Each Quaker Meeting is autonomous. The members decide when and where to meet, how to conduct their Meetings, and how to put their faith into action.
A guide for Meetings is the Handbook of Quaker Practice and Procedure. All Friends can take part in making and updating it, according to Quaker process. It reflects the sense of rightness felt by Friends and therefore Meetings freely follow its guidance, for example by putting silent listening at the centre of Meetings for Worship. A Handbook Revision Committee reviews the Handbook to ensure it continues to represent Friends’ developing understandings.
Quaker decision-making, whether at local, Monthly or Yearly Meeting level is non-hierarchical and egalitarian. Meetings appoint coordinators or facilitators (we call them Clerks) who are 'servants' of the Meeting and not authority holders. Decisions are made by those present at a meeting. The business meetings are called Meeting for Worship for Business because Friends seek through silent listening to each other and to the Spirit to come to an understanding of the way forward. There is no voting, nor consensus. The Meeting seeks to discover the will of God, however that is understood by each Friend. The Clerk sums up the emerging sense of direction in a succinct statement, or Minute, which the Meeting continues to consider until unity is reached. Sometimes individuals will stand aside to allow unity and sometimes a matter cannot be decided and may be considered again at a later meeting. This patient process can be slow, but the decisions made are strong.
Yearly Meeting Business
The national community of Quakers conducts its business throughout the year by a process of discernment led by the Yearly Meeting Clerk in a monthly letter. Each matter for decision is considered by the Monthly Meetings, and individual Meetings as they choose, and where unity is achieved a minute of that decision is made.
Annually, each Monthly Meeting and all Yearly Meeting Committees and interest groups prepare reports, sometimes including requests that their concerns be considered by Yearly Meeting. Reports are circulated to every Meeting, responses returned, and where unity is achieved decisions made. Undecided items may proceed to the agenda of Yearly Meeting (in session) and be subjected to the Quaker process of discernment. Thus, the future direction and focus of Quaker life and activity is agreed.
In the interval between Yearly Meetings, a Standing Committee has an overview of urgent matters affecting the Society and its various Trusts. It consists of the Yearly Meeting Clerk, the previous YM Clerk, YM Treasurer and two representatives of each Monthly (area) Meeting, one of those the Clerk. Decisions are recorded in the annual Yearly Meeting Minutes. Examples are responding to legislative changes to financial reporting requirements of charitable organisations, and membership of the Trust Board. The Standing Committee also has a role in preparing for the annual Yearly Meeting.