Nominations Matters

On Thursday I went to the first meeting of a working group which will be reviewing the Terms of Reference for the Central Nominations Committee of Quakers in Britain – i.e., the people who find the people who do the things which need doing. This is obviously an important job and a complex one. We’re reviewing the terms of reference, and more broadly thinking about how nominations work, in the hopes of making it run as smoothly and effectively as possible.

It was a good, productive meeting – focussed on what needs doing and how we’re going to do it, as such meetings often are. (Sidenote: anyone with experience convening/clerking meetings by skype, I’d be interested to hear from you.)

I came away thinking about the theological underpinnings of our nominations process and about the literature, or lack of literature, about it. There’s what it says in QF&P, of course. There’s Roy Stephenson’s book, Freeing the Spirit. There’s a little leaflet to hand out with a basic explanation. There’s information about how to give Central Nominations Committee your information. Last year, I wrote a blog post about Nominations and so did Gil. And digging around in Friends House library, I found an article from the Friends Quarterly from 1974.

Much of it – I haven’t read Roy’s book yet – is focussed on the process, rather than the theology. Trying to think about what the theological principles involved are, I’ve come up with three I think are present (but I might have missed a lot, or got these wrong – do let me know what you think!).

  1. ‘That of God in everyone’. This is a much (over?) quoted Quaker phrase, but does shape our approach to nominations and service. It establishes that everyone is valuable, and everyone has something to contribute to the community. Many of those things won’t be appointed roles, but some will, and we begin from the position that everyone has something to offer and something to gain from participating.
  2. Equality. Related to the previous one, but bringing in two further aspects: the avoidance of hierarchy – the reason we limit terms of service, for example – and the avoidance of stereotyping, seeking as best we can to see what an individual really has to offer and not what we expect ‘someone like that’ to be able to do.
  3. The creation of the Kingdom of God/Divine Commonwealth/gospel order. In choosing how to structure our nominations and appointments process, we might have things to learn from the world but we also sometimes reject the world’s ways: we are trying to do it the way God wants it done. This might mean that it doesn’t look ‘fair’ from some perspectives – recall the workers in the vineyard.

What theological principles do you think are at work in our nominations processes?

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6 responses to “Nominations Matters

  1. (Context: I’ve been on YFGM Nominations Committee for nearly 3 years, convenor since January)

    For me, the most important theological basis and root is the very idea of discernment – that we listen for spiritual leadings, and understand them through the lens of our existing knowledge and wisdom. We do not take every leading uncritically, but seek to understand where the Spirit is leading us and, possibly, why, because very rarely is the leading of the Spirit good enough to go “yep, this one, that’s the one who should be doing it”. Nominations discernment is the most testing and challenging discernment I’ve been involved in.

    I also think, or a slightly more practical level, that Nominations Committees have a responsibility to help ensure that everyone in the Meeting they serve understands what Nominations does, and why. At YFGM we have a brief ‘introduction to Nominations’ session early in every YFGM weekend (which is important partly because we get a lot of enquirers, but it’s good for everyone), and I’ve now produced a written guide to “how YFGM does Nominations” – as you observe about existing literature, it’s mostly based on practice, not theory, but it definitely covers some theory. There’s a more in-depth guide for actual members of Nominations as well. I’m currently doing the guide for convenors, but that’s going to be almost entirely practical.

  2. How about …
    4. The priesthood of all believers – or a more modern interpretation of this – we are all asked to offer our ministry for the well-being of our faith community
    Is there a challenge in finding the right partnership between individual Friends and Nominations Committees in determining what this ministry is?

  3. I think Quaker noms at best has a lot to do with Paul’s theology of gifts in Corinthians ch 12. Patricia Loring has a good explanation of this in Listening Spirituality vol 2, corporate practices (https://www.quakerbooks.org/book/listening-spirituality-vol-ii)

  4. Discernment of what some one does not know they can offer. Perhaps the theology here is the creative Spirit. Ben PD also talks about Nominations in his current Swarthmore, about being truthful and open when we think a suggested name is not suitable.

  5. One of the interesting features of nominations process is that so much of it is about essential preparation for business meetings! (Imagine trying to do nominatins at a business meeting without the prior work of a nominations committee). So I think it’s an excellent example of why and how ‘following the leading of the Spirit’ entails rather than excludes ‘thinking about the issues’, ‘using your own mind and heart’, ‘considering everyone’s needs and gifts’, ‘attending to common sense and practicalities’, etc; about how the Spirit works with and through, rather than against and apart from, the given materials; about how God doesn’t call us to do things for which God does not give us the resources (whatever it might look like – cf comments about finding unlikely/surprising gifts); about how seeking and expecting divine assistance is the first and not the last thing you do… There’s also a lot of interesting stuff about exactly what it means for one Quaker group to ‘trust the processes’ of another.

  6. Pingback: D is for Discourse | Brigid, Fox, and Buddha

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