Tag Archives: minutes

Reading Quaker faith & practice: Chapter 3

Chapter 3, ‘General counsel on church affairs’, is one of several chapters in this book which seems to me to really start with the second item in it. The beginning of 3.02, “In our meetings for worship we seek through the stillness to know God’s will for ourselves and for the gathered group.” is so much better, such a stronger beginning to ‘counsel on church affairs’ than “This chapter refers especially to…”! Apologies to whichever committee member painstakingly drafted 3.01 in order to meet someone’s need to have this and that clarified at the beginning, but couldn’t we at least take the ‘this chapter includes…’ stuff after a little bit of inspiration?

That said, once I get into Chapter 3 there are a number of passages which seem to me both helpful and inspiring. Some which stood out to me on reading it through are:

  • 3.05, “… open minds are not empty minds, nor uncritically receptive: the service of the meeting calls for knowledge of facts, often painstakingly acquired, and the ability to estimate their relevance and importance.” I think this is hugely important, partly in pointing out the role of preparation before a Meeting for Worship for Business (n.b. this is my blog and I reserve the right to capitalise whatever I like even if contrary to the house style of the Qf&p/F&P!). It is especially important, though, in demonstrating how ‘head’ and ‘heart’ are brought together in the process. Later on in 3.05 there is a line about the need for “sharing of knowledge, experience and concern”, and I think this too reminds us that our intellects, our emotions, and our spiritual selves are not separate. The business method actually requires our whole selves, including our minds, though it may sometimes led us in irrational directions just as it can led us in directions which we find emotionally distressing.
  • 3.15, which is about the acceptance of minutes. This is, I think, most of the most important and distinctive things about the Quaker way of working, and one which it is easy to fail to grasp. However, 3.15 puts it very clearly: “It is at the moment of accepting each minute that the united meeting allows you [the clerk] to record it as a minute of the meeting.” Before the moment of acceptance, it is a draft minute, and no more; after that, it is a minute owned by the whole meeting, and only the meeting have the power to change whatever decision is recorded in it. It’s easy to forget how important the acceptance of the minute is – especially for minutes of record, where the draft is good enough, clerks sometimes forget to ask the meeting to formally accept it; at other times, people forget that the minutes are accepted one by one as a Meeting for Worship for Business progresses and ask a meeting to approve a fair copy later on. These are significant mistakes because the moment of acceptance should be doing a good deal of work: it is, in a sense, the pinnacle of the business process, the point at which the consideration of a matter is over, at least for now, and we recognise ourselves as a united meeting.
  • 3.22: “It is a responsibility of a Christian community to enable its members to discover what their gifts are and to develop and exercise them to the glory of God.” Working on nominations matters over the last year – in the context of the review of our central or national nominations processes – has made me more sharply aware of the ways in which we sometimes fail to do this. One problem is that we start with the hole, the need for someone to do a job, and look for someone to fill it, rather than beginning with the people and seeing what each is led to do at present. Another is that we sometimes have a narrow view of what will count as a ‘gift’. Some of the qualities which I and others find most irritating about me – that I’m loud and outspoken, that I have very strong emotions, that if you put a case to me I will always, always try and see what the other side would say, even if I agree with you – can be positives if found the right space. I try and remind myself of that when yet another person tells me to keep my voice down or that I’m talking too much or that I’m overreacting or being contrary! This passage prompts me to ask how I can use these gifts to the glory of God – including in ways which might fall completely outside the Quaker nominations process.

Overall, Chapter 3 seems to me to be an uncategorisable chapter. Many Friends talk about a division between ‘governance’ and ‘inspiration’ and sometimes that divide is clear – 16 is a procedural chapter about marriage and how Quaker marriage relates to the law, while 22 is an inspirational chapter about people’s experiences of close relationships. In this case, though, where would you put it? On the one hand, church affairs are a governance matter, and this chapter does include directions for clerks and others which clearly belong in church government. On the other hand, Meeting for Worship for Business is a form of Meeting for Worship, and as such it is as much at the heart of our spiritual practice, as many other ‘inspirational’ topics such as our testimonies.

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K is for Kin-dom

The word ‘kin-dom’ was offered to Britain Yearly Meeting this year in a piece of ministry about our main theme, living out our faith in the world. It is recorded in the minute, our discerned or distilled essence of what we have been given in our waiting worship, in this paragraph:

What are the changes which are needed to the systemic injustice and inequality that we see in society? We need to go deeper to find the roots of our social ills, and how we might uproot the powers that maintain them. We should rethink what needs to grow in this world and what does not. Can we transform the way the world is going and recognise that everyone and everything on the planet matters and can be thought of as a divine commonwealth, or kin-dom? Quakerism is all about putting our faith in a power which transforms us.

(The full minutes can be downloaded from the Quakers in Britain website. This quotation is from minute 36, ‘Living out our faith in the world – are we ready to meet the challenge?’)

This term intrigued me at the time and it seems worth thinking about the resonances which it has. One reference is obviously to the term ‘kingdom’ – in the minute, ‘kin-dom’ is offered as a rephrasing of ‘divine commonwealth’, a term which has itself been around for a while as an alternative to ‘kingdom of God’ or ‘kingdom of Heaven’. Although the words ‘kin’ and ‘king’ both come from the same Anglo-Saxon root, they have in today’s English quite different connotations.

‘King’ is a familiar word, even while we have a queen on the throne, and has a long history of religious use. Whether this use reinforces patriarchal values (by setting up human kings as divine), or subverts them (by replacing the human king’s authority with God’s authority), depends on the historical moment and your perspective on it: in either case, it is difficult to use a ‘God as king’ image today without being distracted by this issue. This seems to have been the motivation for the coining of the term ‘kin-dom’ among Christian feminists. (This blog post summarises the history.)

‘Kin’, although not unknown, is a more obscure word today. I think it’s mainly used in some Christmas carols and the phrases ‘kith and kin’ (‘kith’ is an even more obscure word meaning ‘friends’ or ‘fellow countrymen’), and ‘next of kin’ (where the vagueness of the term seems like an advantage). ‘Kin’ does still mean ‘family’, though, and this gives the term ‘kin-dom’ a specific flavour.

In the Divine Commonwealth, we might all simply be fellow citizens. Hopefully, in working for the common good, we would be neighbours and even friends. In a kin-dom, though, the implication is that everyone is family. It’s possible to have family members who don’t matter to you, and perhaps even sometimes healthy to ignore them. In general use, though, family is taken to be very important, and this is an additional weight which ‘kin-dom’ – however hard it is to read aloud – adds to the minute, especially to the idea that “everyone and everything on the planet matters”.