‘The unity we seek depends on the willingness of us all to seek the truth in each other’s utterances; on our being open to persuasion; and in the last resort on a willingness to recognise and accept the sense of the meeting as recorded in the minute, knowing that our dissenting views have been heard and considered. We do not vote in our meetings, because we believe that this would emphasise the divisions between differing views and inhibit the process of seeking to know the will of God. We must recognise, however, that a minority view may well continue to exist. When we unite with a minute offered by our clerk, we express, not a sudden agreement of everyone present with the prevailing view, but rather a confidence in our tried and tested way of seeking to recognise God’s will. We act as a community, whose members love and trust each other. We should be reluctant to prevent the acceptance of a minute which the general body of Friends present feels to be right.’
‘As a worshipping community, particularly in our local and area meetings, we have a continuing responsibility to nurture the soil in which unity may be found.’
‘In a meeting rightly held a new way may be discovered which none present had alone perceived and which transcends the differences of the opinions expressed. This is an experience of creative insight, leading to a sense of the meeting which a clerk is often led in a remarkable way to record. Those who have shared this experience will not doubt its reality and the certainty it brings of the immediate rightness of the way for the meeting to take.’
Britain YM, Quaker Faith & Practice, 3.06
Gosh, I seem to have forgotten ‘U’ – so this comes a little out of sequence. It just goes to show, we can all make mistakes, we can all forget stuff and we can all make amends.
So, Unity, with a capital U; I was thinking about what is unique (there’s another ‘u’) about Quakers this morning in Meeting. And it’s really quite difficult. In my last post on values this was hinted at. Are there any values, which we can claim to be uniquely ‘Quaker’?
And then it struck me that our belief that making decisions based on unity might very well be unique. Essentially, we look at issues not from the point of view of ‘I want to get my way’, or ‘you are wrong, unless you agree with me’; or indeed ‘I know it all and therefore I am right’. None of these sentiments, which are all too common elsewhere in society (including groups I belong to outside of Friends), have any place in a Quaker Meeting.
In Meeting for Worship, we don’t have one person ordained to tell us what to think; everyone’s contribution is valued for what it is; we accept that sometimes it’s not meant for us personally and we just let it be. What we don’t do is sit there are argue with it, either quietly in our own minds or in words expressed in the hearing of everyone else.
In Meeting for Business, we don’t start from the premise that there is a right and a wrong answer and that some of the people present (me, people I like) know the right answer and everyone else doesn’t.
We don’t come in to the Meeting for Business knowing exactly the outcome we want from any of the items on the agenda; what we do know is that we want an outcome that the Meeting as a whole can live with and that makes sense at this time.
I have had the experience of coming to a Meeting for Business thinking that I knew the right answer to a particular item and coming out of it with a completely different decision having been made that I could fully unite with.
It’s not easy to make this work; one thing that helps is to arrange the room such a way that no-one is seen as more important than anyone else. Yes, the Clerk will have a table; but that’s not a pulpit, it’s a surface to put papers on and to write minutes on.
It seems to me that this ability to approach often difficult decisions with an open mind and with a firm belief that an open mind (well informed in terms of relevant facts, mind you!) is a better starting point for reaching a good decision. A decision that can stand for now; a decision that can change in due course if necessary; a decision that is right for the Meeting as a whole.
And if I am right to think that this is fairly unique (not just among faith communities but in wider society too) then this is something we must cherish, practice and offer to the wider world.