Monday, January 21, 2008

Spirit in business meeting

Yesterday was 3rd Sunday, which is Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Business at Nashville Friends Meeting. For about the last year, we have combined our business meeting with meeting for worship. Attendance and attention to business has increased dramatically; more people are involved and aware of the decisions that have to be made to make our meeting run smoothly and I feel that we are more aware of Spirit being the foundation for any decision (sense of the meeting).

I stayed in the classroom of my youngest son for a little while, talking with the teacher and a young mother. When I walked into MfWftCoB, they were in the midst of "discussing" how well the combined format works for people. I put discussing in quotes because I don't believe it should be a discussion: I am coming to understand and believe that conduction business in meeting should be God-centered, although we don't seem to be very aware of that much of the time. I walked in with well defined beliefs about Spirit in our midst. I settled down, meaning to center for a moment, to gather my thoughts before speaking my piece but then was lead to still myself and sit in silent worship, holding those in attendance and the proceedings of the business meeting in the Light. I don't think I've ever been in a state in which I was so aware of, yet so detached from, what was going on around me. Even when my name was brought up in connection to an upcoming event, I didn't feel the need to respond or add anything. I staying in a state of worshipful awareness, thinking about how God (Spirit, the One) is always at the center of everything we do and are, although we aren't usually paying much attention.

After Meeting for Worship, I spoke with our recording clerk and another F/friend about the potential for growth in business meetings. Both of these women are part of Growing In the Light with me and whom I feel quite close to. We talked about the potential for MfWftCoB to be a true expression of Spirit in our midst. Another of the members of GIL avoids all business proceedings at our meeting because he feels frustrated by them and feels they are a waste of his time. I understand where he is coming from and why. I envision business meetings being a true expression of Spirit with the potential to actually nourish and nurture attenders.

I believe that business meeting has the potential to be, what is known in Quaker parlance, as gathered (which, to me, means all present are actively aware of Spirit unifying everyone and there is harmony and comfort with the elements of elation and joy). What I envision is for us to check our egos at the door and enter into meeting for WORSHIP for the conduct of business with the same sense of openness and waiting upon Spirit the we bring with us into our weekly Meetings for Worship and into our daily spiritual practices. I would like for us to have more silence between agenda items and more silence between comments. I'm as guilty as anyone of having to "put in my two cents" about topics about which I have any kind of opinion. I'm beginning to understand, though, that sitting in silent waiting for Spirit to lead me to speak is the only way to really allow the true Sense of the Meeting to prevail. I believe we could conduct a business meeting with very little talking except for the clerk and recording clerk and Spirit given messages from those in attendance.

I'm a talker, full of strong opinions. I'm not one to sit and wait for directions; I take charge and make things happen. I think the first step, for me, in all things Spirit related (which is everything in life) is to stop, settle and wait. I know that God "speaks" to me, guides me, leads me to where I need to be (sometimes, frustratingly, by a series of "doors" closing). I trust God to show me the way but I have to continuously be reminded to "shut up and listen". So often I'm making so much noise, so many plans and brilliant ideas, that I can't hear the "still, soft voice" showing me to the place I'm supposed to be. Yesterday, being directed to sit in silent waiting was a gift and a blessing.


Liz Opp said...

Hi, Mary Linda--

I've just begun getting back into the swing of things and reading blogs again, and I appreciated your reflections here.

My own experience with business sessions among Liberal meetings is that they often seem to move way too quickly, give too much leeway to Friends who wish to speak more than once to an item, and seek to blend individual preferences for a resolution rather than waiting on the Spirit to guide them/us.

The few years now when I've attended the annual sessions at Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative, I've been struck by the discipline of the body, not the pace of the sessions themselves. Most Friends there seem to listen with different ears, or are willing to hold their tongue unless they truly are nudged by the Spirit to lift up something for the body to consider.

True, there are occasions when it verges on a free-for-all, with hands shooting into the air after remarks from one Friend are finished. But the clerk often points out that she is going to slow things down... and that lots of hands is ultimately an indication that there is more work to do on the item--but AWAY from the floor of MfWfB.

I have marveled at the willingness of a body of Friends, sometimes numbering close to 80 (it's a small yearly meeting), to allow themselves to be shepherded by the clerk, rather than push for more discussion.

Is there hope for Liberal meetings to change the way that business is conducted? And do most Liberal Friends ever consider that there could be a more grounded-in-worship way? I don't know.

Sometimes I think it takes a strong, loving, and beloved clerk. Sometimes I think it takes a few cherished experienced Friends who will advocate for a process that is more grounded in worship and in seeking God. Sometimes I think it takes a commitment from a large group of Friends to begin to do things differently.

Who knows?

So it's important that each of us stay faithful and loving as we strive to live into our Light within our meetings.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Friendly Mama said...

Another of our spiritual formation group spoke during business meeting, recommending that we all read Barry Morley's Pendle Hill pamphlet "Beyond Consensus". I think we may purchase more copies for our library and then try to schedule a discussion group about "sense of the meeting" and how it can, and should, apply to meeting for worship for the conduct of business.

I do think my local meeting has a enough people who are feeling God's nudge toward something better. I can feel Spirit opening us up to our potential to move beyond ourselves and into the Light, truly doing God's work while conducting our business.

Thank you for offering an example of a more Spirit-centered Quaker business meeting. I do believe that we liberals could use more examples like that!
Mary Linda