Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meeting for Business -- Why Is It the BEST Part of Being a Quaker?

I've heard it said that Business Meeting is one of the best, if not the best, aspects of a Monthly Meeting, and that most people connected with Quaker Meetings do not have an understanding of this. Are you familiar with this line of thinking? Do you agree? I'm one of those who think it might be true, but I'm at a loss when it comes to articulating this sense. Please address this issue. Thank you. Tina Hallidy

Dear Tina,

Well, I'm definitely one of those Friends who say that “meeting for business is the best part of being a Quaker,” so I'll tell you my own thoughts on the matter. I should warn you, though, that five other Friends who make the same claim might give you five completely different reasons for explaining it.

Very often, I hear Friends say that meeting for worship is the essential core of what makes us Friends and of what sustains us as a community. Many Friends—including me—agree with that statement. But our ideas diverge about how we see business meeting fitting into that belief. Some Friends see meeting for business as a different kind of animal from meeting for worship, something ancillary or secondary to “real” worship. Others—myself among them—see meeting for worship for business as a special kind of meeting for worship, a deeper, more highly distilled worship that challenges us and requires us to fish or cut bait when it comes to the outward expression of the truths that we enjoy inwardly during worship. It is good to seek to know and follow God in worship. It is a harder but more rigorous kind of worship to seek to know and follow God while we are simultaneously deciding how to balance the budget or whether we must lay down the peace and concerns committee.

In meeting for business we are spiritually exercised. We have to decide when to insist on what we are sure is right, and when to submit to another's discernment; we have to be flexible yet strong, gentle yet plain speaking . . . and then, after our stumbling efforts, we have to walk out of the room and live with ourselves, each other, and the Spirit.

Meeting for business is where it gets real. It's where we succeed or fail at practicing what we believe. It's where we work together or where we fall apart. And it's where we shoulder the load of our shared responsibilities as a covenant community. We all have an ideal image of how wonderful such a functioning community should be. Meeting for business is where we discover who we really are in the ways that we respond to the disappointment of being a mismatched team, pulling the yoke at different speeds, and not always in the same direction. In business meeting we are required to forgive, to be teachable, to care, to take responsibility—both in the large matters of principle and in the tediously mundane details of life.

Like "regular worship," meeting for business can be deeply rewarding or frustrating, and most often it is a mixture of both. It feels great when we find ourselves being led by the Spirit as a whole community, when we find ourselves called to more creative and loving responses than we knew we were capable of, or when we look around the room in amazement and gratitude to be with such wise, bighearted, trustworthy servants of the Spirit. But let's face it, for every one of those really delicious moments, there are others where our desire to get some boring agenda item over with is thwarted by a discussion that just will not end, or when we are annoyed by other Friends' petty judgmentalism, their droning repetitions, their knee-jerk reactions, or their passive mannerliness. And just when we are about to offer a suggestive hint about the mote in their eye, we become aware of the beam that needs plucking from our own. Can we hear and follow our Guide in these circumstances? And if not then, when?

I have been blessed to take part in meetings for business where long, divisive, complicated disputes were finally resolved after years of struggle. These were hard decisions to make, and the topics were painful to some of the participants. But the best spoken ministry I have ever heard, the words that have most deeply moved me and called me closer to God, were delivered during these wrenching discussions that forced us to go deep.

Recently in my own meeting, as we concluded a decision that addressed complex, competing needs from different groups, a member of our meeting said, “Let’s reflect on whether we are being clear about our limits, and whether we are also being generous.” After some reflection—and a little tweaking of our conclusions—this member remarked that we had just completed a piece of work we could not have done in the same way a year earlier. When asked to explain, she used herself as an example, noting how she had become more flexible and more willing to be open minded. Meeting for business not only offers us the opportunity for such growth, but it allows our increasing spiritual maturity an opportunity to be expressed and to be celebrated.

I am one of those people who believe that you cannot be a Quaker alone. Silent worship by ourselves or with others is one way to encounter Truth—but outside of the context of a Friends community, it is too easy for Truth to be a solitary abstraction. It is in making decisions, in putting our limited resources to use, and in working together toward common and competing ends that we are called to make that Truth part of our lives on a minute-by-minute basis, not in ideal form, but in the reality of this flawed world filled with imperfect people such as ourselves. If being a Quaker is “real,” it is real in meeting for worship for business.

With love to the presiding co-clerk from the recording co-clerk of Goshen Meeting,


  1. Wow. That really helps. I appreciate your ability to articulate your perspective. Having read this will help me more consciously participate, to have more intention, direction, and centeredness as I engage in MfWfB. While my intuition typically serves me well in following the path of Truth, using more of who I am in making that journey will benefit the entire group.

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