministry during the meeting, being in a grounded and centred place from which to discern the sense of the meeting during the meeting, as well as being aware of what is not said. The follow up actions that result from the agreed minutes are largely invisible.

For further referencing, minutes need to be filed kept on paper, in digital form and on the website.

(Suggestions to clerks are in section 4.7).




As for Meeting for Worship Friends are encouraged to come to Meeting for Worship for Business regularly with their “hearts and minds prepared”, and be open to the meeting deciding on ways forward that they had not considered.

Those wishing to speak indicate this and wait to be called by the clerk. In larger meetings it is usual to stand when speaking so that others can hear and concentrate better.

In a meeting where some or all Friends are connected electronically, appropriate guidelines for indicating a desire to speak, and for effective communication, need to be established.

Where Friends are physically present, it is helpful to Friends with hearing difficulties if speakers face the body of the meeting. It is also important to speak audibly, addressing the meeting as a whole, and to leave a space after each speaker, to enable what has been said to find its right place in the mind of the meeting. Meeting for Business is not a debate but a Meeting for Worship involving loving listening and care for each other.

Speaking to an item is a form of ministry. Together the group is trying to discern the right course. Contributions may include: factual information, suggestions that further information is required, observations of ethical, religious or other issues, prayer or reflection, a sense of what decision is required, or suggestions on how a course of action might be carried out.

Care needs to be taken before speaking to consider whether each contribution is relevant and helpful to the work of the meeting at each point in time. If it seems so, speaking openly and plainly, speaking on topic and using as few words as possible, but as many as are needed, is helpful as is the avoidance of repeating what has already been said.

If an issue affects a Friend strongly, it is helpful for them to say so, expressing lovingly and tenderly what they are guided to say. Receiving other viewpoints in the same spirit and listening carefully and sensitively for the truth in them is also vital. If others disagree this need not be taken personally or seen as hostility.

Those speaking address their remarks to the clerk so that they are speaking to all of the meeting and not to an individual. Crosstalk and personal arguments do not belong here. Discipline is the responsibility of the whole meeting not just the clerk.

Throughout the meeting those present hold one another in support or prayer and try to sense in what way the meeting is being guided.

The minutes are upheld by all, whether or not they were in agreement and whether they were present or not.