Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Letter to clerks about clerkship and wasting people’s time

The order of our meetings involves boundaries on how we occupy others’ time – for example, changing the topic or using the captive audience to vent without deliberate consideration would be actions that are outside the boundaries. It is naturally difficult to stay within those boundaries because our special order imposes different boundaries than are found in everyday conversation. If we can keep this good order, we can complete the business of housekeeping and move on to the essential work that the spirit is asking us to do together, such as our response to nuclear weapons and poverty. If we cannot keep this good order, we will use up all our time discussing the names of committees and who reports to whom, and other aspects of housekeeping, which are only the groundwork of following corporate leadings and are not in themselves fulfilling.

It is important that we all guard those boundaries since they are so easily overstepped; this is not a job to delegate to the clerk. Everyone has to guard the order, and help guide while participating. It is everyone’s role to both speak from individual conviction and seek unity, sometimes making a contribution that is a summary of the sense of the meeting.

However, it is the clerk’s special role to state the business being considered and the manner in which it will proceed, such as: to be resolved in the present meeting, to ask a committee to develop it, or in some other manner. I consider it outside the boundaries for someone not in the role of clerk to attempt to help “lead” by changing the business under consideration or the manner of approaching it by force of speech. Suggestions directly to the clerk about these matters are in good order, but propositions to the whole are not. For example, claiming that a certain committee is the right place to handle a matter, or that we should be discussing something else, changes the focus from the essence of the matter to the process, which can degenerate to a debate about process. Process debates can be a mechanism to avoid the true conflicts between views. We empower one clerk to set the process, so that the rest of us can be free to focus on the essence.

The following points about our boundaries are things that I have found it difficult to guard and easy to forget, and could use reminders as well as help in building a community of understanding around these things.

  • Don’t do any business or try to solve anything in the clerks’ ctte.
  • Don’t have any substantive comments during the reading of the reports. Questions should be limited to clarification of the report.
  • Don’t add new business items during a meeting unless they are time-sensitive and spirit-led.
  • If the meeting is so long that we lose people and attention, set a called meeting to continue the business.
  • Name the root conflicts rather than finding expedient ways to bypass them.
  • The meeting is an experience of direct listening. Don’t bring other’s views into it by proxy, either as “So and so asked me to say that…” or “Some people are feeling…”
  • Email and other written messages are prepared messages, not arising from the experience in the meeting. They do not require a response; the spirit has no email address.
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