A Quaker business meeting is very similar to a meeting for worship, in fact the proper name for one is a Meeting for Worship for Business. Where it differs is there will be the set agenda of items to get through, and there will be a Clerk to guide the process, who acts both as the chair of the meeting and also as the person who writes the minutes of the meeting. Usually the Clerk will be helped by an Assistant Clerk, or often two Co-Clerks will share the responsibility equally. Less so in Britain but often in the rest of the Quaker world a Clerk will chair the meeting and a Recording Clerk will write the minutes, the format the secular world will more easily recognise as the roles of a Chair and a Secretary.
In a Quaker business meeting, our goal is to seek and discern the will of God as to the matter before us. Whether that matter is a decision to be made or experiences to be shared, we try to be open to answers which may be unexpected, to decisions being taken which are completely contrary to the opinions we as individuals might have held in advance of the meeting. It is fine to come to a meeting with firmly held opinions – indeed, to some extent it is helpful as part of one’s preparation to do so. However, we need to be prepared to let go of own opinions and listen very carefully to what God is telling us through the spoken and silent ministry of Friends present. Sometimes that clear leading from God might seem at the time to fly in the face of all good sense; we need to trust in such circumstance that God’s purpose will become clear in due course.
As you might expect, each item on the agenda will be introduced and then considered by the meeting as a whole, with people present offering their insights into the matter as and when, and guided (and kept in order!) by the clerk. This meeting is supposed to be conducted in the same spirit of waiting for God’s guidance as a meeting for worship, and when offering ministry the same advice to ensure one’s contribution really is meant for the meeting as a whole applies. Although as in a secular business meeting there will be differing views on any given matter, in a Quaker business meeting those differences of opinion should not be used to create division within the meeting. A Quaker business meeting is not the floor of the House of Commons, and contributions which ‘put down’ another speaker or deny the validity of a differing point of view are considered very bad form indeed, because if all are listening for God’s guidance before speaking all contributions can equally have come from God; so where opinions expressed appear to be in conflict it is the responsibility of the meeting as a whole to discern which parts of both opinions actually fit together – a process which is better served in a spirit of respectful friendship than in disrespectful confrontation.