Silence and Speaking

Turn inwardly to God, praying that the meeting may be guided in the matters before it and that the clerk may be enabled faithfully to discern and record the mind of the meeting…

Remember the onerous task laid upon the clerk and do all you can to assist. Submit information about matters to come before the meeting in good time and preferably in writing. Avoid if you possibly can any last-minute messages to the clerk…

If, when all that is necessary has been said, the clerk is not ready to submit a minute, uphold those at the table in prayerful silence. If the minute is in general acceptable, do not harass the clerk by raising several minor corrections at once. Do not, under the pretext of altering the minute, raise new matter for discussion or reiterate your original contribution.

Quaker Faith and Practice 3.9-11

Meetings for church affairs in the life of a Quaker local or area meeting may not seem dramatic or exciting, and yet they can be both of these. The Quaker business method is a means, and a powerful means, of decision making, but it is far more than that. Properly conducted, it allows the work of the Spirit among a group of Friends immediate expression. It is a prophetic event, the fluid, on-going action of discernment leading the meeting to uncover the living will of God. The work of the clerks at the table then becomes as numinous as any ritual, and their mediation of the gifts Friends bring to the process a sacred thing. I have been as awestruck in an extraordinary area meeting as I have been in any place of pilgrimage!

[The early Friends] made the discovery that silence is one of the best preparations for communion [with God] and for the reception of inspiration and guidance. Silence itself, of course, has no magic. It may be just sheer emptiness, absence of words or noise or music. It may be an occasion for slumber, or it may be a dead form. But it may be an intensified pause, a vitalised hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God.

Rufus Jones, 1937

The Quaker business meeting is framed in, and shot through with, silence. The little silences between speaking, and the greater, nurturing silence as the clerks are upheld in drafting a minute, are the heart of the space the meeting opens for the Spirit – electric with possibility, they are the thin, holy places where God can speak into the ordinary concerns of his people. In our meetings for business, rightly ordered, it should truly be possible to say, with the early church, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15.28)

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