Helen Gould, New South Wales Regional Meeting.
Jane Mace is a former adult literacy educator, and a Quaker who has experienced the clerking of Meetings for worship for business – from both sides of the clerk’s table.
Mace commends to us the view that non-theists are furthering our traditional Quaker commitment to Truth in their/our efforts to find new language for inner experience. So whether you are theist or not, if you are committed to our way of worshipful decision-making then consider reading this useful little book. It rests on the premise that Quaker decision-making assumes a commitment to guidance which is larger, deeper, and greater than we ourselves can generate.
The book addresses Quaker practices in the UK. It consists of 6 interrelated essays: the first, “God, Worship and Time”, explores what we mean by “divine guidance”, and how to make fruitful the tension between the need for worship and the need for efficiency.
The second, “Discipline and Upholding” is about the corporate disciplines of waiting and listening and of upholding the worshipping group and the clerk(s).
The third chapter is called “Unity and discernment”.
She writes, “If we observe the corporate disciplines, and the clerks read the sense of the meeting and capture the essence of discernment in writing, then the worshippers experience the meeting as gathered”. …”There to seek not unanimity or majority votes but “unity”, participants… are asked to accept a discipline… (this develops) the capacity to accept a decision that they may have neither expected nor wanted, but trust to be the best one for the meeting at the time.” (p28).
Mace draws on a wonderful corpus of literature on Quaker decision-making, and particularly on Quaker Faith & Practice (the “Red book”). Her vignettes include business practices at both the Yearly Meeting and local meeting levels, and also threshing meetings. There is a fascinating account of the long, careful process of discernment around whether to respond to the Israel-Palestine conflict by “BDS” “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions”.
The fourth chapter is on Clerks and Clerking; the fifth is called “Reading and Writing” and is about the literacy practices of business meetings. She writes, “The Quaker style of writing in our minutes (uses) active, personal and present-tense forms” and she shows the connection between these practices and our testimonies. Her final chapter is on opportunities for informal learning and renewal.
This book is full of good things. And in the course of her study, she experienced the “gradual revelation” “that the primary purpose of Quaker business meetings is not to make decisions or written records, but to seek (and sometimes find) a divine presence in the way these are made.” Amen.
|In Quaker Meetings||In other Meetings|
|Those present are seeking||God’s will, unity||Unanimous/ majority decision or consensus|
|By means of||Consideration and discernment||Debate, discussion|
|Guided by||The “presence in the midst”, the Spirit, moments of attentive silence.||Opinion, evidence, rational argument|