Ask a former clerk :

How do I avoid falling into the trap of speaking an opinion from the clerk’s table about a topic I know something about?

"I get another Friend to clerk that item."

How do I make good use of elders?

"I identify the key matters and place them early. Background material is sent round in advance and not repeated in the meeting. I add estimated timings to the agenda and ask someone to be a gentle timekeeper."

How do I initiate an item of business for the agenda? Is it my right to do this?

"Have elders as a regular part of the team for meeting. Create an expectation with elders that the meeting values a spiritually disciplined gathering. Let elders know that, whilst you as clerk will guide the agenda and write the minutes, they are important in holding the meeting as a worshipping space."

How do I know who to call to speak when several have indicated this?

"Remember the spirit can speak through any who are present to it. I try to get a mixture of new and seasoned speakers and be alert to the person who rises with consideration or reluctance. I try to take particular care with the person who rises immediately the previous person has spoken - have they attended to what was just said?."

How do I cope if nobody wants to speak in response to an agenda item?

"Have I introduced the item adequately, so that those present know what they are being asked about? I try restating it: might the matter be broken into smaller questions to address? Or I ask for any questions or comments - that might reveal issues which need exploring. If it’s a report, maybe everyone is happy to accept it along with the recommendations. A single ‘hope so’ may be all that’s required.
    Is the item potentially contentious and no one wants to make the first comment? Questions for clarification may break the ice. But silence here may be a good thing too, to recognise the tenderness that will be required to speak sensitively."

How can I work out how to introduce a difficult agenda item?

 "I do research by asking around Friends beforehand, mostly by phone. This helps clarify my mind and gives a clearer picture of the issue."

Presiding at the table is the most visible aspect to Quaker clerking and the part of the role that most people notice. It’s also the part that many Friends say they could never do! But experienced clerks tell us it is a real privilege to serve in this way. We aim to help you do so much more than merely ‘cope’.

Presenting the draft agenda

At the start of the meeting you will ensure that the agenda is visible to everyone. This is the moment to ask for the meeting’s approval. Not all clerks do that but many feel it is good practice. Members of the meeting might ask for a slightly different order, for example, or an item may be withdrawn if it is not ready or key information is missing. Once you have agreement the meeting will have a sense of ownership of the work that is before them.

Sharing of responsibility

This section looks at some tricky moments that aren’t solely dependent on what the clerk can or should do in certain circumstances. The principle to hold in mind is the three-way sharing of responsibility: the clerks are responsible for the process of the meeting, the meeting is collectively responsible for the content, and the elders are responsible for aiding in keeping the discipline and in upholding the clerks and the meeting.

Support from Elders

Some clerks are grateful if elders step in if discipline is getting a bit ragged, or there are inexperienced Friends present who are still learning that the QBM is different from many secular meetings in that we don’t discuss by debating. There can be a little bit of a tussle between elders and clerks if you haven’t had conversations together before the start over how much intervention works for you and how much would take away your authority as clerk.

If you think that is happening, you could ask elders to talk generally to the meeting at some point about Friends’ methods in business meetings so that individual Friends don’t feel got at. Then if things start to get heated you can remind Friends of the general guidelines they heard from elders: for Friends to try and only speak once or occasionally on each topic, leave a silent gap so everyone can reflect on the latest speaker before asking to make a new piece of spoken ministry, not repeating what has been offered previously.

The steps of proceeding through an item

The established sequence of taking the meeting through an agenda item goes like this:

  • The clerk introduces the item, possibly adding in the contribution of a Friend with particular knowledge who is alerted to be ready to speak to the item.
  • The clerk invites the meeting to consider the issue, eventually coming to an outcome and/or decision.
  • The clerk(s) prepare the text of a minute, probably adding in new information based on the discussion that has just taken place.
  • The meeting considers the suggested draft, and individuals may suggest improvements or additions.
  • The clerk adds those and checks by asking the meeting if the draft is acceptable to the meeting, holding an enquiring silence to see if that really is the meeting’s wish.
  • The meeting may be ready to say ‘I hope so’, but individual Friends may yet be led to stand and offer ministry that could lead a different way.
  • The clerk waits in silence to be guided by the meeting.
  • There may be a new version of the draft to be put to the meeting at this point, then...
  • The clerk may say words similar to: ‘Is the minute now acceptable?’
  • At this point the silence could be interpreted as agreement if nobody else speaks or there may be a further gentle chorus of ‘I hope so’.

The clerk will judge that agreement has taken place for both the substance and the wording of the minute. That concludes the sequence for that agenda item and the text of the minute cannot later be changed.