It’s not just that we’ve just had our Local Meeting Business Meeting on Sunday and we’ll be having Area Meeting later today.
It’s not just that I have recently been appointed to be Local Meeting Treasurer and that this now involves work.
It is also and mainly about how we do business, what we think it is and why it seems increasingly difficult to find people to do the things that need to be done. This may be a bit of a rant but maybe sometimes a bit of a rant allows glimmers of truth to emerge. You tell me.
Paragraph 28 of Britain Yearly Meeting’s ‘Advices and Queries’ states:
Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities. Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness.
I have to admit that this particular paragraph (and in particular the last sentence and the use that is sometimes made of it) has been annoying to me for many years. I understand that this was probably written with older Friends in mind who had faithfully done various jobs in their Local, Area and Yearly Meetings and who desperately wanted a break and couldn’t find a way to say so; often, because they couldn’t imagine anyone else willing to do the job. And I think it is absolutely right that Friends (and Attenders giving service to their Meetings) shouldn’t feel that giving service is a life-sentence.
But in the society (small ‘s’; i.e. the wider world around us) we live in, we are confronted by a general attitude, which regards being extremely busy, or being seen to be extremely busy as the way to be. This is particularly so in the world of work. But almost everywhere, having a full diary, being able to say ‘I can’t do such and such for the next x months because I’m far too busy’ is seen as proving that we are contributing to society fully. So we are almost programmed to feel overburdened.
But are we? And are we doing the most important things effectively? And why is it so often that what we do for Meeting looks like the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
You may accuse me of being unrealistic as a result of recent retirement. And yes, I am beginning to realise that I take longer over things now because I have the time.
But in the end, the real question is: how important is our participation in the Quaker community we belong to, to us? And, how important are the things that appear to be necessary to be done?
So back to business and business meeting; do we always think really hard about what it is we are doing there? Sometimes I hear Friends talking about ‘transacting business’; to me it’s just: making necessary decisions. We do that all the time in our personal and professional lives; we have structured and unstructured approaches to that; we take on responsibilities for some things and leave responsibilities for other things to others; and we sometimes take turns with these things.
If everyone was willing ‘to do their bit’ for a term or two, then nobody would need to feel overburdened.
So let us accept that if we want a Quaker community, there are things that need to be done (the Meeting House has to be cleaned, the coffee and tea has to be made, the bank accounts have to be managed, the children’s activities have to be planned, door-keeping has to be done and arranged, meetings for learning or whatever you call them have to be planned, arranged and run, and so on and so forth); they are pretty much all things that we all can do. So let us do them gladly and together and with a shared sense of purpose. The only way we can avoid doing them is by not having the Quaker community where we can come for Meeting for Worship on a Sunday (and probably do many other things).
There is really nothing in the running of a Quaker Meeting that can’t be done by almost anyone who belongs to the Meeting; the ‘I don’t do numbers’ response to a suggestion that someone might take on being Treasurer for a while; the ‘I don’t know anything about buildings’ response to an invitation to join Premises Committee won’t do. We all live in buildings for which we take responsibilities; we all manage money. So what is the issue? That is not to say that we don’t need proper induction and some initial support and encouragement when we take on these jobs for the first time.
In a recent discussion about Clerking, we were talking about the difference between discerning the Sense of the Meeting and reaching consensus; my take on this is: consensus is the lowest common denominator; the Sense of the Meeting is the best we can achieve together. That’s only possible if we all do our bit, both at the business meeting and during the rest of the time, of being a real and active part of our Quaker communities