N is for… Nominations

Nomination is the process by which Quakers find people do to the things which need doing in our communities. The process usually goes something like this: a need is found (new post created or old one vacated), a nominations committee looks for a name, someone is asked whether they will accept the nomination, and if they say ‘yes’, it goes to the relevant business meeting, who make – or don’t make – the appointment.The latter part is important; the final decision rests with the business meeting.

I have never yet served on a nominations committee, and I must confess I’m glad: it must be a very difficult job and it doesn’t seem like one for which I would be well-suited. I have, however, often been approached by nominations committees, and that experience can be very different depending on the committee, the circumstances, and the service which is being sought.

For example, I’ve been approached by email, by phone, and in person. Looking back, I think I prefer to be approached by email in the first instance: I get to deal with that first enquiry in my own time, think about what questions I should ask, and get back in touch when I’m ready to do so. Sometimes when I’ve been approached in person – especially when I have been just caught before or after Meeting for Worship or when I’m otherwise in a rush – I have agreed to accept nominations without knowing enough about the work involved. In at least one case, I accepted a nomination onto a committee I’d never heard of which reported to a business meeting I’d never attended and whose place in the structures of Quakerism I didn’t understand!

I haven’t, as it turns out, minded serving on the committee all that much, although it has been one of the committees I have complained about the most. The phone is better, perhaps because it’s easier to say ‘no’ to someone whose disappointed face you can’t see, and in any case, it really helps if the person making the approach really understands what service is being requested and knows where to go for more information. (Having it written down very clearly and emailed to you looks good and feels reassuring… but isn’t so useful if it turns out to include major factual errors!)

I generally enjoy Quaker service, and will try and say ‘yes’ to a nomination if I can. Everything has to be weighed up, though: the other things I’m doing, both Quaker and non-Quaker, at all levels; the time and energy this form of service would require; the practicalities (you can’t clerk a meeting which you can’t attend, and if you can only attend things which have a reliable bus service, you can be stuck quite quickly); and whether my skills and talents are really suited to the work in question. As you can tell by the fact that I’m writing this blog as well as a PhD, I like writing, and if you ask me to do some writing for Quakers, there’s a very good chance that I’ll go out of my way to say yes; on the other hand, I’m not brilliant with people, especially people who are upset or complaining about something, so I might be very reluctant to accept a nomination for a role like overseer which involves mainly pastoral care.

Of course, to really understand this you should play the card game Unwilling Unable, a game of trying to avoid nominations. In short: you lose the game if you have more than 15 points. Points are accumulated by being appointed for service. The trick is to save your cast-iron excuses for the right moment (“I fall asleep in business meetings”, “Actually, I quite like war”) and then remember not to use them in real life.

(I just added up approximately how many real-life points I would get. I think I’m between about 14 and 16 at the moment.)

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