Ian told me that some members of my AM are uncomfortable with this post. He did not say who. I would rather disquiet was expressed to me, than to others. I am quite happy that people know who I am. And if anything in the post is untrue, or gives a false impression by omission or undue emphasis, please tell me.
Here are some of the comments from facebook:
-A long and difficult road! I’m glad you have been able to stick with it this far and share the experience with us.
-This is wonderful Abigail – thank you for labouring with your meeting towards the goal of worshipful collective discernment. This is such a treasure of the Quaker way, it is worth great efforts to preserve and revive it. Elders in our AM have become more aware recently of our responsibility for supporting the clerks and for upholding the discipline and spirit of all of our meetings. At each meeting for business we now have a short reminder from one of the elders about Quaker practice (including ‘not harassing the clerks with unnecessary amendments’) which has proved very useful I think.
-Education, education and education. I hope that, if Friends can remember what it felt like to follow the discipline and come through, they might be able to do it again sometimes. I find it disturbing that Friends so often appoint people to a job and then don’t let them do it.
It sounds as if your AM is very lucky to have you.
On Saturday, we achieved what I had worked towards for two years, a Quaker business meeting in a spirit of Worship.
I wish I had supported Richard better as assistant clerk. He felt with an ageing and shrinking Quaker area meeting, the answer was to amalgamate with a neighbouring AM. He had no support for this, but brought it up over successive meetings. I should have warned him, we should have looked after him, but when in the AM in September 2013 he said this had been decided and we needed to consider how to go forward, the Quaker Business meeting, normally so douce, silent, reasonable, erupted. We were talking over each other. I stepped in to write the minute, and that week the humiliated Richard resigned from the Society, giving his reason as the increase in non-theism.
We were abashed. I became clerk three months early, and people expressed their support and care for me. I am still not working properly with my assistant clerk: by the time I had emailed Ian my draft minutes on Thursday, he was very busy at work, so that we did not actually discuss the meeting before sitting down together.
Much of the business of the next six months revolved around altering the structure of our business meetings. AM was always the second Sunday of the month, in the afternoon, after lunch provided by the host meeting, after Friends from other LMs worshipped locally then drove to the host AM. In September last year we had AM in the morning, following on immediately from unprogrammed worship, followed by lunch and then a speaker. My desire was that we worship together as an AM. 44 people attended worship that morning, more than anyone could remember, out of an AM membership under a hundred. When in October we set the pattern of meetings for this year, I experienced the objections to the new style of AM as peevish: the hour of unprogrammed worship must not be cut; there must be a shuffle break of ten minutes before business starts, even though we often had had three hour AMs in the afternoon. It did not help that the objections came from our largest LM and the support for changes from the other three LMs. I felt we reached consensus.
Often after AM I have had emails from S, more in sorrow than in anger- this is what I did wrong this time. She sends me draft minutes, and I rearrange the wording so as not to be seen to use her draft. She has proposed amendments to every single one of the minutes in a meeting, in the past, not always improving them: if we record the AM someone transferring in comes from, I doubt we need record the LM too.
What I have experienced in AM is niggling tension and conflict, not trusting the process or speaking in Ministry. When a particular person at some point in most AMs apologises for speaking twice on a matter, has the guidance any value? I see people- members, even an elder- whispering to each other as we try to draft a minute (I write it, then Ian proposes changes) and think of being warned to “Uphold the clerks” when I attended my first Monthly Meeting. Having experienced Richard’s attempted control of the meeting, I have avoided that, trying to be open to the words from others, and wondering if I offered too little guidance.
We were to have the Green Party parliamentary candidate speaking after AM in the morning in April. At LM, we had decided to invite her to speak, as she is our attender, and she was married in our meeting last year. In the week before, after concerns expressed privately that a parliamentary candidate should speak before the election, and two emails strongly objecting sent to the whole membership, I met with an elder and agreed to cancel Marion’s talk.
For AM this month, I wanted to consider the QCCIR response to the WCC: Are we a Church? In St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday, I mused on my love and irritation for wider Christianity. I had proposed it by email to LM clerks after the last AM, and received neither objection nor support.
Nominations has not gone smoothly over the last year. On Saturday I had drafted a long minute explaining precisely where the nominations came from, and offering a chance to reject those nominations, but in the ten minute shuffle break redrafted it simply to state the nominations. This took considerably less time.
Then we went on to the QCCIR summary paper. The first person to speak said these questions will take a great deal of time to answer, and she was not sure this was the right way to proceed. Our discernment could have been shut down before it started. I resisted the strong temptation to stand and explain why I had brought these questions to AM. And then, over forty minutes, silence deepened and people ministered, as moved by the Spirit. I had felt “Are we a church or an NGO?” to be unduly challenging. We are, and are not, Christian, theist, in the tradition and part of the wider Church. I love our formulation, we are a community of faith.
Here is our minute, of which I am particularly proud:
We have considered the summary paper of the QCCIR response to the World Council of Churches. This matter will come before Meeting for Sufferings in September. Quakers worldwide are by a large majority Christian, and one with experience of a programmed tradition found it had the true life. Some Friends see what we have in common with other Christians is far more important than what divides us. Others find little in common with the Evangelical emphasis on personal salvation. We are a community of faith, respecting all people seeking the spirit within. The heart of the church is worship, and we come to Meeting for Worship. We refer this matter to local meetings.
It is the kernel of the ministry of all of us. The amendment from the floor was to add that crucial word “other”.
After lunch, and our “Getting to know you” exercise, a recent attender came up. He is getting more irritated with his Anglican heritage, and we shared our mutual loathing for the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. He has worshipped with us for a year, this was his first AM, and he was bowled over by the difference of our business meeting from an ordinary committee meeting, and my sensitivity to the feeling of the meeting, as we found unity.
An elder said how wonderful it was that a meeting for business should feel like a meeting for worship. Yet it has to be: if we make rational decisions, we are stuck with mere rationality, but if we decide in worship we have Leadings and Unity! Others have expressed how well it went.
I went out and got drunk with a friend. We wondered if we were proper Quakers, wearing this, driving that: proper enough.