Chapter 3 » 3.07

The sense of the meeting

The meeting places upon its clerk a responsibility for spiritual discernment so that he or she may watch the growth of the meeting toward unity and judge the right time to submit the minute, which in its first form may serve to clear the mind of the meeting about the issues which really need its decision. In a gathering held ‘in the life’ there can come to the clerk a clear and unmistakeable certainty about the moment to submit the minute. This may be a high peak of experience in a meeting for church affairs, but for the most part we have to wrestle with far more humdrum down-to-earth business. It must always be remembered that the final decision about whether the minute represents the sense of the meeting is the responsibility of the meeting itself, not of the clerk.

Sometimes it will be right to leave the decision to a later meeting, but the clerk should bear in mind that this can be the ‘lazy’ option. Sensitivity is required in recognising when the meeting is really too tired to proceed further. It may be realised that more background work would be beneficial, or that time is needed for everyone to consider the options more carefully. A decision to come back to the subject on a later occasion will then be a positive and important part of the process.

Friends should realise that a decision which is the only one for a particular meeting at a particular time may not be the one which is ultimately seen to be right. There have been many occasions in our Society when a Friend, though maintaining her or his personal convictions, has seen clearly that they were not in harmony with the sense of the meeting and has with loyal grace expressed deference to it. Out of just such a situation, after time for further reflection, an understanding of the Friend’s insight has been reached at a later date and has been ultimately accepted by the Society.

We have a responsibility to uphold our clerks in prayer as they try to discern unity in sharply divided meetings. We must not expect to be delivered from differences of opinion – and indeed our life as a religious community would be dull and unprofitable if we were; but we do need to hold firmly to our conviction that divine guidance is there to be found.

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