A characteristic practice at meetings for business of Friends General Conference’s Central Committee is reading the minutes out loud to the meeting for approval. After every one or two items of business, the presiding clerk asks for silence while the recording clerk completes the minutes. After each minute is read aloud, Friends are invited to correct it to reflect accurately both the content and the spirit of what has just occurred in the meeting. Once agreement on the wording is sensed, the clerk asks those assembled to approve the minute. On rare occasions the minute may be postponed for a reading later in the day or the following day, giving the clerk and the recording clerk a chance to find better wording. This may involve meeting with particular Friends whose input is particularly important (such as the clerk of the relevant committee) or who have expressed particular issues with the wording that need to be listened to more closely.
It is important during this process that Friends remain in silent worship. The presiding clerk may ask Friends to hold the recording clerk in the Light as the work is done. No further comments or clarifications are provided until the minute is finished, and Friends are asked not to talk, even quietly among themselves.
This practice has its drawbacks:
- Some Friends who can write clear minutes if allowed to do so in private find it daunting to construct those same minutes while being watched—and waited for!
- When the agenda seems filled with business and time for the meeting is short, it can seem like an unnecessary time-waster to wait while the minutes are written, read back, corrected, read back again, and finally approved.
- When the recording clerk feels the pressure of time, it may happen that a minute is jerry-rigged to accommodate a lot of small issues, when a few minutes spent recrafting it from scratch would produce a minute that is more gracefully phrased and better organized.
Why do we find writing our minutes in this fashion so important? One answer is that it helps to frame each item of business, to allow a space between decisions or reports, to return consciously to worship rather than moving rapidly from one thing to the next. Making this distinction between a secular business meeting and a "meeting for worship with attention to business" is vital to making Spirit-led decisions that reach beyond the now to the Eternal.
Another important, practical reason is that all of us have short memories, and that after the fact, we each tend to remember things differently. Approving the minutes immediately after the discussion greatly increases the chances that they accurately reflect the concerns that have been raised and the sense of the meeting as it reached unity. Hours later, a day later, even a month later, it may be difficult to distinguish between what we said and what we wish we had said, thought we had said, or have said since. Continuing revelation requires us to distinguish between the Light we were given at a particular time and the Light that has been shed since.
But beyond these practical advantages, we have found that something else happens when a minute is read back and Friends say "Approved." It is at that moment that we really commit ourselves to our decision. The decision is put out in front of us to listen to carefully one more time, and until that "approved," our business is not really completed. Often in listening to that decision put into plain English, we either recognize its flaws or become really excited at the step we are taking. We aren’t approving the minute, we are approving our sense of unity to go forward in a particular direction. And that approval is essential.
To help a meeting reach that sense of commitment, I have found that I have to let go, as much as possible, of "ownership" of the minute. Like the clerk, as recording clerk I am the servant of the meeting, helping the group articulate its unity, rather than imposing a particular phrasing or arguing about or resenting the changes that are offered. If I truly believe in the presence of God there in that meeting, then this is yet another opportunity to say, "Not my will, but Thine." Remembering to say "thank you" when corrections or additions are brought forward is sometimes hard, but it has been a valuable discipline for me to practice. I am grateful for the attention that Friends pay to finding the right words, correcting my memory, and holding me in the Light as I grope for the best words.