Over the years in the life of monthly meetings in which I have participated, it has been a usual practice for nominating committees to take responsibility to seek out a person to be named a clerk for a particular committee. It has been expected that the nominating committee, having gone through a process of discernment in naming prospective persons or a committee, would know them well and have an informed view with which to explore with them how they might be led to accept clerking responsibilities. This is definitely one way to consider.
Currently, I am in a meeting that generally chooses another way for committee clerks to be named. Each committee is asked to name its own clerk. It is felt that the committee knows its members best and is in a favored position to name a clerk. This plan has often worked well, depending on the composition of the committee.
Also, in a small meeting with few persons seemingly available to the clerking role, a committee may often be greatly relieved when a person enthusiastically volunteers to be clerk, regardless of the discernment process. In some such cases, the Spirit may, indeed, accomplish beneficial results. In other cases, an eager volunteer may override a sense of the committee when there is no guided process.
Sometimes a committee is stymied in its search for a clerk and may decide to rotate the clerkship. That may work well. In this case, however, I have wondered if there might be a way to divide the responsibilities of the committee, freeing one person to provide servant leadership consistently.
In a recent situation, as a member of a nominating committee, I was asked to convene a worship and ministry committee (it had lost one member and gained two new members) in order to facilitate the process of choosing a clerk. In this small monthly meeting, I was also a member of the worship and ministry committee. As I reflected on finding a process for accomplishing this selection of a clerk, a particular way of doing so came to me. I shared it with the nominating committee and the clerk of our monthly meeting before going ahead.
The worship and ministry committee gathered in the meetinghouse, and after a brief and partial explanation of the proposed agenda and the greeting of new members, we settled into worship. Then it came time for me to share the following:
- I was simply the convener to guide the committee in the process of selecting a clerk.
- We would take the opportunity to review what the responsibilities of our committee were.
- We would invite persons during a time of journaling and/or reflection to consider what they would bring to the committee life, what they wished to contribute, what they saw as their gifts. After that period, we would share what had come to us, worship-sharing style.
- Then we would enter into a time of worship and group discernment.
- After that, we would check and see what urgent items of business we needed to attend to at this meeting.
The committee agreed to go forward in this manner.
When we considered our responsibilities as a worship and ministry committee, we read, in turn, from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, and found it a useful springboard for further discussion. We also were helped by material from a manual by Arthur Larrabee, Clerking: Serving the Community with Joy and Confidence.
After reaching some clarity as to who we were as a committee and the role and functioning of the clerk, we were ready to take time for reflection and/or journaling as to what we might bring to the life of the committee as well as any limitations. During the time of worship sharing, each spoke candidly. One person was ready to continue as recording clerk, another as liaison to quarterly meeting and attending to concerns for young people. Another felt attention to First-day school and finding ways to help the children connect with worship was her priority. Two others spoke of facilitation as a primary gift.
There was a short silence, and then I turned to the other person who had expressed facilitation as a gift and inquired, "Would you consider serving as clerk?" There was a pause, after which she responded, "I would be glad to be assistant clerk, but I think you should be clerk." I had not prepared myself for this possibility of serving as clerk. However, after another pause, a new possibility began to come together for me. I found myself saying I would consider being clerk, if it was clearly understood that I would need to rely on the committee, particularly the assistant clerk, to assist in major ways, especially during the next two months when I would be taking retreat days for a writing project. There was a chorus of support, and with such an able and gifted assistant clerk, such a plan seemed workable. I turned to the committee for final approval, which was forthcoming. We also planned to review the decision after three months.
We started to look at the rest of our agenda, when someone spoke up and said, "I need to interrupt to say that I am hurt." After appreciating the person’s courage in speaking up, we asked the person to share what the hurt was. The person responded by saying that they were also an able facilitator but no one had asked them to consider serving as clerk. As convener/clerk, I expressed regret if there had been an oversight, and then gently asked if the person concerned had shared in any way that facilitation was a gift that they had wanted to bring to the committee. The answer was no, that they had chosen another focus. When the last comment was barely finished, the assistant clerk queried, "Could you tell us if this is a new hurt or an old hurt?" The person who felt the hurt was courageous again and responded, "Oh, this is an old hurt. It goes way back and I’ve felt it often." The assistant clerk explored further, asking "Perhaps you should be assistant clerk?" There was an energetic response that things were fine the way they were; it was also a good arrangement, and it was simply good to express how they felt. The decision was fine and they were OK with it. After a moment, I asked if it was right to go on, and the committee approved.
After consideration of two pressing matters, we created an agenda for our next meeting. This made it possible for each person to contribute fully. We distributed responsibilities and closed with worship, blessing our time together and our time apart.
It can be important to attend a committee meeting as a person who is prepared, inwardly and outwardly. In such a way, we are ready for the unexpected. Although it often may not be appropriate or timely for inner work during a committee meeting, there are times when it is helpful to the committee process, as in this situation.
Also, I had gone to the committee meeting expecting to convene it and then continue simply as a participant of the committee. The experience reminded me to approach a meeting without planning in advance to be used or not to be used in a particular way, but by letting the Spirit guide. Structure and process are important tools for committee work, but they do not constrict the Spirit. God is in the process, if we are open.