One of the things that we keep hearing about is the problem that Meetings (at all levels) face with nominations. There seem to be more and more jobs to do and fewer and fewer Friends to do them.
The reflections on membership and the meaning of membership which has been going on in Britain YM for a number of years (and more formally for the last three years as part of the agenda of Yearly Meeting in session) are in part, at least, a reaction to this difficulty.
The way Friends make appointments – through a nominations process that is well established and reflected in the pages of Quaker Faith & Practice – is quite unique. We set up nominations committees who discern whose name to bring forward. Friends (and in some cases Attenders) are approached to find out if they would be willing to serve in some job or other; it is made clear that even if they say ‘yes’ this doesn’t mean that they will be appointed (or even nominated). Saying ‘no’ however, does mean that a nomination won’t go forward.
This in itself is an interesting idea. If I say yes, then other people – rightly – may question whether that yes is appropriate at that time for the Meeting (and maybe for me); if I say no, no such questions arise. Of course, it is virtually impossible to override someone’s ‘no’ because if they don’t want to do something, then they can’t really be forced to do it.
We don’t do ‘volunteering’ in general; it’s not the done thing to go to Nominations Committee to say: I’d like to do x job. Although, and in particular if there are jobs that are hard to fill, it can be ok to say to Nominations Committee that one would be willing to be approached.
And then, of course, Nominations Committee nominates the people to the Meeting in question – local, area, or Yearly Meeting or whatever committee is in charge of the appointment.
But the very strange thing that keeps happening more and more is this: the appointing body is both very reluctant and often not really in a position to consider the nominations and if necessary say no to one or more of them.
There is a reason – it’s hard to find people to do all the jobs, so we’re only too pleased to appoint the people who have indicated willingness. But what if there is someone (or several people) in the Meeting who have a real concern about a nomination.
Not only do they need to be on the ball – nominations are read out and then the appointment is made in short order – but they also have to be willing to stand up (without having had a real chance to weigh up whether this is necessary or appropriate because nominations aren’t usually known – appointments made by Britain YM in session have been treated differently in recent years with nominations published in documents in advance).
When I was at Pendle Hill last year I attended a course on Clerking. At that course I learned that in Philadelphia YM (and other US YMs) nominations are given two readings: first, Nominations Committee presents the nominations to one session of the body concerned; then, at the following meeting, the nominations are considered and approved or otherwise.
This seems a very good idea; it opens up the possibility for Friends to reflect on the nominations and to think hard about whether or not to support them.
The awareness that there needs to be more opportunity for the appointing body to have proper discernment (rather than to leave all the discernment to Nominations Committee) is well established. Quaker Faith & Practice, section 3.24 paragraph g says (in part):
The nominations committee is not the appointing body and must bring the suggested names to the body for which it acts. Members of this body have the responsibility for approving the names or not and must be given the opportunity to express any doubts they might have.
This needs time. And having a ‘first and second reading of nominations’ approach might provide the time.
Maybe it would be worth thinking about this.